Perhaps the best way to describe the state of television this fall is that it's in a holding pattern — not just waiting to land, but looking for the airport.
It's not the worst of seasons, and there are some promising new shows. But the new season lacks the crackle and excitement many viewers felt last year.
In 2011, there was legitimate buzz about shows such as Showtime's Homeland, BBC America's The Hour, Starz's Boss, AMC's Hell on Wheels, ABC's Revenge, sitcoms like Fox's New Girl, NBC's Whitney, CBS's 2 Broke Girls and ABC's Last Man Standing.
The fact that some of those shows became hits is one of the reasons there isn't an avalanche of exciting new shows this season, but the dominant reason is that the networks are playing things safe because they're not sure where to go.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Nowhere is that more evident than in NBC's stated decision to boost new sitcoms with a "broader" appeal. As 30 Rock enters its final season and with The Office finally being put out of its post-Steve Carell misery, NBC is largely moving away from more sophisticated sitcoms in favor of shows like Guys With Kids. The exception on the Peacock network is Ryan Murphy's The New Normal.
Still, there is promise among the new fall offerings.
Among dramatic series, I'd pick Call the Midwife on PBS, Vegas on CBS, the already premiered Copper on BBC America, Nashville on ABC and perhaps Revolution on NBC. For sitcoms: The New Normal and Go On (starring Matthew Perry, right) on NBC and The Mindy Project on Fox.
But perhaps what best describes the static condition of TV in the fall of 2012 is that the shows I'm looking forward to most of all are all from previous years: Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Revenge, Homeland, The Hour and Boss.
As for the new shows, here's a list, organized by day:
Call the Midwife, 8 p.m. on KET2 and 10 p.m. on KET, Sept. 30-Nov. 4: Who knew that one of the best new series of the fall season would be on PBS's agenda and would not be Downton Abbey? Granted, the competition isn't particularly stiff. Still, Midwife is a terrific show about a young woman fresh out of nursing school who becomes a midwife in the not-so-pristine East End of London in 1957. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the show is beautifully cast and written.
666 Park Avenue, 10 p.m., Sept. 30, ABC: Vanessa Williams and Terry O'Quinn costar is this psychological thriller about a New York apartment building where things go bump in the night, morning and in between. It has elements of Rosemary's Baby, BBC America's Bedlam, not to mention Flip This House. Scary and promising.
Partners, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 24, CBS: David Krumholtz and Michael Urie play a straight guy and gay guy, respectively, who form an architectural partnership. The show was created by Will and Grace's Max Mutchnick and David Kohan and has definite promise but needs some repair work. Each actor is appealing individually, but they don't quite have the chemistry needed to sustain a show. The writing could be sharper as well. It's fixable, though, but it would take a lot of work and determination. Probably on life support before it launches.
Mob Doctor, 9 p.m., Sept. 17, Fox: People love medical shows and people love shows about the mob, so why not offer two taste treats in one, no matter how little sense it makes? Jordana Spiro, left, stars as Dr. Grace Devlin, whose sense of medical and personal ethics is constantly challenged because her family is in debt to the mob. Hey, hire Big Ang to guest star and we maybe have something. Otherwise? Fugeddaboutit.
Revolution, 10 p.m., Sept. 17, NBC: Revolution is the kind of sci-fi show that Steven Spielberg would create if he were J.J. Abrams. The set-up: One day, the lights go out all over the world, not to mention planes, trains and automobiles. Fifteen years later, people live in a dystopian world and society has deteriorated into factions. Like a Spielbergian epic, it has a family at the core, but one that isn't burdened by a lot of Hallmark card sentimentality.
Catfish: The TV Show, 10 p.m., Nov. 12, MTV: A new docuseries about couples who have met and fallen in love but have yet to meet in person. Filmmakers Yaniv "Nev" Schulman and Max Joseph travel around the country profiling various people who have linked up but not quite hooked up. It's a dating show but without handing out roses or trumping up trips to exotic islands: More to the point, it's a dating show that reflects how younger whippersnappers are connecting these days. There will be 12 hourlong episodes.
