TV's best new dramas seem old ("Magnum") and new ("The Rookie")


Yes, there are some good TV dramas this fall. Many critics dislike the new "Magnum," but I think it's terrific; most like "The Rookie." Here's the drama round-up I sent to papers, as part of a six-part season preview. To find the mainbar, scroll up; to find the others, starting with sci-fi and fantasy, scroll down. 

By Mike Hughes

Television still
likes the drama of daily life ... as long as those lives include
cops, crooks or wobbly psyches.

The new season has
lots of variations on crime shows, plus a few looks at love (true or
twisted) and life. Here's a look at what's new:

 

The best

-- “The Rookie”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, Oct. 16). At 40, John has a heroic moment ...
then makes a big move: He dumps his comfortably unexceptional life
and becomes a Los Angeles cop. With Nathan Fillion, 47, starring,
this is the rare show that has it all – large bits of drama, small
bits of humor, occasional action ... and some stories that are
wrapped up by the end of the hour.

-- “Magnum P.I.”
(9 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Sept. 24). Yes, plenty of critics have grumbled
about the show and the obvious fact that Jay Hernandez is no Tom
Selleck. He's seven-and-a-half inches shorter and, by our
calculation, only 58 percent as handsome. Let's set that aside,
though; Hernandez is good and the show is terrific. Slick and sleek,
it has Magnum and his former war buddies racing around the Hawaiian
sunshine, thwarting bad guys,. Perdita Weeks is a great addition as a
very different Higgins.

The rest

-- “Mayans MC”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, FX, started Sept. 5). Almost four years after
“Sons of Anarchy” ended, fans finally have this spin-off. In the
first two episodes, we've learned that the two brothers have had big
secrets. One is a member of the tough motorcycle club; the other, an
ex-con, is just starting. The result is intense, brutal and often
compelling.

-- “You” (10
p.m. Sundays, Lifetime, started Sept. 9). Smartly written and
beautifully filmed, this at first seems like the best love story ever
... then quickly settles for being one of the best stalker stories.
There's great work from director Lee Krieger and his stars, Penn
Badgely and Elizabeth Lail.

-- “A Million
Little Things” (10 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC, Sept. 26). Think of this
as “This Is Us” without the family ties. Four guys are
hockey-game buddies, bringing their wives and loves into the
friendship. Then something happens that makes them question
everything. The result has substance, depth ... and, alas, lots of
lingering questions.

-- “FBI” (9 p.m.
Tuesdays, CBS, Sept. 25). TV has tried the FBI before, but not like
this. Now the stakes are higher, the technical abilities are steeper
... and the show has a female star. That's Missy Peregrym, who was
terrific if “Rookie Blue” and others; here, she's confined to a
one-note character in a show that – like most from producer Dick
Wolf – sometimes feels flat and stiff.

-- “New Amsterdam”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC, Sept. 25). The setting is a mega-hospital,
one that's been in New York almost forever. A new medical director
(Ryan Eggold of “The Blacklist”) makes sweeping changes ...
including firing an entire department. That's a bit abrupt, but there
are signs this could evolve into a solid show.

-- “All American”
(9 p.m. Wednesdays, CW, Oct. 10). Growing up in a tough neighborhood,
Spencer has one way out: He's a football star ... and an ambitious
coach (Taye Diggs) can get him a transfer to a glitzy Beverly Hills
High School. An interesting, culture-clash tale, this is partly based
on a true story ... but some of the soap-style twists strain its
credibility.

The enigmas

-- “Kidding” (10
p.m. Sundays, Showtime, started Sept. 9). Jim Carrey is superb as a
caring kid-show host whose life – and, maybe, mind – crumbled
after his son's death. But despite some good moments, the show
becomes a monotone, pushing him deeper into despair.

-- “Mr. Inbetween”
(11 p.m. Tuesdays, FX, Sept. 25). Back in 2005, this was a
micro-budget Australian movie, seen by approximately no one, not even
Australians. Now it's a TV series ... and an oddly charming one,
about a guy balancing his worlds as good dad and a calm hitman. One
scene – involving his daughter's legends, from Santa to unicorns –
is a classic.

