How To Get Away With Murder

In part one of The A.V. Club’s 2014 fall TV preview, we made unofficial episode orders for the first half of the TV week, prematurely judging the likes of Gotham, Selfie, Stalker, and other shows that had more than one word in their title. (But not many! If there’s anything that’s hot this season, it’s succinct-yet-vague series names.) Today, we get through the rest of the week, in addition to shows that have removed themselves from the constraints of time and space, either because they don’t have an official premiere date yet or because they’ll be streaming directly to your Internet-capable computer devices.

Editor’s note: Any pilots referenced within these previews are works in progress, and subject to change prior to broadcast. All times listed are Eastern.

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Thursday

Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories (Adult Swim, debuts September 18 at 12:15 a.m.)

The first TV project from Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim to legitimately benefit from HD, Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories finds the duo branching out into the realms of the spooky, the supernatural, and the high production value. Those first two adjectives aren’t in quotation marks: Heidecker and Wareheim have always worked in shades of disturbing (“Lazy Horse Mattress,” anyone?), and Bedtime Stories simply puts these qualities in front of the comedy. In front of the camera are Tim and Eric, of course, along with guest stars like Bob Odenkirk and Gillian Jacobs.

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What it’s selling: A quarter-hour Tales From The Crypt that’s not so dependent on bad puns—and even less dependent on any sense of conventional narrative.

What are we buying? Third-act twists you’ll never see coming, because doing so would require being as unhinged as the people scripting those endings.

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The order: The order? Why, Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories has been here for 15 years! [EA]

How To Get Away With Murder (ABC, debuts September 25 at 10 p.m.)

Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is not your typical law professor, as walking into her class—which gives the series its name—means walking into a learning experience that looks suspiciously like the latest Shonda Rhimes drama. Created by Peter Nowalk, the show follows Wes Gibbins (Harry Potter’s Alfred Enoch) as a first year law student who gets caught up in the high-stakes, competitive environment of Keating’s seminar; given the series’ title, it’s not exactly a spoiler that he and his fellow classmates get more than they bargained for.

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What it’s selling: A juicy weekly legal procedural showcase for Davis, and a somewhat rote, serialized mythology that’s mainly there to make sure you don’t dismiss it as a simple procedural (which nearly happened to Scandal before it became a breakout success).

What are we buying? Enough. There’s too much going on in the series’ pilot, but Davis is a strong anchor, we can’t root against Liza Weil (Gilmore Girls) being on television, and the actual procedures of the opening case connect nicely with the characters involved. The serial elements may be too generic, but they can get away with that (for now).

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The order: Given ABC has already announced they’re capping the season at 15 or 16 episodes, we’ll sustain the motion to give them a shot at closing arguments. [MM]

Bad Judge (NBC, debuts October 2 at 9 p.m.)

Kate Walsh makes her return to series television as a magistrate with a mean streak, a woman who’s not afraid to use the authority of the bench to visit humiliating sentences on the offenders paraded before her. (Littering charge? She just might stick you on a garbage truck for six months.) She has a kind heart, it’s just that she’s unorthodox—in that she wears cowboy boots under her robe and believes in sharing the privacy of her chambers with others (if you catch her drift). She’s not a bad judge, she’s a bad judge, in both the Michael Jackson sense of the adjective and the “wakes up in a crumpled ball of hangover” sense.

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What it’s selling: The imprimatur of executive producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who are typically drawn to zanier material than what was seen in Bad Judge’s original pilot, a tonal mishmash in which Walsh’s character also harbors fantasies of rock stardom. (Also: The ironic twist that Walsh’s character’s last name is “Wright.”)

What are we buying? Ryan Hansen’s casting as the not-so-honorable judge’s fuck buddy, replacing Mather Zickel and continuing his streak of Bad TV shows. (Hansen’s last regular role was on 2014’s television adaptation of Bad Teacher.)

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The order: Three hours of community service, after which NBC should release the show (and Hansen) for sunnier quarters, filling its time slot with the latest from another powerhouse comedy duo: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s escape-from-a-doomsday-cult sitcom starring Ellie Kemper. After all, the network was fine with letting creator Liz Brixius walk before the show even aired one episode. [EA]

A To Z (NBC, debuts October 2 at 9:30 p.m. Pilot currently streaming.)

Can a sitcom be powered by a meet-cute? That’s the question asked by A To Z, which follows the courtship of the overly romantic Andrew (Ben Feldman, the mad man from Mad Men) and no-nonsense Zelda (Cristin Milioti, the mother from How I Met Your Mother). As a voice-over by Katey Sagal promises, the show will chart the ups and downs of their relationship which lasts exactly “eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour.” In between that time, there’s room for lots of misunderstandings, demonstrations of affection, and adventures with wacky best friends (Henry Zebrowski and Lenora Crichlow).

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What it’s selling: The next step in NBC’s plan to mine romantic comedies for sitcom gold, building on the relative success of About A Boy last year. Unlike About A Boy or the late, lamented Bent, A To Z removes the degree of uncertainty as to whether its leads will get together and sets up exploration of what happens when they do. Milioti’s presence and Sagal’s voice-over raise immediate How I Met Your Mother comparisons, but creator Ben Queen shows little interest early on in adding that show’s mystery elements, with the ticking clock on the relationship more of a framing device that indicates a plan for the full season.

What are we buying? Romantic comedies live and die by the chemistry between their leads, and thankfully Feldman and Milioti enjoy an easy rapport that makes it easy to overlook a lack of laugh-out-load moments. A Back To The Future joke in the pilot (complete with an appearance by Lea Thompson) also indicates the show possesses a surreal streak, which is always a welcome quality.

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The order: Six episodes. It’s a likable comedy airing Thursday nights on NBC, so the deck is stacked against it immediately. [LC]

Gracepoint (Fox, debuts October 2)

Billed as a “10-part mystery event,” Gracepoint is, based on the pilot episode, a nearly shot-by-shot remake of Broadchurch, which aired on BBC America in 2013. The slightly Americanized whodunit investigates the death of a 12-year-old boy in a sleepy seaside tourist town in Northern California. Long takes in the first episode introduce viewers to the town’s characters, each of whom will be questioned about Danny Solano’s murder as the town crumbles apart during the aftermath of this anomalous tragedy.

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What it’s selling: The exact same thing BBC America sold a year ago: sad-bastard David Tennant and a wrenching small-town murder mystery. Even most of the non-Tennant characters bear uncanny resemblances to their British counterparts, down to the costuming, with the most notable exception being Detective Ellie Miller, played by the outstanding Olivia Colman in Broadchurch and by Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn in Gracepoint.

What are we buying? This will only get interesting for Broadchurch fans if the final reveal turns out to be different. Otherwise, just David Tennant’s American accent (which is admittedly impressive, though still somehow fails to sell Tennant as truly American), and two more episodes than the original version.

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The order: Eighteen episodes. The first eight will be called Broadchurch, and the next 10 are a translation for your mom who still has a hard time understanding Scottish accents. [LMB]

The McCarthys (CBS, debuts October 30 at 9:30 p.m.)

Capping a Thursday-night lineup that contains last season’s breakout about an uncomfortably close family, The Millers, The McCarthys revolves around the lives of a Boston brood whose main preoccupations are basketball and gently mocking one another. The audience’s entry point into the family circle is the openly gay youngest son (Tyler Ritter), who sets his sights on relocating to Rhode Island before Dad (Jack McGee) surprises him—and the rest of the McCarthys—with an invite to join the family business. The family business being basketball, because this is a sitcom set in the hometown of the most successful franchise in NBA history.

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What it’s selling: Sitcom scion and out McCarthy, Tyler “Son Of John” Ritter, who nails the tone of the pilot following one of his family’s well-meaning attempts at sexuality-based outreach: “sweet and awkward and at times offensive.”

What are we buying? The vintage hostile warmth/warm hostility of the family dynamic, recalling such classics as Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond—the former of which was the big TV break for the brightest spot in the McCarthys cast, Laurie Metcalf.

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The order: Based on the genuine laughs in the pilot, the family has at least 13 episodes in them. (That ought to bring former New Kid On The Block Joey McIntyre up to speed with the rest of the cast, too.) Based on the show’s potential as future syndicated wallpaper, CBS might as well get it over with and order 88 episodes right now. [EA]

Fridays

Cristela (ABC, debuts October 10 at 8:30 p.m.)

Cristela (Cristela Alonzo) is a career law student, crashing at the home of her impatient sister (Maria Canals-Barrera) and even-more-impatient brother-in-law (Carlos Ponce). It’s a Full House scenario compounded by a hard-to-please mother (Terri Hoyos) and Gabriel Iglesias as a wannabe suitor whose advances might be the shortest route to finally getting Cristela into her own place. All that stands between her and independence is an internship at a top law firm—though it’s an unpaid internship, so she shouldn’t start packing quite yet.

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What it’s selling: Alonzo, basically: The stand-up’s stage presence and energy keep a so-so pilot afloat, and her bio—a Horatio Alger story by way of the comedy club, in which Alonzo spent part of her TV-loving childhood squatting in an abandoned diner—mirrors Cristela’s own improbable journey to the small screen. (Long Cinderella story short: 20th Century Fox took the $500,000 it made when ABC initially passed on Cristela and produced a pilot using cast, crew, sets, and (presumably) paper plates and metal chairs from Last Man Standing.)

What are we buying? The tension at the heart of the show, which is less about generational differences and more about Cristela’s lawyerly ambitions and her family’s worry that they will alienate her from her Mexican-American roots.

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The order: Six episodes to bring everyone up to the same levels of assurance as Alonzo, with a full 22-episode order contingent on keeping the cast around its borrowed sets long enough to freak out Tim Allen’s conservative Last Man Standing protagonist. [EA]

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Sonic Highways (HBO, premieres October 17 at 11 p.m.)

Foo Fighters eighth studio album—its first since 2011’s Wasting Light—was recorded at eight separate studios, each located in a musically significant U.S. city. Sonic Highways is a making-of documentary, but it’s also the stories of those eight cities, as told to frontman Dave Grohl by the people who live and make music there. Come for early tastes of the record; stay for once-in-a-lifetime conversations with the legends (Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Chuck D, Bonnie Raitt), luminaries (Clive Davis, Rick Rubin), and cult figures (Ian MacKaye, Steve Albini, Rick Nielsen, Trouble Funk) of American pop. Also featuring: the most powerful Jay Z fan in the free world, Barack Obama.

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What it’s selling: An all-encompassing look at the past 60 years of popular American music, with unprecedented access to the people who made that history. If you want an audience with these people, apparently it doesn’t hurt to front one of rock’s last remaining megabands.

What are we buying? Dave Grohl’s enthusiasm for all styles of pop, which has its well-documented limits, but remains as infectious and electrifying as the chorus of “Everlong.”

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The order: Nothing we’re going to say is going to interrupt a record that’s already in the can, so let the boys play Sonic Highways from front to back. [EA]

Constantine (NBC, debuts October 24 at 10 p.m.)

NBC and DC Comics try to erase all memory of the Keanu Reeves-starring adaptation of Hellblazer with this new Constantine, bringing the cynical demon hunter to TV to continue his search for salvation. Enlisting director Neil Marshall for the pilot seems to be a prudent move on NBC’s part, as is casting perpetually smirking Welshman Matt Ryan as John Constantine. Harold Perrineau is also a welcome presence as Manny, the angel sent to keep an eye on the titular exorcist, demon hunter, and master of the dark arts. The rest of the cast is relatively fresh, including Angélica Celaya as Zed Martin, a character from the comics who will replace wide-eyed Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffiths) as Constantine’s female foil after the pilot episode.

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What it’s selling: Hellblazer done right this time, with a John Constantine who’s actually blonde and British and makes sardonic comments while wearing the character’s signature tan trench coat. This Constantine doesn’t smoke cigarettes—on camera, anyway—but that’s a minor detail, right?

What are we buying? In case the long, dingy hallways, flickering fluorescent lights, and opaque white contacts by the truckload don’t make it obvious enough, this show is edgy. But Constantine’s creepiest moments are also its most laughable, a problem that could be fatal for a horror series.

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The order: Thirteen episodes, enough time to set up a diabolical threat that the audience actually finds credible. [KR]

Saturday

The Chair (Starz, debuts September 6 at 11 p.m.)

The newest mutation of the Project Greenight model sees the behind-the-scenes filmmaking documentary series splitting in two, with neophyte directors Anna Martemucci and Shane Dawson tasked with making their own feature-film versions of the same screenplay. As ever, there are cameras on hand to film every triumph, challenge, and inevitable disaster, with executive producer Chris Moore providing theoretically benevolent running analysis and advice.

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What it’s selling: The Project Greenlight concept is always at war with itself, its stated feel-good generosity in giving young filmmakers a chance undermined by the need for juicy reality-TV conflict. The added wrinkles this time out exemplify that compromise: Seeing how two ambitious young directors interpret the same source material introduces compelling insight into the creative process, while “multiplatform audience voting” to determine which director wins a quarter-million dollars provides the necessary reality-show friction.

What are we buying? The endearing vulnerability of YouTube phenomenon Dawson and actress-turned-director Martemucci. They’ve both got their weaknesses but, thankfully, both are essentially likable. Plus, the choice of rough-and-tumble Pittsburgh for both films’ locations and the supportive presence of actor and producer Zachary Quinto makes this double-headed underdog story easier to root for.

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The order: Ten episodes, plenty of time for viewers to judge both the quality of the two films—and the series producers’ intentions. [DP]

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Streaming/TBD

Transparent (Amazon, September 26)

In the first Amazon Studios comedy pilot to get it right, United States Of Tara and Six Feet Under producer Jill Soloway invites viewers into the homes of a tight-knit family of L.A. neurotics. As the grown children of divorced Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light, Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, and Amy Landecker know far too much about one another’s personal lives, yet those relationships don’t preclude secrets, like the one dad divulges at the end of the pilot. (Hint: Sound out the syllables of the tile.)

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What it’s selling: An HBO-quality family dramedy with off-the-cuff performances from Hoffmann, Duplass, and Landecker, plus a conceit that’s entering the conversation about LGBTQ civil rights at the right moment to participate in and illuminate the “T” part of that acronym.

What are we buying? An utterly sympathetic (but not humorless) portrayal from Tambor, whose character is embracing a true identity just as the kids are losing sight of the people they thought they were.

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The order: Is it too early to ask for three of four seasons of warm, surprising, uproarious TV like the kind seen in the Transparent pilot? [EA]

Mozart In The Jungle (Amazon, premiere date TBD)

Another deep dive into a culture untapped by TV, Mozart In The Jungle takes its inspiration from the Blair Tindall memoir of the same name, subtitled Sex, Drugs, And Classical Music. There’s plenty of all three to be found from this tastefully appointed effort by Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, which establishes a New York City classical scene in upheaval, as a hotshot conductor (Gael García Bernal) clashes with the old guard (primarily Malcolm McDowell) while Saffron Burrows’ seasoned cellist reaches out to a younger generation whose hard-partying ways include drunkenly running up and down their respective scales.

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What it’s selling: A lot of class and style, with a peek behind a curtain that many viewers won’t realize was hiding such excitement, politicking, and making out.

What are we buying? The many haunts of the show’s musicians, just some of the fall’s many vibrant, lived-in settings—Happyland’s amusement park for one, the country club from new Amazon pilot Red Oaks for another—that help the pilot do quick and excellent work of immersing the viewer in the world of Mozart In The Jungle. (That said, it’s a bustling hive of activity that could prove too much for 30-minute installments to bear.)

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The order: Subscribe for 10 episodes, and you won’t get a handsome tote bag, but you’ll get an engrossing tour of cultural circles few get to penetrate—though their TV potential suggests that more people should. [EA]

The Game (BBC America, premiere date TBD)

Ported over from the mother channel, BBC America’s new spy drama takes on the Cold War—a period that’s been plundered by the genre, but only because it’s so fertile. The series focuses on MI5, led by the mysterious “Daddy” (Brian Cox), who puts together a team devoted to sniffing out a classified Soviet operation. The key member of this team is Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes), a baby-faced interrogation expert with a standard-issue dark secret. Moody, tense spying, and layers of good old-fashioned double-crossing ensue.

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What it’s selling: A spy story that’s about as straightforward as spy stories come—intrigue, sharp characters, and lots of nuclear paranoia, in addition to Brian Cox.

What are we buying? Not much beyond giving The Game a shot. It’s not The Americans, but what could be? The performances are solid, and the series is well-directed by Niall MacCormick, but if the first episode is any indication, there’s not really a twist on the concept here. Daddy’s team is a pretty standard collection of people with secrets.

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The order: The full six episodes. With a promising enough debut, might as well let the show wrap up its self-contained story. Prepare for blood. [ET]

The After (Amazon, premiere date TBD)

Chris Carter’s return to television focuses on eight strangers who have to band together for survival in a vague post-apocalyptic environment. The pilot does a very good job of introducing the series’ characters, its tone, and its world. So far, the characters are fairly caricatured—the cop, the old woman, the clown, the snarky lawyer, the wrongfully accused criminal, the profane Irishman, etc.—but it’s surprisingly grounded in the drama of their different perspectives clashing against one another in a heightened context. And then there’s that nod to Carter’s signature supernatural touch at the very end…

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What it’s selling: A survival drama in the vein of Lost with X-Files-esque mysteries. If it successfully deepens its characters beyond their vague hooks, it can really be something special. However, Carter’s problems with serialization may bite him in the ass when it comes time to actually develop the story, rather than introducing twist after twist.

What are we buying? Mostly Chris Carter, who still has plenty of goodwill from The X-Files to spare, and he can still craft an engaging pilot. He also has an insanely ambitious plan to structure the series after Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is so crazy that it might work.

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The order: The rest of the eight-episode first season will be released in two-hour installments, so we’ll give it one installment to see if it can follow through on the promise of the pilot. [VM]

Dig (USA, premiere date TBD)

From Tim Kring (Heroes) and Gideon Raff (Prisoners Of War, adapted as Homeland in the U.S.) comes a miniseries thriller in the vein of The Da Vinci Code. Dig follows FBI agent Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) as his investigation of an American archaeologist’s murder in Jerusalem leads him to a 2,000-year-old secret… and an equally old conspiracy to conceal it. Grappling with the discovery and with his own crisis of faith, he courts professional disfavor and personal danger to dig deeper into the ancient mystery. Anne Heche as Connelly’s bureau chief and sometimes lover, David Costabile as a controversial evangelist, Lauren Ambrose as his disciple, and Yael Eitan as a local police analyst flesh out the cast.

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What it’s selling: Epic intrigue and spectacular settings. With a Homeland pedigree and a pilot shot on-site in Jerusalem, Dig could deliver both. But production moves (first to Albuquerque, then to Croatia) undermine the much-touted authenticity of Dig’s locale, and the simplistic politics and tepid drama of Raff’s Tyrant cast their own shadow over the show.

What are we buying? Resolution. In a television landscape full of long narrative arcs and ambiguity, a mystery promising a swift and decisive revelation (maybe literally in this case) is a strong lure.

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The order: A six-episode miniseries, which should be plenty of time to explore the deepest Biblical mysteries ever uncovered, right? [ELS]