Time travel? That's the big networks' ultimate fantasy

Here's the third piece of the TV-season preview which I've sent to papers. The previous ones -- see blogs below -- look at dramas and action-adventure; this one has sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Still coming are comedies and a season overview:

By Mike Hughes

Time-trekking is big
on TV now, which makes sense: The big networks wish they could go
back two decades, to a time when they had a monopoly.

They don't, of
course, and that's especially clear in the category of
science-fiction, fantasy and horror: The broadcast-network shows are
so-so; the others are very promising.

Here are the three
broadcast shows, rated on a 0-10 scale, followed by a sampling of the

The best

-- “Frequency”
(6). Strange things happen, it seems, when a ham-radio signal bounces
around the atmosphere. In the 2000 movie, a guy talked to his late
father; now a young cop talks with her late dad, possibly saving his
life and proving he wasn't corrupt. Don't ask us how this works;
somehow, Peyton List and Riley Smith make it human and believable. (9
p.m. Wednesdays, CW, Oct. 5)

The rest

-- “Timeless”
(4). A mysterious guy steals a time craft and maraudes through
history, disrupting things. So what crack team must follow and
un-disrupt? There's a gorgeous historian, a semi-nerdy driver and, of
course, a rogue-ish fighter. It's a flawed and frustrating story, but
it's also beautifully filmed; Abigail Spencer is first-rate, as she
is in “Rectify.” (10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, Oct. 3)

- “The Exorcist”
(2). In a moment of self-delusion, Fox put this in the old “X-Files”
timeslot, figuring it would draw the same passion. But “X-Files”
dazzled with its variety, changing moods briskly; “Exorcist”
trudges through an unrelenting tale. An earnest, handsome priest
tries to help a woman with a possessed daughter. It's all auite dark
and monotone (9 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 23)

Beyond broadcast

-- “Westworld.”
Back in 1973, Michael Crichton's movie had a familiar,
robots-gone-wild theme; a cowboy town was fun for tourists, until the
robots started shooting back. Now writer-producer Jonathan Nolan
(“Person of Interest”) and producer J.J. Abrams have pushed this
to a new level, as beings begin to realize their entire life is an
artifice. No guarantees yet, but glimpses of this seem extremely
good. (9 p.m. Sundays, HBO, but two-hour opener, Oct. 2, starts at 8)

-- “Wolf Creek”
(5). A decade ago, the “Wolf Creek” movie caused a stir in
Australia, with John Jarratt as a woodsman, bedeviling backpackers.
Now Jarratt repeats his role, but with a twist: This time, there's a
family, including a teen-ager who definitely doesn't want to be
there. Superbly played by Lucy Fry, she becomes key to this
well-executed but disturbing tale. (10 p.m. Fridays, Pop, Oct. 14)

-- “Luke Cage.”
Netflix is quickly becomeing Marvel Central. It already has Marvel's
“Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”; now Cage – a supporting
character in “Jones” -- gets his own show. Mike Colter –
6-foot-3, with heroic torso – plays the fugitive, a Harlem
crimefighter who has super strength and unbreakable skin. (Netflix,
Sept. 30)

-- “Falling
Water.” Three strangers – a banker, a cop and a trend-spotter –
have only one thing in common: They're in each other's interlocking
dreams ... and they may need to combine to save the world. (10 p.m.
Thursdays, USA, Oct. 13)

-- And “Mars”
could offer a fresh touch to sci-fi. It's a big-budget view of a
mission in 2033, but intercuts scripted parts with comments from
experts. (November, National Geogrraphic)


And now for an important, barrier-erasing question

On TV, Cheryl Hines has known real variety: One of her husbands was a macho, shirtless, sword-wielding warrior; another was Larry David. The former is in "Son of Zorn," an offbeat show which somehow compelled us to utter a previously unheard question. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In my long
journalism career, I've interviewed some distinguished souls.

There have been
one-on-ones ranging from Placido Domingo to Stevie Wonder, from Jerry
Seinfeld to Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall and the Rev. Norman Vincent
Peale. But I'd never, to my knowledge, asked anyone this question:

“If you could have
sex with a cartoon character, who would it be?”

Now I have. Please
don't judge.

“Son of Zorn”
happens to be the first new, broadcast-network show of the fall
season. It debuts Sunday (Sept. 11) on Fox, with a cartoon warrior
going from an island kingdom to the suburban home of his ex-wife and
their son ... neither of whom is a cartoon or a warrior.

