Fall 2016 Television Preview: Sunday

E: Welcome to the best night on TV, the night when cable pulls out all the stops.  Want prestige adaptations?  We’ve got ’em. Costume dramas?  You’re on.  Movie stars?  Check.

C: And I… don’t think I watch anything on Sundays. I’m the low-brow one on this gang, I guess.

M: Something tells me I’ll give you a run for your money there. In Thursday’s post we mentioned how that night has fallen off as the most competitive, best night on TV. Well, Sundays was always up there, now it’s the king of the hill (though, not Hank Hill). But it’s become a weird hill. NBC has football (which until about 5 years ago was on ESPN), CBS decided to go with a slate of similar-but-different, law enforcement-y procedurals, with acronym-happy NCIS:LA, Madam Secretary and Elementary. FOX, as it has for years, has gone all comedy on Sunday, and ABC is kind of schizophrenic, with the fantasty-ish Once Upon a Time, followed by the very heavy Secrets and Lies, and ends with the extremely soapy Quantico. What a weird night.

E: Two things you won’t get this fall? Game of Thrones (it’s such a long wait until April) and The Good Wife (sigh).

M: Poor E, her long-time favorite show has come to an end. Was it at least a satisfying end?

E: Confession time: I have still not actually watched the final two episodes.

M and C: WHAAAT!?  whaaatminion

E: I know.

C: Okay but seriously, that is shocking.

M: Like, “end of The Sixth Sense if you hadn’t heard there was a twist” shocking.

E: I know! I was really glad they were ending it (boy it got really dark and unsatisfying in later seasons, even though it still gave us the most brilliant, topical cases of the week and the most vivid characterizations on television), and I was glad it went out on the creators’ terms, but I don’t know.  It’s too emotionally fraught.  What if I don’t like it?  I heard mixed reviews, and I just could not — still cannot — bring myself to watch.

C: Well, I can’t say I don’t sympathize. I’ve given up on some of the shows I was the most emotionally invested in because I couldn’t handle the loss of the things I liked about it. But, you know, usually with a season or two left, not two episodes. Poor E 😦

7:00pm

The Great British Baking Show (August 21st), PBS*

E: At this point my love of cooking competition shows is well documented.

M: Yes, yes it is!

C: So very, very plain for all to see.

E: This is the best of the them all. Yes, M, it’s even better than Top Chef (and you know how I feel about Top Chef.) A group of amateur bakers strive to impress a panel of professionals (Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, with nary a Peter in sight) by completing three truly daunting challenges each episode, including a technical bake of an unusual baked item with minimal instructions.

M: She’s not kidding, folks. In the one episode I’ve seen, they gave them a Moroccan pastry to make, gave them instructions that didn’t include the shape, size, whether it was open or closed, and if the sesame seeds in the recipe were supposed to go on the inside or outside, then judged them on how well they correctly accomplished all those things. Amazingly, only judge Paul came off looking like an @$$hole in the process, and he was trying to.

E: The scope of the contestants’ knowledge is truly astounding — how many American bakers have ever even heard of short crust or a Victoria sponge?

C: American bakers are ignorant? That seems like a super random cheap shot. Then again, you’re the one who watches all the baking shows, so maybe you know.

M: Yeah, I didn’t feel like challenging her on it.

E: Well, I suppose I’m mostly comparing it to a) the unsatisfying American versions, and b) my own ignorance of making many of the things everyone on this show seems to know how to do. But it’s the spirit of the whole enterprise (collegial and pursuing perfection for its own sake) that truly makes this show shine.  That and the hilarious hosts, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, that is.  If you watch, you’ll find yourself binging on previous seasons in no time.

M: Total aside. When printed out, “binging” looks far too much like “bing-ing” and not enough like “binge-ing.” That is all.

7:30pm

Bob’s Burgers (September 25th), FOX

M: I keep meaning to catch this, but never manage to.

E: I don’t like the look of it, but I shouldn’t let that be my criterion.  I resisted Phineas and Ferb for years because of the look, and it turned out to be one of the smartest and funniest shows on TV.

M: I have tried to watch it once or twice. Maybe it was the scenes I saw, but it never held my interest through the end of any of the contrived-feeling scenarios. However, the Phineas and Ferb reference reminded me, we missed a Monday show! I’ll mention it now to make up for that… Milo Murphy’s Law, on Disney XD (which is why we missed it) starting October 2nd. It’s the new show by P&F creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff ‘Swampy’ Marsh, with Weird Al providing the voice of the main character. I’m actually really looking forward to it.

8:00pm

Once Upon a Time (September 25th), ABC

M: It doesn’t feel like that long ago that this was one of the hottest shows on TV. In 2015, my family binged the first couple/few seasons of this without me, but even they’ve given up on it at this point. Is anyone still watching?

E: I have friends who do, but while I really enjoyed the first season, maybe in the middle of the third it stopped holding my interest too.

C: Whereas, I’m pretty sure that all my friends who once watched this gave up a while ago. I remember when it was quite a tradition, the watercooler discussions of what Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White were up to this week, though I myself always found the dialogue annoying. Now? I have no idea what value this show is offering viewers in this upcoming sixth season. I did attempt to look up some upcoming plot points, but I kept bumping up against absolutely bonkers lines like: “To be clear, Rumple’s challenge is to break Belle’s sleeping spell, not to get her out of Pandora’s Box.” Um, yeah, I’ve missed waaaaaay too much.

E: What I’m hearing is that this season will include classic Disney characters such as Jafar, Aladdin, and … the Count of Monte Cristo?

M: Right, cause that makes all the sense in the world.

NCIS: Los Angeles (September 25th), CBS

M: I mention this every year, but as none of us watch this installment and have very little to share here, I’ll say it again. NBC dropping JAG after one season still has to be the biggest mistake in network TV history. CBS picked it up and got 8 more highly rated seasons of JAG, which spun off NCIS, now it its 15th (!!!) season. In addition to at times being the #1 show on TV, it has in turn spun off this, now unbelievably in its 8th season, and the N’Awlins spin-off which enters its 3rd. There’s no sign of them slowing down (other than the DC version losing DiNozzo). Okay, back to our regularly scheduled previews.

E: Well, let me say in the same vein that CBS is all about the franchises, and it has milked this one good.

M: That’s for sure!

The Simpsons (September 25th), FOX

M: The animated stalwart starts it’s 88th year. Or, at least, that’s what it feels like. I looked on IMDb, there are currently 618 episdoes!

E: Aside from quibbling with the exact numbers, (I think that includes this season – the Treehouse of Horror Halloween episode, which will bring us a dystopian Springfield is the 600th), I will agree that it feels like it’s been on nearly my whole life. I remember being in school when it started, and all the attendant debates about whether Bart was a bad influence  on children or not.  Now it’s pretty much universally recognized as smart, funny, and filled with clever references.

Sunday Night Football (September 11th), NBC

M: Tangential point, since we don’t need to really say anything here… the NFL Network has a “new” morning show called Good Morning Football, which is about as dumb a name as I can think of.

C: Okay, that’s hilarious. Like Football should respond, “Good morning, Truman!”

M: Exactly!!! One of the local sports radio shows, whenever they mention it (to make fun of it or one of the talking heads on it), always says the name like an old-timey radio or news reel announcer, all nasal-y and overly-dramatic. Now I can’t see or hear the name of the show without doing that. Try it, it’s fun.

Ash Vs. The Evil Dead (October 2nd), STARZ

M: Season two of the critically acclaimed series continuation of the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies. I feel like I’ll lose some geek cred here, but I’ve never actually gotten through more than the first 10 or so minutes of the original Sam Raimi cult classic that launched both his and his childhood friend Bruce Campbell’s careers.

E: I haven’t seen it either.  I was much more squeamish then than now.  I’m not sure I feel any need to watch Ash reunite with his father this season, though, despite the fact that the dad is played by Lee Majors.  It seems that they have a blood splatter machine, so maybe I’m still too squeamish.

C: I saw those back in high school, because the geeks in the theater crowd were into them, but I actually had no idea about this series until I heard Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless on NPR promoting it the other day… then realized, after looking it up, that the radio show was a rerun! Lucy Lawless is pretty darn fantastic, and this show was apparently adored by critics last year, but… I dunno, it’s still gross-out silly horror. And I don’t know that I want that once a week, personally.

E: Word.

8:30pm

Son of Zorn (September 25th), FOX

E: FOX’s evening of animation continues with this new offering.

M: Sort of, at least, as this is a mix of animation and live action. It looks bizarre, like it’s kind of trying to be a cross between the old He-Man cartoon and something hip and edgy and current. I might check it out at some point, but I’m not making the effort to set the DVR.

E: That’s just how I feel about it.

C: It basically appears to be a spoof of the conventional divorced dad comedy — the one where the guy who’s a screw-up for some reason (obsessed with his work, can’t lie, shrinks to the size of an ant, whatever) tries to smooth things over with his ex-wife and estranged kid while the new stepdad offers contrast as a paragon of normalcy. The twist here is that Zorn is a cartoon hero who, as M mentioned, looks exactly like He-Man, while everyone else is real-life regular folks living in suburbia, and they interact with him as if he’s just an odd guy rather than a fundamentally different type of being. Very magic realist, in that way. Only, with a typical guy humor sensibility.

9:00pm

Secrets and Lies (September 25th), ABC

E: I’m vaguely bemused to learn that this is not a new show.

C: Yeah, if we wrote about this dark murder mystery series last year, I don’t remember it at all.

M: Like the Nick Cannon show on Friday nights. “Surprise, I exist!” shows: that’s another good category we’ve identified, to go with the shows we thought were cancelled last season, and the shows that have hung around way too long. As for the show itself, it’s a gritty crime drama with Michael Ealy (good) and Juliette Lewis (bad) that critics loved last year.

E: Do you mean that those two characters are good and bad, or just that you like Ealy and dislike Lewis?  I’m guessing the latter, but I feel like people who don’t know you wouldn’t get that.

C: Lewis is the one point of continuity, apparently, in what’s almost an anthology show: last year she investigated Ryan Phillipe as the possible killer of a young boy, while this year she’s investigating the murder of Ealy’s wife.

E: Ealy apparently married into a family rich in both money and well know actors, including Jordana Brewster, AnnaLynne McCord, and family favorite Terry O’Quinn.

The Walking Dead (October 23rd), AMC

E: Now that The Good Wife is over, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is free to tear up another of Sunday’s top shows (in fact, what I’m pretty sure is the best rated cable program ever) in it’s sixth season.  He’s playing iconic villain Negan, who backs up his charming manner with a barbed-wire wrapped baseball bat he calls (you guessed it) Lucille.

M: Morgan seems like he was destined to be on this show, no?

E: Turning his charms to evil?  Yeah, pretty much.

C: Sort of a reversal of his role as demon-hunter Dad on early seasons of Supernatural; I don’t think of him as villainous. But I also don’t watch this show.

Madam Secretary (October 2nd), CBS*

M: Do you think they’ll have her collapse with “pneumonia” in the first episode, only to be fine 90 minutes later?

E: Don’t go there, bro.

C: Nope, no bonkers theories today. Move on immediately.

E: One thing you’d be surprised to learn about this show: the title character’s really strong, happy marriage to a professor/spy is at its center.

C: Professor/spy??? Why hello, new job ambition!

E: See, I don’t think you really want to work for the NSA turning your students into assets.  But hey, I could be wrong. To me the weakest part of the show (which I intend to watch, but is still pilled up on my DVR from last year) are the underlings at the State Department.  Other than Bebe Neuwirth, they’re just not well cast; they don’t seem smart or self-assured as people would in really competitive, impressive positions.

C: That’s a pity. Also, Bebe Neuwirth as an “underling” seems wrong, so I’m surprised that’s the one bit of good casting.

E: Oh, she’s excellent as a sort of undersecretary/office manager.  This season, we’re jumping into an election where Secretary McCord may or may not be running for Vice President.  Stay tuned…

Halloween Wars (October 2nd), the Food Network*

E: I love this show!  Sure it only lasts the month of October, but this competition — which teams sugar artists with bakers and pumpkin carvers to produce visual masterpieces each week – is just too much fun.

C: “Sugar artists”…

M: In case you haven’t picked up on it, dear readers, E is a big fan of Food Network, and specifically their competition shows.

E: That I am.  But my favorite of all is the one where a pumpkin carver, a cake baker and sugar artist work together to make Halloween themed displays.  I know we disagree here, M, but I really miss original host Justin Willman.

M: But, but… without him how will we know that the second round of each contest is judged on taste AAAAAND presentation?

E: Jonathan Bennett will be better than last year’s bland replacement, but there’s still a Willman-shaped hole in my fandom.  And I fully admit no carver can best (or frankly, even approach) the extraordinary skill of Ray Villafane or that, um, friend and partner of Villafane’s who was in the second season.  Dude made the models that they make collectibles out of. They’re modern day Michelangelos.  I know I lament the glory days of this show every year, but it was astonishing stuff.  I will say, though, I’m happy that the Food Network re-airs shows, because this one is up against some stiff competition.

