ABC is starting from scratch tonight, with an entire slate of new shows for its Tuesday. By far the highest profile is Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, which I like but am not completely sold on yet; I wrote about it here and here, and as I haven’t seen any more episodes beyond the pilot, I’ll leave it there for now.
As for the rest of the night: there’s a lot of fall TV and only so much time to review it, and judging a show on only a first episode (which is the case for most fall broadcast shows) is often educated guesswork at best. So here are my quick impressions of ABC’s three other new shows, and I’ll return to them if any proves especially interesting. In order of airtime:
I’m in the right demographic for this nostalgia comedy (raised in the ’80s, Freaks and Geeks fan for life). I’ve got the right sympathies (I would watch at least one episode of Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey in anything). But the first episode of this show leans way too heavy on eBay comedy, grabbing easy laughs from ’80s fashions and accessories. (Big hair! Big boomboxes! Floppy discs!) What it needs to make it a lasting family comedy and not a VH1 special is heart and a sense of its characters as individuals. It shows signs of the former, but the latter gets lost in the deafeningly loud pilot and the pop-culture-reference humor. I’ll check back on The Goldbergs, but what I’m seeing so far is too much like the kind of broad family sitcom I’d hope we’d left behind in, well, the ’80s.
This show isn’t what you think. Well, okay, it’s exactly what you think: a sitcom about Pete (Bradley Whitford) who takes a third, much younger wife, Kate (Malin Akerman). But wait! The charming pilot swerves quickly from the expected Bravo-reality-show-catfight scenario and becomes something more complicated and rewarding: a good-hearted comedy about an extended family (including Pete’s two ex-wives) figuring out how to make itself work on the fly. Akerman, as a once-carefree-single suddenly learning how to raise older kids, shows excellent timing and a gift for slapstick; and the script—from Sarah Haskins (“Target Women”), who based it loosely on her own life—makes Kate anything but the ninny that the title suggests. It would be a shame if a comedy whose spirit is about not judging on surface appearances ends up doomed because viewers can’t get past the title.
This ensemble drama about a group of lottery winners in Queens, NY, feels like a bit of a throwback for ABC, to the mid-’00s, when the network was trying to develop dramas about disparate people brought together by fate. (Those shows, including Six Degrees and The Nine, were sort of Lost without the science fiction, and thus didn’t last long.) It’s the kind of show in theory I’d like networks to make more of—dramas with stakes other than crime—so I wanted it to work. But over its first hour, wanting felt too much like trying; there’s a well-intentioned flatness to the money-changes-everything stories so far. If you’re going to make a character drama like this work on broadcast TV (think, say, Parenthood) you have to execute on a very high level with the show’s writing and voice. It’s early, but so far this lottery-drama shows why that approach has such long odds.