Yesterday, The A.V. Club buried itself in the first avalanche of fall programming tumbling forth from peak TV; today, we consider the second half of the week, along with the fantastical creatures, resurgent sci-fi stars, resilient comics, and (of course) superheroes whose streaming series refuse to bend to the tyranny of the Gregorian calendar. (For more on these shows, check out their official trailers here.)
Editor’s note: Any pilots referenced within these previews are works in progress and are subject to change prior to broadcast. All times listed are Eastern.
Heroes Reborn (NBC, debuts September 24 at 8 p.m.)
Five years after the original series was canceled, Tim Kring brings Heroes back with a limited series run on NBC. Streamlining the mess of pottage that accumulated during the show’s first run, the “reboot” brings its focus onto a new group of heroes who must harness their newfound powers in order to fulfill their destiny and save the world. Familiar faces from the past are on hand to guide them, including Jack Coleman, Masi Oka, Cristine Rose, and Sendhil Ramamurthy. Zachary Levi joins the cast as a dude with a grudge against anyone with powers.
You have to watch it because: Heroes’ first season was, if nothing else, iconic, and the presence of Jack Coleman (along with the suggestion that he’ll play a central role in the new show) is reassuring. Coleman’s Noah Bennet was arguably the best character in the original series, and served as the linchpin of its best episode, “Company Man.”
You can skip it because: Even in its first season, Heroes was a circular mishmash of comic-book clichés and heavy-handed plotting. Once the novelty wore off, there wasn’t much left, and later seasons devolved into nonsensical theatrics and clumsy characterizations. While Kring may have predicted the modern form of “moment-based” storytelling, that’s not exactly a badge of honor.
Priority level: 2. The new series is only 13 episodes long, so maybe some lessons have been learned. [Zack Handlen]
The Player (NBC, debuts September 24 at 10 p.m.)
Wesley Snipes makes his debut as a series regular in NBC’s new thriller about a Las Vegas gambling ring in which the stakes literally couldn’t be higher. Former Leverage producer John Rogers created the drama, which follows a highly proficient security expert (Philip Winchester) as he becomes embroiled in a game in which eccentric fat cats wager on his ability to solve crimes before innocent lives are lost.
You have to watch it because: Snipes is operating at maximum power in his performance as Mr. Johnson, the pit boss in the game, which is essentially a combination of roulette and Person Of Interest. While it has a larger mythology, it’s primarily focused on its episodic crimes of the week, making it an attractive, low-commitment choice in the age of layered, serialized storytelling.
You can skip it because: Honestly, it’s all rather silly. It’s a clear Person Of Interest knockoff, but it lacks that show’s depth and steers around that show’s provocative questions about privacy and security. The supporting characters are woefully thin, and the main draw is Winchester’s ass-kicking, which isn’t enough of a selling point on its own.
Priority level: 2. The Player is just fine for anyone with an “off-beat procedural” opening in their television viewing schedule, and it’s obviously a must for fans of Snipes, but the concept is flimsy and the characters aren’t that interesting. [Joshua Alston]
Benders (IFC, debuts October 1 at 10 p.m.)
Denis Leary and Jim Serpico’s production company Apostle—responsible for the TV series Rescue Me, Sirens, and Maron—returns with a rough-edged IFC sitcom about a group of young(ish) guys who channel frustrations with their daily lives into their amateur hockey team. Think The League crossed with Men Of A Certain Age, but with characters who skew more “bro.”
You have to watch it because: The early clips IFC has released are mildly enjoyable, suggesting that Benders will showcase a lot of the “guys just hanging out and shooting the shit” vibe that the Apostle team does so well.
You can skip it because: There’s probably not going to be much actual bending. Also, Leary and company’s current FX show Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll has been doggedly mediocre.
Priority level: 2. Maybe it’s a mistake to doubt the channel that brought us Portlandia, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and Documentary Now!, but both the premise and the personnel here seem a bit too ordinary for IFC. Benders looks more like the kind of slight, dialogue-driven comedy that streaming services produce—and given that nearly all the IFC shows end up on Netflix, it makes sense to wait for the buzz on this one, and then catch up online if the word’s mostly positive. [Noel Murray]
The Last Kingdom (BBC America, debuts October 10 at 10 p.m.)
