New TV seasons used to arrive on wave of hope and hype. This one, however, just sort of arrived.
The official season starts today, Sept. 25, without much fuss. The writers’ (which reached a tentative agreement on Sept. 24) and actors’ strike (ongoing) have blocked most new, scripted shows.
Still, there are things to catch – a few good shows (including “The Spencer Sisters,” shown here) and a lot of adequate ones. Here’s an updated look in three main categories – dramas, comedies and reality shows – followed by a sampling of shows from streaming networks. We’ll start with the most promising genre, dramas.
— “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.” For 13 years, Dixon has been escaping from and/or killing bad humans and worse zombies. Now he washes up in France, wants to be on his own, but ends up with a mission. AMC, 9 p.m. Sundays; it’s a tough, taut six-pearter that started Sept. 10.
— “The Swarm.” Bouncing around the globe, we see that something is wrong in the water. Whales are missing or dying or nasty. This eight-part unfolds slowly, but has likable characters – especially Leonie Benesch and Joshua Odjick as young researchers – she on Shetland Island, he (an Indigenous Canadian) on Vancouver Island. (CW, 9 p.m. Tuesdays, started Sept. 12)
— “American Horror Story: Delicate.” For an actress, the good news is that her new film is drawing a buzz; the bad is that someone seems to be haunting her pregnancy. Emma Roberts stars, with Kim Kardashian being ominous. (FX, 10 p.m. Wednesdays, started Sept. 20).
— “The Irrational.” Having barely survived a deadly explosion, a professor became an expert on human behavior. He knows the quirks of criminals, police and witnesses. Jesse L. Martin (formerly of “Law & Order” and “The Flash”) stars. Oddly, the show has a great opener, a poor second episode and a fairly good third one. We’ll stick with it. (NBC, 10 p.m. Mondays, Sept. 25)
— “Found.” The world seems to obsess on a few missing people – mostly ones who are cute and Caucasian – while ignoring the others. Now Gabi (Shanola Hampton), a former victim, tries to help the rest. It’s a great concept, poorly rendered, with an overwrought approach. Early on, we see Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Gabi’s former captor. The final minute of the opener has a hideous twist that is meant to be a surprise – except NBC has told about it in its ads. (NBC, 10 p.m. Tuesdays, Oct. 3).
— “The Spencer Sisters.” Darby is a cop whose pleasant life – job, romance, home – crumbles in one messy day. She reluctantly visits her mom, a self-obsessed mystery writer; soon, they’re a detective duo. This sounds contrived, but it works well thanks to clever writing, a bright look and an ideal cast. Stacey Farber (right), who’s busy on Canadian TV, is Darby; Lea Thompson (left), still famous from the “Back to the Future” films, is her mom. CW, 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 4.
— “Sullivan’s Crossing.” Like “Spencer Sisters” – and many other shows – this has a woman retreating home, after her life crumbles. In this case, that’s to her dad’s campground in Nova Scotia, where the settings are pretty and the mood is grim. There are moments in the opener that push way too hard; eventually, this settles into a solid-enough family drama. CW, 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 4.
— “Fargo.” For the fifth time, here’s a separate mini-series under the “Fargo” title. This one is set in 2019 Minnesota and North Dakota, where a seemingly ordinary housewife (Juno Temple) is hiding her past and is sought by a relentless lawman (Jon Hamm). FX, 10 p.m. Tuesdays, Nov. 21.
— ALSO: “The Chosen” continues, at 8 p.m. Sundays on CW This crowd-funded series, tracing Jesus’ life through the people nearby, continues through Christmas Eve.
RETURNING SERIES THAT HAVE NEW EPISODES
— “Professor T.” It’s the second season for this story about a criminology professor who’s strong on observation and weak on people skills. Each story is self-contained, but there’s also an arc Troubled that peaks powerfully in the season’s final episodes, Oct. 1 and 8. PBS, 8 p.m. Sundays, started Sept. 3.
— “Unforgotten.” The fourth season ended with the death of the lead detective, Cassie. This one started with her replacement (Sinead Keenan) arriving less than an hour after she learned her husband is a cheater. She fumbled the case, but her top assistant (Sanjeev Bhaskar) persisted. It’s a strong story that takes the entire six-week season to unfold. PBS, 9 p.m. Sundays, started Sept. 3.
