How do you fight a flagging American Idol franchise and ratings that dipped 20% last season? Hopefully, by luring your viewers back with some big names. That’s the latest strategy for Fox, which came out of the upfronts on Tuesday with a lineup that included Andy Samberg, Greg Kinnear, Seth MacFarlane, J.J. Abrams, and Kiefer Sutherland, the latter of whom will return for the miniseries 24: Live Another Day. (Midseason picks include the Chris Meloni comedy Surviving Jack, the Terry O’Quinn drama Gang Related, and M. Night Shyamalan’s miniseries Wayward Pines, which will star Matt Dillon, but trailers for those shows are not yet available yet for review.) Still, fame doesn’t always equal quality. For every promising buddy-cop comedy, there’s a not-so-promising sitcom from a certain Oscar host who prides himself on being “edgy.” Sorry, Seth MacFarlane, but the only boobs I saw today were the two guys in your new show.
Imagine The Office, except set in a police precinct. Now imagine Andy Samberg as its resident dimwit, a detective who wiles away the hours playing fire extinguisher roller-chair derby and doing very bad, meep-morp-I-am-a-robot impressions of his humorless boss (Andre Braugher). If you’re not laughing yet — and I was, right from the moment that Samberg rocks out to a terrible preset keyboard demo at the beginning of the trailer – consider that Brooklyn Nine-Nine was created by Dan Goor and Michael Shur, who mastered the art of the workplace comedy with Parks and Recreation. Judging by the teaser, which also features a cameo from Fred Armisen as a wide-eyed creeper, Brooklyn Nine-Nine could actually be funny. Still not convinced? If you don’t at least smile at Samberg’s very special cop “uniform” (shirt and tie on top, multi-colored Speedo on the bottom), then you either have no heart or no pants.
Still mourning Fringe? This new sci-fi drama from producers J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman should help you get your fill of dystopian worlds and shiny, spaceship-like cars that make little put-put-put noises as they float above futuristic cityscapes. Set in the year 2048, at a time when police officers are expected to take on android-like partners, it follows a human cop (Karl Urban) who’s paired off with a “synthetic” (Michael Ealy). (“I can’t say that I was born,” the sad robot explains, “but I was made to feel, like you.”) The special effects look awesome: just watch them unseal Early from his dead-eyed robot grave and turn him into a living, breathing, partner-insulting man. And there’s a supporting role for the very talented Lili Taylor, who’s finally getting the meaty drama she deserves. Also, that scene where the robot “downloads” information by stabbing a syringe into his neck? It’s enough to make every eighth grader in America say, “Cool.“ Okay, and maybe one TV critic as well.
Apparently there’s no room left for anything new in Seth McFarlane’s brain these days, because all the space has been taken up by Family Guy and Ted and Kate Winslet’s boobs. But that still doesn’t excuse this terrible-looking live-action comedy from MacFarlane and his fellow Ted scribes Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, about two childhood friends (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) and their live-in fathers (Martin Mull and Peter Riegert). The teaser left me with so many questions. What is an Emmy-nominated actor like Riegert doing on a show that banks its punchlines on Indian food burps? Is a white guy seriously asking an adult woman to dress up like a sexy Asian school girl? And (oh no!) is she actually doing it? Halfway through the trailer, there was only question worth answering: Why am I still watching this?
If you like Sgt. Bilko, Private Benjamin, C.P.O. Sharkey, and other shows that linger on sweaty cadets as they climb (or fail to climb) over a wall with a rope, then get ready to program your DVR. This heartfelt comedy follows three siblings on a small Florida army base — a bossy sergeant (Geoff Stults), a smart-alek corporal (Chris Lowell) and a super earnest private (Parker Young) — as they’re whipped into shape by their late father’s army buddy (Keith David). Because these troops serve on Rear Detachment duty, where soldiers are left behind to mow lawns, sort mail, and (apparently) make panda bear jokes while the others go to war, the humor’s so light that even the riffs on prosthetic limbs feel wholesome. It’s too early to tell whether there’s enough depth here to flesh out a full season. But judging by panda bear jokes alone, it’s not bad.
Based on the critically-acclaimed Australian series of the same name, Rake casts Greg Kinnear as a self-destructive criminal defense lawyer who’s in trouble with his ex-wife, the IRS, his drug dealer, and… wait, who cares what it’s about? It’s Greg Kinnear! He’s phenomenal at playing scumbags — my favorite might be his turn as Bob Crane in Auto Focus — and he hardly ever gets to do it. Also, Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, the Spider-Man franchise) directed and executive produced the pilot, and the ever-creepy Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) pops up as a cannibal. The charming-old-crank-who’s-also-an-addict premise might feel like another tired twist on House, but with a cast like this, I’m willing to watch Kinnear pad around the city in his bathrobe.
US & THEM
Standing by for a mid-season debut, Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel are the American version of Gavin & Stacey, the long-distance lovebirds who met online on the popular British show. He lives in an apartment below his parents (Jane Kaczmarek and Kurt Fuller). She lives with her widowed mom (Kerri Kenney) and hangs out with her weirdo uncle (Michael Ian Black), desperately hoping that her best years won’t pass her by. It’s a cute premise, and any threat of over-sweetening is cut with some well-timed cracks about pedophiles and rape whistles, many of which are delivered by dear old Mom and Dad. Also, Ritter is working the sensitive-dude thing so hard — he’s described in the press release as a “Woody Allen-ish” type with “indie-rock looks” — so you’ll almost forgive him for dating both Gilmore Girls.
Having been blood-cursed during the American Revolution (hey, it happened to George Washington, too), Icabod Crane (Tom Mison) has been resurrected in present-day Sleepy Hollow to solve a few burning mysteries. Where has the Headless Horseman disappeared to? How can Icabod and his partner, detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), stop this killer from slaying his next victim? And, more important, what is this “Starbucks,” and why has it appeared on every block? The shock-of-the-new-millenium references here fall flat, and the decapitation puns could make a man groan, even if he doesn’t have enough of a face for a mouth. “Put the weapon down!” one policeman screams at the Horseman. “Put your hands on your…” Oh. Right. Sorry.
Follow Melissa Maerz on Twitter: @MsMelissaMaerz