Pilot Season: The Best & Worst New Shows September 2018
Every year between September and November we get an influx of new TV shows; most of them don’t make it. Most aren’t worth watching at all. Being the good Samaritan I am, I watch all the new shows for you and tell you which ones are worth watching and which you should stay far away from. Do I deserve a medal for this?
Yes, yes I would say I do.
Mayans M.C. (FX, September 4)
FX is a network of few misses. Over the last five years alone they released gems like Atlanta, Fargo, Baskets, Legion, Feud, Man Seeking Woman, Pose, Married, Snowfall, Taboo, Trust, and You’re the Worst. Not to suggest that there have been no misses in their history. The Bastard Executioner is an all-time terrible television show, and Tyrant, while not exactly bad, wasn’t really good either. So there is precedence for Mayans M.C., which is a wholly average show. When compared to the rest of FX’s current lineup, which includes some of the best shows of the decade, it pales in comparison. On the other hand, when compared to the rest of this list or to the ongoing dramas of networks like CBS, NBC, Fox, and ABC, Mayans looks like The Wire.
Narratively Mayans has just enough going for it. It is a pretty by-the-numbers gang show but when a formula works, it works. It will also appeal to the seven Sons of Anarchy fans who still exist as it appears to be a spinoff of sorts–I wouldn’t bet on seeing Charlie Hunnam any time soon but the Sons of Anarchy did make a quick appearance in the pilot episode. The cast is made up of many recognizable and storied Latino actors such as Edward James Olmos, Michael Irby, and Maurice Compte and the strength of their performances and those of newer faces including the show’s lead, JD Pardo, separate it from forgettable network drama. The issue with Mayans is that it doesn’t look like prestige television–for lack of a better term. The show is brightly lit and the color palette is flat, not to mention that the action sequences are shot terribly and the visual effects (which are thankfully limited) are horrid, making it look as if you’re watching a CBS cop procedural. That may not bother many viewers but in the age of shows like Legion, Atlanta, or Trust, it is hard for a show like Mayans to stick out when the production’s appearance is so amateurish.
Should you watch: So far it’s bland but not without potential. It’s the kind of show that you could invest in the first season and come out the other side really loving or feel like you’ve wasted 10 hours of your life.
The Purge (USA, September 4)
Who asked for this? The first Purge movie was a fun enough idea for a parlor piece that has fully jumped the shark by now. The one thing that the 11 Purge movies have proven is that the more time spent in this world, the more ridiculous the concept becomes. The show starts with someone boarding up their windows 97 minutes before the purge, which remains the dumbest thing that happens in this universe. If someone told you today at 1 pm that there was a 1% chance that someone was going to kill you tomorrow night, you would be in your fucking house with the door locked within the hour.
The acting is laughable, the writing is worse, the sound mixing is nauseating, the directing is student film in quality, the effects look like a Nintendo ad from the 90s, and the universe gets stupider and stupider the more we explore it. I can’t believe after her incredibly charismatic and lively performance in Dirk Gently, Fiona Dourif has been jettisoned on this train wreck of a show playing a lifeless and forgettable cult leader. There isn’t a single moment in the pilot episode of The Purge with any redeeming qualities.
Should you watch: I suppose if you really lose watching people nail plywood to their windows and then having a teenager get literally get axed to death. But if you’re not out of your whole fucking mind, no, I wouldn’t bother.
Maniac (Netflix, September 21)
Maniac is the light in the darkness this year. This month of new shows has been mostly unwatchable with a brie respites of mediocrity, Maniac is anything but. It’s the best thing on TV right now (using the term “right now” when it comes to Netflix is a little fuzzy but bear with me). Cary Fukunaga is back to his True Detective form delivering some of the best directing I’ve seen on TV or film. The production design is fantastic, hearkening back to the sci-fi classics of the 70s and 80s. I’ll keep it short; you’re going to be hearing a great deal about Maniac on the podcast and when it feels like a good time I’ll likely drop a piece on the whole series–again the Netflix release schedule screws us all.
Should you watch: Yes. Yes. Yes. YES!
Magnum P.I. (CBS, September 24)
In all honesty, CBS shows probably shouldn’t even really be on this list anymore. Comparing their output to other television channels — even to the other three networks — is hardly fair. While NBC, Fox, and ABC have proved that they are pretty bad at making good TV they do continue to try year after year. CBS has no interest in making good TV. Much like the Republican Party, they are happy to continue to placate their aging demographic by making the same shows over and over again. And in the case of Magnum, P.I., it is literally the same show. Also like the Republican party, CBS doesn’t care that you are clueless. CBS’s viewers don’t care what shows are on their network or that the last show to garner any critical interest was The Good Wife. And despite the fact that they remain a laughing stock, despite the fact that their viewers are dying quicker than their Emmy nominations, for now CBS still draws big numbers and for now the Republicans control Congress.