“It's a grounded,
relatable, live-action family show that just happens to have this
cartoon barbarian at the core,” insisted writer-producer Sally
Bradford McKenna.

semi-relatable. First, you have to accept the co-existence of
cartoons and others.

“When he walks
into Applebee's with no shirt and he has a sword, no one is like,
'Whoa, it's a cartoon,'” said co-creator Reed Agnew. “They are
like, 'You need to put a shirt on. You are in Applebee's.'”

In this world,
cartoon people can co-exist, co-mingle and propagate with us. We
won't ask how ... but we did ask the cast members who they would mate

Cheryl Hines, who
plays the ex-wife, showed some loyalty: “I find mystelf oddly
attracted to Zorn. He's kind of hot; he's very muscular. And if he
doesn't speak and it's ... just, you know, one night ...”

Tim Meadows, who
plays her fiance, goes further back: “I've thought about this
question since I was 13,” he said. “It's not Zorn, no; I think
it's always been for me Betty or Veronica from the Archie comic books
.... I would say Veronica.”

Johnny Pemberton,
who plays the son, chose “Thundercats” warrior Cheetara. “She's
definitely the sexiest cartoon character of all time; she's a cat.”

If you can mate with
a cartoon cat, then a cartoon robot isn't out of the question;
Artemis Pebdani admitted a fondness for Optimus Prime of the
Transformers. However, she settled on a more mainstream choice –
Fred Jones, of the Scooby-Doo team. He's “the really clean-cut one,
because there's got to be some, like, grime in there somewhere. And
I'd find that hot.”

Pebdani plays
someone who hires Zorn. It's a “diversity hire,” but she's not
doing him a favor.

“He was just
fighting monsters and living this glorious life back in Zephyria,
where he probably has 50-foot sculptures built in his honor,” Agnew
said. Now he's “having to get a job in a cubicle in an office
that's lit with fluorescent light.”

Besides, he has to
wear a shirt. Sometimes, life is cruel.

-- “Son of Zorn,”

-- Most Sundays, it
will be 8:30 p.m., after “The Simpsons”; on Sept. 11, however, it
will be at 8 p.m., after two opening-week pro football games.


Remember action-adventure? TV does, occasionally

(Here's the second story in the new-TV-season preview. This is a tiny one, because action-adventures -- outside the sci-fi landscape -- are rare. Previously, I went papers a round-up of dramas. Coming are sci-fi, comedies and an overview.)

By Mike Hughes

Television used to
be filled with action adventures. Cars screeched, cops ran, horses

Now, not so much.
Last season, viewers ignored “Rush Hour”; there's still lots of
action on TV, but most of it is in science-fiction or fantasy shows,
which are a different category.

That leaves only two
shows for this list; ironically, both are strong prospects to be
ratings leaders:

The best

-- “Lethal Weapon”
(7 on a 0-10 scale). Roger (Damon Wayans) has good reasons to be
cautious; fresh from a health scare, he's a new dad. Martin (Clayne
Crawford) has no reason; his pregnant wife died in a car crash. Now
they're mismatched police partners. Yes, that's a cliche –
especially after four “Lethal Weapon” movies – but it's done
well. The characters are given extra depth and McG, who directed the
“Charlie's Angels” movies, knows how to do action well. (8 p.m.
Wednesdays, Fox, Sept. 21).

The rest

-- “MacGyver.”
Figure this: For decades, TV people kept saying they would bring back
the story of an inventive hero – maybe “Young MacGyver,” maybe
a movie, maybe something else. Then, after 24 years of dawdling, this
was rushed onto the schedule before it even had a finished episode.
After some substantial changes, these are the basics: Lucas Till
(Havok in the “X-Men” movies) is MacGyver, working for a secret
government agency; he creates the devices, George Eads (“CSI”)
provides the muscle. (8 p.m. Fridays, CBS, Sept. 23)

New TV dramas? There are some designated winners

The TV landscape keeps getting bigger and broader, but does it get better? Well, sometimes. Over the next few days, I'll be sending my seaon-preview to papers. Here's the first piece, viewing the new dramas.

By Mike Hughes

Let's credit the TV
people with having serious intentions.

This fall will be
short on frills and strong on dramas ... some of them worth watching.
Here, rating the pilot films on a 0-10 basis, are the new dramas on
the broadcast networks ... followed by a sampling of some of the
choices on cable, satellite and streaming services. Separate stories
will view comedies, action-adventures and fantasy tales.

