Are you going to find a new favorite show this season? It’s actually possible.
From top-notch comedies like “A to Z” and “Black-ish” to thoughtful, genre-pushing dramas like “Red Band Society,” the upcoming 2014-15 TV season actually seems to be working hard to impress us. “How to Get Away With Murder” has learned to synthesize scandal into its purest form. “Scorpion” is bringing nerdery to the masses. And do you like superheroes? Because this fall has a couple of superhero shows — one with its superhero not yet grown up.
See photos: Fall TV Preview: 85 New and Returning Shows
Here are 11 shows we think there’s a decent chance you’ll really, really like.
“A to Z,” NBC
Cristin Milioti stole audience’s hearts as the titular mother on CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother,” and now she gets a chance to do it all over again on her very own show. Luckily, none of her pluck and sparkle have been lost in the transfer from that sitcom to NBC’s newest. Ben Feldman (“Mad Men”) provides a likable foil, and we’re just hoping “A to Z,” which is also playing with a set ending format, will be flexible enough to allow our new favorite couple to grow and change organically.
The “Batman” prequel’s pilot is mostly just good, but the visuals and tone get into great territory. The show also has a strong cast in Donal Logue, Ben McKenzie and Jada Pinkett Smith, though the real breakout might be Robin Taylor as Oswald Copperpot — aka The Penguin. The real question is how long the show can go on without Batman, Catwoman and the other child characters growing up and realizing their fates. The creators and executive producers have said they wish they had a smaller episode obligation to fulfill — will this DC Universe prequel get stale?
“Red Band Society,” Fox
This pilot — on the other hand — is great. A hospital show that takes place in a teenage wing might not seem like it would provide great comedic fodder, but it totally works as a dramedy. The kids are talented, the adults include an Oscar winner in Octavia Spencer, and Dave Annable should be a fan favorite. “Red Band Society” is very well-written, and with Steven Spielberg‘s backing, it is promised a fair shake at Fox. It could be the breakout for Fox this year that “Sleepy Hollow” was last year.
The pilot has a little too much going on, but the core trio — John Mulaney, Martin Short and Nasim Pedrad — are wonderful together. Mulaney, a top stand-up and ex-“SNL” writer who co-created Stefan, is a brilliant observer of human weirdness. Fox may be layering on extras so that the show doesn’t look like a ripoff of “Seinfeld,” another show built around a likeable, unassuming observer. But Mulaney is funnier on his own doing stand-up than this show is with lots of extras. We’re trusting that his show will find its voice — his voice — and become a great comedy.
The concept of this new drama — a group of misfit brainiacs are recruited as a think tank for Homeland Security to defend America against high-tech threats — could easily devolve into a nerd orgy. But the pilot for the show packs in enough riveting action, and humbling moments for the eggheads in question, to appeal to more than just armchair members of MENSA.
“American Crime,” ABC
Two of ABC’s best shows — this one and “Fresh Off the Boat” — don’t yet have air dates. Lets hope the network plans to give them plenty of promotion, because they both deserve it. Like Fox’s “Gracepoint,” “American Crime” examines a typical American town dealing with the fallout from a shocking crime. But “American Crime” may be more ambitious. Written by “12 Years a Slave” Oscar winner John Ridley and counting Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton among its stars, “Crime” explores how racial prejudice colors and corrupts every stage of our criminal justice system. The show plays up the dangers of assuming anything about anyone, and the turns are as instructive as they are thrilling.
The show about a man (Anthony Anderson) who fears his family has lost touch with its roots is an unexpectedly funny play on race and family. Every stereotype is fair game, and easy and painful ones alike are held up for examination and ridicule. “Black-ish” is smart and blunt, but most of all funny. The timing and one-liners are killer. Laurence Fishburne, an executive producer, is hilarious as the side-commenting grandfather. And all the dynamic between Anderson and his TV wife, Tracee Ellis Ross, feels balanced and natural.
“Fresh Off the Boat,” ABC
Loosely based on the life of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, ABC’s very likable comedy has a lot going for it, including the best ’90s hip-hop soundtrack of any pilot ever. Forced to move with his Taiwanese immigrant parents from Washington, D.C. to Florida, 11-year-old Eddie — played by newcomer Hudson Yang — embraces American culture, but not the bland and homogenized aspects of it. He becomes obsessed with the then-edgy music of Nas and Snoop Dogg, and his taste turns out to be not so much outside the mainstream as ahead of it. “Fresh Off the Boat” shows that you don’t have to be normal to fit in, and that nothing works out like anyone expects.
“How to Get Away With Murder,” ABC
Pleasures don’t come any guiltier than this. Shonda Rhimes’ latest billionth drama is smart, sexy and fast, full of appealing characters and eyebrow-raising surprises. Viola Davis rules every scene she’s in as a college professor and attorney who takes on clients who seem very, very guilty. Her clever and ruthless students take plenty of notes, and her lessons on getting away with it move quickly beyond the realm of theory.
“The Flash,” CW
Barry Allen appeared in multiple episodes of “CW’s Arrow” last season as a powerless forensic investigator before being flung into a coma by a particle accelerator gone awry. In this promising spin-off pilot, Barry wakes up as DC’s super speedy superhero, The Flash. His supporting cast is solid and the show’s special effects are impressive, but the editing and direction is often awkward. The highlight of the episode is The Flash’s encounter with Starling City’s protector, The Green Arrow. Hopefully it’s the first of many crossovers.
“Jane the Virgin,” CW
The CW’s latest has the wildest hook of the fall: It’s about a woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated after saving herself for marriage. It’s based on a Venezuelan telenovela, and telenovelas are known for being sudsier than soaps when it comes to wild plotlines. But “Jane the Virgin” comes off as a fun and airy fantasy rather than a believability-pushing melodrama. Gina Rodriguez and the rest of the cast go a long way toward making us believe with their snappy and charming performances.