Young Saxon nobleman Uhtred Of Bebbanburg (played as an adult by Alexander Dreymon) was captured by invading Vikings and raised as a Norseman. When he’s sought out later in life by the English King Alfred (of later “The Great” fame), Uhtred’s loyalties find him torn between his two cultures. Based on the historical novels by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom seeks to emulate History’s success with Vikings, and largely succeeds, adding more of a historical sweep to the Norse invasion that eventually led to the unification of England under one rule.
You have to watch it because: You can never have too many Vikings, and the Vikings of Vikings don’t return until 2016. The Last Kingdom enlivens the period drama with crisp, bloody action, an even-handed approach to both cultures, and a cast led by the mercurial, dashing Dreymon; David Dawson’s sickly but shrewd Alfred; and Emily Cox as Uhtred’s brash and formidable childhood friend and now-lover Brida.
You can skip it because: Some people can actually have too many Vikings, and, while Dreymon’s a solid lead, he, and The Last Kingdom, lack the crowd-pleasing flash of its rival on History.
Priority level: 4. Both Vikings and Game Of Thrones fans looking for something to hold them over should find plenty of familiar sword-and-intrigue entertainment here—and some wholly unique to this impressive entry in the expanding genre. [Dennis Perkins]
Angel From Hell (CBS, debuts November 5 at 9:30 p.m.)
Allison Fuller (Maggie Lawson) has everything: a thriving medical practice, a committed partner, a devoted best friend, a comfortable if uninspired routine. Then Amy (Jane Lynch), a wacky but winning stranger, insinuates herself into Allison’s life and everything starts going to hell. After unsettling everything Allison thinks she can count on and displaying an alarming knowledge of her deepest secrets, Amy confides that she’s Allison’s guardian angel, breaking protocol to provide some heavenly guidance. Is Amy a stalker, a harmless crank… or exactly what she claims to be?
You have to watch it because: If anything can loosen up Maggie Lawson’s typecasting as an adorable stiff, it’s Jane Lynch’s loose-cannon influence. Lynch gives Amy’s boilerplate eccentricities a whiff of freshness and fun. And the two have an improbable but easy chemistry that sells the premise surprisingly well.
You can skip it because: It’s an overtly formulaic single-camera sitcom with characters and casting right out of a textbook. As the boyfriend, David Denman is bearded and twinkly, but he’s still a deadbeat. Kyle Bornheimer is the suited and slick brother, always on the make even when he’s on the skids. Amy’s divine instruction is for Allison to “Get off the phone! Have a weekday margarita! Have some fun!” It’s all a little light and trite.
Priority level: 3. Formulas exist for a reason. With quality ingredients and intelligent execution, they deliver good results. Even in the pilot, Angel From Hell hits its beats with verve and confidence. The show might not divert too far from expectations, but with a cast like this, just meeting expectations can be plenty. [Emily L. Stephens]
Dr. Ken (ABC, debuts October 2 at 8:30 p.m.)
Ken Jeong didn’t set out to be The Hangover’s eccentric crime boss or the nuttiest inmate running the Community asylum. He’s a physician by training, and his previous work experience forms the basis for the first headlining gig of his second career. The fictional Dr. Ken deploys a blunt bedside manner in the clinic and at home, much to the dismay of his co-workers (among them Dave Foley, Jonathan Slavin, and Tisha Campbell-Martin) and his family (Suzy Nakamura, Albert Tsai, and Krista Marie Yu).
You have to watch it because: The scene stealer just might have his own show swiped out from under him. Slavin and Tsai were frequently the best parts of their previous ABC sitcoms, while Foley and Nakamura have done excellent work in front of other studio audiences.
You can skip it because: It’s been a tortured path to air for this one, which started out at NBC nearly two years ago. Besides, a little Jeong goes a long way. Along with Angel From Hell, Dr. Ken forms a fall trend for of star vehicles for performers who make better seasonings than main courses.
Priority level: 1. The prognosis isn’t terminal, but some of the jokes are. [Erik Adams]
Truth Be Told (NBC, October 16 at 8:30 p.m.)
Previously known by the similarly bland title People Are Talking, this multi-camera sitcom is about two sets of neighbors and best friends: ethics professor Mitch (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and attorney Tracy (Vanessa Lachey) and stand-up comedian Russell (Tone Bell) and his wife Angie (Bresha Webb). They spend their time discussing topics from sex to race to whether Mitch and Tracy’s new babysitter is a former porn star.
You can skip it because: It doesn’t look particularly good, or fresh. Two attractive couples sitting around and attempting to navigate life isn’t exactly groundbreaking territory.