The best

-- “Designated
Survivor” (9). A minor Cabinet official (Kiefer Sutherland) must
transform. There's been an attack during the State of the Union
speech; suddenly, this mild-mannered guy is president. Here is a
high-concept show, done with subtlety and intelligence. (10 p.m.
Wednesdays, ABC, Sept. 28)

-- “This is Us”
(8, but strictly for the pilot). The pilot film – the less you know
in advance, the better – is ingenious; we're left admiring its
clever architecture. But will that translate into an ongoing series
about three interesting people? Maybe, if the writing and
performances remain this good. Guesting as a doctor, for instance,
Gerald McRaney has the best moments of his long career. For now, just
savor the opener. (Tuesdays, NBC; opener, Sept. 20, ia 10 p.m., but
moves to 9 p.m. on Oct. 11.)

The rest

-- “No Tomorrow”
(7). She's a planner, grasping futilely for a better life. He makes
no plans; he's computed when an asteroid will destroy the Earth. He
may be crazy (let's hope so), but his live-for-today approach is just
what she needs. The pilot bubbles with fun. (9 p.m. Tuesdays, CW,
Oct. 4)

- “Pitch” (6).
In real life, we saw a girl triumph as a Little League pitcher; now
here's a fictional tale of the first female major-leaguer. It's
well-done, with a good eye for the realities of baseball and of the
media spotlight. (9 p.m. Thursdays, Fox, Sept. 22).

-- “Conviction”
(6). Bright, beautiful and the daughter of a president, Hayes (Hayley
Atwell) skated through law school. But now, after a drug arrest,
she's forced to take over a unit re-examining possible wrongful
convictions. She's a tough person to like, but the first case is
interesting and the characters have potential. (10 p.m. Mondays, ABC,
Oct. 3)

-- “Notorious”
(3). Producer Shonda Rhimes usually fills Thursdays with her own
shows. But with “Scandal” waiting for mid-season, this takes its
place ... sort of. Like “Scandal,” it has a wildly overwrought
plot; unlike it, the characters are only borderline interesting.
There's the producer of an tabloid-type talk show, a lawyer and other
self-centered souls. (9 p.m. Thursdays, ABC, Sept. 22)

-- “Pure Genius”
(2). Armed with tech billions, James Bell created a super hospital. A
skeptic derides the “gadgets and gizmos” ... but they're
operated by great medical minds. Feeling contrived and poorly cast,
this is a high-tech shell, in need of real genius. (10 p.m.
Thursdays, CBS, Oct. 27)

-- “Bull” (2).
Did CBS get swallowed up by a tech-monster? Like “Pure Genius,”
that has walls of gizmos ... and people who are tough to care about.
A trial consultant (Michael Weatherly) has a stony facade; his client
is a spoiled lad. Only the tech stuff stirs interest. (9 p.m.
Tuesdays, CBS, Sept. 20)

Beyond broadcast

-- “Goliath”
(8). With “The Practice” and “Boston Legal,” David Kelley and
Jonathan Shapiro delivered brilliantly written dramas about lawyers.
Now they've done it again. Billy Bob Thornton plays a former
big-timer, striking back at the mega-firm he started. (Amazon, Oct.

-- “Versailles”
(7). Louis XIV, it seems, had a lot on his mind besides nice
furniture. This drama catches him as the 28-year-old king of France.
It's 1667 and others are enraged by his move from Paris to an
evolving palace in Versailles. There, he maneuvers government,
warfare and his affair with the wife of his gay brother. It's
involving tale with lush settings. (10 p.m. Saturdays, Ovation, Oct.

-- “Startup”
(7). Some intriguing characters are tossed about, as we wait for them
to connect. There's a passionate and sexy computer genius ... a tough
gang leader ... an honest young business guy, forced to help his
desperate dad. And there's Martin Freeman – far from his
mild-mannered “Hobbit” and “Fargo” roles – as the FBI guy
figuring it all out. (Already available, Crackle)

-- “Queen Sugar”
(5). Can three mismatched siblings save their late father's
sugar-cane farm? Adapting a novel, writer-director Ava DuVernay
(“Selma”) has created a thick story, filled with people we keep
rooting for, even when they perplex us. (10 p.m. Wedesdays, Oprah
Winfrey Network, already started)

-- “Good Girls
Revolt” (5). In the late 1960s, women strike back at a magazine
that has men write its stories. It's an important and (we're told)
true story ... yet it feels contrived. (Amazon, Oct. 28)

-- “Good Behavior”
(4). We're not sure which is more disconcerting – seeing Lady Mary
grovel for drugs or clean a toilet. Michelle Dockery (Mary in
“Downton Abbey”) does that as an ex-con who meets a hit man.
She's excellent, but the plot takes sudden, odd leaps. (9 p.m.
Tuesdays, TNT, Nov. 15)

-- “Berlin
Station” (4). As a master hacker keeps spilling government secrets,
a spy tries to track a possible go-between. This is strong on
international atmosphere, but evolves slowly, with lots of time spent
walking around following people. (Epix, 9 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 16).


