TV Feature: The 10 Most Promising Network Shows of Fall 2013

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Average: 4.6 (5 votes)

CHICAGO – In the decade-plus that I’ve been covering network television, no season comes close to this upcoming one in terms of lackluster, bland, uninspired programming.

For the first time, it was incredibly difficult to get to ten shows that made me even remotely curious about what was coming in the second episode. Don’t consider anything after the top three as too strong of a recommendation. Yep. Three.

Interestingly, the networks seem to be holding back their best product for the midseason. Alfonso Cuaron’s (“Gravity”) “Believe” (NBC), a TV adaptation of Nick Hornby’s “About a Boy” (NBC), the twisty “Resurrection” (ABC), and the incredible cast of “Us & Them” (FOX) would be my top four if they were airing this Fall. So, while the new season gets off to a slow start, it should pick up in early 2014. Even FOX’s “Rake” and CBS’s “Intelligence” could take off midseason.

Until then…

First, a quick note on the worst. Avoid “Dads,” “Trophy Wife,” “Back in the Game,” “Ironside,” “Welcome to the Family,” “We Are Men,” and, most of all, the abrasively awful “The Crazy Ones”. All will be individually reviewed here over the next few weeks. Most of them won’t be pretty.

Second, ABC did not make the premiere of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” available in time for this piece. I think they know they don’t need the buzz. Hopefully, it’s not because it doesn’t work. I’m excited for it but this annual feature only includes things I’ve seen.

The Originals
The Originals
Photo credit: The CW

10. “The Originals” (The CW, Tuesdays, 7pm CST)

Like the All-Star Game player from the Houston Astros, this one is a bit of a quota situation in that I felt like I should include at least one CW show and I find “The Originals” the most intriguing of the three offerings this season. “Reign” is a bit too much of a dress-up piece: pretty young people pretending to do a period soap opera. None of it feels real. And “The Tomorrow People,” a remake of the Brit sci-fi show, has close to the same degree of promise as this “Vampire Diaries” spin-off but I find the network’s most likely hit it’s most engaging program, just barely. The show’s use of setting — the always-creepy New Orleans — is effective, the cast is beautiful, and the stakes seem melodramatically high enough to attract fans of “TVD” while also perhaps appealing to some of their older siblings as well.

Mom
Mom
Photo credit: CBS

9. “Mom” (CBS, Mondays, 7:30pm CST)

Here’s a variation on something you’re going to read several times in this piece — it’s mostly about the talent involved and not that this first half-hour is particularly well-done. TV pilots are weird things, especially for comedy, in that you’re gauging what the show could be as the writers learn to write to their actors’ comic timing. The pilots of shows with loyal followings like “Community” and “30 Rock” were nowhere near as tight as they would become just a couple months after their debut. “Parks and Recreation” barely resembles its entire first season. So, while the debut of Chuck Lorre’s latest attempt at world domination is hit-and-miss at best, one cannot deny that Anna Faris and Allison Janney have what it takes to make this work. In fact, the first scene between the two actresses totally hits. But the writing needs to pick up to match their talents. Again, this won’t be the last time you read that or think it yourself in this lackluster season filled with stars to the degree that there was apparently no budget left to pay good writers.

The Millers
The Millers
Photo credit: CBS

8. “The Millers” (CBS, Thursdays, 7:30pm CST)

Will Arnett can’t catch a break. He finally gets a great time slot (post “The Big Bang Theory”) and a great supporting cast, including Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale, who can do anything, going from one of the most malevolent performances of the last decade on “Justified” to fart jokes here on Thursday nights, and critics are already calling it crap. Admittedly, Greg Garcia, the creator of “Raising Hope” and “My Name is Earl,” goes WAY too broad here with the sex and bodily humor jokes but Arnett, Martindale, J.B. Smoove — this great cast and Garcia’s wonderful ability to blend heartfelt family dynamics with relatable humor makes this feel like a show that could quickly tighten into something entertaining. Or not. Again, consider this one of the “more promising losers.”

Dracula
Dracula
Photo credit: NBC

7. “Dracula” (NBC, Fridays, 9pm CST)

I know. It’s exhaustingly overdone. “Once Upon a Time,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Grimm,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” — when does it end? I don’t think it ends here, with this well-made update of the Bram Stoker classic, a highly-polished show that I expect will hit with “Grimm” fans. With the low expectations of ratings that come with any network on Friday night, especially NBC, all “Dracula” needs to do is appeal to a few fans of the legendary character to hit that bar of Friday nights. And, you know, it’s not as bad as this faint praise makes it seem. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has always had that suave creep factor that makes him perfect for the titular role and the supporting cast includes interesting players like Nonso Anozie and Thomas Kretschmann as Van Helsing.

The Goldbergs
The Goldbergs
Photo credit: ABC

6. “The Goldbergs” (ABC, Tuesdays, 7pm CST)

The great Patton Oswalt narrates this broad comedy about teen life in the ’80s from Adam F. Goldberg & Seth Gordon. Yes, the non-stop references to ’80s pop culture and the loud sense of humor that typifies most of the jokes (everyone’s always yelling at each other) can be grating but those both feel like elements that can be toned down post-premiere. In the world of the sitcom, a show often comes across its most cliched in the premiere since it has to grab people enough during pilot season to get picked up. If the show remains all references and yelling, it will be below the talents of Oswalt, Wendi McLendon-Covey, George Segal, and the great Jeff Garlin. It may not matter since ABC hasn’t been able to figure out comedy on Tuesday nights but I love Garlin & Oswalt enough to give them the benefit of the doubt. And ABC has a tired line-up this year. Something had to make the list.

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