As an object lesson in the extremes of new fall TV, welcome to Fox's new and not entirely improved Tuesday comedy lineup. (Unhappily missing in action, but for how long: Raising Hope, currently designated to return for its fourth season in the Friday swamplands in early November with back-to-back episodes, a scenario few believe will ever occur.)
The network risks giving us comedy whiplash by pairing the season's best and most arresting new comedy with one of the absolute worst. Let's get the dud, known as Dads, out of the way. This charmless misfire from Seth MacFarlane's camp reminds us that what might be funny in the mouths of sardonic cartoon characters often falls flat when delivered by actual so-called human beings. Even gifted veterans like Martin Mull and Peter Riegert, as obnoxiously exasperating parents who move in with their dismally unpleasant business-partner sons (a flip Seth Green and whiny Giovanni Ribisi), can't do much to elevate material that in the pilot episode (Tuesday, 8/7c) fancies itself shocking when it stoops to racially insensitive humor — and in next week's second episode, falls back on the tired cliché of everyone acting goofy when stoned on pot brownies. Dads would love to be as offensive as its promos promise (tweaking critics who took an early stand against it), but what's most off-putting about the show is how lazy and stale it all is.
Whereas Brooklyn Nine-Nine (8:30/7:30c), a police comedy that aspires to the humanistic grit and heart of a Barney Miller, earns its badge of distinction with smart irreverence and sharply defined characters in an admirably diverse ensemble, led by Saturday Night Live ex-pat Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, the precinct cut-up who's actually a first-rate detective, and the estimable Andre Braugher proving a deft hand at subtle comedy as the Nine-Nine's deadpan new captain Ray Holt, whose intriguing back story makes him much more than a wet-blanket killjoy.
Dampening the fun would be a tall order indeed with characters as immediately engaging as Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) as Sgt. Terry Jeffords, a tremulous hulk who lost his edge after becoming a dad to twins (named Cagney and Lacey); Stephanie Beatriz as the fiercely intimidating Detective Rosa Diaz, who nevertheless is being wooed in vain by Joe Lo Truglio's haplessly nerdy Detective Charles Boyle; Chelsea Peretti as the relentlessly gossipy civilian administrator Gina Linetti; and Melissa Fumero as the ultra-competitive Detective Santiago, whose rivalry with Peralta becomes an office obsession and distraction.
There's considerable cast chemistry, but also nice touches as the cops go about their business, when in the middle of tense stand-offs and perp pursuits they encounter stubborn Brooklyn-ites who refuse to get out of their way. And in what might become a running gag, you'll see a familiar face in an inspired cameo as the detectives grudgingly perform door-to-door canvases. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the tendency is to laugh before you stop and frisk. Wouldn't the world be a better place if that were true?
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Moving on to the rest of Fox's comedy night: The second hour once again is anchored by New Girl, which reached new romantic-comedy heights last season as Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) succumbed to their affections and desires. As the third season begins (9/8c, not previewed), they head South to a Mexican beach getaway that becomes muy loco before it can get too caliente. When Schmidt (the sublime Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) head to the lovebirds' rescue, matters may only get worse. Besides, Schmidt has to come to a reckoning with his own romantic triangulation regarding Cece (Hannah Simone) and Elizabeth (Nurse Jackie's wondrous Merritt Wever).
Which all sounds like a good time, followed by the second-season premiere of The Mindy Project (9:30/8:30c), asking the intriguing question of whether the self-absorbed title character's (Mindy Kaling) season-ending journey to Haiti with her minister beau Casey (Anders Holm) might take the material out of the girl. Given that Mindy's response to a tropical sunrise is, "It looks like a douche ad," we're laying odds that despite Casey's grand romantic gestures, the course of this relationship will not run smooth. Especially once circumstances bring her back to New York City, where her obviously (but secretly) smitten co-worker Danny (Chris Messina) is mired in a passionless marriage (to Chloe Sevigny, which makes you wonder what Danny's problem is). But the real news in Mindy's first episodes is the stunt casting of the ubiquitously mercurial James Franco as the office's friendly new OB-GYN/sex therapist — hilariously named Paul Leotard — who fills in during Mindy's absence but acts like he's there to stay. Franco's irony-laced charisma makes Leotard a sharp foil as the two docs prepare to square off next week.
Taking the long view, three out of four winners isn't a bad average for any network's comedy night. Restore Raising Hope to its proper place and all will be forgiven. Maybe even Dads.
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: USA Network's most enjoyable night of summer programming brings things to a mid-season pause, as Covert Affairs (9/8c) and the delectable Suits (10/9c) present their summer finales. On Affairs, Annie (Piper Perabo) finally has a long-awaited showdown with her ever-suspicious boss Calder (Hill Harper) while her mission to take down the villainous Henry Wilcox (Gregory Itzin) sends her to Frankfurt, Germany. ... Suits brings the imperious Ava Hessington (Michelle Fairley) back into the picture, with a malpractice suit — so much for gratitude — muddying the legal waters and the firm's dissolution with Darby. But romantically conflicted co-workers Mike (Patrick J. Adams) and Rachel (Meghan Markle) are the ones who really need to watch their back, as their relationship finally makes its way onto boss lady Jessica's (Gina Torres) radar.
SONS OF GUNS: After the horror that unfolded Monday at Washington, D.C.'s Navy Yard, it becomes even more disturbing to consider the fictional terrors — some might say sensationalistic, though on this show it feels earned — that unfolded in last week's episode of FX's red-hot Sons of Anarchy (10/9c), during which an 11-year-old student opens fire at his school (the carnage is heard and implied, but not seen) using a gun sold by the boys of SAMCRO. The wages of sin writ large as the situation hits home for Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and especially Nero (Jimmy Smits), with more deadly fallout as they try to contain the damage, while the relentless and unscrupulous ex-marshal Lee Toric (Donal Logue, in an unusually unconvincing performance) rallies an ambitious DA (CCH Pounder, a welcome addition) to aid his cause in bringing the Sons down.
THE TUESDAY GUIDE: If you were late to the terrific family-comedy celebration that is ABC's The Middle, which has lived too long in Modern Family's shadow, the show begins its regular cable-syndication run on ABC Family (5/4c), and you can see how it all began. You won't be sorry. (Whispers like Brick: "Sorry") ... ABC wants you to have a Marvel-ous time on Tuesdays this season — as in: Marvel Comics. As a curtain-raiser for next week's premiere of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (if you hate that clunky title, imagine what it feels like typing it), the network is turning over the entire night to a screening of 2010's Iron Man 2 (8/7c), during which the full-length trailer of the upcoming Thor: The Dark World will be broadcast for the first time. Also expect plentiful promos for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Don't you love synergy? ... The six finalists will perform live at Radio City Music Hall for the last time on NBC's America's Got Talent (9/8c), with the winner revealed Wednesday (if Million Second Quiz doesn't drive everyone away). ... PBS is particularly topical, with the first installment of the three-part, six-hour Latino Americans series (check tvguide.com listings), which reaches back to the 1500s to reveal a history of Latino culture within the U.S. that goes way beyond the current immigration debate. Frontline follows with a report on Egypt in Crisis (check tvguide.com listings), examining the turbulent events of the recent military overthrow of the government.