Fall TV 2016: 8 new and returning shows to watch among the minefield of remakes (Commentary)

The Fall 2016 season is Exhibit A in the case that TV is running low on original ideas: “MacGyver”(8 p.m. Fridays, CBS, Sept. 23) is a straight-up relaunch with a new cast, hoping to capture some of the popularity of the ’80s hit. Even though the movie franchise petered to a close 18 years ago with the fourth entry, “Lethal Weapon” (8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox, Sept. 21) is coming to TV, complete with the movie’s logo flashed across the trailer every few seconds, apparently to bring up warm thoughts of the films.

“Van Helsing” (10 p.m. Fridays, SyFy, Sept. 23) mixes it up a little by making the title character a woman, and “Frequency” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, The CW, Oct. 5) expands on the 2000 film’s plot with a serialized time-hopping murder mystery.


But I shouldn’t be too cynical. Few of us thought there was more to the “Bates Motel” or “Hannibal” stories, and they turned into a couple of the best horror TV shows of recent years. “Gotham” and “Scream: The TV Series” (see below) are other old concepts made fresh again. A couple fall newcomers climb to the forefront of contenders to join that class of remakes we never knew we wanted. The preview for “The Exorcist” (9 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 23) looks suitably creepy, so it’s deserving of a look.

“Westworld” (9 p.m. Sundays, HBO, Oct. 2) falls into the category of remakes that make sense. The 1973 Michael Crichton film is a cult classic that is often mentioned as a precursor to “Jurassic Park” with its theme park gone bad. But not many people have seen the film, and the series should delve into a plethora of sci-fi ideas about human identity, similar to “Dollhouse.” And it’s nice to see Evan Rachel Wood (“Once and Again”) in a major role again.


NBC publicity photo

The best new network show by many accounts appears to be “This Is Us” (10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC, Sept. 20). While it’s not an original premise – it might’ve been called “Thirtysomething” if that title wasn’t taken – it could fill a void left by “Parenthood” in the daily-life-drama category. I don’t know if there’s any significance to every character being born on the same day 36 years ago, but I suspect it might be like “Six Degrees” where the different storylines ending up crossing paths. The fact that both Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore (pictured above) are in the cast provides a strong argument that it’s worth a look.

Similarly, “The Good Place” (8:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, starts 10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19) is the fall’s must-watch comedy because of Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. The premise is unusually high-concept for a sitcom: Bell’s character is mistakenly sent to Heaven. Presumably, she’ll gradually learn to be a good person in the afterlife, annoying people with her uncouth behavior in the meantime. The high concept of “Last Man on Earth” went stale fairly quickly, and that’ll be the danger here, too.


Luckily, we have a handful of tried-and-true favorite to fall back on if the new shows go bad fast. In its third season, “Gotham” (8 p.m. Mondays, Fox, Sept. 19) looks like it’s going to explore the best of both worlds: the rogues who escaped from Arkham at the end of last season, and – nominally on the side of good — the increasingly morally compromised Jim Gordon.

My top show of 2015, the crazily ambitious “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (9 p.m. Fridays, The CW, Oct. 21), faltered a bit in the spring, so hopefully Rachel Bloom and her comedy songwriting skills will be rejuvenated for Season 2.

And my No. 7 show of the previous decade, “Gilmore Girls” (Nov. 25, Netflix), returns with four 90-minute episodes collectively known as “A Year in the Life.” The first teaser was not particularly good – it’s a dud of a scene where Lorelai namedrops Amy Schumer – but Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino occasionally misfired on jokes in Seasons 5 and 6, and the overall show was still strong. I’d be worried that they lost their touch except that they nailed it with “Bunheads” after “GG” went off the air.

Oh, and going back to the topic of remakes, I shouldn’t forget about the “Scream: The TV Series” Halloween Special (Oct. 18, MTV). After a summer where “Scream” improved dramatically from its uneven first season, the two-hour special will presumably wrap up the threads still left dangling after the reveal of the Season 2 killer last month – either putting a bow on the series or clearing the way for a third season next summer.

What fall TV shows are you most looking forward to? Share your thoughts below.