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The 10 Best (and Worst) Broadcast Pilots of the Fall

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It’s kind of sweet how the traditional networks stick to the schedule of yesteryear.

While the entire medium is disrupted with year-round content and bingeable seasons, for the most part, the five broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and the CW—roll out their new and returning series in September and October and air their season finales in the spring.

While other content providers, like Showtime and Amazon, generally provide critics with multiple episodes of a new series to review, networks continue to offer only the pilot episodes. And as we all know, pilots are not always the best representation of what a TV series will become. Great pilots full of promise can beget mediocre shows (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip still breaks my heart a little) and average pilots can blossom into amazing shows (hi, Parks & Recreation). So it’s hard to judge a show fairly on its pilot alone.

(We did it anyway.)

I watched all the network pilots so you don’t have to, and picked the best and the worst each network is debuting this fall.

ABC

Best: The Rookie
Premieres October 16 at 10 p.m.


Nathan Fillion  is an all-caps TV STAR. He has the kind of innate charisma that helps him bring an extra sparkle to every role he tackles. So, sure, a drama about John Nolan, a man who becomes a rookie LAPD detective when he’s decidedly middle age, is the fish-out-of-water cop drama we’ve seen many times before. The show is a not-so-distant cousin of Fillion’s long-running Castle, where he played a famous writer who helped solve crimes. The cast is solid (Richard T. Jones is a standout as John’s suffer-no-fools sergeant) and the pilot sets up the digestible cop drama premise that makes for easy, entertaining viewing.

Worst: Single Parents
Premieres September 26 at 9:30 p.m.


So much talent is wasted in this comedy. I mean, you have to work very hard to have Brad Garrett, Taran Killam and Leighton Meester in your show and still not elicit one laugh. As the title suggests, the series follows the single parents of a group of seven-year-old kids. There are so very many clichés about parenting, and no one involved seems to understand how seven-year-olds actually behave. The result is a bunch of overly smart, highly verbal, utterly annoying kids who do not act their age.

The Great Unknown: The Conners
Premieres October 16 at 8 p.m.


A few weeks ago, there was a brouhaha because John Goodman revealed that Roseanne (the character) would be killed off in this spinoff. (I’m not even sure that’s the right term. What do you call a show where the star spewed vile, racist comments until the network fired her, squandering how beloved the return of Roseanne initially was?) Anyway, of course they’re killing her off. What were they going to do? Always say she was in the basement folding laundry? And who knows what the result will be. ABC has yet to make an episode available. Darlene (Sarah Gilbert) has always been my favorite. So I’m at least curious enough to tune in.

NBC

Best: New Amsterdam
Premieres September 25 at 10 p.m.


Look, I’m not going to tell you this is a great show. But I can tell you it’s a highly entertaining one: medical wish-fulfillment at its peak. Ryan Eggold stars as Dr. Max Goodwin, a maverick doctor who doesn’t care about rules or protocol or bureaucracy or making his star doctors happy. What he does care about are his patients, damn it. When he takes over New Amsterdam hospital, he disrupts the status quo, frustrating the staff and the administrators. He fires everyone in the cardiac surgical department because they place billing over patient care. He’s also got an estranged pregnant wife. And did I mention he’s gravely ill? This is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink medical drama, and it is fabulous.

Worst: I Feel Bad
Premieres September 19 at 10 p.m.


Ugh. I have an irrational hatred of this one. Sarayu Blue stars as Emet, a working mom who feels bad about so many things, from being away from her kids to having dreams about men other than her husband. But here’s what sent me over the edge. Emet works at a software/gaming company and she walks into a meeting and says to her all male staff, “Tell me the truth. I’m still doable, right?” Go ahead. Check your calendar. Yes, this is 2018. I. Can’t. This is supposed to be funny? That a professional, successful woman asks her employees if they would like to sleep with her? Want to hear the worst part? Amy Poehler is an executive producer. I know. This one hurts.

