The new TV season: The best of shows, the worst of shows
The upside mainly concerns hourlong dramas: Some networks have bucked the occult-happy trend of recent years that seemed to fill the small screen with dark tales of demons and goblins. They've also gotten away from the tendency to glamorize a variety of baddies ranging from sexy vampires to conflicted antiheroes.
Thus, shows like ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" present a stark, no-nonsense contrast between good and evil.
The outlook is woefully different where half-hour comedy programming is concerned. Supposedly humorous family dysfunction continues to reign, with clueless parents at the mercy of undisciplined kids. Sexual matters, bodily functions and gross-out material continue to be trolled for laughs.
Even TV veterans like Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams, who cut their teeth on clever, well-written and genuinely funny series, are showcased now in sitcoms that are at times offensive, even immoral. Accordingly, parents should approach the genre warily.
"Sleepy Hollow" (Mondays, Fox) crosses Washington Irving's short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle" with the Book of Revelation for a fantasy time-travel adventure. Revolutionary-War hero Ichabod Crane awakens in present-day Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., after a 250-year slumber. Following him there is the Headless Horseman — here re-imagined as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Crane teams with skeptical police Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), and together they battle the forces of darkness. With much demon-filled violence and a sorcery theme, this is not a program for kids. The villains are not celebrated, however, and the main characters show a laudable determination to fight for good and justice.
In "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (Tuesdays, ABC), the titular comic book conglomerate tackles the small screen in this ensemble drama about a secret elite organization — the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division — which investigates supernatural phenomena. Set in the aftermath of the alien invasion chronicled in the feature film "The Avengers," the show finds S.H.I.E.L.D. agents of all ages and backgrounds spanning the globe in search of superheroes and malefactors. Their leader provides wry commentary on all the technical mumbo jumbo. The action sequences are intense but cartoonish, muting the level of violence. A strong sense of camaraderie and the straightforward fight for justice make this a welcome addition to the lineup and enjoyable viewing for the entire family.
As for "Super Fun Night" (Wednesdays, ABC), heavyset Australian comic actress Rebel Wilson literally throws her weight around in this vulgar comedy about three misfit friends who decide to dedicate one evening a week — "Super Fun Night" — to having a really good time on the town. Kimmie Boubier (Wilson) is the consistent butt of the script's fat jokes, often losing her clothes by accident, thus exposing her bulging underwear. She pines for her co-worker Richard (Kevin Bishop), who is also the boss' son, but mainly looks for diversion with her two pals, nerdy Helen-Alice and Marika, who appears to have a crush on Kimmie. There's little to love in these obnoxious characters, and the loud, offensive humor should put this off limits, not only to kids, but to sensible viewers of all ages.
"The Millers" (Thursdays, CBS), is yet another dysfunctional "family" comedy makes its debut — this time with an emphasis on divorce and its aftermath. Television reporter Nathan Miller (Will Arnett) is happy and free after ending his marriage. When he tells his parents, Carol and Tom, Tom decides to follow suit and end his 43-year union. He moves in with his daughter Debbie and her family, while Carol makes her nest with Nathan in his bachelor pad. Mayhem ensues as both parents upend their new households. Regrettably, the humor is often unpleasant, and at times gross, with Carol in particular focusing on distasteful subjects.
In "The Crazy Ones" (Thursdays, CBS), Robin Williams returns to television as Simon Roberts, head of a Chicago advertising agency, where he works alongside his daughter Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar). In this comedic version of "Mad Men," Sydney fights for respect amid the all-male sales force. Williams brings his predictable manic personality to bear on his character, and much of the dialogue feels ad-libbed. But the humor dips frequently into crude and lewd subject matter.
"The Michael J. Fox Show" (Thursdays, NBC) features the popular actor, stricken with Parkinson's disease, who stars in a series that highlights the challenges of his illness. Fox plays Mike Henry, an NBC News anchor who left his job to focus on his health and family, including loving wife Annie (Betsy Brandt) and three children. Trouble is, Dad's driving everyone crazy at home, so the clan schemes to get him back to work. Mike and Annie are self-proclaimed "progressive parents," which means there is little supervision of the kids. Humor is predictably off-color, as when teenage daughter Eve, who takes an interest in nude photography, persuades Mom to shed her clothes for the camera.
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.