Fall preview: The new 2013 TV season shaping up as lackluster, at best

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Each May when broadcast television networks cancel TV shows, viewers grumble. But then hope springs eternal for new programs in the fall.

Some seasons offer a bounty of fantastic new shows -- 2004 with "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" comes to mind -- but more often the result is like Fall 2012: Just eight of last fall's 20 new series were renewed and none of the survivors was a revolutionary hit (apologies to NBC's "Revolution").

Here we go again. There's little reason for optimism about Fall 2013. With a few exceptions, this season's crop of new shows seem to be, if not dead on arrival, at least on life support. But fear not, there are a few series worth considering. Just plan to be choosy.

Here is your guide to the broadcast networks' new season:

SUNDAY

"Betrayal" (10 p.m., ABC): The first of two ABC dramas to use the played-out gimmick of beginning six months in the future and flashing back to the beginning, this story of an affair between married Sara (Hannah Ware, still failing to maintain a credible accent, a problem she also had on "Boss") and married Jack (Stuart Townsend) seems like the least fun affair in the history of TV. The show treats everything so seriously and the pilot doesn't spend much energy explaining why these people would cheat on their spouses. It's all rather dreary. (Sept. 29)

MONDAY

"Almost Human" (8 p.m., Fox): In 2048, all cops are paired with android partners and after an injury John Kennex (Karl Urban, "Star Trek") teams up with a mothballed, more emotional robot, Dorian (Michael Ealy, "Sleeper Cell"). The relationship holds promise but the pilot's plot -- a crime ring targets cops -- takes unfortunate, uninvolving precedence, leading to a loony cliffhanger that producers say will be changed. "Almost Human" looks great but it's hard to imagine how the show can sustain a high level of production value on a weekly basis. (Nov. 4)

"We Are Men" (8:30 p.m., CBS): CBS gets edgy with its first single-camera sitcom in ages. "Men" follows a group of guys in a Los Angeles-area temporary housing complex. Jerry O'Connell ("Sliders"), Kal Penn ("House") and Tony Shalhoub ("Monk") star as the world-weary guys who are no longer with their respective women for assorted reasons. Newcomer Carter (Chris Smith) joins their ranks after being left at the altar but he still can't shake his feelings for his former fiance. The pilot begins with promise but quickly devolves into a typical men behaving badly show. (Sept. 30)

"Sleepy Hollow" (9 p.m., Fox): Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) awakens 250 years after the events of Washington Irving's classic novel to find the Headless Horseman is terrorizing modern Sleepy Hollow. Crane teams up with deputy Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) in a pilot that's both fun and cheesy. It's unclear how this works as a weekly series; seems like it should have been a movie. (Monday)

"Mom" (9:30 p.m., CBS): Chuck Lorre strikes again. The producer of "Two and a Half Men" has landed another sitcom on the CBS schedule. This time the focus is on a weepy waitress (Anna Faris) and her dysfunctional relationship with her boss (Nate Cordry), children and mother, played by Allison Janney, whose appearance three-quarters of the way through the pilot improves the show but not enough. There are some funny lines here and there but the characters are screwed-up sad sacks without enough humanity to make them interesting. (Sept. 23)

"Hostages" (10 p.m., CBS): Give CBS credit for trying something outside its wheelhouse: A serialized drama about a surgeon (Toni Collette, "United States of Tara") about to operate on the U.S. president when she's kidnapped by a rogue FBI agent (Dylan McDermott). "Hostages" tries to be a nail-biter but it's too predictable. And of course she has to find a way out when the sadistic hostage-takers demand she kill the president on the operating table "Mob Doctor"-style. (Sept. 23)

"The Blacklist" (10 p.m., NBC): NBC already has the original Hannibal Lecter in the returning midseason show "Hannibal" and now the network has his doppelganger in Raymond Reddington (James Spader), a fugitive on the FBI's most wanted list who turns himself in and agrees to assist the FBI but only if his contact is rookie analyst Clarice Starling, er, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). A lot of the pieces in "The Blacklist" are familiar but Mr. Spader is a great choice to play the man of mystery. Although the pilot starts somewhat simplistically, it takes a darker, nervier turn as it goes. (Sept. 23).