Magnum P.I. is inoffensive and bland enough to satisfy the casual TV viewing audience and its cast has a modicum of charisma, so I imagine it will do well. Maybe I’ve been finally broken down by the constant mediocrity that CBS shovels out, but I don’t completely hate this show. Unless it’s a complete insult to the original–which I’ve never seen–It’ll stick around for 9 seasons like every CBS show and I’m sure I’ll forget about it before I even finish writing this sent
Should you watch:
Manifest (NBC, September 24)
I put off Manifest as long as I could manage. There isn’t much to say about this melodramatic stubbed toe of a television show. It makes no sense that with a planet full of talented actors, most of them living in England apparently, that someone would hire Melissa Roxburgh to be the lead in anything but a yogurt commercial.
Should you watch: It’s not the worst thing on TV, sure, Melissa Roxburgh may be the worst actor on TV. But if you’re absolutely desperate or a sci-fi melodrama with a mystery that I can’t imagine it’ll have a satisfying answer to than Manifest is probably your last option left on TV.
FBI (CBS, September 25)
I suppose you could start your show by blowing up a child 58 seconds into the first episode. That is one way to kick off your season. FBI’s pilot episode disappointingly doesn’t really get much better after literally blowing up a couple dozen people by the three minute mark. There’s a lot of crying and an accompanying cloying score intercut by sudden explosions. There is not one single thing that is good about this show. That this is not the worst new show of the year is a real accomplishment.
I am super curious where they found untalented bizarro world Mike Birbiglia though.
Should you watch: If we all band together to ignore to ignore FBI we can kill it soon.
Mr. Inbetween (FX, September 25)
I’m pretty into the dry Australian wit. Dreamland is better than The Office and Mr. Inbetween is a fairly decent show. I stand by it. Hit man/family man may be a familiar premise and angry-guy-who-is-struggling-with-joint-custody-of-his-daughter is also not original, but Scott Ryan’s performance as Ray Shoesmith is well-rounded and compelling; he shifts well between stoic enforcer, good-friend, and loving father. I’m not sure if this show will be rich with plot but the cast and writing offers plenty reason to tune in week to week.
Should you watch: Unfortunately, there isn’t many options for good new TV at least not through September, Mr. Inbetween is one of your best options.
New Amsterdam (NBC, September 25)
Last year, Antonia Thomas, a beautiful English actor for whom I have an unhealthy obsession, best known for her roles in the cult shows Misfits and Scrotal Recall, was shackled to a mediocre medical drama called The Good Doctor, which became one of network TV’s biggest hits making sure she would be locked to it for at least another 3 years. This year, Janet Montgomery, a gorgeous English actress for whom I have an unhealthy infatuation, best known for her recurring role on This is Us and the cult show Human Target, is shackled to an okay medical drama called New Amsterdam, which thus far has gotten solid ratings.
I’ve never been one for the hospital drama but its success is undeniable especially with ER rounding into its 400th season and New Amsterdam seems like a passable enough addition to the genre. It is far from perfect so far. It suffers from an oversized need to grandstand, the pilot is 43 minutes and it feels like there are 43 different plot lines, it goes for shock value at almost every possible opportunity, its primary goal is clearly to make its audience cry, it ends with that horrid Canyon City track “Fix You,” and, most ridiculously of all, it cast Tyler Labine, who is a professional show tanker. Seriously, look at his IMDb; nothing against Labine personally but it is strange how many shows he’s been on that have been cancelled and forgotten. But in all seriousness, it’s impossible to deny that the pilot of New Amsterdam is a mess. It crams about 10 different episodes’ worth of story and enough drama and twists for an entire season of TV into one episode. Still, it has the bones of a functional drama and maybe now that the writers know there will be more than one episode, they won’t blow all their ideas in the first 40 minutes.
Should you watch: If you like hospital dramas this is a passable one; if you don’t, there isn’t much to behold here besides yet another boilerplate addition to the drama.
A Million Little Things (ABC, September 26)
A Million Little things is celery; it seems so inoffensive and bland almost by design. It has no substance and consuming it is scientifically a waste of time, it will provide you no sustenance. This sort of thing happens in all industries when you have a massive success. Especially in an industry like TV where massive successes are becoming rarer and rarer it was inevitable that TV’s current biggest show, This Is Us, was bound to spawn some imitators. We saw it was Stranger Things and less so with Game of Thrones–but only because it is hard to imitate spending the most money to make a TV show that anyone has ever spent. This is Us is the first non-Shonda Rhimes or Rhimes knock off hit that network TV has had in many years so prepare yourself for CBS, Fox, and ABC to poop these cheap doppelgangers out for the next few years hoping at least one of the turds sticks to the wall.
