A dozen new fall TV shows to watch

The Prince George Citizen - - A&e - Hank STUEVER

It’s not go­ing to be a par­tic­u­larly tran­quil fall for TV con­nois­seurs, as the ma­jor play­ers march fur­ther into a stream­ing war. As if you had the time or ad­di­tional money, both Dis­ney and Ap­ple are set to un­leash their stream­ing ser­vices; the plus signs in their lo­gos will ap­pear as mi­nus signs in your bank ac­count.

Dis­ney+ tempts us with a Star Wars se­ries called The Man­dalo­rian. Ap­ple TV+ has got Jen­nifer Aniston, Reese Wither­spoon and Steve Carell act­ing out back­stage net­work drama in The Morn­ing Show. Your men­tally ex­hausted TV critic has yet to see an episode of ei­ther – he’s still puz­zling out HBO’s Watch­men.

The big­gest sur­prise I no­ticed this sea­son is a com­par­a­tively strong lineup from the broad­cast net­works (re­mem­ber them?) and good ol’ PBS. I can’t re­mem­ber the last time that one-third of my list of fall TV picks could be watched on the tra­di­tional net­works.

Un­be­liev­able

Net­flix

This grip­ping eight-episode se­ries, from Su­san­nah Grant (Party of Five) and nov­el­ists Ayelet Wald­man and Michael Chabon, is based on in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing from ProPublica and the Mar­shall Project. It’s about a string of se­rial rapes (trig­gers ga­lore), yet the writ­ing and ex­e­cu­tion are re­fresh­ingly em­pa­thetic to­ward vic­tims, pro­ce­dure and jus­tice. Mer­ritt Wever (Nurse Jackie) stars as De­tec­tive Karen Du­vall, who learns that a rape she’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing has sim­i­lar­i­ties to a case one town over, han­dled by De­tec­tive Grace Ras­mussen, played by Toni Col­lette (United States of Tara). Work­ing together leads them to an older, closed case, in which the vic­tim (Kait­lyn Dever) was pres­sured into re­cant­ing her state­ment about be­ing at­tacked.

Emer­gence

ABC

Re­mem­ber all those copy­cat net­work dra­mas in the Lost years, which would take a spooky oc­cur­rence and string it along with un­lim­ited twists and con­spir­a­cies un­til abrupt can­cel­la­tion? Emer­gence’s pro­duc­ers swear they’re not do­ing that, and a bet­ter-than-usual pi­lot seems promis­ing: Fargo’s Al­li­son Tol­man stars as small-town Long Is­land po­lice chief Jo Evans, who finds a fright­ened child (Alexa Skye Swin­ton) at what ap­pears to be a plane crash on the beach. When a shifty cou­ple claims to be the girl’s parents, some­thing feels wrong. Tol­man’s per­for­mance is the best rea­son to keep watch­ing – I hope her char­ac­ter can solve it soon. Net­work TV watch­ers are a lot more im­pa­tient than they used to be.

Stump­town

ABC

Set in Port­land, Ore­gon, and based on a graphic novel, this crime drama is one of the more rau­cous and edgier net­work pi­lots I’ve seen in years. Co­bie Smul­ders (How I Met Your Mother) stars as ex-Ma­rine Dex Par­ios, a free spirit strug­gling to find steady work while car­ing for her in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus), and cop­ing with psy­cho­log­i­cal grief (she lost her one true love in com­bat) and symp­toms of PTSD. Turns out she finds her pur­pose in bru­tal work as a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor, where she takes on thugs and clients alike with sharp­wit­ted skill. Stump­town’s in­tro plays like fast-and-fu­ri­ous pop­corn cinema; if it can keep up that pace, it’s worth a longer ride.

