2015 Fall Television Preview: Tuesdays

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In advance of this fall’s network premieres, PopOptiq’s TV Editors Kate Kulzick and Deepayan Sengupta are rounding up the new series day by day, looking at what is worth investigating and what might be worth a pass. First up was Deepayan’s look at the new Monday shows; read on for Kate’s take on the Tuesday offerings.

The Muppets
Created by Bill Prady and Bob Kushell
Premieres September 22nd at 8pm (ET) on ABC

UPDATED: The third series featuring the popular Jim Henson creations, The Muppets is a The Office-style faux documentary following Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of The Muppets as they put on a new talk show for ABC, Up Late with Miss Piggy. There’s tension on set, as long-term couple Kermit and Miss Piggy have split and Kermit has a new pig in his life, his girlfriend Denise. With cutaways to talking heads as well as familiar sitcom setups, The Muppets looks to be a conventional single-cam comedy, as compared to the variety show format of The Muppets Show and blend of variety show and behind-the-scenes comedy of Muppets Tonight.

While the late night talk show setting of The Muppets calls to mind the great The Larry Sanders Show, a series few new shows would benefit from being measured against, this is a fun vehicle for The Muppets and one that fits nicely alongside their previous series and films. The sheer number of people it takes to put on a television show allows the writers to fill the group scenes with Muppets, familiar and obscure, working on Up Late as everything from writers and gophers to costume designers and of course, the house band. Kermit, Fozzie Bear, and Miss Piggy are definitely the leads, filling the Artie, Hank, and Larry roles, but while seeing The Muppets in these familiar behind-the-scenes setups is entertaining, and the trio are certainly able successors to their The Larry Sanders Show counterparts, the larger ensemble cast is the real treat here. Getting to spend time with Pepe the King Prawn as a writer, or Bobo the Bear as the stage manager, adds more personality to this well-trod ground and the ease these characters have with each other, and that fans of The Muppets will share with them as well, gives a comfortable, lived in feel that turns that familiarity into a benefit, rather than a drawback. The Muppets isn’t doing anything new, or anything fans of behind-the-scenes or mockumentary comedies haven’t done before, but the charm of the characters makes this a series any fan of The Muppets should check out.

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Scream Queens
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan
Premieres September 22nd at 9pm (ET) on Fox

The latest offering from Ryan Murphy, and co-created by his Glee collaborators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, Scream Queens is a horror comedy set at fictional Wallace University, where sorority Kappa Kappa Tau comes under attack from a mysterious and seemingly murderous stalker. Presided over by the cool and cruel Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), Kappa has its hands full with anti-sorority Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) before the devil-costumed killer even strikes, as Dean Munsch forces a group of undesirable pledges on the sorority, including Skyle Samuels’ likable every-woman Grace, Lea Michele’s intense Hester, and Keke Palmer’s skeptical Zayday. As the threat grows, security guard Denise (Niecy Nash) is brought in to help keep the ladies of Kappa safe, but it will take a lot more than Denise to keep everyone safe.

The series wisely embraces camp and comedy, pairing occasional creepy moments with self-aware nods to the slasher genre and the tropes and character types that fuel it. Heightened performances abound, with Glen Powell’s campus golden boy Chad, the occasional boyfriend of Chanel, a particular standout. There are plenty of secrets lurking in the past of Kappa Kappa Tau and these, along with the whodunit element, should give the series enough story to sustain it through its 15 episodes. The plan is for Scream Queens to be an anthology series in the vein of Murphy and Falchuk’s American Horror Story, which should free the series from the danger of under-delivering on its setup and stakes in order to keep characters around for multiple seasons. While Murphy’s track record is hit-or-miss to say the least, Scream Queens gets off to a fun and interesting start and fans of lighter-hearted horror, meta humor, or this talented cast should tune in.

Limitless
Based on Limitless (2011)
Premieres September 22nd at 10pm (ET) on CBS

A continuation of the Neil Burger-directed thriller of the same name, Limitless follows regular guy Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) who is given wonder-drug NZT-48 by Bradley Cooper’s Eddie Morra and winds up working with FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) to solve crimes. Based on the material released about the series—PopOptiq did not receive a screener of the pilot—this will be a quasi-serialized, quasi-procedural show that explores the world of the film and more closely examines the effects of the IQ-boosting NZT on protagonist Brian.

The ticking clock element of the drug’s window of effectiveness should provide some stakes to the proceedings, as well as the threat of the drug’s long-term effects on the body, but on the whole, this looks to be the latest entry in the popular crime procedural sub-genre Very Special (and frequently difficult or quirky) Civilian Helps By-The-Books Cop Solve Cases. It’s a tired genre and the creative team at Limitless will have their work cut out for themselves distinguishing this series from the myriad others in this vein currently airing. The series has a strong cast and the promises of occasional appearances by Cooper may be enough to win over some viewers, but it will take a lot of creativity from the writers for the series to succeed where so many of its ilk (CBS’ 2014 procedural Intelligence comes immediately to mind) have failed.