And more

There are lots more
shows out there, including several we haven't seen yet. Some top
examples:

-- “The Good Cop”
(Sept. 21, Netflix). With “Monk,” writer-producer Andy Breckman
proved that a crime-of-the-week drama could also have humor and
heart. Now he has Josh Groban as a straight-arrow cop whose dad (Tony
Danza) is an ex-cop, used to bending the rules.

-- “Wanderlust”
(Oct. 19, Netflix). Toni Collette is a psychologist who – after a
near-death experience -- decides to broaden her life.

-- “Homecoming”
(Nov. 2, Amazon Prime). Two great talents – Julia Roberts ad “Mr.
Robot” creator Sam Esmail – combine, in a story of bureaucracy
gone bad. A sampling is compelling.

-- “Little Drummer
Girl” (starts Nov. 19, AMC). After winning praise and awards with
“The Night Manager,” AMC has another John LeCarre novel. This one
– which was a 1984 Diane Keaton movie – has an actress (Florence
Pugh) pulled into intrigue by an Israeli spy (Alexander Skarsgard).

TV's new sci-fi/fantasy and beyond -- from werewolves to time loss to God


Any year with some fantasy and sci-fi and such is a good one ... even if none of the shows stand out. Here's the round-up I sent to papers, in the six-part season preview. To find the others, scroll up and down from here.

 

By Mike Hughes

Television likes to
visit the extremes, to talk about thinks dark (witches and vampires
and vanished time) and bright (God).

Now all of those
come up in some of this fall's fantasy shows. They include:

The best

-- “Manifest”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC, Sept. 25). A lot of small things can go wrong
on an airplane – bumpy ride, bad pretzels, late arrival. But this
arrival is REALLY late. The passengers and crew people think they've
been flying for a few hours; the airport says they disappeared for
five years. As a mini-series, this would be fascinating; as an
ongoing series? The big networks have sometimes failed to finish the
intriguing stories they start, but we'll hope NBC does better this
time.

The rest

-- “God Friended
Me” (8 p.m. Sundays – but 8:30 p.m. for the opener, due to
football – CBS, Sept. 30). To the shock of his preacher father (Joe
Morton), Miles uses his podcast to disparage the idea of God. Then
comes a note that God has friended him on Facebook. Is it a prank?
Miles thinks so, but probes it with two helpers ... confronting fresh
surprises. The result is flawed, but fairly fun.

-- “The Haunting
of Hill House” (Oct. 12, Netflix). The 1963 movie, considered a
classic, had an invited group introduced to the supernatural, inside
a 90-year-old New England house. It was remade in 1999 and now
returns as a series that includes the talented Timothy Hutton.

-- “Charmed” (9
p.m. Sundays, CW, Oct. 14). This can be a lot to absorb shortly
after your mother's death: Two young women learn that there's a third
sister ... and that each of them is a witch with a separate power.
This reboot of an old series does a fairly good job of mixing dark
drama with some lighter moments, many of them from Rupert Evans as
their new mentor.

-- “Legacies” (9
p.m. Thursdays, CW, Oct. 25. In the final “Originals” episodes,
everyone focused on preserving Hope. As the daughter of Niklaus and
Hayley, she's the world's only witch-werewolf-vampire tribred. Now
she's 17 and back at the Salvatore School for the Young & Gifted
in Mystic Falls. Alaric is in charge; his twins are students. We
haven't seen this yet, but the producers have a strong track record
(via “Vampire Diaries” and “Originals”) and a likable star
(Danielle Rose Russell).

-- “Chilling
Adventures of Sabrina” (Oct. 26, Netflix). The cheery Archie comics
have already been transformed into the dark (but well-crafted)
“Riverdale.” Now it's the turn for Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Many of the “Riverdale” people are involved, including producer
Greg Berlanti, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and talented director
Lee Krieger.

-- “Tell Me a
Story” (Oct. 31, CBS All Access). Some of old Grimm tales were
mighty grim. (Blowing houses down? ... Eating children? ... Carving
Grandma out of a wolf's stomach?) Now those three stories -- “Three
Little Pigs,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Little Red Riding Hood”
-- are blended together in modern New York. Kim Cattrall and Paul
Wesley are in support.

