The operative word for the fall TV season is "crazy."
We have a resurrected redcoat and a Headless Horseman. We have sensitive robots and comic book super-agents. We have vampires galore, and Alice down the rabbit hole. We even have a comedy with "crazy" in the title, which oddly enough isn't crazy at all.
High-concept, mythology-heavy series haven't done well for the broadcast networks of late. Revolution survives on NBC, but many others (Fox's Terra Nova, ABC's Zero Hour, NBC's Do No Harm) couldn't win mainstream audiences.
With cable taking more and more of their viewers, though, the broadcast networks — except rock-solid CBS — don't feel inclined to play it entirely safe. So in addition to introducing shows that feel like a lot of shows we've already seen, they continue to go out on limbs that could break under them.
Some of these risky ventures are among the most interesting new shows of the year. Whether the next Lost is in this group seems unlikely, but the effort deserves applause anyway. Here, ranked from best to worst, are the series making debuts on the broadcast networks for fall.
FALL'S NEW SHOWS
A note about the star ratings: Five stars means perfect, and no show achieved that. Four stars means very good, with lots of promise. Three stars is better than average, and two stars is average. Below two stars means "don't waste your time."
Sleepy Hollow, Fox, 9 p.m. Mondays (premieres Sept. 16) ★★★★☆ My favorite new drama is crazy, scary and crazy-scary, but it also brings us the best new buddy relationship of the season. Tom Mison is Ichabod Crane, but the Washington Irving character is re-imagined as a British redcoat, buried since the Revolutionary War. Now he's awake, and understandably confused. Nicole Beharie is the cop who's the only one to believe him, even after an also-awakened Headless Horseman begins dealing out decapitations. There's a lot of murky mythology here, blending dark conspiracies with supernatural forces and biblical prophecies, so I don't know which way Sleepy Hollow is heading. The first hour, though, is a heck of a ride.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox, 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays (Sept. 17) ★★★★☆ The best new comedy of the season is surprisingly smart and just silly enough. Andy Samberg is a detective who relaxes with crazy pranks, especially directed at his main rival, played by Melissa Fumero. They're both excellent cops, which wins Samberg's character a margin of slack from his new boss, played straight-faced by Andre Braugher. From Mike Schur and Dan Goor of Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine can make you want to get arrested.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC, 8 p.m. Tuesdays (Sept. 24) ★★★★☆ No matter what you might or might not know about the Marvel universe and The Avengers, this action-fantasy-dramedy from Joss Whedon's company is a lot of fun. Rather than superheroes, the protagonists (including Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, J. August Richards and Chloe Bennett) form a team dedicated to saving the world from mysterious threats. I especially enjoyed Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as wry British scientists, and fans of the movie will be happy about a return they've almost certainly heard about already.
The Blacklist, NBC, 10 p.m. Mondays (Sept. 23) ★★★★☆ Strange yet compelling, this thriller with overtones of Silence of the Lambs (and thus Hannibal) stars James Spader as a creepy super-criminal who promises to help the FBI catch other bad guys, but only if he can work with a brand-new FBI agent played by Megan Boone. Dark and violent and purposely puzzling, the pilot is impossible to look away from when Spader is on screen. In fact, you might not be able to blink.
Almost Human, Fox, 8 p.m. Mondays (Nov. 4) ★★★☆☆ Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy in the newest Star Trek movies) is a future cop coming back from a catastrophic injury, and Michael Ealy is his sympathetic android partner in a slick-looking sci-fi drama from J.H. Wyman (Fringe). It's fun to see how Wyman imagines the world in 2048, and the drama's underlying mystery will grab viewers who like that sort of thing. For most of us, the reason to watch will be the growing friendship between Urban's bitter curmudgeon and Ealy's warm, cuddly robot.
The Michael J. Fox Show, NBC, 9:30 p.m. Thursdays (two episodes air at 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26) ★★★☆☆ We love Michael J. Fox; we love that he's feeling up to series TV again and that he's willing to poke fun at himself and his Parkinson's disease. And even though most of us won't love the show based on the pilot, which is heavy on the setup, we'll be willing to cut it some slack.
Lucky 7, ABC, 10 p.m. Tuesdays (Sept. 24) ★★★☆☆ In a drama based on a British series, service station employees finally hit the lottery jackpot, resulting in a lot of life changes. Winchester native Matt Long and Isiah Whitlock Jr. are the most familiar faces in the appealingly quirky ensemble cast, which includes Lorraine Bruce from the British version. The pilot stupidly starts in the middle of the action, but once it settles down, Lucky 7 shows promise.