Grandfathered

Grandfathered
Created by Daniel Chun
Premieres September 29th at 8pm (ET) on Fox

John Stamos is back battling diapers on TV, this time as a grandpa. Grandfathered centers on driven restauranteur Jimmy Martino, whose life is upended when the grown son he never knew he’d fathered introduces himself, and his infant daughter, at Jimmy’s restaurant. Jimmy’s intense, but eventually fleeting relationship with Sara Kingsley (Paget Brewster) resulted, without Jimmy’s knowledge, in Gerald (Josh Peck), who seeks out his supposed Casanova of a father hoping for relationship advice as he attempts to woo the mother of his child, Vanessa (Christina Milian). Suddenly presented with a family, should he want them, Jimmy must navigate this new and challenging chapter of his life.

Fans of Stamos will undoubtedly be onboard for this series, which has a solid, if predictable, start. Stamos is charmingly insecure as Jimmy and has a good rapport with the rest of the cast and while the setups are familiar ones, they’re executed with enough good humor to sustain the show, at least for now. The real gem here is Brewster as Jimmy’s ex, Sara. She’s a great comedic foil for Stamos and grounds the show, countering its potentially saccharine tone and immediately conveying the strength it took to raise Gerald as a single mother. Grandfathered could easily become repetitive or fall into tiresome will-they/won’t-they patterns with either of its teased central couples, but fans of Stamos or Brewster will likely have fun with the show.

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The Grinder
Created by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel
Premieres September 29th at 8:30pm (ET) on Fox

Dean Sanderson, Jr. (Rob Lowe) isn’t a lawyer, but he played one on TV. Fresh off the cancelation of his long-running TV series, also titled The Grinder, Dean returns home to Idaho and inserts himself into his brother Stewart’s (Fred Savage) life. Stewart is actually an attorney, but while he’s intellectually brilliant, he’s terrible at public speaking, which is where Dean comes in. Raw and insecure after losing his job, Dean decides to stay in his hometown instead of returning to Hollywood, joining the family firm. Resentments between the brothers flare up and are addressed as Stewart and Dean adjust to working together and being more permanent fixtures in each other’s lives.

Marketing for The Grinder is pushing Rob Lowe as the star of the series, but it’s Fred Savage’s put-upon everyman who steals the show. Fans of The Wonder Years (and the short-lived Working) will be excited to see Savage back acting in a weekly series; he’s spent much of the past decade directing comedies such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Party Down, and Garfunkel and Oates. Savage has excellent chemistry with Always Sunny’s Mary Elizabeth Ellis, who plays Stewart’s wife Debbie, and the grounded, supportive relationship of the pair allows Lowe to go big as Dean, who occasionally feels like he’s in a different show. The guest and supporting cast is strong—Rose Abdoo and Kumail Nanjiani give entertaining turns in the pilot and will hopefully be back—and the premise is open enough to give the writers plenty of room to play with and explore the brothers’ dynamic. If the creative team can bring together the wacky energy of Lowe as Dean with the solid, if occasionally curmudgeonly presence of Savage as Stewart, and avoid consistently making either brother the butt of the joke, The Grinder could grow into a reliable, entertaining sitcom.

Wicked City
Created by Steven Baigelman
Premieres October 27th at 10pm (ET) on ABC

A planned crime procedural anthology series, the first season of Wicked City is set in 1982 on the Sunset Strip and follows serial killer Kent Grainger (Ed Westwick) and the people who populate his world, his potential captors (including Jeremy Sisto’s homicide detective Jack Roth), victims (Taissa Farmiga’s aspiring journalist Karen McClaren), and accomplices (Erika Christensen’s single mother Betty Beaumontaine). With its later premiere date, the pilot for Wicked City has not yet been made available, but based on the trailer, the series will need to do a lot of leg work to separate itself from the many odious and exploitative serial killer series that have come out over the past few years (including the thankfully cancelled Stalker and The Following).

While the cast is very strong and the series looks to be dripping with ‘80s style, these elements aren’t enough to overwhelm the serial killer fatigue many, including this critic, are feeling at this point. Christensen’s character offers the hope for a new twist on the formula, and the limited 10 episode run certainly helps, but the series has an uphill climb ahead of it if it wants to be more than the latest under-examined, sensationalistic crime drama. Hopefully it aspires to more, and will be able to achieve it. Note: We will update this entry should screeners become available.

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