TUESDAY

"Dads" (8 p.m., Fox): More like "Duds." This terrible sitcom is about two video game company executives who are annoyed by their respective fathers. Obvious, unfunny and racist in its telling of several Asian jokes relating to a female associate (Brenda Song, "The Suite Life on Deck") who the guys ask to dress up as a sexy Japanese school girl. Seth Green ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Giovanni Ribisi ("Friends"), Martin Mull ("Clue") and Peter Riegert ("The Sopranos") star -- but hopefully not for long. (Tuesday)

"Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" (8 p.m., ABC): Writer/director Joss Whedon made his mark in TV with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" before success with "The Avengers" on the big screen. Now he moves between the two mediums for this "Avengers" TV spinoff that follows human agents tracking down secret superheroes. Clark Gregg ("New Adventures of Old Christine") reprises his "Avengers" role and is joined by a new team of agents from SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division), including ninja Melinda May (former Pittsburgher Ming-Na Wen). The pilot offers a fun ride with a fair amount of humor; but can the series, overseen by Mr. Whedon's brother, sustain that level of production value and character-driven merriment? (Sept. 24)

"The Originals" (8 p.m., The CW): It's "Treme" with vampires! Not really but that show would be kind of fun. This spinoff from "Vampire Diaries" aired its backdoor pilot as a "VD" episode in April. In it, vampire-werewolf hybrid Klaus (Joseph Morgan) returns to his New Orleans home and gets in a struggle with Marcel (Michael Davis), whom he sired. Not available for review. (Oct. 3)

"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (8:30 p.m., Fox): A fantastic cast makes this squad room comedy compellingly watchable. It's amusing throughout and punctuated by moments of high comedy as detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg, "Saturday Night Live") slacks his way through his police career until a new boss (Andre Braugher, in a rare but welcome detour from serious drama) seeks to impose order. Bonus points for an out-of-nowhere Fred Armisen ("SNL") cameo. (Tuesday)

"The Goldbergs" (9 p.m,, ABC): A less sentimental "Wonder Years" with more yelling, this single-camera comedy is told from the point of view of Alan (Sean Giambrone with adult narration courtesy of Patton Oswalt) who recalls his childhood -- circa 1985 -- through video footage he recorded at the time. His mother (Wendi McClendon-Covey, "Bridesmaids") smothers, his father (Jeff Garlin, "Curb Your Enthusiasm") speaks in code ("I don't say it a lot but you're not a total moron all the time" gets translated on screen to "I love you"). Sometimes it feels like the show is trying too hard but with a little restraint, this could grow into the most watchable family comedy since "Modern Family." (Sept. 24)

"Trophy Wife" (9:30 p.m., ABC): Because what the world needs desperately is another older man-younger woman story. If you can make it past a tired premise that may resonate more in Hollywood and New York than in the rest of the country, there are some mild charms to this sitcom about a young woman (Malin Akerman) who marries an older, twice-divorced man (Bradley Whitford, "The West Wing"). His children are pretty funny and the interaction between new wife Kate with his two ex-wives -- a hippie (Michaela Watkins) and a harpy (Marcia Gay Harden) -- has its moments. But the premise is unlikely to relate to viewers who will run screaming from the "Cougar Town"-like title. (Sept. 24)

"Lucky 7" (10 p.m., ABC): Co-workers at a New York gas station who pool their money weekly for a lottery drawing strike it rich. The pilot begins with a flash forward to seven months into the future and then jumps back to before they win big. Premise seems slight for a series and the pilot is slow but there's some appeal in the diverse cast of unknowns. (Sept. 24)

WEDNESDAY

"Back in the Game" (8:30 p.m., ABC): Sort of a 2013 version of "The Bad News Bears" as single mom Terry (Maggie Lawson) agrees to coach a little league baseball team populated by misfits while hashing out her own childhood issues with her unpleasant father (James Caan). The kids steal the show -- as does Terry's new friend (Lenora Crichlow, BBC America's "Being Human"). More of the kids and less daddy issue chatter and this comedy could grow into a show worth watching. (Sept. 25)

"The Tomorrow People" (9 p.m., The CW): Based on a 1970s British series about teens with paranormal powers, tonally this American remake seems like an ideal show to pair with The CW's "Arrow." Stephen Jameson (an often shirtless Robbie Amell, "1600 Penn") has started hearing voices and presumably walking in his sleep but it turns out he's part of a genetically advanced race capable of teleportation, telekinesis and telepathic communication. The pilot starts strong but bogs down in the overly constructed set-up of a villainous group that Stephen infiltrates on behalf of his fellow Tomorrow People. (Oct. 9)

"Super Fun Night" (9:30 p.m., ABC): This one does not live up to its name. It's more like "Intermittently Amusing Night." A single-camera comedy about three nerdy 20-something women, it stars Rebel Wilson ("Bridesmaids," "Pitch Perfect") as the least awkward of the three. When she gets a promotion at work, the triumvirate's standing Friday fun night is threatened. The pilot improves as it goes but when one of the few laugh-out-loud moments is a tasteless molestation joke, it's clear the show's comedy needs work. (Oct. 2)

"Ironside" (10 p.m., NBC): Occasionally, a remake or reimagining of a past TV series can be worthwhile (see: Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica") but this unimaginative re-do of the 1967-75 series is not. Carnegie Mellon University grad Blair Underwood stars as the handi-capable detective. The pilot shows how he landed in a wheelchair while a new case is investigated and a suspect's rights are violated nine ways to Sunday. (Oct. 2)