Also scary

Plenty of stories
can be creepy without being supernatural. Two examples are:

-- “The Purge”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, USA, started Sept. 4). This uses the notion of the
“Purge” movies: For one night a year, laws don't apply. Rich
people hide behind their barricades, hoping the poor will purge each
other. On this nasty night, we follow three stories, each well-told:
A Marine tries to rescue his sister from a cult .... An ambitious
woman hires an assassin .... And a decent couple visits a mansion,
hoping to get a donation for charity.

-- “Into the Dark”
(Oct. 5, Netflix). This is a monthly anthology series, keyed to
holidays. Naturally, it starts with Halloween.

Comedies were soaring ... then sort of crashed


This is an updated version of the TV comedy round-up, one piece of the six-part season preview I sent to papers. The updates involve "Murphy Brown" and "Forever," which weren't available previously. Scroll down and you'll see the stories on mini-series and on non-fiction; scroll up and you'll see the others.

 

By Mike Hughes

For a moment, fans
of traditional comedies – the kind done with a studio audience –
were delighted.

“Roseanne” and
“Will & Grace” were back and funny. They joined other top
returning shows – led by “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mom” --
with new ones (including “The Cool Kids”) on the way.

Then it all crashed.
Roseanne Barr was dropped from “Roseanne,” which became “The
Conners.” Also, “Big Bang” announced this will be its final
season. And many of the comedy newcomers are so-so.

Still, there's hope
– and there's a new “Murphy Brown.” Here's a comedy preview:

The best

-- “The Kids Are
Alright” (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Oct. 16, ABC). In real life, Tim
Doyle grew up in an Irish Catholic family, surrounded by six
brothers. Now he turns that into a vibrant comedy, centering on the
one boy who wants a stealth life in theater. Mary McCormack and
Michael Cutlitz avoid all cliches as the bright and caring, if
overwhelmed, parents.

-- “Hold the
Sunset” (arrived Sept. 12, Britbox). After triumphing with “Fawlty
Towers,” John Cleese managed to wait 39 years before doing another
sitution comedy. Now, at 78, he's one piece of this British delight.
He and his neighbor, both widowed, are ready to marry; then her grown
kids manage to crumble in loud and funny ways.

-- “Forever”
(Sept. 14, Amazon Prime). A husband and wife (Fred Armisen and Maya
Rudolph) make a drastic decision: This year's vacation will involve
skiing, not fishing. The result is done with quiet, offbeat charm;
it's Armisen's third cable gem, alongside “Portlandia” and
“Documentary Now.”

-- “The Cool Kids”
(8:30 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 28). Here is a throwback comedy –
broad, silly, noisy and surprisingly appealing. Martin Mull, Leslie
Jordan and David Alan Grier figure they're the cool ones in this
retirement community ... then are reluctant to let Vicki Lawrence
share the turf. Jordan's brash style is the perfect counterpoint for
the droll approaches of the other skilled pros.

The rest

-- “Rel” (9:30
p.m. Sundays, Fox, Sept. 30, but debuted Sept. 9). Borrowing from his
real life, Lil Rel Howery plays a divorced dad. This is broad –
sometimes too broad – humor, sometimes stabilized by Sinbad as
Rel's dad.

-- “Single
Parents” (9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC, Sept. 26). At an upscale
school, one guy (Taran Killam) wants to be a superdad; others (Brad
Garrett, Leighton Meester, Jake Choi) just want to get by. Then they
decide to convert him, with fairly funny results.

-- “Murphy Brown”
(9:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, Sept. 27). This is no match for the great
comedies, ones where laughs flow naturally from dialog; instead,
“Murphy” is too often a series of disconnected one-liners. Still,
some of those lines are sharp and smart; there are enough to keep us
watching.

-- “Last Man
Standing” (8 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 28). OK, this isn't
completely new; it had six successful seasons, before ABC canceled
it. After a year off, it's back, recasting some of the kids. We're
rooting for it ... but the opener is fairly stiff and only mildly
funny.