Priority level: 1. Forced edginess doesn’t look good on anyone. [Molly Eichel]
Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz, debuts October 31 at 9 p.m.)
Attention S-Mart shoppers: The greatest living threat to the Deadites rises again, boomstick by his side and chainsaw strapped to his right arm. And if any of the preceding makes sense to you, you’re prepared to follow Bruce Campbell into (chin-to?) battle in a premium-cable follow-up to Sam Raimi’s epic trilogy about one humble smart aleck’s struggle against demons, armies of darkness, and other things awoken by the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. Joining Ash in his ultimate go-round with the forces of evil are fellow stockboy Pablo (Ray Santiago), state trooper Amanda (Jill Marie Jones), “wild child” Kelly (Dana Delorenzo), and a familiar face from Campbell’s past: Lucy Lawless.
You have to watch it because: It’s been ages since Raimi and Campbell revisited their signature creation—not counting Evil Dead’s 2013 reboot, for which they served as producers. An entire generation of genre heroes owes its quip-first/shoot-later style to Ash, whose cinematic adventures might not have invented horror-comedy (but hey: neither did Ryan Murphy) but they did refine it. (Assuming you can call anything as viscera-coated as Evil Dead 2 “refined.”)
You can skip it because: It’s been ages since Raimi and Campbell revisited their signature creation, and if the three movies that inspired Ash Vs. Evil Dead proved anything, it’s that sometimes it’s unwise to disturb the deceased.
Priority level: 5. Before it reaches saturation point, TV horror could stand to be a little more, how do you say, “groovy”? [Erik Adams]
Oscar’s Hotel For Fantastical Creatures (Vimeo, debuts September 15)
The short of the same name from YouTube filmmaker PJ Liguori (aka KickthePJ) gets an upgrade in this six-part series, which follows a young man named Oliver after he inherits his uncle’s mysterious hotel. Its guests tend to be of the monstrous sort, meaning the new proprietor has adventures with all manner of fantastical beasts, from an octopoid chef to a demonic horse who induces people to dance.
You have to watch it because: Although cruder versions of some of the characters have popped up in Liguori’s previous work, they’re now getting revamps from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. But don’t expect complex animatronic monstrosities à la the Skeksis—these creations are more in line with Liguori’s simple yet eye-catching aesthetic. Think a happy medium between the low-tech aliens of Doctor Who and the elegant illustrations of Edward Gorey.
You can skip it because: While Oscar’s Hotel has attracted some bona fide star power from the world of genre fiction—Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina voice a pair of villainous “Repossession Fish”—most of the hotel’s denizens are played by a seemingly regenerative battalion of YouTube stars: Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, and (groan) PewDiePie all make appearances, among many others.
Priority level: 2. There’s no denying Liguori’s distinct visuals, and the Jim Henson Company’s involvement is a definite win, but the cast list casts doubts that Liguori will be able to transform the slight, non-threatening humor of his original film into something truly imaginative. [Dan Caffrey]
Con Man (Vimeo, debuts September 30)
Alan Tudyk plays as a cast member of beloved-yet-canceled sci-fi series, the star of which (Nathan Fillion) has since sky-rocketed to fame. Sounds kind of familiar. Tudyk plays Wray Nerely, the former second-in-command of the cult-classic-within-the-show, Spectrum. It’s been 10 years since Spectrum was canceled and Nerely hasn’t found any better work, spending his time at sci-fi conventions that he hates. Cameos abound, including many from across the Whedonverse (including Joss Whedon himself).
You have to watch it because: Tudyk is a consistently affable screen presence even when he’s playing exasperated and depressed, and in Con Man, he takes the lead, an opportunity he’s rarely afforded. If that wasn’t enough, Con Man features a TV sci-fi fan’s dream cast, including alums from Firefly (Fillion, Gina Torres, Summer Glau, Sean Maher, Jewel Staite), Battlestar Galactica (Tricia Helfer), and other noted pinnacles of nerdom (James Gunn, Felicia Day, Seth Green, Sean Astin).
You can skip it because: If you’re not a Firefly fan, its metaness will likely go over your head.
Priority level: 5. WASH AND MAL TOGETHER AGAIN! [Molly Eichel]
Casual (Hulu, debuts October 7)
Jason Reitman, director of Juno and Up In The Air, is producing this Hulu sitcom about a recent divorcee and her brother (Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey) who wind up back under one roof. Together, they help each other navigate the weird world of modern dating while raising her teenage daughter.
