Several network series return this week, but the fall season starts in earnest next week. Before the premieres kick off, here are SoS TV Editor Kate Kulzick and SoS Managing TV Editor Deepayan Sengupta with their initial impressions on the networks’ new offerings.
Note: Our thoughts are based on pilots that are works in progress, so there may be changes to these episodes before they air.
Gotham (8 pm EST, FOX)
Premieres Sept. 22nd, 2014
One of the fall’s most buzzed about new series (the TCA dubbed it the most promising new fall show), Gotham’s pilot succeeds not because of its procedural trappings or comic shoutouts, but because of its smart casting. Ben McKenzie is coming off of a strong run on Southland, one of the more underrated series of the past several years, and he is very comfortable in the shoes of the newly minted Detective Gordon. Partnered with Gordon is the corrupt but smart Detective Harvey Bullock, played here by Donal Logue. Logue has delivered fantastic turns time and again and received plenty of critical acclaim (look no further than the brilliant and criminally underrated Terriers), but has yet to find his breakthrough popular role. Hopefully this will be it. McKenzie and Logue have excellent chemistry and if the series draws as heavily on their dynamic as the pilot does, it should hit the ground running.
Complementing the central duo are a smattering of familiar figures from the Batman mythos, most memorably a mob flunkie, Oswald, and a police forensic scientist, Edward. The standout, however, is Jada Pinkett Smith, who is charismatic and fun as crime (mid-level) boss Fish Mooney. Centering the crime world, or at least the part of it Harvey and Gordon interact most with, on an original character is a prudent move that will keep fans guessing. The pilot has its share of red flags (there’s plenty going on without its groan-worthy romantic entanglements), but Gotham is among the most promising new series of the fall and certainly worth tuning in for. [KK]
Scorpion (9 pm EST, CBS)
Premieres Sept. 22nd, 2014
A new CBS action drama, Scorpion follows the fictionalized life of computer genius Walter O’Brien, as he and his team of experts work in conjunction with the government to help tackle major threats. The cast includes Katherine McPhee and Robert Patrick, and Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Justin Lin are among the executive producers.
While Sound on Sight was unable to see the pilot for Scorpion prior to its premiere, it has a fair amount of potential, based primarily on the creatives producing the series. It appears to be set up mainly as a procedural, which means the show will survive on either characters and cast chemistry or its ability to successfully embrace bigger storylines. Kurtzman and Orci have also been attached to shows such as Fringe and Sleepy Hollow, both of which have been able to expand beyond their initial premise. The presence of Robert Patrick, who manages to be entertaining in nearly every project, is a promising sign, and Justin Lin directing the pilot seemingly assures at least one fun episode. CBS also has a solid recent track record of dramas, including The Good Wife, Person of Interest, and Elementary. Put together, these factors bode well for Scorpion.
It’s the cast, however, that will make or break this show. Outside of veteran Patrick and Eddie Kaye Thomas, the core group is comprised of a largely untested group of performers, with lead Elyes Gabel getting his first crack at anchoring a primetime series and Katherine McPhee appearing in only her second major television role. This challenge, however, is not insurmountable, and it will be worth keeping an eye on Scorpion to see how it shapes up over its first season. [DS]
Jane the Virgin (9 pm EST, CW)
Premieres Oct. 13th, 2014
Based on Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, Jane the Virgin is this critic’s pick for the best fall show. In a network season full of voice-over narration, this is the only one to earn the device, adopting a heightened tone that makes the telenovela-style approach utterly appropriate. Jane the Virgin follows young twenty-something Jane Villanueva, a hardworking, dedicated woman holding down a job while working towards her teaching degree. She is also a virgin. The product of an unplanned teenaged pregnancy, Jane decided as a young girl to wait to have sex until after marriage and she’s stuck to this, even two years into a loving relationship with her boyfriend. Things get complicated when a series of miscommunications and extenuating circumstances lead to her accidental artificial insemination.
The mere fact that it pulls off this twist is impressive, but what makes Jane the Virgin stand out is its introspective, thoughtful response to it. Rather than doubling down on the insanity, it switches gears. Yes, it’s a ludicrous premise (the synopsis above only scratches the surface), but if it did happen, how would someone like Jane react, and how would this affect all of the people in her life? The cast handles the heightened comedy just as well as the contemplative moments and Gina Rodriguez is a true discovery (for this critic—plenty will know her from The Bold and the Beautiful) as Jane. Jane the Virgin deserves to be a hit, and hopefully it will be. [KK]