Fall TV 2012: 5 new shows and 5 returning shows to watch (Commentary)

Ah, fall TV. And, in a nice old-school twist, the Entertainment Weekly Fall TV Preview issue highlighted a single show on its cover rather than using a collage (the featured show: “Homeland,” which seems worthy, although I’ve never seen it). The fall lineup isn’t particularly deep this year, but it’s pretty respectable at the top. I’ve picked out five new shows to watch and five returning shows I’m excited about (“Parenthood” returns tonight!). All times are Central.


“Revolution” (9 p.m. Mondays, NBC, starts Sept. 17) — All electricity in the world suddenly stops, and 15 years later, we see what civilization has become. The dystopian premise reminds me of “Dark Angel” or “The Walking Dead” whereas the epic visuals of a new kind of Earth call to mind last year’s “Terra Nova.” That’s the good news; the bad news is that some of the power struggles remind me of “Jericho” or “Falling Skies.” And certainly, there’s no denying “Revolution” seems to fit firmly into the “epic but canceled” camp. But shows with this level of ambition — and the budget to back it up — will always be deserving of a look.

“Ben and Kate” (7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox, starts Sept. 25) — Nat Faxon, best known as a writer on “The Descendants,” shows spot-on comedic chops (and he’s working with great material, too) as a slow-to-mature 30-something who moves in with his sister, a single mom. The adult siblings premise is fairly original for a sitcom, but what really sets this apart from the pack is that it’s funny. You read that right: This is a network TV sitcom, and it looks laugh-out-loud, summer-blockbuster-level funny.

“The Mindy Project” (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox, starts Sept. 25) — Though not on the level of “Ben and Kate,” “The Mindy Project” would be the top new comedy in most seasons. Mindy Kaling (Kelly on “The Office”) has a natural sense of what’s funny about everyday life, both in her writing and her acting. Unlike on “The Office,” she plays less of a caricature here and more of a full character, specifically a 30-something bumbling into adulthood. It’s a bit like “New Girl,” but with more of a worldly feel, and less of the standard apartment-based sitcom vibe. Even the fact that Mindy is a doctor (yawn) is OK, because the hospital scenes avoid clichés and highlight the fact that an immature person can end up in a professional setting.

“Last Resort” (7 p.m. Thursdays, ABC, starts Sept. 27) — In watching previews for the new fall shows, this wins the award of “Show I did not expect to like, but do.” An American military submarine gets an order from the president to blow up Pakistan with a nuclear missile. Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman and their crew refuse (which immediately makes them heroes in viewers’ eyes), and they become enemies of the state. Of course, a premise this ambitious could potentially devolve into silliness (that was the fate of last year’s “Terra Nova,” although I still kinda miss it). But if done right, this could be powerful, and perhaps prescient. I hate to say it, but with our current foreign policy, the idea of military men and women faced with a horrible situation like this could be reality in the near future.

“Nashville” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC, starts Oct. 10) — Connie Britton had the role of a lifetime on “Friday Night Lights,” then a pretty horrible follow-up on “American Horror Story” (although I’m looking forward to Season 2 of that show, for reasons I’ll explain below). On “Nashville,” she’s a legendary country singer and Hayden Panettiere (the cheerleader on “Heroes”) is a pop-country phenom who becomes a rival when they’re assigned to co-headline a tour. Additionally, a third character is a country folkie of sorts. Since it’s filmed in Nashville, this could be the most genuine look inside the music industry since the Big Apple-set “Love Monkey.”


“Parenthood” Season 4 (9 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC, starts tonight) — Last year’s shortened season and big finale events (Crosby and Jasmine get married!) gave the impression of being the end of the road, but I’m not complaining about its return. I’ll be particularly interested in Drew and Amy, as their first-love relationship could become the most realistic on TV. Actually, pretty much every plot on “Parenthood” is the most realistic of its type on TV.

“Fringe” Season 5 (8 p.m. Fridays, Fox, starts Sept. 28) — I’m not going to pretend the story makes sense to me anymore. But, hey, this is smart sci-fi with a likeable cast, and it’s worth supporting for its final 13-episode season.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Season 5 (7 p.m. Fridays, Cartoon Network, starts Sept. 28) — More Darth Maul. More Ahsoka and Lux. More Sidious. More Dooku and Ventress. Heck, more lightsaber fights and Tom Kane newsreel voiceovers. I’m a pretty easy sell when it comes to this stuff, you may have noticed.

“The Walking Dead” Season 3 (8 p.m. Sundays, ABC, starts Oct. 14) — Although I put it on my “five to watch” list, there is something missing from “Revolution,” and that something just might be zombies. Whereas the idea of Rick and the gang trying to carve out an existence for themselves in their new reality makes for good talking points, the zombie mythology can’t be understated as a selling point. It’s not so much the blood and gore, it’s more of the sense of ever-present menace. I can already hear that slow-building creepy music in my head as Oct. 14 nears.

“American Horror Story: Asylum” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, FX, starts Oct. 17) — Season 1’s haunted house yarn started off great, then hit a rough patch and recovered a bit with the “Violet’s dead” surprise, but then limped to the finish line. Still, it was a grand experiment to stretch a horror-movie premise over a season of TV. Now, “AHS” is trying another grand experiment (and, I think, a brilliant one) in its second season — bringing back a lot of the same cast, but having them play new characters in a new story; a theatrical troupe on the small screen.

What new and returning shows are you most looking forward to this fall? Share your thoughts in the comment thread below.