Quiet comedies? Dreary, weary plots? These shows make it work

People keep finding ways to re-invent TV comedies. The studio-audience shows are starkly different from the filmed ones. But if either style is done right -- "The Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family" -- the result is delightful.

And now there's another style, the quiet comedy that sometimes seems to nudge into drama or comedy. One ("Baskets") got way too dreary, but the two shows arriving this week are terrific. "Better Things" (Thursday, Sept. 8) and "One Mississippi" (Friday, Sept. 9) are gems. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

We've always known
what half-hour TV shows are like.

From Lucy to “Big
Bang,” they've been bright and busy. But now there are worthy
exceptions on:

-- The FX cable
network. “Better Things” continues the style that Louis C.K.
started with FX's “Louie” -- a droll, dry look at the life of a
single parent. This time, the focus is on Pamela Adlon, whose world
might seem weary. “I just feel like everything is funny in my
life,” she said.

-- The Amazon Prime
streaming service. “We have a range of tones,” said Amazon
executive Joe Lewis, “all the way from sad to devastating.”

Amazon has already
drawn attention and awards for “Transparent” and “Mozart in the
Jungle”; now “One Mississippi” has a version of what Tig Notaro
calls the time “when my life actually fell apart.” Recovering
from a double masectomy and an intestinal ailment, she rushed to her
mother's deathbed.

No, these shows
don't sound funny ... but they often are. Both are produced by Louis
C.K. (who also directed Adlon;s pilot and co-wrote it with her); both
mix real life with fiction.

“With 'One
Mississippi,'' with 'Better Things,' with 'Louie' – these are all
inspired by real life,” said M. Blair Breard. “But they're not
necessarily real life.”

She's been a
producer for all three shows. “Louie” is now on a long break, but
the two new ones were built around women with interestingly ragged

-- “Better Things”
(10 p.m. Thursdays, FX, beginning Sept. 8):

Pamela Adlon, 50,
grew up on both coasts. In New York, her dad, Donald Segall, was a
producer for Dave Garroway's show, which became “Today”; in Los
Angeles, he scrambled.

“My dad was like a
real journeyman writer and producer,” she said. “He's the
grandson and the son of a junkman. He used to write soft-core porn,
dime-store novels, to get by .... He was just a funny, funny, great
man (who) loved to laugh and be part of everything in the world.”

He wrote some TV
episodes, but his daughter was often busier. Then Pamela Segall, she
did a “Facts of Life” season (as Kelly) and co-starred in “The
Redd Foxx Show.” In “Down the Shore,” she played the one young
woman who argued with the guys; the character was dropped between

As a grown-up, Adlon
has thrived on voice work, including Bobby Hill in “King of the
Hill.” Other acting roles have been inconsistent, but she
co-starred in “Californication” and played C.K.'s wife in his
first comedy series, then helped write and produce his second one.
“There's this kind of antiquated way that we used to all do
television,” she said. “We're all kind of gently shaking (it)

“Better Things”
has versions of her late dad (in a dream scene) and her mom. “My
mother supported the family while my dad was writing. (She's) a
little, 80-year-old English lady from Chishire. I knew that I wanted
to have a real English person (play her), who could be formidable and
then a little fluff.”

-- “One
Mississippi” (any time on Amazon Prime,starting Friday, Sept. 9):

Managing bands in
Denver and Los Angeles, Tig Notaro found that her Southern roots were

“I didn't realize
that everyone didn't have a small town they came from or weird family
members,” she said. Then she would bring people home to
Mississippi. “Friends and girlfriends (were) like, 'Who are these
people? Where am I?'”

Notaro began talking
about her life during stand-up comedy and podcasts. Recovering from
cancer, she gave her stand-up show a personal feel. Louis C.K.
promptly contacted her about an audio recording and now the series.
“I would say (it's) about 85 percent real,” she said.

In real life, her
mother and step-father had moved to Texas. Notaro decided it would be
better to set the show in Mississippi, her home state and the place
she keeps returning to. “I got married in Mississippi,” she said.
“The obvious choice for a gay couple.”

She said that in her
usual tone, which is dry and quiet and ideal for the casual humor or
real life.