CBS

Best: God Friended Me
Premieres September 30 at 8 p.m.


As soon as the show was announced, I said I didn’t love the title. And hanging your hook on the aging Facebook isn’t the way to go. (Any teen will tell you that no one uses Facebook anymore). But I guess God Snapchatted Me didn’t have the same ring to it? But take away the technology and this show has roots in Joan of Arcadia or last season’s Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. Miles (Brandon Michael Hall) doesn’t believe in God, but God keeps reaching out to him on social media and guiding him to people who need his help. It’s a feel-good procedural. And we don’t have anything like it on TV right now. Plus, Hall, who was so great on last season’s The Mayor, should be a TV star.

Worst: Happy Together
Premieres October 1 at 8:30 p.m.


This is the actual premise of this show: A music superstar comes to live with his accountant and his wife. I’m not making this up. Felix Mallard stars as Cooper James, a twentysomething pop star who just wants to live a normal life. Amber Stevens West and Damon Wayans, Jr. are the boring married couple who need some excitement in their life. I have no idea how the show can build on this lame idea every week and don’t intend to find out. Harry Styles of One Direction fame is an executive producer, giving the show a backstory that’s more interesting than the actual show.

The Great Unknown: Murphy Brown
Premieres September 27 at 9:30 p.m.


No screener for this one yet, either. But I kind of feel like we need the FYI gang now more than ever.

FOX

Best: The Passage
Premieres January 2019


Because FOX is home to the World Series, the network doesn’t premiere that much in the fall. I’m not going to lie. Picking the best new show on FOX is a little like grading on a curve. None of the new FOX shows I’ve seen so far are terrific. But The Passage is the best of a not-great bunch. Mark-Paul Gosselaar stars as a federal agent whose job it is to bring test subjects to the mysterious (and nefarious) Project Noah. He’s OK with that until he must kidnap a young girl named Amy (Saniyya Sidney). The pilot moves at a clipped pace, but there’s a lot to sort through, and FOX dramas can get bogged down in the details and the mythology. If it can stick to telling a fast-paced story, this one could be a hit.

Worst: The Cool Kids
Premieres September 28 at 8:30 p.m.


If you have comedy legends Martin Mull, Vicki Lawrence, David Alan Grier and Leslie Jordan as your stars and you can’t make your show funny, that’s a problem. The comedy, about a group of friends living in a retirement community, hasn’t met an aging cliché it doesn’t want to work into the script. Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) serves as executive producer, so perhaps the show will improve.

The Not-So-Great Unknown: Last Man Standing
Premieres September 28 at 8 p.m.


Unlike other revivals where years have passed, Last Man Standing just left ABC in May 2017. My take on this revival is that if you loved the show before, you’ll probably like it now. And if it was rated not for you during its previous six-season run, it’s probably still not for you.

The CW

Best: Charmed
Premieres October 14 at 9 p.m.


This reboot of Charmed follows the same spirt of the original drama, which ran from 1998-2006 on the WB. Three sisters—Maggie (Sarah Jeffery), Melanie (Melonie Diaz), and Macy (Madeleine Mantock)—discover the Power of Three after their beloved mother dies. The pilot is surprisingly engaging and builds on the female empowerment message of the original. I think if you watch it, you’ll be charmed.

Worst: All American
Premieres October 10 at 9 p.m.


Welcome to Beverly Hills, bitch. It’s really not fair to All American to dump it in the “worst” category, but The CW is only introducing two new shows this fall and All American is the weaker of the two. Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) is the football star of his Compton high school when Beverly High School football coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs) recruits him. But James can’t live in Compton and play for Beverly. Guess what happens next? The pilot takes a huge page from The O.C. playbook and leans into many a TV cliché. Could it turn out to be a great teen soap? Perhaps. Greg Berlanti, who brought us Dawson’s Creek and Everwood long before he became immersed in the superhero world, is an executive producer.



Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .

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