Ben and Kate, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 25, Fox: This is an odd little sitcom about a brother and sister who are polar opposites but devoted to each other and seem to be challenged when it comes to relating to the rest of the world. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but the quirkiness is appealing. Ben (Nat Faxon) becomes a "manny" to his single sister Kate's (Dakota Johnson) daughter. The show has payback potential, but it might take a while to appreciate.
Go On, 9 p.m., Sept. 11, NBC: Matthew Perry's latest sitcom vehicle was previewed last month during the Olympics, and the pilot will be repeated as the show settles into its regular time slot. Perry plays a sports radio talk show host whose wife was killed in an accident. He tries to repress all his anger and pain, but it doesn't work, so he is sent to a therapy session run by Laura Benanti. The show has definite promise and is a good fit for Perry's dry sense of humor.
The New Normal, 9:30 p.m., Sept. 11, NBC: Ryan Murphy's new sitcom is about a gay male couple (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha) who hope to start a family through a surrogate (Georgia King), who is a single mother and has an over-the-top, bigoted mom, played with scenery-chomping sass by Ellen Barkin. NBC calls the show Murphy's love letter to the American family, and it is. It's also funny. If you find it offensive, stick to Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo.
Emily Owens, M.D., 9 p.m., Oct. 16, CW: A first-year doctor (Mamie Gummer, right) looks forward to adulthood but finds that her new job is a lot like high school, complete with one of the actual mean girls who used to torment her. This light drama could be perfect for The CW's audience.
The Mindy Project, 9:30 p.m., Sept. 25, Fox: Mindy Kaling, right, of The Office gets her name in the title this time as a young woman with a couple of extra pounds and a fairly lousy social life. It's kind of like HBO's Girls but without the weird sex. Kaling is appealing, smart and funny, and it's just icing on the cake that the show puts an Asian-American in the title role. In a year of ho-hum new sitcoms, this one offers some faint hope.
Vegas, 10 p.m., Sept. 25, CBS: Michael Chiklis and Dennis Quaid co-star in this period drama about good versus evil in Vegas in 1960, if, indeed, it be said what is good and what is evil in Vegas. Chiklis plays a mobster looking to expand his power and influence, and Quaid is a rancher who is also a tough crime-solver. Odds are in the show's favor, thanks largely to the cast, the period look of the show and Nick Pileggi's participation.
Underemployed, 10 p.m., Oct. 16, MTV: A new scripted show that reflects the reality of trying to find a job in today's economy, made even tougher if you're a recent college grad and are competing with little experience. The show follows five friends in Chicago as they try to pursue their life dreams, only to find themselves flailing in both the job market and romance. It almost goes without saying that the five actors are easy on the eyes.
Arrow, 8 p.m., Oct. 10, CW: The CW tries, with mixed results, to give DC Comics hero The Green Arrow the kind of treatment that director Christopher Nolan brought to the big-screen Batman reboot.
Guys With Kids, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 26, NBC: Jimmy Fallon has co-created a show about three men and their babies. It's not terribly groundbreaking, but it's amusing and, well, cute. It stars Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford and Zach Cregger and is an example of NBC going for a broader (read: old-fashioned and not 30 Rock or Community) audience. Lots of jokes based on how stupid men are, of course, but that's nothing new in TV.
Animal Practice, 9 p.m., Sept. 26, NBC: This new sitcom premiered in August so NBC could take advantage of its Olympics audience. The pilot will air again Sept. 26, the show's regular time slot. It's about an animal clinic whose head vet, played by Justin Kirk, has his own way of doing things, albeit chaotically. He has to find a way to work with the daughter of the late owner of the clinic. It's not very good, but the animals might keep viewers' attention despite the absence of, you know, humor.
The Neighbors, 9:30 p.m., Sept. 26, ABC: Except for the fact that it has a late-ish premiere, this is a leading candidate for the first show of the season to get the ax. It's about a "normal" suburban family living in a community of aliens who name their children after sports stars like Larry Bird and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Jami Gertz stars. The pilot is absurd, but after you've learned how they name their kids, how can the show sustain the "humor"? Third Rock From the Sun did this far better.
