NBC's new fall shows: A snap judgment

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Image Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC

The network that brings you so much grave Law and Order and Grimm horror plans to give you more of the same, except in slightly lighter formulations. The heaviest new drama premiering this fall on NBC’s just-announced 2014-15 schedule is the political thriller State of Affairs, which will inherit the Monday time slot of its fraternal twin, The Blacklist, when the latter drama moves to Thursday in November as part of NBC’s radical rethink of a night that was once Must See, but no more.

STATE OF AFFAIRS
Katherine Heigl returns to TV (yay?) as a CIA analyst who compiles the president’s Daily Briefing, an assessment of current threats to the country. So she’s the president’s bookie — the Jimmy the Greek of counter-terrorism. She and POTUS (Alfre Woodard) have a special bond/secret agenda: They’re bent on avenging the murder of the president’s son and Heigl’s fiancé, a relief aid worker slain by terrorists. Or not. Seems like there might be one of those government conspiracies afoot that cynical pop culture loves to peddle. State of Affairs was created by director Joe Carnahan, a key creative player behind The Blacklist. (He also helmed one of the past season’s most disappointing new dramas, Those Who Kill, the one that had Chloe Sevigny as a serial killer hunter, but never mind.) His new effort tastes like Diet Homeland, and Heigl looks like she’s playing one of her bland rom-com cutouts but with 100 percent more Existential Edge and Badass Tough, also blandly articulated. “I’m a total slob in my personal life and a total sniper in my professional life,” she says. If you can believe that, then State of Affairs can sell you its bridges too.

THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA 
Debra Messing looks far more credible in The Mysteries of Laura, in which she plays a bright homicide cop and divorced mother of precocious boys partial to superhero underwear and splatter art. The show is one of those things that the word “dramedy” was invented for, a Hooperman-esque array of tones, and Messing, late of Smash and liberated of scarves, looks like she can hit them all and well. I’m inclined to think the precious title is horrible, and yet if the show is as good as I hope it is then I suspect it’ll grow on me. The supporting cast appears to be a charming bunch capable of generating appealing chemistry, though watching the spoiler-packed trailer reveals, to my disappointment, that the great Enrico Colantoni — Veronica Mars‘ proud daddy — doesn’t make it beyond the pilot.

CONSTANTINE
Being a comic book geek, I can’t help but be both intrigued and a little hard on Constantine, a TV adaptation of the DC Comics’ dark fantasy hero. (He got a movie translation a few years back, starring The Whoa-Meister.) The titular antihero is a reckless, haunted occult detective from Blighty in a dirty tan trenchcoat who reeks of irreverence and — if the show is true to the comic — cigarette smoke. It appears the show will play up the character’s supernatural abilities — he can exorcise demons, see and speak with invisible spirits marooned on Earth — thus making him more of a conventional super-powered superhero. The actor, Matt Ryan, resembles more of the comic book articulation (inspired by Sting circa Synchronicity and Brimstone and Treacle) than Keanu ever did, and while he lacks the gritty weight of the character, he nails the wit. The show appears to be giving him a female sidekick or potential second lead, a young American woman played by True Blood‘s Lucy Griffiths, coming into awareness of the heavenly and hellacious forces at work in the world. It all suggests a horror-genre Doctor Who. I can’t tell yet if Constantine is Whoa!-worthy — the tone strikes me as a tad too cheeky for my tastes — but it does seem like NBC has finally found a fitting fright-night companion for Grimm.

BAD JUDGE
NBC’s fall comedies all give me something to like, yet not enough to instantly hook me. Bad Judge stars Kate Walsh as an approaching-middle-age single lady partial to short skirts and drum kits who also happens to be … wait, I forget … oh, yes, a judge! I would roll my eyes at this chip-off-the-Bad Teacher block if not for the exec producers — Will Ferrell and Adam McKay — and the fact that Walsh is currently playing a version of this same character on FX’s Fargo to great, career-boosting effect. But is she also giving me about as much as I ever want to see from her in that kind of role? Probably. At the very least, Bad Judge gives a nation of snarky entertainment journalists a pun we can use against NBC should this fail. Let me write that first graph for you now: Looks like NBC is a “Bad Judge” of hit material. Wah-wah!

MARRY ME
Marry Me comes off as a rom-com that subverts rom-com conventions, starring two very strong comic character actors, Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) and Ken Marino (Eastbound and Down, Children’s Hospital), as the leads. The show comes from David Caspe, the creator of Happy Endings, and Marry Me possesses the same madcap, smarty-pants humor. But the premise — about long-dating lovers who keep finding new reasons to never get married — seems unsustainable. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

A TO Z 
It’s the story of A, Andrew, the owner of an online dating site (Mad Men‘s Ben Feldman) questing for true love, who thinks Fate has hooked him up with a literal dream come true in Z, a no-nonsense lawyer named Zelda (Cristin Milioti, the Mom in How I Met Your Mother). Andrew thinks Zelda is the same woman in a shimmering dress that he saw at a concert a few years ago. But is she? What happens if his fantasy doesn’t quite mesh with her reality? What happens when she tries to be that fantasy for him? It’s Vertigo: The Sitcom! If A to Z can allow itself to be as interesting as its premise suggests — oh, and actually funny too — it might be worth watching for a spell. Otherwise, I’ll be spending whatever time I give this show wondering: Wither Feldman’s Nipple?

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