I can taste the pumpkin spice in the breeze; the beginning of fall is just steps around the corner, which means the beginning of a new television lineup. And, in the Peak-TV Era, there is no shortage of well-scripted shows to chase the chill out of the air and occupy our imagination. In fact, these days, there are so many new shows to keep track of that some inevitably end up falling through the cracks. I know you’ve all got your favorites, so do I, but here are some that you may want to consider adding to your weekly lineup. Full disclosure, while I desperately wanted to include all of the Halloween- and Horror-centric shows on my list, I felt like they deserved a list all to themselves. So, for a list of this fall’s “Chills & Thrills Programming Lineup,” tune in next week!
For the People
From the makers of Grey’s Anatomy and Shondaland/ABC Productions comes For the People, which is a legal drama set in New York. There is no question that this will likely be the Grey’s Anatomy of the legal profession—at least the profession as depicted by television. For some people, that is going to be a reason to tune in, and for other people, it’s going to be an unequivocal reason to tune out. Generally, I enjoy Shonda Rhimes’ productions because, more than anything else, I like the way she features and depicts women—at least I like it most of the time; nothing is completely unproblematic. Having said that, and as someone who enjoyed both Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal—you know, before Sandra Oh left the series, and before Scandal took a hard-right to batshit crazyville—her productions now feel formulaic, and she seems incapable of killing her darlings—regardless of how this forced longevity devalues the overall narrative. However, I still pathetically tune into Grey’s Anatomy—and sometimes Scandal, but only when seriously desperate. So, maybe there is a method to her madness. Legal shows are popular but also very hit or miss. Right now, I’m pretty firmly committed to Suits and The Good Fight, but For the People definitely looks like it’s borrowing strands from both of those series, so it may be worth checking out.
The Good Doctor
I’m a sucker for medical dramas; The Good Doctor stars Freddie Highmore (Dr. Shaun Murphey), who you might remember from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) or August Rush (2007), and Richard Schiff (Dr. Aaron Glassman). In the series, Dr. Murphey is an autistic surgeon who is recruited, through much debate, to work in the pediatric unit of a top-tier hospital. The series presents the debate over his disorder/disability, whether it is an asset or a liability to the hospital, as central to the show, which, of course, raises much larger questions about the way in which individuals with disorders and/or disabilities are treated in society. While I appreciate the representation, as autistic main characters are not something you often see on television shows, I also fear that it will be problematic. Aside from finding it problematic that disabled characters and/or characters with disorders are largely played by able-bodied and/or neurotypical actors, I am also concerned that featuring a character diagnosed with Savant Syndrome, who is able to procure a job at a prestigious hospital, and who has some kind of support system—all of which allow the character to overcome societal stigmas and excel—gives audiences an unrealistic impression of autism, which is not one size fits all, and unrealistic expectations regarding the stigmas that surround such disorders by depicting the ease with which they are overcome. If I tune in, I will definitely be looking to see how the series handles these issues. The Good Doctor premieres on ABC September 25.
I’m pretty sure I mentioned that I like medical dramas (look for an article on the history of medical dramas on television sometime in the future). If I had to bet on this season’s breakout medical drama, all my chips would go to The Resident. As the series’ title states, The Resident focuses on the main character, Conrad Hawkins (Matt Czuchry), and how he navigates the politics of the hospital and copes with emergent patient cases. Matt Czuchry is an outstanding actor (#TeamLogan4evah), who was so underutilized in The Good Wife that it practically made me cry. Originally, I thought he would transition over to the spin-off series The Good Fight, and I was looking forward to that, thinking he would likely fill a main role, rather than the sidekick role he was often relegated to on The Good Wife. However, that didn’t happen, and now I’m pleased that he either passed on the opportunity or wasn’t offered a role on The Good Fight because there’s a better than average chance that The Resident is going to give him is breakout role; and he is going to be a remarkable anchor for this series. Seriously, the series’ trailer gave me chills; it looks very much like a modern day ER, which is basically my standard for medical dramas, with Czuchry’s character evoking John Carter’s (Noah Wyle) idealism, Mark Greene’s (Anthony Edwards) wisdom and patience, and Peter Benton’s (Eriq La Salle) skill—with a little of Clooney’s (Doug Ross’) looks and charm thrown in for good measure. It’s a spectacularly high order and it will be interesting to see what the rest of the cast, including Emily VanCamp and Bruce Greenwood, brings to the table, but I have high hopes.