— “Van der Valk.” Like most TV crimesolvers, Van der Valk is a solemn soul. His former girlfriend, a doctor, says she wants to be friends; he insists he doesn’t do friendship. What he does is solve crimes amid the beauty of Amsterdam. Each story spreads over two weeks, concluding Oct. 1 and 8. PBS, 10 p.m. Sundays, started Sept. 3.
— “Quantum Leap.” This started filming its second season before the strike. Again, Ben time-travels into other people’s lives, while his lab colleagues try to help. NBC, 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 4.
— “Magnum P.I.,” The season starts with a silly burst of make-believe, then gets dead-serious. TC is paraplegic, maybe temporarily or maybe not … Higgins ponders a big change … and there’s a deadly shoot-out. It’s a strong start to the show’s final batch of 10 episodes. NBC, 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 4.
— “Transplant.” After years of treating Syrian rebels under battlefield conditions, Dr. Bashir Hamed fled to Canada with his 12-year-old sister. He finally got a hospital job after rescuing Jed, the emergency department chief. But now Jed is gone and a new chief is arriving. One colleague (Theo) has been in a fierce helicopter crash; another (the intense Mags) is trying a new research job and possibly a romance with Bash. There’s a lot going on here; the result is erratic, but worth watching, filled with interesting characters. NBC, 10 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 5.
— “SEAL Team.” After four seasons on CBS, this was nudged over to the streaming world. Its fifth season had four episodes on CBS and 10 on Paramount+; its sixth had 10. Now it revisits its original network, starting with the fifth year. CBS, 10 p.m. Thursdays, Nov. 2.
— ALSO: On Oct. 15, PBS will fill Sundays with three dramas, each starting its second season. “Hotel Portofino” (a soap/drama set in pre-war Italy, at a hotel for British vacationers) is at 8 … “World on Fire” (a young Englishman and his wife, a member of the Polish resistance, on the run) is at 9 … And the mystery series “Annika” is at 10.
SERIES THAT RETURN VIA RERUNS
— “Yellowstone.” Kevin Costner’s modern-day western has already been a huge ratings hit on the Paramount Network (which has rerun it often) and is on Paramount+. Now it reruns from the beginning. CBS, 8 and 9 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 17.
— “9-1-1: Lone Star,” Fox, 9 p.m. Tuesdays, started Sept. 19.
— “NCIS.” CBS, Mondays. On Sept. 25 – two days after the show’s 20th anniversary – it will air from 8-11 p.m. After that, it sticks to 10 p.m.
— “Blue Bloods,” CBS, 10 p.m., Fridays. This will pick from all 13 seasons.
— “Chicago” shows, NBC, 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct 4. The three shows will share one hour.
— “Law & Order” shows, NBC, 8 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 5. It’s the same idea, with shows sharing an hour.
And now, the shrinking world of comedy:
Long before the strikes began, situation comedies were already wobbling.
Ratings were down; networks were doubtful. At times, NBC – former home of all those “must-see” sitcoms – had zero comedies in prime time.
Still, there will be some laughs this fall, partly imported from other countries and partly via animation, which is created far in advance.
Here’s a round-up of sitcoms this fall on the broadcast networks and on one basic-cable channel. It’s chronological and “new” means new to most U.S. viewers:
— “Son of a Critch.” This Canadian series is a “Wonder Years” clone, complete with a young actor who looks a lot like Kevin. This one is set in Newfoundland, where co-creator Mark Critch grew up. He plays the dad of 11-year-old Mark … and also narrates as the adult Mark. Some storylines – especially a bullying one – have been so-so, others have been quite good. CW, 8 p.m. Mondays, then 8 p.m. Thursdays starting Oct. 19; with 26 episodes, it started in the summer and continues now.
— “Run the Burbs.” Like “Critch,” this is a Canadian series, with its co-creator (in this case, Andrew Phung) playing the dad. Alas, the humor is heavy-handed and Phung is so-so. CW, already 8:30 p.m. Mondays, then Thursdays starting Oct. 19.