Evil

CBS

Who makes bet­ter, more rel­e­vant TV than Robert and Michelle King? Their dra­mas in­clude The Good Wife, The Good Fight and the pre­scient 2016 po­lit­i­cal/hor­ror satire BrainDead. Now they turn to the de­monic with Evil, a sat­is­fy­ingly scary drama about a sem­i­nar­ian (Luke Cage’s Mike Colter) and his techie as­sis­tant (Aasif Mandvi) who in­ves­ti­gate posses­sion cases for the Vat­i­can. They per­suade a highly skep­ti­cal crim­i­nal psy­chol­o­gist (Katja Her­bers) to help them sort the pos­sessed from the merely in­sane. Evil isn’t afraid to get grue­some, but the Kings are al­ways mind­ful of the top­i­cal twist, namely that true evil thrives in online chat rooms. As one char­ac­ter ob­serves, the worst of us are now con­nected to each other.

The Politician

Net­flix

Ryan Mur­phy (along with cocre­ators Brad Falchuk and Ian Bren­nan) makes his Net­flix de­but with this Wes An­der­son-like, oneper­center dram­edy about Pay­ton Ho­bart (Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt), a teenager ob­sessed with be­com­ing U.S. pres­i­dent. His am­bi­tions cur­rently rest on two hur­dles: get­ting into Har­vard, which he in­sists on do­ing with­out his parents (Bob Bal­a­ban and Gwyneth Paltrow) buy­ing his way in; and win­ning the student coun­cil pres­i­dency at his fancy pri­vate school, where his cam­paign ad­vis­ers calculate his ev­ery move, in­clud­ing his choice of a can­cer-stricken run­ning mate, In­fin­ity Jack­son (Zoey Deutch), who lives with her con­trol­ling, greedy grand­mother (Jes­sica Lange). It’s a hoot, but just know that Mur­phy’s big­gest ad­ver­saries – tone con­trol and plot dis­ci­pline – have come along for the ride.

Mod­ern Love

Ama­zon Prime

Each episode takes a dif­fer­ent Mod­ern Love col­umn from the New York Times ar­chive and turn­ing it into an even more facile story of the many ways it is pos­si­ble to find love, so long as you be­lieve (and live) in New York. Gross. (But also, great?) The first few episodes fea­ture Cristin Mil­i­oti as a sin­gle woman with an over­pro­tec­tive door­man; Catherine Keener as a mag­a­zine writer who teaches a young tech-bro (Dev Pa­tel) about ro­man­tic fate; and Anne Hath­away as a sing­ing and danc­ing manic-de­pres­sive. Is this a rec­om­men­da­tion or a warn­ing? Yes!

Watch­men

HBO

Not like the clas­sic 1980s comic se­ries and def­i­nitely not like the limp 2009 movie adap­ta­tion, this the­matic workover from Da­mon Lin­de­lof (Lost and The Left­overs) is a puz­zling yet mes­mer­iz­ing al­ter­nate re­al­ity tale, set in Ok­la­homa, USA, where Robert Red­ford is the pres­i­dent and po­lice of­fi­cers wear masks for their own pro­tec­tion against a ter­ror­ist threat from a ris­ing group of masked white su­prem­a­cists. Quite dra­mat­i­cally, the whole thing opens with the 1921 mas­sacre of black cit­i­zens in Tulsa. In other words, even the first episode is a lot to sort out. At a pi­lot screen­ing for crit­ics this sum­mer, it was no sur­prise that the stand­out per­for­mance came from Emmy and Os­car win­ner Regina King. I’ll follow her just about any­where, even here.

Mrs. Fletcher

HBO

Tom Per­rotta has mas­tered the spot-on mod­ern sub­ur­ban novel, pro­vid­ing plenty of ma­te­rial for other film and TV adap­ta­tions. This time Per­rotta is in charge of this en­gag­ingly wry and per­fectly de­tailed seven-episode se­ries based on his 2017 novel about a sin­gle mother, Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn of Trans­par­ent and I Love Dick), who tries new things after drop­ping off her de­plorably self­ish son, Bren­dan (Jack­son White), for his first se­mes­ter of col­lege. While Bren­dan dis­cov­ers that he’s not as pop­u­lar or cool as he used to be as a high school jock, Eve takes ad­van­tage of her empty nest to watch online porn, en­roll in a writ­ing class and dis­cover a new side of her­self. Good for her!

