Fall TV Roundup, Week 1

The Fall TV Season is upon us, as four new shows debuted post-Labor Day. These posts, if you're a regular reader, typically come on Tuesdays, and will return to that slot next week. But the Broncos open on Monday Night Football, meaning my happy, or sad, recap will be tomorrow. So I bumped this up a day. As always, I review the pilot and second episode of new scripted series.

Tuesday Nights:
American Horror Story: Cult, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on F/X (Premiered September 5)
About: This was the first new show of the Fall Season. I know what you're thinking, this isn't new. It's in its seventh season. That is true, but since it's an anthology, each season stands somewhat on its own, so it has been my practice to lump it in with the new shows. What's also interesting here is typically "American Horror Story" has come later in the season, but I'm wondering if its clown-heavy theme made it a prime candidate to jump out in front of the clown-heavy horror film, "IT," which opened on Friday. Either way, it has begun. Last year, I often joked that the Presidential election was the scariest thing on TV by far. Apparently AHS creator Ryan Murphy felt the same. This entire season opens in the night of the election, looking at the reaction to Donald Trump's victory from some different lenses. That opening sequence stirred some genuine emotion and was, perhaps, the best part of the episode for me. What followed was an odd scene with Twisty The Clown (John Carroll Lynch) that felt like a forced tie-in to previous seasons, and some sequences that left me uneasy and a little turned off. One reason for that could be that this is all too real, too fresh, and too current. Perhaps that's the point. But it's hard to have a mirror reflecting societal issues when you're in the midst of those issues and don't know where it is all going. It's undeniable, nearly a year later, that election night left a group of hate-mongers feeling empowered. We see evidence of this every day, sometimes in major national incidents like the one in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few weeks back. This is something we need to consider and examine, but it feels a little wrong to have that exploration used in "American Horror Story" as the crux of a fictionalized plot. Granted, after the pilot, I can't be certain where it is all going, but much of the episode was deeply unsettling for that reason.
Pilot Grade: C

Thursday Nights:
The Orville, Thursdays at 9 p.m. on FOX (Premiered September 10)
About: One of FOX's new shows is "The Orville," a seeming send up of "Star Trek" starring Seth MacFarlane. It will regularly air in a crowded Thursday night timeslot following "Gotham," but for the first two weeks FOX is giving it a jump start and premiering it right behind its Sunday NFL double-header. The first episode aired last night, and we got a chance to see how the show will work. The show follows Ed (MacFarlane), an officer whose marriage to Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) goes down the drain when he catches her cheating. It almost tanks his career, too. A year later, he's given one last chance in the form of command of The Orville, a small science vessel in the fleet. The catch is Kelly is assigned as his first officer, and comedy ensues. The rest of the cast includes Penny Johnson Gerald as the ship's doctor and Scott Grimes as the irresponsible helmsman. Watching the trailers, it was easy to believe this would be a comedy spoof, but it's not that. There is comedy in it, but this show plays more as a straight "Star Trek" rip off than a send up of the original. That will likely throw some for a loop. (Even the music is about as close to the "Star Trek" theme as you can come without being sued.) MacFarlane is a big "Star Trek" fan, so in some ways this makes sense. This wasn't as funny or smooth as I expected, and I didn't love the pilot. But I liked it more than most, perhaps because I like "Star Trek" stories in general. I'll be curious to see where this one goes as it develops.
Pilot Grade: C+

Sunday Nights:
The Deuce, Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO (Premiered September 10)
About: David Simon is a great TV writer and creator who has given us some incredible series, including "The Wire." His latest, "The Deuce" is another interesting slice of history that aims to shine a light on a specific time, place, and set of people. A lot of the old gang (including writers, directors, producers, and actors) is back together with Simon on the series, an eight-part exploration of New York City in the 1970s. Specifically, it's interested in the rampant prostitution and the rise of the porn industry. Though in the pilot, which runs about 90 minutes, we don't really see much of the porn industry as we're simply introduced to characters and eased into the world. All of Simon's work is better taken as a whole than in episodic chunks. This was something I pointed out a couple weeks back when discussing "The Wire" as one of my favorite shows and the difficulty pinning down a single episode as my favorite. That is largely the case with "The Deuce," which moves slow and concerns itself mostly with establishing the world and characters in the first 90 minutes. It has a number of talented people, including James Franco in a duel role and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who serves as a producer, helping to tell this story. I didn't love the pilot because I'm not sold on the characters or world yet, but I believe in Simon. And those that have seen the full eight episodes say the journey is worth it. Right now I'm a little on the fence, but curious to see where it goes in episode two.
Pilot Grade: C

Streaming Series:
Con Man, Streaming on Vimeo and SyFy (debuted on SyFy on September 9)
About: "Con Man" began as a Web-series from Alan Tudyk, who wrote, directed, and stars in the series. It was crowd funded and centers on an actor (Tudyk) working the convention circuit. (Hence the title Con Man, which I actually thought meant this was a crime caper story until I watched it...) The series debuted a 13-episode first season on Vimeo in 2015 and had a 12-episode second season on Comic-Con HQ, the Comic Con streaming service (which apparently exists) back in 2016. It has since been picked up by SyFy, which streamed the whole first season (condensed into six half-hour episodes) on Saturday night. The second season is due out some time soon. The series is funny and has an interesting look at the life of Comic Con icons and the people who are devoted to cons. I watched the first two on SyFy (which is about four of the streaming episodes) and found them entertaining if not particularly engrossing. But for fans of Tudyk and Nathan Fillion, who also appears frequently and worked on the series, this could be a must watch.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C


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