While we haven’t yet seen a trailer, with talent like Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights & Parenthood) and Jeffery Seller (Hamilton) working the helm, we probably don’t need one to know that it’s going to be a show to look and look out for. Inspired by a true story, Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Randor) becomes the director of the theatre program at a local high school and, through his efforts and direction, inspires both the students and community in their performances and support of one another. We don’t have a lot of details on this show yet, and NBC has only ordered 10 episodes this season, which likely indicates their uncertainty of whether or not this show will be successful and/or able to compete with the established television lineup. The order of only 10 episodes may be due to the fact that the show isn’t scheduled to premier until early 2018. However, it’s most likely due to the fact that the musical television genre has been hit or miss with Glee—which has also been connected to the Harry S. Truman story—managing 6 seasons, while Smash—which was better, in my opinion—eked out only 2. Right now, I’m getting a Glee meets This Is Us vibe, which certainly makes sense given the popularity and success of those two shows. Still, without bringing something unique to that formula, I don’t know how successful the show will be. Having said that, the source material provides a lot of unique opportunities to the writing/production teams. For example, the Truman theatre program was the first high school program in the country to perform Les Misérables and Rent. Thus, while we may be in high school, there is room within this narrative to bring more mature perspectives and an edgier, more classical representation of theatre and performance to the table than what we saw in Glee while still tapping into established audience bases and leaving room for the feel-good drama that launched This Is Us to stardom. So, keep an eye out for Rise, and while you wait, check out the book, Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater.
Tin Star is Amazon’s latest Prime crime-drama, and it will premiere on September 29. The show features Jim Worth (Tim Roth) who is an ex-British detective who moves his family to the small Canadian town of Little Big Bear. The only trouble is that he’s not the only one setting up shop in Little Big Bear…so is big oil—represented by Elizabeth Bradshaw (Christina Hendricks). The fact that the series has been billed by Amazon as a “revenge thriller” that’s “part drama” and “part comedy” combined with Jeff Bezos’ most recent outburst demanding a Game of Thrones for himself gives me reason to pause, particularly since Amazon hasn’t demonstrated great decision-making skills with regard to their programming (i.e., the cancellation of Good Girls Revolt & Z: The Beginning of Everything). And the trailer reflects some of this ambiguous chaos; what exactly are you? The Punisher meets Ozark in Twin Peaks? It seems unfocused and reeks of being oversold. Having said that, I like most of the “parts” Amazon claims it is trying to play (i.e., the various genres); I’m just not sure how seamlessly these parts are going to come together. I’m definitely not the biggest Amazon fan at the moment, my feelings about the man-child who is Jeff Bezos and the man-centric-programming that Amazon is largely cranking out—dictated by men, has me kind of hoping the series will bottom out, but I’ll begrudgingly tune in...just to see Christina Hendricks play the unflinching corporate overlord.
USA has been killing it lately with their scripted series, The Sinner being the most recent must-see series—I’m completely addicted. The success of Suits, Mr. Robot, and The Sinner are reason enough to tune into the premiere of Damnation. This western-drama is set in Iowa during the 1930s, focusing on the conflict between the poor and the wealthy (sound familiar?). It’s a series about class struggle with a preacher from Iowa spearheading the revolution. From the trailer, “Our banks and governments have all conspired… This is a war between the people of this country and those who seek to control us,” we can immediately see how contextual parallels are being created, which is further emphasized through the use of Kayne West’s “Jesus Walks,” and the cuts to stylized still shots that utilize a contemporary, edgy typography and color palette. Aside from it being an opportune time for a series that focuses on class struggle, despite it being wrapped up in 1930s period costume, the show is really bringing the talent, with EPs Guymon Casady (Game of Thrones), Adam Kane (American Gods), Tony Tost (Longmire), James Mangold (Logan), Daniel Rappaport (Office Space), and David Mackenzie, who is also the director (Hell or High Water). The series is also being co-produced with Netflix, which means we can likely expect some above-average production value and cinematography. While I’ve never been the biggest fan of Westerns, the Western flavor doesn’t seem that overt—this assessment is based entirely off of the trailer—and having spent a significant amount of time in Iowa, I would never refer to it as the West, not even in the 1930s. So far, this series has a lot going for it, and it’s one that I will definitely be tuning into on November 7.
There’s probably no show that I am more excited for this year—except for those on my upcoming Chills and Thrills listicle—than Alias Grace. The success of Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale likely led to the interest in adapting Alias Grace. I sincerely hope even more adaptations of her work will follow. Alias Grace: A Novel is counted among my favorite books, which I would encourage you to read before the start of the series. Based on the true story of Grace Marks, a sixteen year old Irish immigrant who became an infamous murderer, the story follows her through her trail, sentencing, and life—30 years—in various prisons and asylums before being exonerated. The novel is both a critique and condemnation of the jail and asylum systems. Is Grace (Sarah Gadon) insane? Is she innocent? Or is she just downright evil? Well, Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) is going to try and get to the truth of the matter, but truth can be a very slippery slope. This six-episode miniseries was written and produced by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron (#WomenInFilm) and airs on November 3.
If you haven’t found something new to add to your television lineup, you may want to head over to The A.V. Club’s, “Watch, Skip, or Binge: The A.V. Club’s 2017 fall TV preview.” And, if the month of October is what you spend the rest of the year living for, be sure to check out my “Thrills & Chills Programming Lineup” next week!