The Crazy Ones, CBS, 9 p.m. Thursdays (Sept. 26) ★★★☆☆ Robin Williams returns to series TV as an eccentric ad man who works with his two kids, straitlaced daughter Sarah Michelle Gellar and charming son James Wolk. Williams reins in his zany humor enough to keep the show from imploding, and Wolk (Bob Benson on Mad Men) seems as if he could be Williams' actual offspring. Surprisingly, Gellar is a problem point, playing a thankless character who likes to spoil the fun.
The Millers, CBS, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays (Oct. 3) ★★★☆☆ Will Arnett as a newly divorced guy plays straight man to his parents (Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges) in a sitcom from Greg Garcia (Raising Hope, My Name Is Earl). One of the funniest of the new season's comedies, The Millers is unfortunately heavy on body-function humor, largely at Martindale's expense. That stinks.
Trophy Wife, ABC, 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays (Sept. 24) ★★☆☆☆ Hate the title; kind of like the show. Malin Akerman is the third wife of Bradley Whitford, who with marriage inherited not just his kids but his first two exes, played by Michaela Watkins and Marcia Gay Harden. It's a modern kind of family, and it could work.
Betrayal, ABC, 10 p.m. Sundays (Sept. 29) ★★☆☆☆ Two pretty people married to two other pretty people fall hard, cheat — and things get messy. This soapy drama, starring Stuart Townsend and Hannah Ware, would like to be the next Revenge, or better yet, Scandal. The first hour, considered on its own, is a pretty good B movie. But unless viewers are able to invest in the relationship and its consequences (which seems unlikely), Betrayal is a failure.
The Goldbergs, ABC, 9 p.m. Tuesdays (Sept. 24) ★★☆☆☆ Adam Goldberg was a nerdy, film-obsessed kid who turned his 1980s family into a homegrown sitcom. Now he has turned that true story into an actual sitcom, with Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey as the parents of three (Goldberg has turned one brother into a sister) and George Segal as the slightly daft grandpa. The show is broad and loud (so much yelling!), but it's warmhearted and often funny, a rarity in this year's new comedies.
Hostages, CBS, 10 p.m. Mondays (Sept. 23) ★★☆☆☆ Dylan McDermott wants doctor Toni Collette to kill the president in this grim, convoluted thriller, intended for a limited run (but with a second season possible). There's little likable here except the family golden retriever, and too many characters have too many secrets to keep up with. But the pace is brisk, and by the end of the episode, you might find yourself involved enough to want more.
Mom, CBS, 9:30 p.m. Mondays (Sept. 23) ★★☆☆☆ Anna Faris is sympathetic as a single mother, newly sober, trying to keep her teenage daughter from making the same mistakes while reconnecting with her own outrageous mother (Allison Janney). Mom is a solid drama from Chuck Lorre; unfortunately, it's supposed to be a comedy. Perhaps later episodes will have more humor.
The Originals, CW, 9 p.m. Tuesdays (preview 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3) ★★☆☆☆ A spin-off of The Vampire Diaries focuses on the first family of vamps as Klaus (Joseph Morgan) returns to New Orleans and picks up where he left off centuries ago. If you're a VD fan, you'll most likely enjoy this; if not, you'll find it impenetrable.
Super Fun Night, ABC, 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays (Oct. 2) ★★☆☆☆ Rebel Wilson plays an earnest misfit whose new job at a law firm jeopardizes her play time with her two misfit gal pals (Lauren Ash and Liza Lapira) in a comedy with more cringes than laughs.
Dracula, NBC, 10 p.m. Fridays (Oct. 25) ★★☆☆☆ Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the proto-vampire, posing (in Victorian London) as an American entrepreneur but out for blood, in a cartoonish and not compelling new spin on the classic.
Welcome to the Family, NBC, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays (Oct. 3) ★★☆☆☆ Two sets of parents (Mike O'Malley and Mary McCormack; Ricardo Chavira and Justina Machado) are forced to get along when their teenage kids announce that they're having a baby and plan to get married. It's a sweet enough little show, but you have to wonder how it wound up on the night when 30 Rock used to air.
Back in the Game, ABC, 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays (Sept. 25) ★★☆☆☆ Maggie Lawson plays a former softball star who falls on hard times and is forced to move in with her father, an obnoxious drunk played by James Caan, in a loud comedy that's rarely funny and often painful to sit through. Lawson and Griffin Gluck, who plays her young son, deserve better; Caan should know better.
Reign, CW, 10 p.m. Thursdays (Oct. 17) ★★☆☆☆ Adelaide Kane is 15-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, arriving in France with a gossipy entourage to marry Prince Frances (Toby Regbo) in a soapy historical drama that's heavy on dramatics and light on history. In addition to political intrigue and teen liaisons, supernatural forces are at work, all set to a contemporary score. Kids, enjoy this if you choose to, but don't use it to try to pass a history test.
