It’s almost fall, which means it’s time for a new crop of TV shows from the major networks. While some are inevitably doomed to failure (such as “Made in Jersey” on CBS and “Malibu Country” on ABC), others hold great promise. Here’s a look at the best new shows this season.
Wednesday, Oct. 10, 9 p.m., ABC
Easily this season’s most promising debut, “Nashville” has the potential to be the perfect drama, even for people who don’t give a spit about country music. Created by “Thelma & Louise” writer Callie Khouri, with expert musical choices from her husband, T Bone Burnett, and some top-notch direction from documentary-maker R.J. Cutler, “Nashville” won me over mainly with its strong sense of grace and heartache.
The reliable Connie Britton (“American Horror Story,” “Friday Night Lights”) stars as Rayna Jaymes, a chart-topping country music queen who’s hitting a dry spell, hitwise. Her record company strong-arms her into touring with Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a conniving up-and-comer who knows all about Eve and then some. “Nashville” nicely juggles the backstage back-stabbery with Rayna’s growing marital distress, as her husband (Eric Close) is coerced into running for political office by her manipulative father (Powers Boothe).
Yet “Nashville” never strays too far from its real story — the ups and downs of glitzy stardom, with Britton and Panettiere performing their own vocals. Near the end of the first episode, an unknown songwriter and a waitress (Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen) sing a duet at a waterin’ hole’s open-mike night that is far and away the loveliest thing you’ll see on TV this year. I half expect that “Nashville” may well be lured down the path of eye-rolling melodrama soon enough (like NBC’s “Smash”), but until then, I’d like to bask in its tender perfection.
Call the Midwife
Sunday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m., PBS
A huge hit in Britain (with a second season already on order), this absorbing and inspiring six-episode miniseries about young nurses in London’s East End deserves top priority on your crowded Sunday-night schedule. (It’s also welcome relief for anglophiles who can’t wait for “Downton Abbey” to hurry up and return in January. )
Based on the late Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, “Call the Midwife” follows Jenny Lee (a luminescent Jessica Raine) as she begins work as a midwife in the late 1950s. She lives in a convent of Anglican sisters and other nurses who’ve devoted themselves to providing top-notch aid to impoverished women and the elderly in the nascent days of Britain’s national health-care system. The cast is marvelous, the gritty, post-war set pieces are meticulously recreated and, even with all the warm-water enemas and splattered afterbirth, the story always has its eye on uplift and good cheer.
The American audience will be greeting “Call the Midwife” amid an election-year climate that has disparaged women’s rights and all but demonized the idea of government-assisted health care, so it’s understandable that you might watch it with a feminist zeal. Another possibility is to see the show as a yet another subversive bit of socialist propaganda brought to you by your public broadcasters. But if you can get past the present-day angst, I suggest you simply lose yourself in “Call the Midwife’s” belief in pure charity, which means doing our best for the least of our sisters and brothers.
The Mindy Project
Tuesday, Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m., Fox
It’s a farewell sheet cake for Kelly Kapoor, as Mindy Kaling segues effortlessly from the time she’s logged at NBC’s dwindling “The Office” as a writer and ensemble player to her big chance at creating and starring in her own show. In her new gig, she scores all 5’s on her employee evaluation. Everything about “The Mindy Project” is so very Kaling and happily spot-on, starting with the strength of the jokes and dialogue.
Drawing a bit from the tales she shared in her best-selling memoir, the fictional Mindy is a self-aware but also neurotic central character — a good Indian daughter who went to medical school and became an OB-GYN, even though all she ever really wanted to do was splay on the couch and watch Nora Ephron-style rom-com movies from 1990s. In a moment of self-loathing, she resolves to undertake a “Mindy project” of renewed discipline, revamping her social life and choices in men. It’s a losing proposition but a winning show.
The New Normal
Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC
Ryan Murphy’s relentlessly strong (and even hyperactive) instinct for TV concepts and characters is always a pleasure to watch at the start — think of those initial episodes of “Glee,” “American Horror Story” and “Nip/Tuck.” Then, soon enough, some viewers tend to peel off from his shows until only diehard fans remain. (Raise your hand if you’re still willing to admit to being a Gleek.)
Murphy’s “The New Normal,” which premiered Sept. 11, is an ensemble comedy about a male couple, David and Bryan (“The Hangover’s” lost groom Justin Bartha and Broadway’s “Book of Mormon” star Andrew Rannells), who hire a down-on-her-luck, single-mom surrogate to carry their baby. It’s an idea whose time should have come a while back. Bartha and Rannells’s characters display yin/yang neuroses that keep their characters interesting, but as Goldie, the would-be surrogate, Georgia King is unfortunately bland.
Ellen Barkin saves the day with a deliciously acid standout performance as Goldie’s disapproving grandmother, Jane.
Thursday, Sept. 27, 9 p.m., CBS
Sherlock Holmes gets his zillionth update, this time with Jonny Lee Miller (“Eli Stone”) playing Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless sleuth as a recovering addict whose British tycoon father ships him off to Manhattan for rehab.
