This year’s fall TV preview keeps it simple: Only shows that I enjoyed last season and intriguing new shows are making the cut. There’s just too much else out there. It’s already a pretty long list, and with more channels and options than ever, it’s going to be tough to wade through it all. But here are the shows that I think will most be worth your time. Of course with new shows, they could end up being disastrous, so evaluations are superficial and likely premature. They’re marked by an asterisk.
The Mob Doctor* (Fox) – Sept. 17
I’m recommending this solely on my love for Jordana Spiro (of the late great sitcom My Boys). It looks strictly conventional, but with a pretty solid supporting cast, including Bill Forsythe (Raising Arizona), Zeljko Ivanek (The Bourne Legacy) and Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights the show), this could be one of those procedurals that airs for years because it’s good, not just because it’s popular.
Go On* (NBC) – Sept. 11
NBC aired the pilot after some of its Olympic coverage and the results are a mixed bag, but that’s how all comedy pilots are. The characters are broader, the situations are wackier. But if the show follows its more melancholy impulses, it could be one of the better shows in NBC’s already stellar comedy stable. Matthew Perry goes for round 2 after misfiring with Mr. Sunshine, this time playing a sports-talk radio host who goes to group therapy after his wife dies.
The Mindy Project* (Fox) – Sept. 25
Departing the Titanic that is The Office, Mindy Kaling takes some of her co-workers along for this comedy about a doctor navigating her love life. Best case scenario is Bridget Jones in a lab coat. But let’s not get too crazy. This is Fox we’re talking about. Let’s just hope it turns out better than Dr. New Girl.
Vegas* (CBS) – Sept. 25
Is CBS breaking out of its mold a little bit? Probably not, but it’s worth investing an hour to see if this period drama starring Michael Chiklis and Dennis Quaid can shake things up a little bit.
30 for 30 (ESPN) – Oct. 2
The award-winning film series returns with a set of eight premieres, including docs about broke athletes, the murder of a teen basketball prodigy, and the incomparable Bo Jackson.
Raising Hope (Fox) – Oct. 2
The show got even better in season two, and I’m expecting more great things from the Chances in season three. Catch it while you can before Fox starts shifting it around to accommodate the World Series. I won’t complain if the Rangers are playing.
Underemployed* (MTV) – Oct. 16
MTV has been getting good marks from critics with season 2 of its comedy Awkward. Could the network known for its trashy reality series (that spawned dozens of imitators) mine some truths from the real world of its titular twentysomethings. Tune in to find out.
Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 (ABC) – Oct. 23
Krysten Ritter and Dream Walker are a great foil for one another in this dirty but quite funny sitcom. But the real star of the show is James van der Beek, somehow bringing another shade to the overdone trend of actors playing variations on themselves.
The Middle (ABC) – Sept. 26
I’ve been catching reruns of this all summer and I can safely say that if you haven’t been watching, you are missing out on probably the best domestic sitcom on TV. It’s certainly more consistent than Modern Family, and I will never understand why Eden Sher isn’t Emmy nominated.
Modern Family (ABC) – Sept. 26
After a shaky but frequently funny season 3, I’m a little worried for this show in season 4. But if the writers and actors take their pay raises as a sign to step up their games, instead of sliding into complacency, this will deserve its slew of Emmy nods.
Key & Peele (Comedy Central) – Sept. 26
Comedy Central mercifully kept this brilliant sketch show, which should hopefully run through the racial landscape with silliness and satire. It’s a kinder, gentler Chappelle’s Show, but still quite funny.
Chicago Fire* (NBC) – Oct. 10
I couldn’t pick any of the cast out of a lineup, but this Dick Wolf we’re talking about, mastermind behind three Law & Order franchises (also known as a sure-fire way to eat up a Saturday). Can he bring that same addictive quality to the lives of the fire department in the Second City?
Nashville* (NBC) – Oct. 10
Could easily be a great, addictive soap opera (something the Dallas update failed to pull off) or a dreadful combination of backstage drama and second-rate country music. But Connie Britton’s in it, so it’s definitely worth watching for a little while.
Suburgatory (ABC) – Oct. 17
Another show I didn’t watch as closely in the fall, to my own detriment. Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto have such a natural chemistry, and Cheryl Hines is doing the best work of her career as the Queen Bee of the Cul-de-Sac, who gradually reveals more layers with each subsequent episode.
Up All Night (NBC) – Sept. 20
Far too few people are watching this sitcom, featuring two sitcom vets (Christina Applegate and Will Arnett) acting their butts off. The show won’t send you into hysterics or tears, but it has its own rhythm and tone and feels natural most of the time. It’s understated without being underwritten.
Parks and Recreation (NBC) – Sept. 20
It really doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. Season 5 finds Leslie stepping into her role on the city council, while Ben takes up an offer (and hopefully resists temptation) in Washington, D.C. Plus, more great antics from Ann and Andy, crazy shenanigans from Tom and words of wisdom from the one and only Ron Swanson.
Last Resort* (ABC) – Sept. 27
Cut my life into pieces… But seriously, Shawn Ryan (creator of Terriers) returns to network TV with this ambitious (and sure to fail) drama set on a submarine. After refusing to launch a missile at Pakistan, the crew of the U.S.S. Colorado (led by the always great Andre Braugher) go rogue, declaring themselves a nuclear-powered sovereign nation.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) – October
Season 7 started to show some wear-and-tear but managed to produce some gems like “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore” and “Thunder Gun Express.” With Mac hopefully back down to a healthy weight, the show will regain some consistency.
Community (NBC) – Oct. 19
Miraculously saved by NBC, then punished by being paired with Whitney on Friday nights, Community may not last its scheduled 13 episodes. But hopefully they’ll give it the chance to wrap up its fourth season, even without notoriously contentious creator Dan Harmon at the helm.
Saturday Night Live (NBC) – Sept. 15
Hit-or-miss as always, SNL had quite a few stellar episodes last season. How will they manage without breakout star Kristen Wiig or digital short guru Andy Samberg? Fairly well, I imagine. I love Wiig, but any Saturday without Garth & Kat or Penelope is a good one. Samberg’s absurdity will be sorely missed. But see how they fare in the premiere episode, with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and R&B superstar Frank Ocean making their debuts.
The Simpsons (Fox) – Sept. 30
Despite containing a new low-point for the series (“Moe Goes from Rags to Riches”), season 23 was one of the best seasons in years. May that trend continue as the show inches closer to the all-time episode mark (it’s currently 127 away from catching Gunsmoke).
All premiere dates and times subject to change.