Sean Saves the World, NBC, 9 p.m. Thursdays (Oct. 3) ★☆☆☆☆ Sean Hayes is a divorced dad, trying to raise a daughter and please a tough new boss (Thomas Lennon) and deal with an outspoken mother (Linda Lavin) in a too-broad, not-funny-enough sitcom. Megan Hilty joined the cast after the pilot was shot, so there's that.
The Tomorrow People, CW, 10 p.m. Wednesdays (Oct. 9) ★☆☆☆☆ Young people who have evolved superpowers work together to fight evil in a drama (based on a British series) with Peyton List and Robbie Amell. I rarely had any idea what was going on and wasn't engaged enough to try very hard.
We Are Men, CBS, 8:30 p.m. Mondays (Sept. 30) ★☆☆☆☆ Christopher Smith is left at the altar (where have we seen that before?) and moves into a swinging singles apartment complex, where he makes friends with Tony Shalhoub, Jerry O'Connell and Kal Penn. The results are depressing.
Ironside, NBC, 10 p.m. Wednesdays (Oct. 2)★☆☆☆☆ In this unnecessary remake of the 1967-75 Raymond Burr drama, being in a wheelchair doesn't keep cop Blair Underwood from beating a suspect senseless or having a way with the ladies. Jumping forward and backward in time (so Underwood can get out of that chair) and dribbling out clues cryptically, Ironside is too grim and unengaging to be so much work.
Enlisted, Fox, 9:30 p.m. Fridays (Nov. 8) ☆☆☆☆☆ This "bro" comedy is literally about brothers, three of them, reunited as part of a "Bad News Bears" unit on an Army base in Florida. Chris Lowell and Parker Young are varying degrees of slacker and/or inept, and older brother Geoff Stults, back from war, is their leader. High jinks ensue.
Dads, Fox, 8 p.m. Tuesdays (Sept. 17) ☆☆☆☆☆ Two young entrepreneurs (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) are saddled with Archie Bunker-ish fathers (Martin Mull and Peter Riegert) in an offensively unfunny comedy from Seth MacFarlane. If it were funny, maybe it wouldn't be so offensive — but yes; yes, it would.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, ABC, 8 p.m. Thursdays (Oct. 10) Not reviewed. The creators of Once Upon a Time go through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole for this spin-off, which alternates between Alice in deep therapy and Alice deep in Wonderland. A complete pilot wasn't available at press time.RETURNING SHOWS
Already premiered: The X Factor, Fox (Sept. 12).
Sept. 16: Dancing With the Stars, 8, ABC. Bones, 8, Fox.
Sept. 17: New Girl, 9, and The Mindy Project, 9:30, Fox.
Sept. 18: Survivor, 8, CBS.
Sept. 20: Last Man Standing, 8; The Neighbors, 8:30; and Shark Tank, 9, ABC.
Sept. 23: How I Met Your Mother, 8, and 2 Broke Girls, 9, CBS. The Voice, 8, NBC (also 9 Tuesdays). Castle, 10, ABC.
Sept. 24: NCIS, 8; NCIS: Los Angeles, 9; and Person of Interest, 10, CBS. Chicago Fire, 10, NBC.
Sept. 25: The Middle, 8; Modern Family, 9; and Nashville, 10, ABC. Revolution, 8, and Law & Order: SVU, 9, NBC. Criminal Minds, 9, and CSI, 10, CBS.
Sept. 26: The Big Bang Theory, 8; Two and a Half Men, 9:30; and Elementary, 10, CBS. Parks and Recreation, 8, and Parenthood, 10, NBC. Glee, 9, Fox. Grey's Anatomy, 9, ABC.
Sept. 27: Undercover Boss, 8; Hawaii Five-0, 9; and Blue Bloods, 10, CBS.
Sept. 29: The Amazing Race, 8; The Good Wife, 9; and The Mentalist, 10, CBS. Once Upon a Time, 8, and Revenge, 9, ABC. The Simpsons, 8; Bob's Burgers, 8:30; Family Guy, 9; and American Dad, 9:30, Fox.
Oct. 3: The Vampire Diaries, 9, the CW. Scandal, 10, ABC.
Oct. 6: America's Funniest Home Videos, 7, ABC.
Oct. 7: Hart of Dixie, 9, and Beauty and the Beast, 10, the CW.
Oct. 8: The Biggest Loser, 8, NBC. Supernatural, 10, the CW.
Oct. 9: Arrow, 9, the CW.
Oct. 25: The Carrie Diaries, 9, the CW. Grimm, 9, NBC.
Nov. 8: Raising Hope, 9, Fox.
ABC: Mind Games, Mixology, The Quest
CBS: Bad Teacher, Friends With Better Lives, Intelligence, Mike & Molly, Reckless
The CW: The 100, Star Crossed
Fox: Us and Them
NBC: About a Boy, Believe, Growing Up Fisher
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH