The Unfettered Critic – September 2014

Watching TV has never been so easy. Or so hard.

Remember when three networks—CBS, NBC and ABC—scheduled our viewing for us? Today we download favorite shows to “devices” like smart phones, tablets, computers and (insert new tech here!) in order to view them whenever we want. Now dozens of cable networks, computer websites and (insert new broadcast vendor here!) deliver original programming from outlets with names like Netflix and HBO and Starz. It’s gotten so a viewer doesn’t know unto which wavelength to turn.

Well, with the new Fall Season upon us, we’re here to lend a hand. We don’t guarantee that the new shows we’ve picked will be winners, but we’re betting they’re worth a look.

One caveat: for our purposes here, we’re sticking to those traditional networks (which now include FOX and the CW) and the non-premium (“free”) cable channels.

Let’s start with NCIS New Orleans. Yes, another NCIS. The original show, about to begin its eleventh season, deservedly holds the title “most popular drama on television.” We love this police procedural with a military twist (NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service), which holds its loyal audience with taut storylines, good-natured humor, and standout characters. An existing spin-off, NCIS Los Angeles, is still going strong after five years. So you might ask, does the world really need another NCIS spin-off? We’ll answer with two words: Scott Bakula. A longtime favorite of television audiences (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise), Bakula is a man worth watching. We’re betting he’ll make this show an hour of must see TV. (CBS, Sep. 23).

We’re attracted to Madam Secretary. The U.S. President asks a former CIA agent to take on the role of Secretary of State after her predecessor dies “in an accident.” The White House setting makes us hope that another West Wing is in the offing. Writer Aaron Sorkin isn’t involved, but show creator Barbara Hall, whose credits range from Northern Exposure to Homeland, is no slouch at solid storytelling. (CBS, Sep. 21).

Two miniseries appear worth checking out. Houdini, starring Oscar winner Adrien Brody, chronicles the legendary magician’s life (History Channel, Sep. 1). And Gracepoint, based on British series Broadchurch, follows an investigation into the death of a small town boy. While many imports get lost in translation, this one—with much of the original’s creative talent attached—may have survived intact. Best of all, David Tennant reprises his Broadchurch role as lead investigator—this time with an American accent (FOX, Oct. 2).

Do you like comic books? If so, this is your year! Returning pulp-based shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which we enjoy) and Arrow (which we ignore) will be joined by Constantine, Gotham, and The Flash, all based on DC Comics’ franchises. Constantine weaves a tale about a dark magician who struggles with past sins as he protects humanity from a growing supernatural threat. The developers’ credits include Dexter, The Mentalist and Charmed, plus the most recent Batman and Superman features. (NBC, Oct. 24). And FOX has found a new way to get mileage out of the Batman craze; Gotham traces the formative years of Bruce Wayne (Batman) and the early career of Police Commissioner Gordon. Bruno Heller, who previously created The Mentalist, is Gotham’s developer (Sep. 22, FOX). Finally, The Flash, the tale of the guy who becomes “the fastest man alive,” spins off from the same folks who brought us Arrow. (CW, Oct. 7).

If none of these suit your tastes, MeTV (you can find it somewhere high up on your clicker) will be showing reruns of Adam-12 and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Photo Caption: L-R: NCIS’s Mark Harmon, NCIS New Orleans’ Scott Bakula.