Recently, I posted a roundup of reviews of the new dramas on the broadcast networks, and that list of capsule reviews was preceded by some thoughts on the State of the Network Drama.
This roundup doesn't require much of an introduction, because all you really need to know is that most of the new fall comedies are not that great. (And far too many of them have burly, bearded, often red-haired friends wandering around for no particular reason. Why this crime against gingers, television? Why?)
There are a few bright-ish spots (including "Black-ish," which I've already reviewed), but generally, the comedies I'll watch on the broadcast networks this fall will be the returning gems. The new stuff is constrained by something critic Alan Sepinwall has repeatedly (and rightly) complained about: Networks want high-concept premises for their comedies, but those premises often hobble attempts to make the shows good in the long term.
Of course, many of the good network comedies airing currently were once were struggling newbies, so there's a chance these shows could turn things around. Except for "Manhattan Love Story," that is, which needs to fall into a subway grate and not come out again.
"Selfie," 8:00 p.m. ET Tuesday, ABC: Karen Gillan is a treasure, and it's only by dint of her presence that this comedy works some of the time. Yet in a larger sense, "Selfie" does not really work, because there are a lot of unpleasant and judgmental elements lurking in its premise. Gillan plays Eliza, a social-media loving career gal who is continually shamed regarding every aspect of her existence, and John Cho plays Henry, an executive who takes on the allegedly arduous task of making her over. It's fine that Eliza's self-absorption is called out, but the big problem with "Selfie" is that it doesn't make it clear that Henry is just as much in need of a personality intervention, and thus all the "comedy" leans on jibes at the expense of Gillan's character. Ultimately, the whole enterprise comes off as shrill and mean-spirited, though given the talent of the cast and given that Emily Kapnek ("Suburgatory") is at the helm, I'm hoping this show is able to course correct. #TryAgain
"Manhattan Love Story," 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, ABC: This annoying show is not quite as drenched in dumb and/or sexist assumptions as "Mixology," but that is the lowest possible bar to clear. Much of my podcast rant about this show centered on its highly questionable casting: Jake McDorman is a bland dudebro with little presence; Analeigh Tipton is equally charisma-free. Together they both fail to enliven this generally lunkheaded material, which tries for rom-com lightness but falls conspicuously flat at every turn. Did you know that women like purses and men like breasts? Would you like to watch a comedy in which these observations are treated as amusing revelations? Didn't think so. This show is part of a rom-com trendlet on the broadcast networks, a mini-trend that is wobbly at best and has made me recommend a much better option in this arena: FX's "You're the Worst," which has all the specificity and intelligence many of these shows lack.
"Bad Judge," 9:00 p.m. ET Thursday, NBC: Nope. The likable and skilled Kate Walsh tries hard to make this strained comedy work, but it keeps resorting to broad gags and dopey jokes, and, just to mix things up, every so often it lunges at sincerity. None of it lands, unfortunately. The show can't really make up its mind about whether Walsh's irresponsible-judge character is someone to emulate or dislike, and in any event, there just aren't many laughs here. Motion denied.
"A to Z," 9:30 p.m. ET Thursday, NBC: Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti are good actors and undeniably adorable together in this competent pilot, so I'm hoping this high-concept comedy will turn out to be one of the new season's few comedy keepers. The voiceover narration, supplied by Katey Sagal, states that the show will chronicle the entire duration of the couple's relationship (though I'm sure the producers will find ways to extend the show if it does well). There's a bit of "How I Met Your Mother" DNA here (let's hope it's the good strands of that DNA), but this is basically a much tamer, constricted version of "You're the Worst." Still, the charm of its cast and, ideally, sharp writing from the NBC show could keep it afloat.
"Mulaney," 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox: Who thought this particular format -- a multi-camera comedy loaded with unamusing stock characters -- would work for John Mulaney? I have been scratching my head over that question for a couple weeks, and I'm no closer to an answer. Mulaney's standup work and his "Saturday Night Live" resume reveal that he's a very funny guy, but this contrived, airless comedy is not a good vehicle for him, nor is there much enjoyment to be found in the show's musty supporting characters (a bitchy female friend, a gay neighbor whose characterization is so full of stereotypes as to be offensive, a Black Friend, a burly, bearded friend, etc.). John Mulaney should be part of comedy ventures that many people see -- as long as they're not this show.
"Cristela," 8:30 p.m. ET Oct. 10, ABC: I am glad this solid and confident show exists and I hope it succeeds. That said, it's made for people who like multi-camera sitcoms and family-oriented sitcoms, and I have never gravitated toward either of those things. The good news is, comic Cristela Alonzo created the show based on her own experiences, and it rings with the kind of authenticity you don't often find on family sitcoms. Alonzo is smart, knows what works for her, and she and co-creator Kevin Hench have crafted a vehicle that serves her very well. I won't often be checking in, because this kind of thing just isn't my cup of tea, but this is well done and I hope "Cristela" runs for a long time.
"Marry Me," 9:00 p.m. ET Oct. 14, NBC: I am going to stick with this show and I have reasonably high hopes for it, even though the pilot is on the manic side (especially the first few minutes, which are frankly grating). Executive producer David Caspe and one of the show's stars, Casey Wilson, are veterans of the late "Happy Endings," which I still miss a lot, and flashes of that show's skewed/sweet vibe come through here and there in the first episode of "Marry Me." More good news: Ken Marino co-stars as Jake, the would-be fiancé of Annie (Wilson), and he's been in too many wonderful comedy project to count, and he (like Wilson) is very good here. The pilot is high-strung but basically acceptable, and I'll keep watching in the well-founded hopes that it will find consistently entertaining groove and use its fine cast (which includes Tim Meadows and Dan Bucatinsky as Annie's dads) as well as "Happy Endings" used its fab ensemble.
"The McCarthys," 9:30 p.m. ET Oct. 30, CBS: As previously noted, CBS is in the habit of snatching up fantastic actors of a certain age and putting them in unthreatening, formulaic shows. The latest in that nest-egg crowd is Laurie Metcalf, who, in this tame comedy, plays the matriarch of a Boston family that is obsessed with sports. One son comes out as gay, a development that occupies much of the pilot, but it'll likely be a typical CBS sitcom going forward: full of broad characters and predictable moments but reasonably amusing and decently made. The main thing I appreciated about this pilot was Joey McIntyre's epic Bah-ston accent.
Ryan McGee and I discussed "Selfie," "Mulaney" and "Manhattan Love Story" in a recent Talking TV podcast, which is here, on iTunes and below.