The New TV Season: What to Watch

In this golden era of television, here are 10 new fall series worth checking out

Michael J. Fox is back.

The notion of a new TV season seems almost quaint in an era in which viewers control when, where and how they see TV shows and there’s a vast universe of entertainment is at their fingertips. Why watch a new series when you still intend to catch up on all of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix or download all of “The Wire” via iTunes?

Inertia is the easy answer. Just to plop down in front of the TV and start thumbing through channels. Besides, in this new golden era of television that we’re living through, you have a high probability of landing on a show actually worth viewing.

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There are scores of new shows being offered this fall, including many involving familiar concepts or names, such as a reboot of “Ironsides” (NBC, beginning Oct. 2), the return of Robin Williams in a weekly series, “The Crazy Ones” (beginning Sept. 26), and a heavy-breathing version of “Dracula” (NBC, beginning Oct. 25). We’ve worked our way through the announcements, advance reviews and promos, and winnowed 'em down to a list of ten new series — with nary a game or reality show in sight — that are worth checking out. Here they are, in chronological order of their premieres:

"Last Tango in Halifax" (PBS, Sundays, 8 p.m.) This charming British series is about childhood sweethearts (Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid) who, after both are widowed, reconnect in their seventies via Facebook and fall in love all over again. It’s not quite happily ever after, though, mostly due to the two constantly having to deal with the woes of their respective dysfunctional adult daughters. The 6-episode series began last Sunday (Sept. 8), but don’t let that deter you, since it’s easy enough to catch up with the first episode on-line at the PBS web site or by clicking here.

"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (Fox, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 8:30 p.m.) Here’s hoping that this police station comedy set in Brooklyn will turn out to be a “Barney Miller” redux. It has a promising cast, including ex-“Saturday Night Live” stalwart Andy Samberg and “Homicide” actor Andre Braugher. The former plays an immature but talented detective while the latter is the station’s newly assigned, by-the-book commander. It’s the kind of sitcom that, if the ingredients indeed come together and jell, could be smart and easygoing enough to turn into a regular habit.

"Mom" (CBS, Monday, Sept. 23, 9:30 p.m.) In the words of George Michael, sometimes you gotta have faith. The initial episode for this sitcom, about a stressed waitress and single mom (Anna Faris) who’s in the same AA chapter as her flamboyant mother (Allison Janney), isn’t quite cooking with gas yet, but the pilot light is burning steady. There’s plenty of reason to hope for the best given that Faris and Janney are both deft comic actresses and the show is produced by Chuck Lorre, whose stellar list of yuk-filled credits include “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Cybill” and many more.

"The Blacklist" (NBC, Monday, Sept. 23, 10 p.m.) In a crime series that owes more than a bloody nod to “The Silence of the Lambs,” James Spader (“Boston Legal”) plays a notorious criminal mastermind, Raymond “Red” Reddington, who cuts a deal with the FBI. He’ll surrender and help the agency catch a sought-after terrorist but only if he works exclusively with the comely Elizabeth Keen (played by Megan Boone), a tyro FBI profiler. No word yet on whether Red prefers a Chianti with his fava beans.

"Hostages" (CBS, Monday, Sept. 23, 10 p.m.) This suspense series has a bang-up premise: The night before talented surgeon (Toni Collette) is to operate on the president of the United States, a rogue FBI agent (Dylan McDermott) takes her and her family hostage and orders the terrified doctor to assassinate the head of state when she takes a scalpel to him the next morning. If she doesn’t, her loved ones are toast. This is one of those series in which everyone has a hidden agenda, so expect the rug to be pulled out from under viewers repeatedly during its–and here producer Jerry Bruckheimer is borrowing a page from pay cable-limited, 15-episode run.

"Trophy Wife" (ABC, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 9:30 p.m.) If good things come in threes, this sitcom’s lead male character, Pete (Bradley Whitford, “The West Wing”), is out to prove it by marrying for the third time. Wife no. 3 is Kate (Malin Akerman), a former party girl he meets at a karaoke bar. For Pete’s sake, once the two are wed, Kate finds herself having to deal with his two ex-wives (Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins) and three stepchildren. Think of it as “Big Love” minus the polygamy and dowdy wardrobe.

"The Michael J. Fox Show" (NBC, Thursday, Sept. 26, 9 p.m.) He’s back! Michael J. Fox, the deservedly beloved, diminutive star of “Family Ties” and “Spin City,” returns to weekly TV after a 12-year absence with a family sitcom partially based on his own life. He plays Mike Henry, a popular New York City TV anchorman who returns to work after a long absence. Mike quit to spend time with his wife and kids and concentrate on his health after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (as did Fox in real life). Fox is such an ingratiating guy and gifted comic performer that, if anyone can make viewers comfortable with the inherently uncomfortable truth of living with a degenerative disease, it’s him.

"Hello Ladies" (HBO, Sunday, Sept. 29, 10:30 p.m.) Smooth moves do not come naturally to Stuart (Stephen Merchant), a spindly Englishman determined to find romance and make his way into the red-hot vortex of Los Angeles’ glamour world. Fans of the original British version of “The Office” and HBO’s “Extras” know that Merchant, at 6 ft-7 in., has long been Ricky Gervais’ taller half through a series of brilliant comic collaborations. Now he’s stepping out on his own and there’s every reason to believe it will turn out that those earlier efforts were, as the Brits would say, just the thin end of the wedge.

"Masters of Sex" (Showtime, Sunday, Sept. 29, 10 p.m.) Ever since AMC hit it big with “Mad Men,” the 1960s have been hot. Now Showtime gets into the act with this drama about real life sex researchers William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), whose groundbreaking studies during the swinging '60s transformed our understanding of human sexuality. That the two ended up married to each other (though they’d eventually divorce) will give a series in which discussions of orgasms, erections and penetration are commonplace, an extra layer of sexual tension.

"The Paradise" (PBS, Sunday, Oct. 6, 9 p.m.) For those who can’t abide the long wait until “Downton Abbey” returns in January, this sumptuous, British costume drama on “Masterpiece Classic” should perfectly fill the bill. The 7-part series follows the personal and professional lives of investors, entrepreneurs, employees and customers connected to a fancy English department store in the 1870s. The show is based on a 19th century novel, “Au Bonheur des Dames,” by Émile Zola, though his original French setting was moved to northern England. The only thing missing? Maggie Smith.


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