THURSDAY

"Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" (8 p.m., ABC): A spinoff of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," this series tracks Alice (Sophie Lowe) from Victorian England to Wonderland, where she encounters the White Rabbit (voice of John Lithgow), the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha, "Being Human") and even Jafar (Naveen Andrews, "Lost") from "Aladdin." Not available for review. (Oct. 10)

"The Millers" (8:30 p.m., CBS): Will Arnett ("Arrested Development") and Margo Martindale ("The Americans") steal this often funny sitcom about a family in the midst of falling apart. When Nathan (Mr. Arnett) tells his parents he's divorced, his father (Beau Bridges) leaves his mother (Ms. Martindale), who promptly moves in with Nathan bringing her nagging, judgmental personality along for the ride. Fart jokes and "Dirty Dancing" references follow. The pilot loses momentum whenever the focus shifts to Nathan's sister, who is housing their father (several roles have since been recast), but when it's on Nathan and his mom, "The Millers" is a hoot. (Sept. 26)

"Welcome to the Family" (8:30 p.m., NBC): Last year NBC vowed to make comedies with broader appeal but did they also promise to make them laugh free? Two of the three new NBC Thursday sitcoms are OK -- this one and "The Michael J. Fox Show" -- but nothing that's likely to make viewers change their viewing habits. In "Welcome to the Family," a blond, semi-ditzy, underachieving high school grad learns she has been impregnated by her Hispanic, responsible, class valedictorian boyfriend. Clashes between the families follow along with a few laughs, but not enough to make this a must-see show. (Oct. 3)

"The Crazy Ones" (9 p.m., CBS): Early buzz on this one was terrible but aside from how tired and predictable star Robin Williams' shtick has become, "The Crazy Ones" was not terrible. It's got a modern-day "Mad Men" vibe thanks to its ad agency setting and the presence of "Mad Men" co-star James Wolk. Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") plays Mr. Williams' daughter/business partner and "American Idol" star Kelly Clarkson makes a winning guest appearance in the pilot as herself. Writer David E. Kelley's weird-for-weirdness' sake quirks are on display, but the pilot was funny enough to warrant a second look. (Sept. 26)

"Reign" (9 p.m., The CW): Imagine "The Tudors" made for a teen audience. But "Reign" is a hugely entertaining period soap for adults, too. Set in 1557 France, "Reign" follows Mary Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) from the convent to the French Court where she's betrothed to marry Prince Francis (Toby Regbo), much to the chagrin of some French power brokers. Queen Catherine (Megan Follows, "Anne of Green Gables") gets into spats with King Henry (Alan Van Sprang), who frequently brings his mistress to royal gatherings. The pilot effortlessly weaves modern music into the background in a manner that's more satisfying than it is distracting. (Oct. 17)

"Sean Saves the World" (9 p.m., NBC): No question that comic actor Sean Hayes' return to TV is welcome. But why couldn't it have been in a show that was, you know, funny? Mr. Hayes stars as Sean, a single gay dad trying to balance his demanding boss at work (Thomas Lennon, "Reno 911!") with a teenage daughter at home. Linda Lavin ("Alice") occasionally shows up as Sean's mother, mostly just to berate him. (Oct. 3)

"The Michael J. Fox Show" (9 p.m., NBC): Another amusing but not-all-that-funny sitcom, despite starring one of the best actors of the medium. Mr. Fox plays a former New York local news anchor who retired five years ago due to Parkinson's but now he's returning to work at WNBC. The "Today" cast guest stars in cringe-worthy NBC self-promotion (as opposed to when NBC folks would be on "30 Rock" in scenarios that were bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you funny). Betsy Brandt ("Breaking Bad") is appealing as Fox's wife but sitcoms with a TV news backdrop are prone to failure. (Sept. 26).

FRIDAY

"Masterchef Junior" (8 p.m., Fox): Gordon Ramsay presumably tames his temper for a cooking competition series starring child contestants. Not available for review. (Sept. 27)

"Enlisted" (9:30 p.m., Fox): A comedy about three brothers bonded by their family affiliation with the U.S. Army. Pete (Geoff Stults, "The Finder") gets shipped back to the U.S. after punching out a colonel. He's assigned to a base in Florida where his brothers are also stationed. Sarcastic middle brother Derrick (Chris Lowell, "Private Practice") and gung-ho/dim youngest brother Randy (Parker Young, "Suburgatory") are both part of a Bad News Bears platoon that Pete takes command of in this upbeat, occasionally heartfelt comedy. (Nov. 8)

"Dracula" (9 p.m., NBC): Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("The Tudors") stars as the title character in this period drama from one of the producers of "Downton Abbey." Dracula arrives in London posing as an American entrepreneur but he's really seeking revenge on those who cursed him with immortality. The pilot is a bit pokey in its pace but it also sets up an intriguing retelling of the classic story. (Oct. 25)

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Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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