CBS' new fall shows: A snap judgment

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What’s the best new show coming to CBS? Well, we have high hopes for Vince Gilligan and David Shore’s Battle Creek, but as CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler explained during the network’s upfronts presentation, that doesn’t premiere until midseason. For fall, CBS knows what you want: More NCIS! Your guide to non-NCIS offerings also appears below.

NCIS: NEW ORLEANS
NCIS is the biggest drama on TV, so you can’t blame CBS for trying to milk it for an endless array of spin-offs. This one focuses on Special Agent Dwayne Pride (Scott Bakula), who leads a local field office that investigates criminal cases affecting military personnel in the Big Easy. That job requires exactly what you think it does: standing in vomit puddles on a street that smells like beer, dancing like a white guy with a second-line band, learning how to say something that sounds like “let the good times roll” in French, with a Cajun accent. The only cliché that’s missing is a shot of Bakula pulling up his shirt so that his comrades (played by Lucas Black and Zoe McLellan) can throw beads. Then again, 21 million people watched when the characters from NCIS: NOLA were introduced on the original NCIS, so maybe it doesn’t matter. Prepare yourself for the inevitable NCIS: Middle-earth and NCIS: Moon.

THE MCCARTHYS
Boston is a city that’s hard to get right in comedies. Half the time you end up with hackneyed dialogue about drivin’ the cah down to the bah an’ eatin’ corned beef like an all-stah. So it’s promising that this multi-camera comedy about a loud, sports-crazy Boston family was created by a real Bostonian, Brian Gallivan (Happy Endings), loosely based on his life. It follows Ronny (Tyler Ritter), the gay son of a high school basketball coach (Jack McGee) who wants Ronny to be his assistant, despite the fact that Ronny’s siblings are way more qualified for the job. Gallivan gets points for casting the charming Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) as Ronny’s mother, a woman so ignorant of sports, she might actually believe Ronny’s claim that Miami’s home team is called the Miami Sound Machine. And it’s nice that the family’s acceptance of their gay son is a given. Too bad, then, that the Good Wife jokes feel cheaply cross-promotional, and the rest of the McCarthys seem like any other bland sitcom family, despite the fact that they apparently have a New Kid on the Block for a son. (Joey McIntyre plays Ronny’s brother.) On the plus side, with Donnie Wahlberg on Blue Bloods, CBS has a good shot at becoming the Boy Band Network. Someone just needs to cast Jordan Knight in NCIS: Worcester.

STALKER
From Kevin Williamson (The Following, Vampire Diaries) comes the CBS show that looks most like a horror movie — Williamson’s own horror movie, to be precise. The trailer begins with a scary phone call, some guys with masks, and a terrified woman who’s being chased out of her house, as if to remind you that this is the latest project from the guy behind the Scream franchise. Billed as a psychological thriller, it’s about two detectives (Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott) who investigate stalking incidents. And just like the kids in Scream, McDermott’s character sends up the genre’s obvious influences, joking that he’s qualified for the job because he’s seen Fatal Attraction and Swimfan. But Williamson doesn’t do much to comment on that tradition. In fact, he’s just building on it. His male detective is “single, never married, sleeps around.” And his female detective appears to be a bit unhinged, having been stalked herself. (“I’ve been through this, much worse than this,” she says.) Plus, it’s hard to imagine creating something fresh and new from a cop drama when the only crime they’re investigating is stalking. Restraining orders and boiled bunnies must get old after a while.

SCORPION
Another one that’s inspired by a true story: Scorpion centers on Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gable), an “eccentric” genius who forms a Homeland Security think tank with a ragtag network of nerds who help keep America safe. How do we know that Walter is a genius? Because we’re told no less than three times. The trailer is a little less smart than its Einsteinian hero probably deserves: One of O’Brien’s flacks, the Human Calculator, keeps mapping out equations on blackboards and dry-erase boards as if he’s been teleported in from some pre-Internet era. (If they call him the Human Calculator, shouldn’t he be able to do this in his head?) And there are more than a few overused tropes: the super-smart, silent little boy, the scene where there’s a million switches and no one knows which one to flip. But the action looks genuinely exciting, especially with Justin Lin (Fast & Furious franchise) tapped as director. O’Brien’s first task is to keep multiple planes from crashing at once, and watching them downward-spiral through the sky is kind of thrilling. If they can keep up that level of suspense, then we won’t need the Human Calculator to figure out that my chances of watching are 39.2 percent.

MADAM SECRETARY
This political drama wants badly to be the next West Wing. Its hero, Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni), has just been appointed to secretary of state, where she “drives international diplomacy, battles office politics and circumvents protocol as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home.” (Wait, she drives international diplomacy at home? Does the prime minister of Burkina Faso live in her walk-in closet?) It’s a good set-up for a smart series, but McCord isn’t exactly Hillary Clinton. Rather than, say, meeting with Putin, she’s busy paying diplomatic visits to the president of Swaziland. And the issues she’s focused on are so uncontroversial — who doesn’t want to rescue American kids who’ve been kidnapped in Syria? — that it’s hard to imagine Madam Secretary becoming a conversation-starter the way West Wing was, unless that conversation is about the silliness of the slow-motion shot where a rescued kidnapping victim literally kisses the ground. The biggest problem might be Leoni, who’s so low-energy here, you can’t imagine her staying awake through a whole season. Oh well. So what if it’s not a hit? This show is gonna be huge in Swaziland.


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