-- “The
Neighborhood” (8 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Oct. 1). Calvin (Cedric the
Entertainer) is happy with this mostly black neighborhood in Los
Angeles. Then his new neighbor (Max Greenfield) seems too friendly,
too suburban ... and way too white. It's an erratic comedy, but one
that tries hard.

-- “Happy
Together” (8:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Oct. 1). For a year, Harry
Styles – a hot pop star, fresh from One Direction – secretly
lived in the quiet home of Ben Winston. Now Winston (who produces
James Corden's shows) has exaggerated this for a comedy. These
middle-class folks (Amber Stevens West and Damon Wayans Jr.) are very
likable; the show is merely OK.

-- “I Feel Bad”
(9:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, Oct. 4, but debuts 10 p.m. Wednesday,
Sept. 19). Emet (Serayu Blue) has a great career, a nice husband
(Paul Adelstein), good kids ... and zero time. Is she really happy?
Is she supposed to be? It's an intelligent comedy, if not always an
entertaining one.

And more

There are some other
comedies we haven't seen yet. Two of the most notable are:

-- “Camping” (10
p.m. Sundays, Oct. 14, HBO). Jenni Konner and her former “Girls”
star, Lena Dunham, have written and directed this tale of families
trying to have fun in the wild. Kathryn (Jennifer Garner) is
organized and enthusiastic; her husband (David Tennant) is not.

-- “The Kominsky
Method” (Nov. 16, Netflix). Chuck Lorre, the comedy master of “Big
Bang” and “Mom” and more, has Oscar-winners Michael Douglas,
73, and Alan Arkin, 84. They play Hollywood veterans, which they are.

Good news: Mini-series -- ones where stories actually end -- are back


This is the fifth of six stories in the TV season preview I sent to papers. Scroll down and you'll see one on non-fiction; scroll up and you'll see the others.

By Mike Hughes

The good news is
that mini-series are back, big-time.

They had vanished --
so thoroughly that the Emmys temporarily dropped the mini-series
category. Now they've returned, working to tell a deep story, yet
have a real ending. The newcomers include:

The best

-- “Escape at
Dannemora” (Nov. 18, Showtime). Three years ago, the world was
intrigued by the search for two escaped convicts in upstate New York.
Now that story is told from all sides by director Ben Stiller. Benico
Del Toro and Paul Dano are excellent as the cons, but the highlight
is Patricia Arquette's brilliant performance as the prison employee
who was part of the scheme.

The rest

-- “Jack Irish”
(arrived Sept. 10, www.acorn,tv). Guy Pearce, a movie co-star in the
U.S., returns to Australia for his second mini-series as Irish, a
trouble-prone lawyer. It's a good one, with an intense plot that has
international implications.

-- “The Romanoffs”
(Oct. 12, Amazon Prime). Here's an anthology, with a difference:
Characters claim to be descended from Russia's last royal family.
Matthew Weiner created it, with stars including Diane Lane, Amanda
Peet and (from Weiner's “Mad Men”) John Slattery and Christina
Hendricks.

-- “Clique” (10
p.m. Wednesdays, Pop, Nov. 7). This six-week, seven-hour British tale
starts with two girlhood friends reaching the University of
Edinburgh. Then one is lured into an elite group leading a lavish –
and dangerous?-- life. Her friend tries to lure her back.

-- “Dirty John”
(this fall, date pending, Bravo). Debra Newell – an interior
designer with talent and taste – knew she liked John Meehan, a
slick and handsome guy. She didn't know he was an ex-con scam artist.
That true story became a podcast and then this film with Connie
Britton and Eric Bana.

-- And “Masterpiece
Theatre” (9 p.m. Sundays, PBS) keeps turning out masterful
miniseries. The current one (“The Miniaturist”) is dark and
dreary, but on Sept. 30, two terrific shows will return, back-to-back
-- “Durrells in Corfu” at 8 p.m. and “Poldark” at 9. That
will be followed Oct. 21 with “The Woman in White,” a five-week
tale that starts with the sighting of a mysterious woman.

 

Yes, non-fiction still thrives in TV's fantasy, fictiony world


This story concludes the six-part season-preview package I sent to papers. If you scroll up (once I get them all posted), you'll see the other five stories.