C: Mean Girls Jonathan Bennett? Aaron Samuels? Maybe I’ll start watching this.

Family Guy (September 25th), FOX

M: I remember how excited I was when this was un-cancelled. Now I can’t bother myself to watch, or even set my DVR. I don’t know if that say more about me or the show.

C: You’ve got older, it hasn’t.

Westworld (October 2nd), HBO*

E: This is the premier time slot in HBO’s line up, and they’re using it to launch what’s widely expected to be one of the big critical hits of the fall, Jonathan Nolan’s existential adventure about a futuristic Wild West theme park where paying customers can interact with the android inhabitants.  Like so much else, it’s based on Michael Crichton’s writing, but in this case it was a screenplay.  It also stars Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and, if you can believe, Anthony Hopkins.

M: I’ve heard rumblings about this, all of which have been positive. That, along with Nolan and Crichton, make me almost willing to pay for HBO. Almost.

E: I’ll let you know how it is!

Poldark (September) PBS

E: Season two of the romantic, windswept series returns to PBS.  Lots of smoldering.  And mining.  If you like The Hobbit‘s Aidan Turner, it’s a must see.  I didn’t last through the entire first season, but I know plenty of folks who swoon for it.

C: For mega-fans, they’ll also be airing a behind-the-scenes show called Poldark Revealed. But how much more of Poldark can they reveal that they haven’t already?

E: I guess the biggest fans will find out…

Shameless (October 2nd), Showtime

M: Not just a Garth Brooks cover of a Billy Joel song, this sex-filled romp staring William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum (as father and daughter, not a couple, thankfully) is back for its seventh season of bad parenting.

E: This season Rossum’s character, Fiona will be hitting up Tinder for new hook ups, but also buckling down as the manager of a diner.  How long will she want to keep supporting her wastrel dad?

9:30pm

The Last Man on Earth (September 25th), FOX

M: The critically acclaimed comedy is entering its third season, believe it or not. I’ve watched a few minutes of it, only to find out that he’s not actually the last man on Earth. That was totally unexpected.

C: A Hollywood show isn’t depicting a society where almost all important roles are played by women? I am all astonishment.

10:00pm

Quantico (September 25th), ABC*

E: Mr. E and I lasted about half a season with this buzzy soap in its first season.

M: Mrs. M and I made it through to the end of the season, but for me it was just barely.

C: I never saw it, so you guys take this one.

E: We liked the action adventure plot, the diverse cast, and especially lead Priyanka Chopra, but eventually all the twists and turns began to feel the same.

M: Exactly. There were some really good sub-plots, some good arcs, but a lot of it felt forced.

E: It’s melodrama overload, you know?  You can’t maintain the same level of interest when there’s a shocking twist every week.  When the show returned from Christmas, we didn’t.  And I don’t plan on returning now, either.

M: I may continue, since my DVR is still set, but it may end up losing out if we have too many shows and not enough time. You know what one of my issues was? They were definitely dragging it out to fit in the frame of the season. As previously discussed, I often like when shows are slow paced, deliberate and don’t rush things. However, there’s a difference between that and treading water. If you pace your plot out and it’s still moving it’s good. If you throw filler in that does nothing except either rehash, or attempt to distract the audience from the fact that you’re not actually doing anything, well, yawn.

E: Indeed.  And we’re not alone — total viewership fell almost in half from the well-viewed premier to the finale.  If you are still watching out there, readers, know that season two — “Quan2co” to the folks who make it — will tone done the romantic dalliances and kick up the action, with hopes of returning to the tone hinted at in the pilot.  It’s going to be more about moral consequences.  There’ll be more flashback structure, which will take lead Alex from training at the CIA Farm (more training in a new agency?) to another NYC terrorist event.  And it’s going to add new characters at the Farm, who include a couple of family favorites — Blair Underwood and Russell Tovey.  Huzzah!   Will that be enough to tune back in for?  Eh…

M: I’ve never heard of Russell Tovey, and that’s after looking him up on IMDb. How is he a family favorite?

E: Mine and C’s, then.  He’s British, and he does this adorable hangdog thing, and he’s got these ears…  He was endearing enough when we first saw him in Little Dorrit to leave a lasting positive impression.

C: Also the original Being Human series, where he played a puppyish, hangdog… werewolf. But who’s Blair Underwood?