You have to watch it because: Watkins alone is worth the price of admission, and she’s as terrific as ever in this bright and funny half-hour. She’s been missed since ABC’s tragic cancellation of Trophy Wife, and Casual is reminiscent of another promising show canceled after just one season, Fox’s Ben And Kate. As an added bonus, Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings, Benched—the latter of which Watkins created with Damon Jones) is featured in a five-episode arc.
You can skip it because: It is, ultimately, just another domestic comedy about how old people find Tinder exhausting. The writing is sharp and the performances are terrific, but television is overrun with world-weary slices of life.
Priority level: 4. Casual is sweet, smart, and charming, and with dramas eating the airwaves, Hulu deserves some support for its efforts to produce more sitcoms. [Joshua Alston]
SuperMansion (Crackle, debuts October 8)
Every streaming platform has to have its superheroes: Netflix is home to the Marvel roster, Hulu’s got The Awesomes, and now Crackle jumps into the fray with SuperMansion, a stop-motion effort from Stoopid Buddy, the studio behind Robot Chicken. After toying with other people’s caped crusaders for the better part of a decade, creators Matthew Senreich and Zeb Wells assemble their own ersatz avengers under a single roof, led by the aging Titanium Rex (Bryan Cranston).
You have to watch it because: As part of the behind-the-scenes talent responsible for both Robot Chicken DC Comics specials, Senreich and Wells recognize TV’s (all of pop culture’s, really) ongoing superhero surplus, a notion that comes into play within the world of SuperMansion. Also, it’s Cranston’s first regular TV gig after Breaking Bad, and Walter White’s never steered anyone wrong (in the real world, at least).
You can skip it because: Adult Swim already did, passing on Rex and The League Of Freedom in 2013, when their show was known as Übermansion.
Priority level: 2. Maybe take a cue from the show’s conservative Captain America figure, American Ranger, and place SuperMansion in a time warp until such time that the superhero tide has ebbed and The League’s antics can be enjoyed on their own merits, in a single serving. [Erik Adams]
Red Oaks (Amazon Instant Video, debuts October 9)
Last fall, Amazon Instant Video found its signature show in Transparent, but it’s struggled to follow up that victory. Mozart In The Jungle showed flashes of brilliance, the streaming service can’t really lay claim to the prickly genius of the Channel 4 acquisition Catastrophe, and the less said about Hand Of God, the better. Red Oaks, then, is Amazon’s next great hope, and it boasts more or less the same type of pedigree (indie auteurs behind the scenes, this time Steven Soderbergh and David Gordon Green) as Transparent. But even the Pfefferman clan would fail to muster the volume of entitlement (let alone crimped hair) permeating the ’80s country club navigated by assistant tennis pro David (Craig Roberts).
You have to watch it because: You’ve always wanted to see a TV show take place in the snobs-versus-slobs world of Caddyshack and didn’t get enough of that from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp. Red Oaks already lined up Fast Times At Ridgemont High director Amy Heckerling to helm a couple of episodes, so its commitment to capturing the look and feel of a raunchy ’80s comedy is genuine.
You can skip it because: Like too many Amazon Prime subscribers, you’ve somehow missed that you get two of the best comedies of the past two years (Transparent and Catastrophe) in addition to free, two-day shipping.
Priority level: 4. The Red Oaks pilot is phenomenal, but Red Oaks membership dues (and the first-world problems that accompany them) might prove too high an entry free for some. [Erik Adams]
Master Of None (Netflix, debuts November 6)
The differences between Aziz Ansari’s biography and the background on his Master Of None character, Dev, are subtle. They’re both actors (though Dev doesn’t have the comedy background Aziz does), first generation Indian-Americans (though Dev’s parents settled in New York City, where Ansari’s mom and dad chose South Carolina), and self-fashioned gourmands (pretty much the same in life and on screen). But Master Of None isn’t by-the-book autobiography; it’s a chameleonic sitcom take on the recurring themes of Ansari’s stand-up, taking a deep dive into his parents’ immigrant experience one episode, pivoting into the intricacies of modern dating in another.
You have to watch it because: Master Of None plays fast and loose with continuity and format, in a series of short films akin to Louie’s style. But while the foundation of the series is Ansari’s comedic voice, he’s not pulling a Louis CK here, employing writers like Parks And Recreation’s Alan Yang (Ansari’s co-creator on Master Of None) and Review’s Andy Blitz, and sharing directorial duties with Lynn Shelton and Eric Wareheim.
You can skip it because: In the calmer setting of Master Of None, it takes some time for Ansari to pin down the electricity of his stand-up persona or his Parks And Recreation character, Tom Haverford.
Priority level: 4. Like Dev’s journey through the film-and-TV worlds of New York, Master Of None will reward patience. Good thing Netflix has eliminated the wait between episodes. [Erik Adams]
The Art Of More (Crackle, debuts November 19)
Who knew that the world of luxury auction houses had such a seedy underbelly? In Crackle’s first original scripted drama, Christian Cooke plays Graham Connor, a hotshot newcomer to the upper-level art world in the manner of ’80s/’90s-era Tom Cruise: the irrepressible maverick who quickly finds himself in over his head. He’s helped along by familiar names like Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth, and an unrecognizable Cary Elwes. Cooke’s Graham has an intriguing back story (he’s a war veteran who was posted in the Middle East, where he first gained access to some eventual auction-house treasures), which helps keep the light, fluffy world of people who can bid millions of dollars on sports cars from floating away into a frosty ether.
You have to watch it because: You read The Goldfinch in a day and can’t wait for the film version. Or you enjoy escapist dramas about people who have more money than God, and can identify with poor outsiders like yourself trying to break in.
You can skip it because: You really can’t relate or have no interest in the top-level art world. Or you find people who spend millions of dollars on such luxury items vacuous and inconsequential.
Priority level: 4. The Art Of More offers an impressive pilot, deftly setting up a warehouse-full of drama and intrigue in a mere 40-some minutes, while introducing viewers to a complex, high-end world they’re likely not familiar with. If you see The Art Of More’s first episode, you’ll probably be compelled to hang around to see what happens next. Possibly in a fun weekend binge watch with some Prosecco and brie, resulting in a determined resolve to finally get some of your artwork professionally framed. [Gwen Ihnat]
The Man In The High Castle (Amazon Instant Video, debuts November 20)
Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel, this Ridley Scott-produced sci-fi drama posits an alternate reality in which the Axis forces prevailed in World War II. With the United States now split between the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States, a ragtag resistance struggles to restore America to its former glory. The key to their quest may be a mysterious newsreel depicting a very different outcome to the war—one in which the Allies emerged victorious.
You have to watch it because: The “What if?” premise is an irresistible hook that offers almost limitless possibilities for an ongoing series. The production is rich and imaginative, suggesting a warped version of America circa 1962 with a dense patchwork of details ranging from billboards to automobile design to ersatz period-appropriate pop hits.
You can skip it because: Philip K. Dick has rarely been well served by movies or television, with even the best adaptations (such as Scott’s Blade Runner) failing to capture the dislocating, paranoia-inducing quality that made his work special. Judging from the pilot, Man In The High Castle looks to be no exception, and it doesn’t help that the two leads (Luke Kleintank and Alexa Davalos) are on the bland side.
Priority level: 3. If we view Dick’s novel as a jumping-off point rather than a sacred text, High Castle’s pilot is a promising start featuring some genuinely impressive world-building. Without more engaging characters, however, the novelty won’t be enough to sustain it. [Scott Von Doviak]
Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix, debuts November 20)
The Marvel-Netflix hero team-up continues with the next iteration of a New York-based crimefighter following the success of Marvel’s Daredevil. Unlike Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is trying to pursue a normal life following her retirement from a brief stint as a superhero. Opening a detective agency, Jones is a gumshoe who gets pulled into cases that—surprise, surprise—involve people with extraordinary abilities. Created by Dexter writer Melissa Rosenberg, the series co-stars Carrie-Anne Moss, Rachael Taylor, David Tennant, and soon-to-be-starring-in-his-own-Marvel-show Mike Colter as Luke Cage.
You have to watch it because: If Daredevil is any indication—and given the amount of creative teamwork behind the scenes on these Marvel-Netflix series, it should be—this is going to be another smart, soulful show that keeps its feet firmly on the ground of realistic, everyday storytelling. Plus, it’ll be fun to see the Marvel Universe version of a streetwise gumshoe.
You can skip it because: This has been in development for a very long time, first at ABC, before landing a new home several years later with the streaming giant. That kind of lead time doesn’t always bode well for a show’s creative juices, suggesting it lacked a solid foundation it may never have found.
Priority level: 4. It’s always worth checking out a new Marvel title. Unfortunately, it’s still a ways off, so there’s not much for us to go on besides blind trust in a brand that has managed to deliver the small-screen goods thus far, and the not-inconsiderable charms of star Ritter. [Alex McCown]