 

By Mike Hughes

Amid a cascade of
make-believe, TV also has its non-fiction moments. Here are examples
this fall:

The best

-- “Great American
Read” (8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Sept. 11). The opener was an overview,
but the remaining episodes offer a fun romp through genres. That
starts Sept. 18 with the broad question of “Who am I?” Upcoming
subjects are: heroes; villains and monsters; romance; and “other
worlds.” During this time, we can keep voting; the Oct. 23 finale
will reveal Americans' favorite book.

-- “Jane Fonda in
Five Acts” (8-10:15 p.m., HBO, Sept. 24). Here is a huge and varied
life, most of which was captured on film. Fonda is frank about every
phase – from Army recruiting celebrity to anti-war activist
(including regrets about her Hanoi trip), from pin-up beauty to
feminism activist, plus a couple of Oscars and much more. It's great
biography.

-- “The Mayo
Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science,” 9-11 p.m. Sept. 25, PBS. In a
then-little town (Rochester, Minn.), some Catholic nuns and two
atheistic doctors combined to create medical history. The Mayo
patients have ranged from nearby farmers to Bill Clinton and the
Dalai Lama. This documentary skillfully mixes history with current
portraits of doctors and patients.

The rest (series)

-- “Warriors of
Liberty City” (8 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 16, Starz). Most people know
Luther Campbell as Uncle Luke, the 2 Live Crew rapper who gave the
world “Me So Horny.” But in his alternate life, he leads a
program that helps nudge kids in his tough Miami neighborhood toward
college football scholarships. This is a fairly interesting
documentary ... leading into “America to Me,” the excellent
series that started Aug, 26.

-- “Dancing With
the Stars: Juniors” (8 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 7). Now the dancers
are celebrity kids, ages 9-14, paired with professional junior
ballroom dancers. There are two past champions involved – Jordan
Fisher co-hosting (with Frankie Muniz) and Adam Rippon as one of the
judges.

-- “The Alec
Baldwin Show” (10 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 14). Once ABC's biggest
ratings night – with “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey's
Anatomy” and such – Sundays now become non-scripted and
lower-cost. In this show, Baldwin will do long-form interviews.

-- “Native
America” (9 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Oct. 23). Spanning centuries and
crossing the continent, this four-week series tells of stone
skyscrapers and of pyramids in Mississippi and Mexico. It describes
America's first democracy, 500 years before the Declaration of
Independence ... and tells how horses, brought here for war, became
part of a mobile lifestyle.

-- “Real Country”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, USA, Nov. 13). Shania Twain is producing the show
and on the panel with Jake Owen and Travis Tritt. They'll judge
individuals, duos and groups, picking a champion after eight weeks.
There will also be visits by Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, Wynonna
Judd and more.

-- Also: There are
plenty of other cable shows, of course. Ashlee Simpson – whose
sister Jessica once scored with a young-marrieds reality show –
tries the same with her second husband Evan Ross. “Ashlee+Evan”
(10 p.m. Sundays on E) started Sept. 9. A few other examples: Tom
Arnold's “The Hunt for Trump Tapes,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, starting
Sept. 18 on Viceland; Geraldo Rivera's “Murder in the Family,”
starting Nov. 3 on Reelz; and two people with Netflix shows that will
go beyond their usual comedy: “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” with
celebrity conversations, starts Sept. 14; “Patriot Act With Hasan
Minhaj” is Oct. 28.

Separate
documentaries

-- “Dark Money”
(10-11:30 p.m. Oct. 1, PBS). Ever since a Supreme Court ruling
de-regulated campaigns, Montana voters have been flooded with
political ads. Most ads are negative, some are false and many are
hard to trace to their actual source. Voters eventually turned
against them, making those attacks help (not hurt) the targets. But
getting to that point took an intense effort by reporters, including
one who lived in his car. It's a potent film, under the “POV”
banner.

-- “The Circus”
(9-11 p.m. Oct. 8-9, PBS. Here is true Americana, an “American
Experience” film that captures the dreamers, scoundrels, geniuses
and liars. (P.T. Barnum was all of those, but not the first.) It's a
fun story, filled with serious moments and colorful characters.