Lucy Liu plays Dr. Joan Watson, a disgraced former surgeon who’s been hired to act as Sherlock’s 24-hour sober-living companion after his detox. In almost no time at all, they are working together on a murder case after Sherlock is asked by a New York homicide detective (Aidan Quinn) to examine a tony, uptown crime scene.
In a way, CBS is honoring its present-day success as crime-procedural central with this twist on the daddy of all detective serials. “Elementary” exhibits enough stylish wit in its mood and look to quickly distinguish itself from the latest British “Sherlock” series (seen on PBS).
Monday, 9 p.m., NBC
NBC throws in with J.J. Abrams (of “Lost” and so much else) for this adventure drama set 15 years after all the lights, engines and electronics have gone out and life went medieval. Notions of world dystopia continue to strike a nerve. We see chaos, violence, government collapse — but also community gardens in cul-de-sacs. It can’t help but be interesting.
After a militia troop kills her father and kidnaps her brother, a young woman with oh-so-trendy archery skills (Tracy Spiridakos) sets off for a kudzu-covered Chicago (it’s always Chicago) in search of her uncle (Billy Burke), who might help her and her friends unlock the secret of the power outage and perhaps fix it. They are pursued by none other than Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad’s” baddest baddie, Gus Fring) who plays a former insurance adjustor turned cruel enforcer. In the meantime, no one seems particularly interested in steam engines.
666 Park Avenue
Sunday, Sept. 30, 9 p.m., ABC
The potential for haunted-house fun abounds in the Drake, a luxury Upper East Side prewar apartment building that’s owned by a Mephistopheles type (“Lost’s” Terry O’Quinn as Gavin Doran) who claims the souls of unlucky tenants whose terms of lease come due. An ambitious (but broke) young couple (Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable) answer Doran’s want ad for new live-in managers, and they’re instantly thrilled with the square-footage, original moldings and free rent.
And here is where the show becomes a handy metaphor for all real estate transactions. Doran and his mysterious wife (Vanessa Williams, nibbling the scenery’s edges with her pearly whites) make it seem like life in the Drake is heavenly — but the vanishing and otherwise desperate pallor of some of the residents would suggest otherwise. “666 Park Avenue” will have a little of what “American Horror Story” is having, obviously, even if its frights aren’t nearly as jumpy.
Wednesday, Sept. 26, 8:30 p.m., ABC (moves to 7:30 the next week)
Some viewers (and certainly other critics) may well expectorate a DayGlo goo all over this ABC comedy about aliens in the Stepford-like exurbs. But what redeems “The Neighbors” is that it’s not confused about what it wants to be — or the sort of fun it wants to have.
The Weavers (Lenny Venito and the always-welcome Jami Gertz) decide to pack up their three kids and move from their New York apartment to a tract house in the strange outer realm of Hidden Hills, N.J., with its manicured lawns, big garages and conformity.
Buyer’s remorse soon sets in, as it turns out all their neighbors are part of a marooned alien colony, headed by Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and his mate, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye). Keeping vigilant watch for a signal from their planet, these space reptiles may have disguised themselves as citizens of Dullsville, but they’ve wildly misinterpreted American life and social manners in almost every way.
Tuesday, Sept. 25, 9 p.m., CBS
The twin disasters of the “Pan Am” crash and “Playboy Club” fire are but a memory now, making it somewhat safe for CBS to dial back to 1960 with this attractive effort at a crime drama set in Las Vegas’s emerging years as a glittering metropolis of sin.
Based on the real-life stories of lawman Ralph Lamb’s efforts to preserve order amidst the city’s growth and the encroaching mob rule, “Vegas” stars Dennis Quaid, who brings everything he’s got to the role of Sheriff Lamb. Michael Chiklis co-stars as Vincent Savino, an ambitious Chicago thug (it’s always Chicago), who comes to town to run the Savoy, Fremont Street’s snazziest casino. (The strip as we presently know it is but a wild rumor and fantasy at this point; lavish attention, in the form of recreated streetscapes and CGI neon, help transport the show back to a simpler, seedier Las Vegas.)
Thursday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m., ABC
From “The Shield” creator Shawn Ryan comes this complicated and frankly outrageous saga of a U.S. nuclear sub called the Colorado, with “Homicide: Life on the Street’s” Andre Braugher at the helm. The Colorado goes rogue when they get a surprise launch order from the brass and suspect it isn’t legit. No sooner have they defied command than Washington launches a missile at them. Meanwhile, Pakistan gets nuked three times. The crew barely escapes and surfaces at a remote island (and NATO listening outpost), where Braugher’s Capt. Marcus Chaplin issues a worldwide ultimatum, warning of a White House coup and threatening to launch his sub’s arsenal if the island is attacked.
Wednesday, Oct. 10, 9 p.m., CW
The Green Arrow, a bit player in the DC Comics universe, gets a sleek revamp in this CW action-adventure adaptation, which has at least two things going for it: archery, which might already be so last year to finicky teens, and lead actor Stephen Amell, who will definitely make some viewers, um, quiver.