Homer Simpsons has had tough jobs for the past three decades, but now comes a big one – convincing us that the fall TV season is here.
Evidence includes a new episode “The Simpsons” – a dark grim – at 8 p.m. Sunday (September 27) on Fox. This will be followed by three new cartoon episodes: “Bless the Harts”, “Bob’s Burgers” and “Family Guy”. And they face an impressive batch of new shows on cable, PBS, and The CW.
At the end of the night, we can be convinced: Despite the COVID shutdowns, a new season has arrived.
Granted, there are still plenty of shows on the shelves, especially scripted dramas. The main NBCs will return from November 10 to 13, the main ABCs from November 12 to 19; others could wait until January or later.
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Yet the networks are trying. This week, Fox kicked off a lineup that has some of its best shows – “Simpsons,” “Masked Singer,” and, starting October 8, Thursday football – and plenty of replacements.
The assembly of these queues took time. For example:
Reality shows are easier to adapt to distancing or a “bubble” approach. “Dancing With the Stars”, “American Ninja Warrior” and “The Masked Singer” have already started. Coming soon, “Undercover Boss” (October 2), “The Bachelorette” (October 13), “The Amazing Race” (October 14), “Shark Tank” (October 16) and “The Voice” (October 19). In addition, “Big Brother” and “Love Island” started late and will run until the fall.
Sport also helps… especially when COVID merges the seasons. Football, baseball, basketball, and hockey all hit prime time, along with boxing and wrestling.
The other methods vary. A few shows were ready this spring, but have been delayed until now. The networks have put together non-fiction shows… and bought shows that have already been broadcast in other countries or on cable or in streaming. And next week, CBS returns to have a movie night on Sunday.
Cable and streaming networks, handling fewer original shows and more delays, were less affected by the shutdown. Here is an overview – chronological, by genre – of the fall shows on the broadcast networks:
“LA’s Finest” (8pm, Monday, Fox) is from the “Bad Boys” films. The show – previously on the Spectrum cable system – has big stars (Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union), as well as the action and shoot-em-ups we’ve come to expect in theaters. The good news is that it has a lively dialogue, delivered by talented actresses. The problem is, it lacks credibility – as many action movies do.
“Filthy Rich” (9pm Mondays, Fox) suddenly teaches a media mogul (Kim Cattrall) that she may be a widow… and that her husband has left three illegitimate children. Just as the show (initially slated for spring and summer) begins to be solid drama, it slumps into soap opera excess.
“Manhunt” (10 p.m., Mondays, CBS) is a 10-part drama that begins with a bombshell near the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Like “LA’s Finest,” it’s from Specrum, with a cinematic-quality feel; the difference is that it also has subtlety. The opening is a moving portrayal of Richard Jewell, who went from mocked security guard to accidental hero, then to FBI suspect.
“Transplant” (10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC) and “Coroner” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, CW) are reminders that Canadians sometimes make great television. “Transplant” tells the story of a Syrian doctor who tries to start over in a Canadian hospital while raising his little sister, protecting his friend… and even telemedicine with a battlefield doctor at his home. “Coroner” has a widow solving crimes as a coroner in Toronto, while helping her teenage son. Both have clever stories and likable characters.
“Tell Me a Story” (9 p.m. Tuesdays, CW) had a two-season run on CBS All Access. The first season – three sometimes brutal tales, with a brilliant job by James Wolk as a revenge seeker – ends September 29; a second begins on October 13.
“Van der Volk” (9pm Sunday, PBS) had three mystery feature films, each richly crafted, about a Dutch police detective; the last – a voucher – is Sunday (September 27). Next Sunday, PBS is launching a four-part drama, “Flesh and Blood”. Both shows are preceded at 8 pm by “Last Tango in Halifax”.
RETURN OF THE DRAMAS
“Supernatural” (8 p.m., October 8, CW) is finally back. It started its 15th and final season and then put production on hold due to COVID-19. Now he’s coming back for his last seven episodes. (In an unrelated note a day earlier, CW adds “Devils,” a Franco-Italian financial thriller starring Patrick Dempsey.)
NBC plans to return six dramas from November 10 to 13. These are “This Is Us”, the three shows “Chicago”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Blacklist”.
ABC will scatter its returns a bit. “The Good Doctor” returns on November 2. On November 12, Thursday’s lineup features a two-hour crossover of “Station 19” and “Grey’s Anatomy”. “For Life” joins the lineup for Wednesday November 18th and “A Million Little Things” returns for Thursdays November 19th.
