I recently fielded this question on Twitter: "Hi Mo, [I've] got too many current/old shows to watch so [I'm] only going to watch one or two new shows this year. What do you recommend?"
Hey Thunder, I'm here to help. I've gotten several queries along these lines lately, and I thought I'd kick off the fall season by giving a shout-out to the shows I'm most interested in this fall.
There aren't many promising candidates in the comedy arena, and things are so uneven there that I thought it'd be prudent to point out my least-favorite half-hour shows before the new season got underway. (I've also reviewed "Go On," "Animal Practice" and "The New Normal").
Things aren't nearly so dire in the drama arena, and there are four shows that merit special recognition, in my opinion. The good news: They're all quite different from each other, and no matter what your tastes are, I'm hoping you'll spot at least one or two promising candidates here.
Here are the usual caveats: All these shows might crater within a month (or sooner); they could become awesome well before Christmas or get canceled before Halloween. There's just no way of knowing, given that I've only seen one hour of each program (aside from "Call the Midwife"; I've seen three of the six episodes in that show's first season). It's also worth pointing out that I plan to write more about these programs before or after they premiere, especially after I've seen additional episodes.
For now, though, I wanted to draw attention to four shows I'm certainly going to be following as the new season rolls forward.
The Crowd-Pleasing Action Hour
"Last Resort" (premieres Thurs., Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC): You'll see a lot of reviews of this drama that say something along the lines of, "I don't know what the fifth (or sixth or seventh) episode of this show will be." That's a valid point, but the first hour of this show is so enjoyable that, at this point, I'm quite willing to follow this crew wherever they go. In the first hour of "Last Resort," which you can view in full here, Andre Braugher plays the captain of a nuclear sub that gets drawn into some very high-stakes geo-political maneuvers; to say more would risk taking away the excitement of the show's various twists and turns. One of the chief pleasures of this pilot is how well it balances all its subplots and character beats and yet still manages to crackle with energy. "Last Resort" is one of the new season's riskiest dramas, but it's also, in my opinion, the best one.
Note: Later this month, I'll post an interview with co-creators Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek; for now, check out this Braugher interview and coverage of "Last Resort" at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour.
"Nashville" (premieres Wed., Oct. 10 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC): This has happened to me several times in the last few months -- another critic will say to me in a tone of mild shock: "I liked 'Nashville'!" My standard response is, "Don't be alarmed. It's a common, if unexpected, reaction." A few years ago, critics and fans had to tell folks to watch another Connie Britton drama, "Friday Night Lights," whether or not they were football fans, and I'm finding myself making a similar recommendation here. Even if you don't particularly care for country-pop music, consider giving this drama a try. Britton and Hayden Panettiere star as a hitmaking diva on the decline and an attitudinal up-and-comer who in no way resembles Taylor Swift (certainly not!). What unites the various story threads of "Nashville," which incorporates local politics, family drama and music-industry maneuvers, is the intelligent approach of creator Callie Khouri. Everything feels grounded in a heightened yet thoughtfully constructed reality; don't expect the catty melodrama of "Revenge" or the contrived histrionics of "Glee" or "Smash." "Nashville" creates a much more subtle and nuanced world, and in that sense, it actually bears a passing resemblance to CBS' "The Good Wife," which has gotten a lot of mileage out of a female-driven story about a woman wronged. Let's hope "Nashville" can do the same -- times two.
"Arrow" (premieres Wed., Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW): "Arrow" doesn't reinvent the superhero drama for television, but it reminds you how much fun a straight-up rendition of the classic elements of the genre can be. The enjoyability of "Arrow's" pilot begins with leading man Stephen Amell, who brings the right mixture of charisma, sly wit and brooding presence to the dual roles of playboy Oliver Queen and Arrow, a hooded vigilante armed with a bow and arrow. The frosting on this superhero cake is a supporting cast full of excellent utility players such as Katie Cassidy and Paul Blackthorne (I've been waiting for both those talented actors to land regular gigs on shows worthy of their talents forever). My fingers are crossed that future episodes are as brisk and well-made as the pilot and that the unfolding mythology gives "Arrow" a chance to offer up not just scenes of escapist derring-do but reasonably compelling character-driven stories. The truth is, all the producers of this show had to do is give me a halfway justifiable excuse to look at Amell for an hour a week, but even if you're not an abs aficionado, you may enjoy the opening chapter of this superhero saga.
