Screen Time: Fall television preview, part one

By Sean Sullivan

There’s a long list of new television shows this fall all vying for your procrastination. Some will be worth your time, others won’t. Over the next couple weeks, I’m going to break down a number of new shows and help you decide where it’s worth wasting time rather than studying. This week I’ll start with four I’m looking forward to.

The Blacklist
Premiers Monday, Sept. 23.

Everyone loves a good con. Audiences eat up crime dramas as fast as murder mysteries and police procedurals. We love the suave villain, the cunning criminal and the attractive anti-hero. The pairing of a clever con-artist with a straitlaced detective produces the ultimate buddy-cop story with two absolute polar opposites working together. We see them matched up all the time. And that’s where NBC’s new drama The Blacklist comes in: everything we’ve already seen before.

The Blacklist revolves around a criminal named Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader, who one day walks into FBI headquarters and surrenders. He offers to help them catch another criminal. The catch is that he’ll only talk to Elizabeth Keen, an FBI profiler who just started her first day on the job.

It’s a similar dynamic to Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, right down to the big glass box the FBI keep Reddington locked in — minus the cannibalism.

Reddington wields more charm than Lecter though they both share the same expensive tastes, which makes him similar to another con on television: White Collar’s Neal Caffrey — they both share a love of fedoras.

The second half of The Blacklist’s debut trailer bares a certain resemblance to White Collar’s first season, including Reddington wandering off so FBI are forced to follow him to solve the crime and a spur of the moment bomb defusing.

But it’s exactly because of these similarities that The Blacklist is likely to be one of this season’s biggest hits. It is a proven formula and an easy sell. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, you’ll likely get exactly what you expect when you tune in every Monday.

The show can run as long as NBC wants, depending on how good Reddington’s memory is, as he provides a new name off his blacklist each week.

Verdict: If you’re a sucker for crime fiction, like I am, there’s likely nothing I can do to keep you from this series. I know I’ll be tuning in for the first few weeks at least.

Sleepy Hollow
Premiers Monday, Sept. 16

In the midst of the current craze for urban fantasy and paranormal books and television — with successful shows like Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Lost Girl, Grimm and Once Upon A Time among others — it’s a good time to bring back a story like Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a mix of American history, paranormal activity, witches and police investigations.

Fox’s new show Sleepy Hollow involves the revival of Ichabond Crane, played by Tom Mison, after he died 250 years ago while fighting the headless horseman. Crane must partner with Sheriff Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie, to thwart an impending apocalypse, brought on by the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Magic and paranormal happenings occur in a small town named after an old story. The series resembles ABC’s Once Upon A Time and the CW’s Supernatural with a little National Treasure thrown into the mix.

What differentiates Sleepy Hollow from other fantasy and paranormal television shows on air at the moment is that it doesn’t seem to be playing up the sex appeal of its cast, but is approaching the story as straight-forward small town horror, much in the same way Fox approached The Following, which distinguished it from the usual murder-mystery shows on television.

Sleepy Hollow will likely be hit or miss. Apocalypses never loom quite as close as most shows would have us believe, as they drag stories on for three or four seasons — and Sleepy Hollow will have three more horsemen to introduce during the show’s run.

Verdict: Give it three episodes to get going before deciding to stick around or not.

Premiers Friday, Oct. 25

Just when it looked like the fascination with vampires might be bleeding out, the genre returnd to the beginning. However, the show has avoided the modern-day Twilight, Underworld, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and Hemlock Grove vampires. Instead of approaching the classic vampire in the same way that Steven Moffat approached Sherlock Holmes for BBC’s Sherlock, NBC has settled on a historical drama like Downton Abbey, The Borgias or The Tudors.

NBC’s Dracula will blend genres a bit between horror and steampunk as Dracula, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, masquerades as an American entrepreneur called Alexander Grayson, visiting Victorian London to introduce modern science, while looking every bit like Nikola Tesla — complete with magic tricks involving wireless lightbulbs. There’s also reincarnation involving a woman, Mina Murray, played by Jessica De Gouw, who resembles Dracula’s dead wife — perhaps a little bit like Steven Moffat’s television show Jekyll, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Dracula could be an interesting addition to the fall TV lineup. On the one hand it looks to have the same potential as NBC’s Hannibal but on the other hand it looks at times like the Van Helsing movie. It will be worth watching for a few episodes at least.

Verdict: If you can look past vampirism, this show may be worth a shot, at least for the premiere. If you’re done with vampires, avoid at all costs.

Almost Human
Premiers Monday, Nov. 4

Fox’s Almost Human has a lot going for it. It stars Karl Urban and is being executively produced by J.J. Abrams. But the show will also need to escape the comparison to the movie I, Robot with Will Smith.

Surviving an attack against the police department, John Kennex, played by Karl Urban, wakes up from a coma 17 months later, having lost his partner, his wife and his right leg — the former died, the second divorced him and the last was replaced by a synthetic replacement. Returning to the job, he is partnered with a robot, Dorian, played by Michael Ealy, whose model was discontinued years before and displays emotional responses. Kennex distrusts robots, apparently blaming them for his partner’s death and the loss of his leg.

The synopsis is more than a little similar to I, Robot.

The largest hurdle Almost Human will face when it premiers is the high expectations audiences will have, many of whom will likely hope it is a replacement for Fringe.
Verdict: Too close to call, but worth a try for at least three episodes.

Sean Sullivan watches more TV than is good for him. To prove his time was well wasted, he writes a bi-weekly column looking at television and movies.

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