The fall TV season is just kicking off and it’s time to begin crafting a weekly TV-viewing schedule that fits your needs, genre preferences, and tastes, and that hopefully includes something old, something new, and something that’s been around for a while that you’ve been meaning to check out. Following up on Sound on Sight’s coverage of the fall’s new network series, contributor Claire Hellar will be recommending her top choices, by genre, of the networks’ returning shows.
These may be competitive days for sitcoms, but the fall season is nonetheless dishing up a good blend of sophomore gems and long-running veterans in the comedy slot. Here are my choices.
About a Boy
Returns Tuesday Oct 14 at 9:30 ET on NBC
This Hornby adaptation, from Parenthood creator Jason Katims, is warm, sharply written, and a genuine crowd-pleaser. Many people have affectionate, if perhaps vague, memories of the 2002 Hugh Grant film based on the the 1998 novel, but NBC’s adaptation has given it a different flavor entirely. Will Freeman, in both the film and the novel, is an emotionally detached slacker living off the inherited wealth of a hit song written by his father. Katims has adapted the character to fit the needs of television: Freeman is still lazy and irresponsible, but begins a transformation much more quickly than either his film or novel counterpart, and is quickly revealed to be very kind at heart. And in an unexpected goldmine of a cast, David Walton shines as Freeman, bringing a boyish, appealing charm that ignites the screen.
He and Benjamin Stockham (who is a better fit as Marcus than Nicholas Hoult) have the kind of chemistry most directors can only dream about for their stars. The two develop a sidekick relationship based not on sentimental father-son bonding, but on a very honest mutual manipulation of each other, which slowly turns to growing affection. The screen has also missed the always wonderful Minnie Driver, who gives the role of hippie mother Fiona a beautiful blend of vulnerability and intelligence, particularly in her challenging interactions with Will’s friends. After a serviceable but bland set of opening episodes, this genuinely heartwarming comedy swings into gear and delivers a story and a world you want to stick with.
Airs Sundays 8:30 ET on FOX
Throw a bunch of seasoned comedy veterans, a few relative newbies, and some writers into a new show, and what you get is either mild-to-total chaos or competently delivered comedy gold. In a pleasant surprise, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has turned out to be the latter; it quickly finds a way to be on-point, and deftly navigates across its large ensemble cast to give each performer their turn in the humor spotlight. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is that it coaxes the best elements of each actor out of them. Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta is a boyish, feckless detective who, while unspooling a mix of easy toilet humor and clever one-liners, also manages to be very, very good at his job, and Samberg is at his most likable on the show. Meanwhile, as oddball Gina Linetti, Chelsea Peretti invariably gets the best lines of every episode, and is in her element delivering them with dry panache.
There’s something faintly magical about Brooklyn Nine-Nine, something of the intangible touch of such classic shows as Seinfeld and Friends. It’s partly that it’s a great combination of strong writing, directing, and acting, balancing a lot of moving parts fairly seamlessly, but also that it transcends itself to become something lovable and gripping. Did I mention it’s very, very funny?
Key & Peele
Airs Wednesdays at 10:30 ET on Comedy Central
This inspired sketch series from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele has only gained momentum since its debut three years ago, and titular stars Key and Peele are at the center of something of a media empire. Among many other projects, a film based on the comedy series is in the works, and Key and Peele are writing and acting in a Judd-Apatow-produced film. The half-hour series isn’t about anything in particular, though it returns to racial issues often, among an extensive panoply of cultural, political, and social touchstones. They’ve spoofed nearly every Hollywood film genre, as well as college football, sexism, and Anne Hathaway, and Peele does an eerily spot-on Obama impression. The long-time friends bring an endless energy and loopy, constantly-riffing camaraderie to the stories that they both write and perform. Their frenetic energy can be a little exhausting at times, but their dialogue is consistently clever, and their approaches to politically sensitive issues are surprising and often illuminating. The two possess a little-heard, nuanced insight into racial issues, as both are biracial (as critics have pointed out, the show is about race, but not just about race). Inventive and not quite like anything else on air, this is a must for any comedy fan.
Airs Wednesdays at 10 ET on Comedy Central
The long-running, classic Comedy Central sitcom shows no signs of slowing down in its 18th season, and is slated to air through at least 2016. A few things add up to make South Park the consistent animated juggernaut that it is: one, a total stability of the vision and creative team. Trey Parker has not only written, but also directed each episode for the past 14 years, and he and Matt Stone still do most of the voice acting. And two, its unique, dark, sometimes vicious tone. The off-kilter series blazes through every politically and socially correct rule with glee, turning its satiric lens on racism, poverty, obesity, sexism, violence, and celebrity culture, to name just a few. The world is also a universe unto itself — in 14 years the boys have not, and probably never will, graduate from fourth grade — and its static nature requires the characters to stay stuck in order for the show, the lessons learned, and the situations depicted to evolve. Parker and Stone’s genius is such that millions of adults tune in every week to watch a story about a ragtag group of fourth-grade boys in fictional small-town Colorado.
Honorary mentions: Family Guy and The Simpsons, naturally, and Broad City and Parks and Recreation, both of which return midseason.