— “Children Ruin Everything.” A few comedies – “Breeders,” “Married, With Children” – have noted that parenting can get kind of complicated. This one does it with wit and, occasionally, warmth. Meaghan Rath (“Hawaii Five-0”) is excellent as the mom. CW, already 9 p.m. Mondays (followed by the Australian “Bump”), then 9 p.m. Thursdays, starting Oct. 19.
— “Krapopolis.” Earnest young Tyrannis has envisioned something called a city, but it’s not easy. His mother, Deliria, uses her shape-shifting skills to build a temple to herself. His scientist is supposed to invent a written language, but would rather create a bomb. His dad is pondering which animals are suitable as sex objects. In short, this is a broad cartoon, aimed at grown-ups. Fox, 8:30 p.m. Sundays, starting Oct. 1, after two episodes aired Sept. 24.
— “Everyone Else Burns.” This British show has a dad with three glaring faults – a bowl haircut, a broken TV (which he smited because people were kissing) and a world-is-ending religion he forces onto everyone. This would start to feel one-note, if not for his teen daughter – a smart student, dreaming of going away to college. CW, 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 19.
— “Ghosts U.K.” We already know “Ghosts,” but now we can catch the British version it’s based on. It’s the same notion: A manor house’s new owner, briefly dead after a fall, can now see the departed folks still there. CBS, 9 and 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, Nov. 16.
RETURNING SERIES THAT HAVE NEW EPISODES (each is animated)
— “Archer.” It’s the 14th and final season, with Sterling Archer still talented and arrogant. The difference is that Lana is now his boss and a new colleague matches both of them in skill, beauty and self-regard. FXX, 10 p.m. Wednesdays; started Aug. 30.
— “American Dad.” This one is continuing its 18th season, after a summer-long break. TBS cable channel, 10 p.m. Mondays, returned Sept. 4.
— “The Simpsons,” etc. This is the show that launched the cartoon incursion into prime time. Fox, 8 p.m. Sundays; its 35th year starts Oct. 1, followed by “Krapopolis” and the season-openers of “Bob’s Burgers and “Family Guy.”
SERIES THAT WILL CONTINUE VIA RERUNS
— “Young Sheldon” and “Ghosts.” CBS. Temporarily bumped by reality shows, their reruns will return at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 9, then 8 and 8:30 p.m., leading into the British version of “Ghosts.”
Now the expanding world of reality:
3) REALITY AND GAME SHOWS
Ready or not, TV viewers are entering an autumn of relentless reality.
In past seasons, the big broadcast networks tossed in occasional reality shows. They were big ones – “The Voice,” “The Bachelor,” “Survivor” – adding variety to a sea of dramas and comedies.
But this season, amid the writers’ and actors’ strikes, it’s almost non-stop reality,
CBS is launching three new games and giving two classics (“Survivor” and “The Amazing Race”) an extra half-hour apiece …. Fox will be non-stop reality, from Mondays through Thursdays .… ABC has retrieved “Dancing With the Stars” from Disney+ and will even have generations of romance – an hour of a 72-year-old “Golden Bachelor,” followed by two hours of frisky folks in bikinis and such.
The other big broadcasters are avoiding the surge, but it’s still a reality overload. Here’s the broadcast list, chronological in each category:
— “Buddy Games.” Each summer, Josh Duhamel exits his movie-star/TV-star life for a vacation playing weird games with his Montana friends. Now that’s a game show he produces and hosts. In the first hour, teams — from cops to LGBTQ, from Roller Derby women to beauty queens – get messy, muddy and sometimes naked. It’s sort of fun. CBS, 9 p.m. Thursdays, started Sept. 14.
— “Snake Oil.” Imagine “Shark Tank” with a perverse twist. Contestants hear fanciful ideas. Some products are real, others are fakes; David Spade hosts. Fox, 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Sept. 27.
— “The Golden Bachelor.” After decades of young love, the spotlight turns to a 72-year-old widower and grandfather, living at an Indiana lake. He’ll meet 22 women, from 60 to 75, including five educators, a wedding officiant and a “pro-aging coach.” ABC, 8 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 28.
— “Loteria Loca.” In Mexico, Jaime Camil says, most families have a home game of loteria, which is sort of like bingo. Now Camil produces and hosts a TV version. CBS, 9 p.m. Mondays, Oct. 2.
