Gotham City to the rescue? Fox certainly hopes Gotham, its dark and stylish noir set in the corrupt, broken pre-Batman metropolis, will revive the fortunes of a network undergoing one of its most significant leadership transitions. (The architect of this fall's schedule, Kevin Reilly, stepped down in late May, and Dana Walden and Gary Newman, the Fox Studio heads who will take over network oversight in a more streamlined operation, won't start their new positions until the end of the month.)
The Gotham panel was the first and most impressive new-series presentation on Fox's day at the TCA press tour. (For more Fox news, go here.) With its revisionist twist on Batman mythology as it spills out origin stories featuring various supervillains-to-be, Gotham is the buzziest show on Fox's fall slate — airing on Mondays alongside breakout hit Sleepy Hollow won't hurt — but it's not without risk. Like ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., this violent crime drama asks a fan base weaned on superheroics to follow a story focused on a less heightened form of do-gooder: the decidedly mortal and grimly self-righteous "moral lynchpin" of future commissioner/now rookie detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie). If you gear your expectations more toward a Dick Tracy-like milieu, you'll be less disappointed.
"If there is a superhero in this show, it's Gotham," said executive producer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist, Rome), who based his conception of young orphaned Bruce Wayne's home town on the New York City of the 1970s, "a time when the city was falling apart. But I remember going there and it was precisely the decay and the decadence and the anarchy that was at the same time joyous and thrilling and exciting and scary and sexy." Heller's articulate description of a "timeless world" that mashes up classic noir with futuristic dystopia made me want to see more. Especially if it involves Robin Lord Taylor's scene-stealing performance as the psychopathic future "Penguin," whose vendetta against arch villainess Fish Mooney (a sensational Jada Pinkett Smith) fuels much of the first season.
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Fox is taking a much greater risk with Red Band Society (Wednesdays), a sudsy teen-oriented dramedy set in the children's ward of a hospital. (Think The Fault in Our Stars crossed with Party of Five.) Narrated in cloying voice-over by a young boy in a coma — a character and situation inspired by executive producer Margaret Nagle's own older brother, who eventually woke up — the show was described by fellow producer Justin Falvey as "life-inspiring," while Nagle insisted it's not meant to be depressing. "It's really about that time you spend in the hospital and how it changes you." A strong ensemble cast, anchored by Octavia Spencer as a no-nonsense nurse and Dave Annable as a caring doctor, projects a feel-good/feel-bad vibe reaching back to Fox's earliest teen-soap days.
Sight unseen, the twice-weekly "social experiment" of new reality show Utopia (based on a Dutch format) strands 15 "pioneers" in a remote outpost where they will start a civilization from scratch. Fox's executive vice president of alternative entertainment Simon Andreae rather alarmingly likened the show to an "ant farm, where we cast a number of really interesting people" with different points of view. To illustrate, the panel included several candidates selected as polar opposites, including Jeremy, a bearded Tea Party Christian sitting next to Emma, whom he described as a "liberal leftist lesbian." While Andreae demurred, "I don't think this is going to turn into a big shouty-fest," it's hard to imagine this Big Brother-meets-Survivor hybrid thriving without sensational conflict. I'm beginning to regret all the bad things I said about The X Factor.
The new 10-episode mystery series Gracepoint (airing Thursdays) at least has a solid pedigree, remaking last summer's acclaimed eight-part Broadchurch from BBC America, even starring David Tennant in the same role (albeit with an off-putting attempt at an American accent) as a detective newly arrived in a coastal California town, where the murder of a young boy rocks the local residents to the core — including his resentful partner (Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn) — turning neighbor against neighbor until a shattering denouement.
We've only seen the first two episodes, which drew criticism for being an almost shot-for-shot, unsatisfyingly slavish copy of the original. Executive producer Carolyn Bernstein assured the TCA gathering that "as the series progresses, it really diverges in pretty big, large ways " — with new and more fleshed-out characters and suspects to help fill the additional hours — while noting that given BBC America's relatively small viewership, "we're not particularly worried about the overlap." Asked about changes to the ending, including the identity of the murderer, executive producer Dan Futterman warned, "I don't think you should rule anyone out as a suspect," though added, "We end in a very different place," confirming reports that the remake will not repeat the original's shocking reveal. Still, while we wait to see more episodes to assess if Gracepoint can find its own voice, it's hard not just to recommend everyone seek out Broadchurch (currently preparing to film a sequel), which isn't likely to be topped.
No such ambivalence regarding Fox's worst new show, the hapless sitcom Mulaney (Sundays), starring the affable Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live writer-performer John Mulaney in a derivative Seinfeld-esque set-up in which his droll stand-up routines reflect his offstage antics, involving wacky roomies and friends (including Saturday Night Live veteran Nasim Pedrad), an inexplicable Elliott Gould as his mincing, Kramer-gone-gay neighbor, and Martin Short as his employer, a smarmy game-show host. Despite Mulaney's considerable charm, the episode screened in advance was a shockingly unfunny, stale and crudely assembled mess. When it was revealed this was the fourth episode (of an initial order of six) filmed, you can't help wonder how terrible the rest of the episodes must be.