The Man­dalo­rian

Dis­ney+

Crit­ics haven’t ac­tu­ally seen it yet, but you have to hand it to Dis­ney for launch­ing its sub­scrip­tion ser­vice by putting Net­flix and ev­ery­one else on no­tice with the equiv­a­lent of a warn­ing shot from the Death Star. Trail­ers prom­ise some­thing along the lines of a souped-up Star Wars West­ern, set after the fall of the Galac­tic Em­pire and in such a re­mote part of the gal­axy that we’ll never have to hear the word Sky­walker. Pe­dro Pas­cal (Nar­cos, Game of Thrones) stars in the ti­tle role as a lone bounty hunter; the rest of the cast in­cludes Nick Nolte, Gian­carlo Es­pos­ito, Gina Carano and, yes, Werner Her­zog. If you have a life­long Star Wars jones, you’ve al­ready cleared your cal­en­dar. If not, well, may some other force be with you.

Doll­face

Hulu

Jordan Weiss’s dram­edy stars Kat Den­nings (2 Broke Girls) as Jules, who, after be­ing dumped by her long­time boyfriend, finds her­self on a metaphor­i­cal bus driven by a cat lady, des­tined for a de­pot where re­cently dumped women are sup­posed to re­unite with their BFFs. It’s here Jules re­al­izes she lost all her girl­friends and must start over with those who wrote her off long ago, in­clud­ing Madi­son (Brenda Song) and Stella (Shay Mitchell). Doll­face is best when it clev­erly snarks be­tween the real and the hal­lu­ci­na­tory, com­ment­ing on gen­der tropes and other ob­served be­hav­iors, such as shriek­ing hello at brunches or en­dur­ing the bizarre story con­fer­ences at the Goop-like web­site (Woom) where Jules works as a de­signer. It’s not a slam so much as an en­joy­ably cyn­i­cal so­cial study.

Col­lege Be­hind Bars

PBS

This four-part doc­u­men­tary from Lynn Novick (The Viet­nam War) closely por­trays the in­mates in New York’s state prison sys­tem who are lucky enough to be accepted to the Bard Prison Ini­tia­tive, an in­ten­sive cur­ricu­lum spon­sored by the pri­vate col­lege. De­spite evidence that higher ed­u­ca­tion ac­cess greatly re­duces re­cidi­vism, many such pro­grams van­ished be­cause of the 1994 crime bill. Bard qui­etly and im­pres­sively im­merses th­ese stu­dents in the clas­sics, higher math and for­eign lan­guages. Con­ser­va­tives tend to squirm at the process (com­par­ing it to “free col­lege” for the un­de­serv­ing), but as one of BPI’s stu­dents points out: It’s called the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions. What could be more cor­rec­tive – re­demp­tive, even – than the broad­en­ing of one’s in­tel­lect?

Work in Progress

Show­time

I fell im­me­di­ately for Abby McE­nany, the dys­pep­tic, Fran Le­bowitz-es­que star of this dark com­edy (which McE­nany cocre­ated with Tim Ma­son) about a self-loathing, 45-year-old les­bian in Chicago who gives her life 180 days to im­prove or else she will end it. The first episode in­cludes an en­counter worth catch­ing, as Abby spies for­mer Satur­day Night Live cast mem­ber Julia Sweeney in a restau­rant and is com­pelled to tell Sweeney how her life was ru­ined by peo­ple cru­elly com­par­ing her to Sweeney’s gen­der am­bigu­ous Pat sketches in the 1990s. Sweeney’s re­ac­tion is price­less, and McE­nany is a newly dis­cov­ered treasure.

MARK HILL/HBO; BETH DUB­BER/NET­FLIX; NET­FLIX; PBS

Clockwise from top left: Watch­men, Un­be­liev­able, The Politician and Col­lege Be­hind Bars.

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