As a rule, I give new shows at least three episodes to earn a full season investment. Unbelievably, it's already that time in the season, so it's time for my Fall TV Report Card. And I will start with some of this season's most-anticipated new shows, including The Good Place, Conviction and more…
Thursdays, 8:30/7:30c on NBC
NBC’s The Good Place, starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, is a forkin' divine way to spend a Thursday evening. The quirky comedy follows the aftermath of an afterlife blunder when Eleanor Shellstrop (a devilishly delightful Bell) is mistakenly sent to the The Good Place not The Bad Place after her death. Her arrival triggers a series ever-worsening disasters, from shrimp storms to sinkholes, that baffle Michael (Danson, rescued from the purgatory of a CBS procedural), her Heaven’s angelic architect.
Like creator Michael Schur’s other zany NBC series, Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is an eccentric, imaginative joy of a comedy that explores a wacky town and a variety of diverse characters, including scene-stealers Tahani (Jameela Jamil) as a deceased ingénue and D’Arcy Carden as Heaven’s version of Google. And it also presents heady philosophies on ethics and morality, and some pretty hilariously accurate representations of the human race: “There’s something so human about taking something great and ruining it a little so you can have more of it.”
The only bad thing about The Good Place is discovering that icky things like laundry, waiting in line and racism still exists in the afterlife. But granted, so does flying and a flavor of frozen yogurt called "Fully Charged Cell Phone" which will make you score all of the positive points to get a ticket to real The Good Place. Until then, you can just tune in! Grade: B+
Mondays, 8/7c on CBS
Small Screen Girl Confession: I like Kevin James, not enough to watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop more than once, but more than the average amount. He’s funny and enterprising enough to turn his lovable schlub schtick into a massively lucrative career. Despite the #CBSSoWhite drama, I was excited about his return to television.
For about four and a half minutes (but I did stick around for three more episodes).
That’s how long it took me to confirm my fears that Kevin Can Wait is another iteration of his first CBS sitcom, King Of Queens, except the cast isn’t as talented, the writing isn't as good, and nearly 20 years after the Kings debut, sitcoms about the tubby white guy who marries the hot girl are so overdone it incites actual rage.
The premise, in which a Long Island cop, whose early retirement is cut short when his daughter and her computer programmer fiancé move into the garage he planned to rent out for income, is as tone-deaf as it is cliched. Yes, it’s absolutely tragic that this father of three with one kid in college and two more in grade school can’t retire in his late 40s.
Meanwhile his soon-to-be son-in-law is slated to retire when he's 114 unless he can build and sell a successful app.
Cue the “sensitive men” and “millennials ruin everything” jokes that are about as refreshing as
a shot of ranch dressing. James still gets a few pity laughs with his physical comedy that borders on buffoonery. Where’s Leah Remini and Jerry Stiller when you need them? Grade: C
Wednesdays, 10/9c on OWN
Created by visionary Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, Queen Sugar reigns as one of this season's best new shows and it's not just because of its award-winning pedigree. Loosely based on the book by Natalize Baszile, Sugar centers on a black family in Louisiana struggles to rehabilitate their sugar farm after their patriarch dies. With both addictive drama and timely storylines, including police brutality and a celebrity divorce, this superb series redefines representation for black families and black culture on television and revitalizes the family drama genre that's been overwhelmed by the flash and gore of superhero and sci-fi shows. It is enriched with black art, black culture and black issues with a deserved sophistication.
While the dialogue can get a little too poetic and grandiose, the performances are even more so. See last week's intimate episode "Where With All" for examples of both. Bianca Lawson will leave an imprint on your soul as a mother recovering from addiction.
You'll also be blown away by True Blood's Rutina Wesley's turn as Nova, a bisexual journalist and part-time healer, and fall in love with its break-ut stars Kofi Siriboe and Dawn-Lyen Gardner. Grade: A
Mondays, 10/9c on ABC
Conviction follows the troubled Hayes Morrison, who is given a sweetheart deal after being busted with cocaine. To stay out of prison, she must run the high-profile Conviction Integrity Unit that essentially double-checks the work of the New York City justice system by reviewing and sometimes overturning passed convictions. White privilege is amazing, amIrite?
Even Hayley Atwell’s talent and beauty can’t pretty up the flaws in this series. Conviction spends most of its time rattling off needless statistics and legal procedures instead of investing in its central characters and humanity of possibly wronfully convicted. Including one disturbingly out-of-touch moment Tess, the youngest member the CIU, whitesplains hate crimes to a black female cop. Another problem is the casting of Graceland's Manny Montana as the hotheaded Latino ex-con, a stereotype that needs to be cancelled along with this show.
The cases themselves are as out-of-touch and problematic as a Trump stump speech: Exhibit A: a Muslim woman blows up a her husband’s office in a mosque on the tenth anniversary of September 11th because he was cheating on her. And Hayes pushes to release a white supremacist who promises to kill even more people when he's released just to spite her detractors.
Hayes’ penchant for self-destruction--think Chelsea Clinton with an allergy to underwear and niceties--is merely a flimsy plot device for editorial shots of Hayes tearing through files in a ball gown and soundbytes of Hayes admittng to the press that her cocaine use is merely "recreational." The show is aiming for provocative but has lands somewhere between problematic and pointless. This can be solved by merely showing the audience the real, damaged person behind the Instagram-filtered veneer of a celebrity party girl. Until they do, Conviction, designed to be a soapy procedural, is only guilty of comitting crime against television. Grade: D
Tuesdays, 9/8c on NBC
If you tuned into This Is Us expecting a heartwarming family comedy that gave your tearducts a crossfit-style workout, then you weren’t disappointed. Yet you were probably pleasantly surprised by the witty dialogue and overwhelming talent of the cast, led by Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz as thirty-something triplets, and Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia as their loving parents. Us does so much right, it seems effortless. The show, which focuses on the lives of the now-grown kids and their childhoods, is simultaneously timely and reverently nostalgic. And it does brilliant work at creating well-rounded, realistic characters who are shaped in good and bad ways by their childhoods.
Brown stuns as an adopted black child raised in a white family. His scenes dealing with race and coming to terms with his unique family, especially his biological father, William, are so powerful they border on revelatory. Young And The Restless alum Hartley is finally getting the prime-time recognition his deserves as a hunky actor trying to legitimize his career. And Metz is fearless as Kate, a woman grappling with her weight and finding true love. Finally, Moore and Ventimilgia have more a crackling, palpable chemistry with each other and their children that is nothing short of magical. Don't be surprised if Brown and Co. are adding more hardware to their trophy cases come award season.
Now matter how close a family is, there is always some dysfunction, and This is Us is no different. It can be heavy-handed and self-indulgent at times with lengthy monologues that can bog down the touching moments (Kevin's mind-blowing monologue in episode 5 is about a minute too long). With a cast like this one, they nearly get away with it.
Also Kate’s character is sadly flatter than the others with every storyline revolving around her weight, and it renders what could've been a groundbreaking moment in television into a contrived and dull one around episode 3. It's a problem that can be easily fixed, and I’m more than willing to stick around until then. Grade: A-
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