— “Raid the Cage.” Two important skills – answering trivia and grabbing cash – combine. Damon Wayans Jr. and Jeannie Mai Jenkins host. CBS, 9 p.m. Fridays, Oct. 13).
RETURNING SERIES – THE KEY ONES
— “The Voice.” Blake Shelton is gone, but his wife (Gwen Stefani) is there. She’s joined by Reba McEntire, John Legend and Neil Horan. NBC, 8-10 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, starting Sept. 25; the Sept. 26 episode will only be one hour, to make room for the “America’s Got Talent” finale.
— “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” As usual, Fox leans heavily on food and Gordon Ramsay. Fox, 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, Sept. 25 and 28. Ramsay is quite pleasant in the “Hell’s Kitchen” opener, but don’t expect it to last
— “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.” Two of the first reality shows – going back to 2000 and 2001 – share a night, each expand to 90 minutes. That may seem too long, but the “Survivor” opener – filled with people obsessing on the show, works well. CBS, 8 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Sept. 27.
— “The Masked Singer.” After a way-in-advance opener (following football on Sept. 10), this settles into its regular spot. The regular-slot opener (8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, Fox) has talented singers, clever costumes … and panelists who keep screaming about how good everything is.
— “Bachelor in Paradise.” This is usually an end-of-summer trifle, with lots of eager folks who look good in swimwear. Now it moves into the fall. ABC, 9-11 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 28.
— And “Dancing With the Stars” is back on ABC. Last year it was only on Disney+, but now it’s simulcast on both networks. Alfonso Ribeiro returns as host, now joined by Julianne Hough … whose brother Derek is one of the panelists. 8-10:30 p.m., Sept. 26; then 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
RETURNING SERIES – THE REST
— “Celebrity Name That Tune” feels mostly like a low-rent summer show. Fox, 8 p.m. Tuesdays, started Sept. 19.
— “Special Force: World’s Toughest Test.” Facing brutal tasks are athletes (Bode Miller, Robert Horry), reality stars (Jack Osbourne, Savannah Chrisley) and such. Fox, 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Sept. 25.
— “Celebrity Jeopardy,” “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune,” “$100,000 Pyramid.” With Sundays becoming a Disney-movie night, the game-show block gets a new night. ABC, 8-11 p.m. Wednesdays, Sept. 27.
— “LegoMasters.” Will Arnett meets people who do amazing things with little chunks of plastic. Fox, 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28.
— Also: “Press Your Luck,” ABC, 10 p.m. Tuesdays, Oct. 10; “The Wall,” NBC, 8 p.m. Fridays, Nov. 3.
— CBS started two summer shows late, so they can edge into the fall. “The Challenge: USA” (10 p.m. Thursdays) concludes Sept. 28. “Big Brother” continues until Nov. 9, with new timeslots. The Thursday shows moved to 8 p.m., the Sunday ones to 10 p.m. or later. The Wednesday ones move to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, starting Oct. 3.
— CW is currently rerunning an “FBoy Island” season that previously streamed on Max. That’s 9 p.m. Thursdays, but a new season will be 8 p.m. Mondays, starting with two episodes Oct. 16.
And now some streaming shows:
4) A STREAMING SAMPLER
While the networks sputter this fall, the streaming channels still seem to be loaded.
Working far in advance, they stockpiled shows before the strikes began. Here’s a sampling, chronological within each streamer:
— “Fall of the House of Usher.” Edgar Allan Poe’s short story has been filmed at least 10 times, ranging from a silent short to a Roger Corman movie and an NBC mini-series. Now it’s an eight-parter. Oct. 12.
— “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.” Fresh from his quirky gem “Asteroid City,” director Wes Anderson has another oddity. This one is from a story by Roald Dahl, who gave us Willy Wonka, Matilda, the giant peach and more. Oct. 13.
— “Pain Hustlers” takes another look at the opioid crisis, but this time through the drug-reps who thought they were pushing a great product. Emily Blunt and Chris Evans star. Oct. 27.
— “All the Light We Cannot See.” Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie play the father and grand-uncle of a blind girl who is trying to keep a diamond from the Nazis during World War II. Nov. 2.