SCIENCE FICTION / FANTASY
“Star Trek: Discovery” (Thursday at 10 p.m., CBS) is an epic TV show, almost cinematic in its graphics. It was the show that kicked off streamer CBS All Access, seemingly with no expense spared. Sonequa Martin-Green plays the role of a science officer, a human raised in the Vulcan culture. The opening hour was a bit cold and militaristic, but it was great to watch.
“NeXt” (9 p.m., October 6, Fox) asks key questions. What Happens When Computers Learn To Be Smarter? What do we do when Alexa is planning, when driverless cars are planning their own routes, when…? This is all brought up in the first hour of this show, which was scheduled for spring / summer and then delayed. John Slattery plays someone who realizes his creation is too good.
Also: CW will be starting a lot of fantasy next month: “Swamp Thing,” previously on DC Universe, is at 8 p.m. on October 6. Two others had mediocre tours in the summer of 2019, then were delayed until this fall: Pandora “will be at 8 pm on October 4,” The Outpost “at 9 pm on October 8.
Beyond that: Sci-fi fans really need at least one of the streaming services. In recent weeks, Netflix has released “Away”, “Julie & The Phantoms” and the second season of “Umbrella Academy”; HBO Max has released “Raised By Wolves” by Ridley Scott. Amazon Prime has kicked off the second season of “The Boys” and launched the delicious “Utopia”.
“Connecting” (8:30 p.m., October 1, NBC) is a social distancing program, produced remotely. By using the Internet, friends try to stay connected.
“One Day at a Time” (October 9 and 9:30 p.m., October 12, CBS) is a pretty cool reboot that has had three seasons on Netflix. He moved to the Pop Network … then was interrupted by COVID-19 after just six episodes. These six people are rebroadcast quickly over three Mondays on CBS.
Comeback animation: Cartoons have become almost COVID-proof. “Archer” (10pm Wednesdays on FXX) has already started… Fox programming arrives Sunday night (September 27th) and Comedy Central’s “South Park” has a “Pandemic Special” time at 8pm on September 30th.
Hot Topics: There are a lot of them during the election season. Robert Smigel (creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) has a special, with puppets, at 9 pm October 1 on Fox… “Black-ish” has election-themed episodes (using animation) at 10 pm October 4 on ABC … And streamer Peacock launched two late-night shows. Larry Wilmore and Amber Ruffin will have new episodes on Fridays.
Return shows: ABC begins most of its Wednesday comedies – “The Goldbergs,” “The Conners” and “Black-ish” – on October 21, with “American Housewife” arriving a week later. Additionally, NBC’s “Superstore” returns on October 22.
“Greatest #AtHome Videos” (8 p.m., Fridays, CBS) is a collection of video stunts, gags and more – often performed by people who have more time during the pandemic. It is hosted by Cedric the Entertainer; this summer’s five episodes were pretty fun.
“The funniest animals in the world” (Fridays at 9:30 pm and 9:30 pm, CW) is a bad variant. Animal videos are funny at times, but the contributions of the human host and commentators are lame.
Additionally, CBS Sunday Movies will turn to comedy. They begin with “Old School” (2003) October 4, “Clueless” (1995) October 11, and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) October 18, before moving on to a Halloween week screening of “Scream. (1996) The films will push “Big Brother” to Monday.
GAMES AND SUCH
“I Can See Your Voice” (9 p.m. Wednesday, Fox) was designed to follow “The Masked Singer”. He even has one of the show’s judges, Ken Jeong, as a host. Candidates try to choose a singer, who then duets – for better or for worse – with a music star.
“The Weakest Link” (8pm, September 29, NBC) brings to life a British show that arrived in 2001, Americans were fascinated by its acerbic host (Anne Robinson) and its concept. Now it’s back, with Jane Lynch – doing very well – hosting. It will start on Monday, but will drop at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, October 19.
And back: this week, ABC moved its games to Thursdays, with “Celebrity Family Feud”, “Press Your Luck” and “Match Game”. Additionally, NBC returns “Ellen’s Game of Games” at 8 p.m. on October 16.
“Cosmos: Possible Worlds” (8 pm Tuesdays, Fox) brings the Carl Sagan series to life, now with host Neil deGrasse Tyson taking us on an interplanetary tour. Originally on National Geographic, this offers stunning graphics and lush writing, but gets a bit monotonous.
“48 Hours: Suspicion” (10 p.m. Wednesday, CBS) has stories of real crimes.
“Emergency Call” (10 p.m., September 28, ABC) visualizes crises through 9-1-1 operators. The opener goes from New Orleans to Alaska; it includes teenage hikers facing a bear and a 9 year old trying to revive his grandfather.
“FBI Declassified” (10 p.m., October 13, CBS), visualizes real cases. It is hosted by CBS “FBI” co-star Alana De La Garza.
And for more non-fiction – a lot more – grab PBS, anytime.