Nashville, 10 p.m., Oct 10, ABC: Another promising nighttime soap opera from ABC, Nashville centers on the world of country music as Connie Britton, left, stars as a veteran singer who is being challenged by a sassy young upstart played by Taylor Swift. Strike that: I meant Hayden Panettiere. Powers Boothe plays the evil Big Daddy patriarch, and the show ripples with hella good music.
Chicago Fire, 10 p.m., Oct. 10, NBC: No, this is not Law and Order with hoses. Honest. Creator Dick Wolf says so. Still, there are elements common to Wolf's long-running cops-and-lawyers franchise, but with more focus on the back stories of the main characters of a Chicago fire and rescue squad. Wolf might seem a safe bet for the beleaguered network simply because his shows have paid off in the past. It's not like Rescue Me, though, because these guys don't ride around town with Jesus riding shotgun. But is the public tired of the Wolf formula? Call this one a Wolf in firefighter's clothing.
Last Resort, 9 p.m., Sept. 27, ABC: Andre Braugher stars as a submarine captain who disobeys orders to bomb Pakistan and winds up on a remote island, reminiscent of either Lost or Survivor. The pilot makes so little sense, you just can't ... wait for it ... fathom what is going on. Braugher is always interesting. Think of it as Lost meets, well, something not as good.
Beauty and the Beast, 9 p.m., Oct. 11, CW: The beast in this reboot is a post-9/11 genetic experiment who, apparently, gets ugly only when he gets mad, like a flesh-colored Hulk. Bonus: No singing tableware!
Elementary, 10 p.m., Sept. 27, CBS: Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu star as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a show that pretty much mangles the authentic Holmes lore but is gripping, edgy and watchable if you don't think about it too much. It's also not a good idea to compare it to PBS's brilliant Sherlock, which does the same thing but while being faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle.
Malibu Country, 8:30 p.m., Nov. 2, ABC: Reba McEntire stars as a country singer named Reba who divorces her dog of a husband and moves to Malibu with her acid-tongue mama, played by Lily Tomlin. The show isn't all that good, but Reba is like the country version of Charlie Sheen: She is made for TV stardom. The show creator, who also created Reba, insists the two shows are entirely different, and the more he insists, the less we believe him. Especially after seeing the pilot. It's not very good but might do just fine because people love their Reba.
Made in Jersey, 9 p.m., Sept. 28, CBS: Gorgeous Janet Montgomery is the Brit It girl this year (she's also in BBC America's Spies of Warsaw later this season). She stars in a dramatic series about a girl from New Jersey who becomes a brilliant young lawyer at a top New York law firm but makes sure she gets her hair and nails done regularly back in Jersey. The show continues TV's odd fascination with New Jersey, while evoking USA's Fairly Legal. No heavy mental lifting required to enjoy the drama. Bring your own hair spray.
Kentucky Collectibles, 4:30 p.m., Oct. 20, KET: Hosted by Dave Shuffett and Amy Hess, KET's newest production tells Kentucky's stories through prized items, whether heirloom or kitsch, that guests share. The hosts also will make side trips throughout Kentucky as they explore the world of antiques and collectibles at shops, appraisers, boutiques and more.
Katie, 3 p.m. weekdays, Sept. 10, WTVQ (Channel 36): Katie Couric, right, reinvents herself again with her eponymous afternoon talk show and, chances are, she'll do just fine. The shows will focus on one or two topics a day and appeal largely, but not exclusively, to female viewers. Subjects will be topical and current, she says, but the primary appeal will be Couric's proven mix of perkiness and trust. No word yet on whether "you get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car," but she's clearly in the running to be the new queen of daytime.
DATES TO BE ANNOUNCED
Spies of Warsaw, date TBA, BBC America: David Tennant, left, returns to BBC America in this drama based on the book by Alan Furst, the master of World War II-era spy fiction. Tennant, of course, is well known as a former Doctor Who. He co-stars in the series, set in the years leading up to World War II, with Janet Montgomery, who was in Black Swan and is also appearing as the lead character in the new drama Made in Jersey.
Mankind: The History of All of Us, TBA in November, History: This is a 12-hour look at the history of mankind through the ages and is created by the team behind the 2010 Emmy-winner America: The Story of Us. The History channel describes the epic as "the story of the moments that changed history forever and made us who we are today."