— “The Killer.” After big success in movies, including “Gone Girl” and “The Social Network,” David Fincher switched to Netflix for the Oscar-nominated “Mank.” Now he’s back there for this story of an assassin. Nov. 10.
— “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.” This has already been a non-cartoon movie. Now it’s an animated series, with an ordinary chap battling fierce forces. Nov. 17.
— “Animals Up Close with Bertie Gregory.” In a six-partetr, the young filmmaker travels the world. Sept. 13.
— “Lang Lang Plays Disney.” The acclaimed pianist, backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, performs music from Disney movies, old and new. Sept. 15.
— “Goosebumps.” R.L. Stine’s tales have already been turned into two movies and a kids’ series. Now it’s a 10-parter about teens in a spooky town. October.
— “Echo.” The latest spin-off from the Marvel world has Maya Lopez (alternately known as the superhero Echo) returning to her hometown, to re-connect with her Native roots. It stars Alaqua Cox, who is deaf and has Menominee and Mohawk roots. “Reservation Dogs” fans will know some of the supporting players, including Devery Jacobs and Zahn McClarnon.
— Also: The “Ahsoka” series continues through Oct. 3. Recenty Disney films to arrive are led by “Elemental” and the non-cartoon version of “Little Mermaid.”
— “Love in Fairhope.” In an Alabama city of 22,000, this nine-part reality show follows romances for five generations of women. Sept. 27.
— “Quiz Lady.” This movie has Sandra Oh and Awkwafina as sisters who find that a quiz show (hosted by Will Ferrell) may be the only way out of their mother’s gambling debts. Nov. 3.
— “A Murder at the End of the World.” Emma Corrin – an Emmy-nominee as Diana in “The Crown” – plays a tech-savvy young crimesolver in a story filmed in Iceland. Nov. 14.
— Also: Two great series are wrapping up their third season. For “Reservation Dogs” (concluding Sept. 27), alas, this is the final season; we’ll hope that “Only Murders in the Building” (wrapping this season on Oct. 3) will be back.
— “The Morning Show.” Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon continue to be thrown into high-stakes crises, personal and vocational. The season’s fourth episode (Sept. 27) is especially strong in ethical dilemmas. Started Sept. 13.
— “The Super Models.” This four-week documentary looks back at an era when the models – Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, etc. — shared the fame of the designers they worked for. Sept. 20.
— “Lessons in Chemistry.” Brie Larson, the “Room” Oscar-winner who plays Captain Marvel in superhero movies, plays a chemist who finds success in the 1950s with a food show on TV. Oct. 13.
— “The Buccaneers.” Edith Wharton died in 1937, before finishing her novel about young American women invading London’s social scene in the 1870s. Still, the unfinished book was published the next year and a completed version (using her outline) came out in 1993. PBS aired an ambitious mini-series in ‘95, with Carla Gugino and Mira Sorvino. Here’s a new version. Nov. 8.
— “Wilderness.” Jenna Coleman – the “Victoria” star and “Doctor Who” co-star – vacations with her husband while learning how much of a cheater he is. Sept. 15.
— “Gen V.” With the success of “The Boys,” here’s a spin-off about a school for prospective superheroes. Sept. 29.
— “The Gold” tells the true story of a British team that stole a fortune in gold in 1983, then spent years trying to turn it into cash. Sept. 17.
— “Pet Sematary: Bloodlines” is a prequel to the 1989 Stephen King film about unburied evil. Oct. 6.
— And the “Star Trek” universe continues, currently with “Strange New Worlds.”
— “The Continental” is billed as a prequel to the John Wick movies. It has three movie-length stories, set at a New York hotel chain for assassins. Sept. 22.
— “The Treasure of Foggy Mountain.” The comedy group called Please Don’t Destroy usually makes hilarious videos for “Saturday Night Live.” Now it’s a movie about guys who find a strange compass and search for treasure. Nov. 17.
— The British mysteries keep coming. “The Chelsea Detective” and “Mrs. Sidhu Investigates” each have movie-length (90-minute) tales. “Chelsea” concluded its excellent, four-story season Sept. 18, the same day that “Mrs. Sidhu” started a fairly good, four-story season. It concludes Oct. 9, the same day Jane Seymour’s “Harry Wild” starts a season of six light, one-hour tales.