First off, I should admit that I didn’t see “Revolution” coming.
After watching the pilot of NBC’s most popular series last fall, I had no idea that it would be a hit with audiences.
When it comes to predicting what new shows will strike with audiences, I go with the Conan O’Brien Theory told to a University at Buffalo audience years ago: Nobody really knows.
The list of surprise hits include “ER,” “CSI,” “NCIS,” “Seinfeld” – and I could go on and on.
I don’t see much of anything new making it big, and I laughed at critics who have had to pick the Top 10 shows of the season. I had trouble finding a Top Five.
Here is my brief guide to the 2013-14 broadcast network TV season. For more info, head to my Talkin’ TV blog, which has brief reviews of all the new fall and midseason shows.
“Sleepy Hollow,” Fox: British actor Tom Mison stars as professor of history Ichabod Crane in the season’s coolest show. It is set in the 18th and 21st centuries and plays loose with Washington Irving’s short story. Icky is as amused as I am that there seems to be some sort of law that requires a Starbucks on every corner. He convinces one detective, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), that he isn’t nuts and then they are on a mission to solve centuries-old crimes. It is a stylishly filmed, exciting, wild ride in an “X-Files” sort of way with some humor and warmth. The season premiere had a healthy 8.0 rating on Channel 29, beating everything but “Dancing with the Stars” and “Monday Night Football” on ESPN here.
“The Blacklist,” NBC: Every critic has put this series starring James Spader on the best list. He plays a guy who has become one of the FBI’s Most Wanted, Red Reddington, after a career as a government agent. He voluntarily surrenders. It’s unclear whose side he really is on as he supposedly plans to help catch a terrorist who was presumed dead. The hitch is he will only speak to a rookie FBI profiler, Liz Keen (Megan Boone). The pilot skillfully uses all of Spader’s talent to portray a creepy, manipulative guy two or three steps ahead of everyone.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Fox: Andy Samberg stars in an ensemble comedy as a smart-aleck, rule-breaking, successful detective who rubs the new chief (played by Andre Braugher of “Homicide”) the wrong way. The large cast is excellent. However, it had a soft opening in Buffalo on Tuesday, getting half the audience of “Sleepy Hollow.”
“The Goldbergs,” ABC: Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) stars as Murray Goldberg in a comedy set in 1985 about an 11-year-old son who runs around with a video-camera recording the loud antics of his parents, teenage brother and teenage sister. Dad’s way of demonstrating love is to tell his older son “you’re not a total moron all the time.” Some of the material is unnecessarily over-the-top, but only a total moron of a critic wouldn’t see it has its heart in the right place, some laughs and more potential, once it lowers the volume.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” ABC: I’ve seen only some humorous clips, but this series from Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) was voted the most promising series of the season by my colleagues in the Television Critics Association. I’m a little skeptical, which is why it is last on my list.
“Dad,” Fox: Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy”) is one of the creators who illustrates how hard it is to make material that sells in animation work when real-life actors deliver the offensive lines. The premiere Tuesday saw one quarter of the Western New Yorkers who started watching it change the channel.
“Sean Saves the World”: NBC didn’t learn its lesson last year when Matthew Perry was supposed to save it with “Go On.” Sean Hayes plays a gay father who is raising a daughter with the help or hindrance of his mother’s (played by Linda Lavin) very caustic advice.
“Enlisted,” Fox: This dumb sitcom about three brothers stationed at a Florida airbase is about as much fun as a tour in Afghanistan.
“The Millers,” CBS: Will someone tell me who thinks Will Arnett is funny enough to headline his own sitcom after two previous failures? He plays a divorced TV feature reporter whose parents (Beau Bridges, Margot Martindale) air their dirty laundry in front of him after they decide to end their sexless marriage.
“We Are Men,” CBS: The pilot borrows liberally from “The Graduate” but overall is a sophomoric depiction of divorced men that wastes the talents of Tony Shalhoub, Kal Penn and Jerry O’Connell.
Top 3 shows with mediocre pilots that stand a chance:
“The Michael J. Fox Show,” NBC: Who doesn’t want Fox to succeed? Unfortunately, his semi-autobiographical pilot about a TV news star who is guaranteed ratings when he returns to work is routine. However, it should open with guaranteed ratings.
“The Crazy Ones,” CBS: Robin Williams was much funnier in “Mork & Mindy.” Heck, he was much funnier as Eisenhower in “The Butler.”
“Mom,” CBS: The pilot starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney as warring mother and daughter isn’t much, but creator-producer Chuck Lorre rarely has a loser.
Top 3 Buffalo angles:
• Buffalo’s Nick Bakay is credited with writing four episodes of “Mom.”
• South Buffalo’s James Keane (“Paper Chase”) appears in the pilot of ABC’s “Betrayal.”
• The script of J.J. Abrams’ midseason NBC series “Believe” has a line that a couple of guys are heading to Buffalo to hide out. They never get here.
Top 3 trends
Obnoxious parents: James Caan (ABC’s “Back in the Game”), Linda Lavin (“Sean Saves the World”), George Segal (“The Goldbergs”), Allison Janney (“Mom”), Beau Bridges and Margot Martindale (“The Millers”), Martin Mull and University at Buffalo graduate Peter Riegert (“Dads”) fit this category.
Fantasy and futuristic: “Agents of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” leads the way in a category that also includes Fox’s “Almost Human” and just about everything on the CW.
FBI, CIA agents and cops are not to be trusted: “The Blacklist,” CBS’ “Hostages” and “Sleepy Hollow” are among the shows that prove you shouldn’t test authority figures.
Top 3 new stars likely to hit magazine covers:
• Tom Mison, “Sleepy Hollow”: The British-born actor is sexy.
• Malin Akerman, “Trophy Wife”: The Swedish-born Canadian is sexy
• Rebel Wilson, “Super Fun Night” ABC: She defies the image of TV stars.