"Call the Midwife" (premieres on Sun., Sept. 30 on PBS, check local listings): BBC America's "The Hour" doesn't return until November and we have to wait until Jan. 6 for "Downtown Abbey's" third season, but there's a quality British period drama arriving soon to tide us over. This six-part series, which takes a little while to get going, follows the education of a sheltered young woman who goes to work as a midwife in London's rough East End. As is so often the case in U.K. dramas, the supporting characters steal the show on "Midwife": Miranda Hart is particularly delightful as an awkward upper-class nurse and Jenny Agutter provides a solid center as one of the tough-minded but compassionate nuns who guide the young midwives with whom they live. It's an eye-opening but resolutely non-grim look at an interesting time and place, so don't forget this modest gem when you're loading up your DVR with season passes this fall.
After a hilarious stint on HBO's "Girls" (which he'll also return to for Season 2), we're thrilled that Rannells ended his Tony-nominated run starring in "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway to play one-half of Ryan Murphy's new comedic leading gay couple on "The New Normal." His scene-stealing skills are still very much intact -- he goes head-to-head with co-stars NeNe Leakes and Ellen Barkin and still manages to get the last laugh.
Yes, "Nashville's" big draw is the rivalry between Connie Britton's one-time queen of country music and Hayden Panettiere's up-and-coming starlet; but the real gem here is Bowen's Scarlett O'Connor, a sweet girl with an even sweeter singing voice. This Australian native might not be a big name in the States just yet, but it's only a matter of time.
British actor Weeks plays Jeremy Reed, the devilish doctor who tempts Mindy Kaling's title character to the dark side on "The Mindy Project." This is his first US TV role, and we're already expecting great things.
We only caught a glimpse of katana-wielding Michonne in the "Walking Dead" Season 2 finale, but it was enough to get fans excited for more. As our survivors seek shelter in the prison and meet The Governor (David Morrissey), they're gonna need someone who knows how to wrangle up zombies right, and Michonne's their girl.
Now that Puck (Mark Salling) has graduated from McKinley, there's a new generation of Puckerman in town -- Artist is signed on to play Jake, Noah Puckerman's half-brother, in Season 4. If he's even half as talented, sweet and prone to causing trouble, we'll happily have a slushie or two waiting in the wings with his name on it.
Benanti was a bright spot in NBC's drama flop "The Playboy Club" last season, but while the Broadway vet got to sing and shake her tail feather (literally), we didn't get to see her show off her comedy chops there or on her "Law & Order: SVU" stint. Now playing opposite Matthew Perry, there's great comedic potential and some sexual tension to mine.
Evans, a male model (and current <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/06/08/tyra-banks-robert-evans_n_1580287.html" target="_hplink">Mr. Tyra Banks</a>), is stepping into some pretty big shoes <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/americas-next-top-model-n_n_1524091.html" target="_hplink">to judge "ANTM" this season</a>, and we have high hopes that he can pull it off. He's got the looks to keep us watching and the pedigree to critique this cycle's contestants ... we'll still miss Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel and J. Alexander, but this is a nice refresh.
Montgomery made the final season reboot of Fox's "Human Target" bearable, popped up on "Entourage" and even danced around the company in "Black Swan," but this starring role is her true US TV breakout, and her convincing Jersey accent and go-get-'em attitude will make you forget she's actually a Brit.
There aren't many Oscar winners that could come to TV without fanfare ... but that's the case with Faxon, who brings all his funny sidekick experience up a notch to take on one of the lead roles (he's Ben) in this quirky family comedy. He's been around for a while, is a Groundlings member and, yes, even took home an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for George Clooney's "The Descendants" last year, which he co-wrote with director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Rash, a.k.a. "Community's" Dean Pelton. TV is lucky to have him.
Spiridakos has done TV guest spots here and there (including a stint on Syfy's "Being Human" last season), but this is the show that should make her a star. "Revolution" has its issues, for sure, but even surrounded by more established stars, Spiridakos shines playing an emotional <em>and</em> gun-toting badass.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/greys-anatomy-camilla-luddington_n_1687544.html" target="_hplink">Camilla Luddington is on call at Seattle Grace Mercy West hospital</a>. The "Californication" and "True Blood" alum will don scrubs on "Grey's Anatomy" this fall to play a (sexy) new doc, with the option to sign on as a series regular next season. Start placing bets now about who she'll hook up with first!
Amell's most memorable TV role to date might be as Jason, the rival male prostitute on the last season of HBO's "Hung," but his new superpowers really suit him. As Oliver Queen, aka The Green Arrow, Amell has some big leather hoodies to slip into ... but we guarantee no one will complain about the way he fills them out.
Swedish-born Masöhn was a bright spot on Fox's ill-fated "Bones" spinoff "The Finder" -- and she's got quite the sense of humor -- but we're loving her in this darker role as one of the residents of a very haunted building. Cast alongside Terry O'Quinn, Vanessa Williams, Dave Annable and Rachael Taylor, she still manages to stand out as a Park Ave. resident to watch.
Follow Maureen Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moryan