A Million Little Things is so shamelessly stealing from This Is Us, it not only copies its cloying tone and soft focus shooting style it features a main characters death, shrouded in mystery, that brings the characters together and defines their relationship. It’s not only imitating This Is Us it is This Is Us just with male friendship instead of family. Shit, there’s even a token black guy. This Is Us started its first season two years ago on a pretty high note–I really enjoyed the pilot–but it lost all sense of scope pretty early on. When you’re saddled with a 23 episode shooting schedule and the sole job of your show seems to be to make the audience cry and string along your cheap mystery out for as long as your fans will allow it doesn’t leave much room for good storytelling. I never thought it would be possible, but A Million Little Things did manage to pack even more dramatic hot button topics into its show than This Is Us so it is in even better position to lay it on as thick as it can. The first episode alone introduces: suicide, adultery, male love, surviving cancer, not surviving cancer, alcoholism, divorce, perusing your dreams, men confronting their emotions, corporate intrigue, fucking your best friend’s wife while he commits suicide, and my personal favorite bringing your one nightstand to your best friend’s funeral and then showing up later at her house with a cute gift that shows you were paying attention and really care about this woman you met at a cancer survivors support group meeting yesterday.
Should you watch: If you love This Is Us and really desperately need a hold over in between each episode this is a show that exists.
God Friended Me (CBS, September 30)
There is only so much religious sanctimony and millennial buzzwords that one man can take before he loses it. This is a show that features someone googling, “how do you cure writer’s block?” Presumably an actual professional writer wrote that. This is yet more proof that CBS has absolutely no interest in attracting young viewers. Despite this being a show about a guy with a podcast who contacts god through social media, it’s the oldest fucking thing on TV besides Fox News.
Should you watch: Fuck this show.
Grade: Fuck it sideways. Fuck it diagonal.
Rel (Fox, September 9)
“Look, I can’t believe this man, who would have ever thought that my wife would have an affair with my barber?”
That is how the pilot episode of Rel kicks off, with that… joke? People always insist there is a charm to multi-cam sitcoms; I just must not be able to see it. Maybe it’s in the lifeless sets, canned laugh track, community theater caliber acting, and the cast of failed Wild n’ Out members. I suppose if you’re the age where you can be really attached to The Nanny or Three’s Company, Rel is the kind of show for you. But if you enjoy comedy or acting or storytelling or not wasting 23 minutes of your life, it’s probably not. Sinbad’s alright though–and if that felt like an afterthought that’s because Sinbad is little more than an afterthought in this show.
Should you watch: I’m not really sure who this show is for. If it’s for you then have a blast.
I Feel Bad (NBC, September 19)
Give me a D! Give me an I! Give me a V! Give me an E! Give me a R! Give me an S! Give me an I! Give me a T! Give me a Y!
I promised myself that no matter how bad it got this year I would be positive–it’s been really fucking difficult. I Feel Bad is not making it any easier. There must be something good about this show. I can’t figure out what it is, but the law of averages suggests not every single thing about it could have been terrible. I suppose there is less sexualization of children than there could have been–mind you not no sexualization of children–which is somehow not the most problematic treatment of one of the show’s characters.
Should you watch: No.
Single Parents (ABC, September 26)
This is a pretty low effort concept for a show, even for an ABC sitcom. Elizabeth Meriwether’s first show after the end of New Girl doesn’t surprise in its mediocrity. It’s unimaginative and full of incredibly uninteresting characters and even more bland performances. But this time it lacks the talents of Jake Johnson, Lamorne Morris, and Max Greenfield to carry it to a compelling sitcom. Hey, it’s got quirky kids though and diversity so it’s sure to be a hit. I have no doubt. It’s not all bad though. The pilot has some potential. At the moment, it’s a mishmash of story with too many characters but if, like New Girl, Meriwether finds a small subset of the cast to lean on, the show could avoid becoming yet another Modern Family impersonator.
Should you watch: As far as comedies go it’s not exactly funny. But it isn’t putrid either and for the majority of network sitcoms that seems to be the metric to gauge on. Watchability is success.
The Cool Kids (Fox, September 28)
The Cool Kids premiered on Friday. And I think that’s all we need to know about it. It knows its demographic and I think there is something admirable about that. Fox is really fortifying its Friday comedy lineup for the Life Alert crowd.
Should you watch: The Cool Kids does satisfy a kind of morbid curiosity. Like staring at a car wreck or watching a house fire. Sometimes you just are drawn to the horrifying and painful.