Elementary (October 2nd), CBS

M: Are either of you still watching this? I really enjoyed it when I did, but it became a casualty to the demands of time a couple seasons ago.

E: Our parents are still fans, anyway.  I never watched more than the pilot, since I was too annoyed that Watson solved the crime by seeing something Sherlock overlooked.  Now, it’s a thankless job being Watson, I get it, but that’s just not right.

M: Nailing down what you are and are not willing to suspend disbelief for continues to elude me.

C: I know, right? She is an enigma wrapped in a mystery that even Watson couldn’t solve.

E: I’m sorry, but Watson cannot observe things that Sherlock doesn’t.  (I found the prostitutes a little off-putting, too, but there can’t be that many of them of or our parents would not be watching.)

C: Yeah, you really shouldn’t base your impressions of a whole series, now going into its fifth season, on the pilot. I quite liked this for a year or two, but lost track of it. What are they up to?

E: It seems like a lot of this season will revolve around an allegedly reformed criminal from Watson’s past, Shinwell Johnson (Nelsan Ellis), who might turn out not to be a good influence after all.  I’m sure it’ll take a some real detecting to figure that out.

Masters of Sex (September 11), Showtime

C: Whoa, this is still on? I know we say that a lot, but I’m really amazed this didn’t fade with the end of the Mad Men craze.

E: Emmy-winning comedienne Niecy Nash joins the illustrious cast as an AA leader who holds Michael Sheen’s Bill Masters’ accountable for his drinking.  Must be quite a switch, traveling back and forth between this show and Scream Queens.

M: Agreed, they don’t exactly have the same tone. Kind of like Michael Keaton playing the different copies of his character in Multiplicity.

C: …not really? Also, you are the only person I’ve ever met who brings up Multiplicity at all, let alone frequently. Just saying.

The Affair (November 20th), Showtime

E: In the first season, this crime story was told from the perspective of the two characters carrying on the titular affair, Dominic West and Ruth Wilson. Last season, the producers added in the perspectives of the jilted spouses, Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney.  This season, there’s not only a new mystery and a time jump, but also a fifth perspective, from Jackson’s new love interest Irene Jacob.  Will this unbalance the show?  Is that too many perspectives?

C: I guess it depends on how they do “perspective.” How much time are we spending re-seeing the same things through new eyes?

E: I’m not sure, unfortunately. But the writers also have deep questions for us: is love real and lasting, or transitory, dependent on circumstance?

M: Is Shonda Rhimes involved? If so the answer is emphatically the latter.

E: No, and I don’t think it’s that melodramatic, but I take your point.

Divorce (October 9th), HBO

M: The Affair followed by Divorce… fitting.

E: Well that sounds like fun, huh? After spending how many years giving HBO an ever-hopeful version of singledom in the city, Sarah Jessica Parker skips over married life and heads right for its aftermath.

M: Since that’s the inevitable result of every relationship in the history of that previous show, oddly enough, that works.

C: Have to agree that Sex and the City did not exactly model the healthy, functioning relationship too often.

E: Like Bravo’s similarly themed show A Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, this has little interest for me.

M: Or me.

Masterpiece (on-going), PBS

E: Even if Downton Abbey has ended (weep) there’s still plenty to see here.  First up, the second season of Indian Summers, where a forbidden interracial love is set against a backdrop of violent political unrest.

C: I never saw the first season of that. It was reputed to be a bit slow-burning, but solid. I thought it looked a little, hm, I guess potentially exploitative in its depiction of India’s sexy “exoticness”? I’d love to hear someone who watched it’s take on this.

E: Me too.  I wanted to like it, but there was too much soap, and too little character development in what I did see.  Let me know if I stopped too soon!

10:30

Insecure (October 9th), HBO

E: Comedienne Issa Rae becomes a multi-hyphenate: starring, writing and producing a semi-autobiographical take on her awkward modern life juggling career, romance and race.

C: Also starring Yvonne Orji as her friend who seems to have it all together, but may in fact be insecure as well. The first season has 8 episodes, all titled “[Adjective] as F***.” This rubs me the wrong way a bit (like the teacher who swears in front of the students in an obviously self-conscious way, to seem cool), but otherwise the series sounds like a potentially interesting take on female friendship and the particular challenges of African-American womanhood.

E: It’s going to be very, um, frank, based on the trailers. In other words, very HBO.

C: And that’s it for the Fall broadcast TV preview, folks! But don’t worry, we’ve also got a streaming series preview coming your way…

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