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The Best and Worst New Fall Shows: Which Ones Should You Watch?

Is 4400 a worthy reboot?

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Tim Surette

The fall TV season is in full swing, and while returning favorites are always comforting, what you really want to know is which new fall TV shows are the best. No one needs the anxiety of diving into a new show and not knowing whether it's good or not when there are so many other great shows to watch. We've watched all the new shows this season, and are here to report on which are worth your time.

Below, you'll find quick reviews of each of the new shows on the Big 5 networks -- ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, NBC -- as well as trailers, cast information, and premiere dates. Our latest addition is The CW's 4400, which is the last new fall broadcast show of the season.

PREMIERING SOON

4400


Premieres: Monday, Oct. 25 at 9/8c on The CW
For fans of: The 4400 (duh), sci-fi mixed with social justice
Who's in it? Joseph David-Jones, Ireon Roach, Brittany Adebumola, TL Thompson
What it's about: This reboot of the 2004 USA show The 4400 keeps the central mystery -- 4400 people, some with newfound powers, from different time periods randomly reappear after going missing -- but moves it to Detroit and looks at it through a 2021 post-social justice kaleidoscope of ideas. 
Is it good?: It's an interesting idea but it's not really interesting television. Now featuring a predominantly Black cast, 4400 takes its reappeared characters, most of whom are members of marginalized communities (minorities, women), and places them down decades later to note that things haven't changed much. Authoritarian figures are still a buncha jerks, unnecessary detainment is rampant, minorities are not treated equally, and more. They're essential themes, but they're packaged pretty heavy handedly in the pilot as a result of lackluster writing that also proves to be a detriment to any sense of believability in the sci-fi aspects -- it takes this group of people half a day to figure out that they're not in the same time period they left? Dude from the 1920s, didn't you realize the car that took you to detainment didn't have a crank? Here's hoping that as the show goes on, it finds its footing because it's got a clever new way to approach this sensitive yet pressing subject.


ALREADY PREMIERED

The Big Leap


Premieres: Monday, Sept. 20 at 9/8c on Fox
For fans of: Underdogs, So You Think You Can Dance, dramas about showbiz
Who's in it? Piper Perabo, Scott Foley, Teri Polo, Simone Recasner, Jon Rudnitsky  
What it's about: In this comedy-drama, people from all walks of life in Detroit look for a fresh start by... auditioning for a dancing reality show! The show-within-a-show will culminate with a televised production of Swan Lake, regardless of how good of a dancer its cast members are (and they're not all good). In addition to following the journeys of the "contestants," The Big Leap also looks behind-the-scenes at the production of the show, which is frequently bent in sinister network executive ways in an attempt to grab ratings. 
Is it good?: Eh, not really. The Big Leap feels like a few shows in one, some of which are better than others (some parts feel like So You Think You Can Dance, while Foley's showrunner feels like he's in a new version of UnREAL), but all of which elbow each other for screen time. That makes the series feel a bit manic as it tries to stuff six pounds of sausage in a four-pound casing, leading to thinly drawn characters and hurried storylines. That's a frequent side effect of ensemble drama pilot episodes, but it feels especially strong here. It isn't until the very end that The Big Leap gives any idea of what part of the show might feel like over the season, and it's almost an "a-ha!" moment, but it'll likely be too late for most. This is another definitive Fox show that feels skippable. 


NCIS: Hawai'i


Premieres: Monday, Sept. 20 at 10/9c on CBS
For fans of: NCISes from all over the world, Hawaii, loco moco
Who's in it? Vanessa Lachey, Yasmine Al-Bustami, Jason Antoon, Noah Mills, Tori Anderson
What it's about: I don't think it's a stretch to simplify it down to the obvious: It's NCIS, but in Hawaii. 
Is it good?: You already know based on whether you like the other NCIS shows or not. CBS takes its venerable franchise to the islands, but it follows a similar formula as its mainland cousins -- complete with the slightly odd tech expert -- just with new actors. There are things that separate it from the bunch, though. Vanessa Lachey plays the first female special agent in charge of the Pearl Harbor Field Office (and first female lead of an NCIS show), so that's a little different. There's a lesbian relationship between two agents, so that's a little different. Most of the actors are non-white and the setting is filled in with palm trees, so that's a little different. But the main content -- solving crimes involving the military -- remains the same, which will be comforting for many.


Ordinary Joe


Premieres: Monday, Sept. 20 at 10/9c on NBC
For fans of: James Wolkses, absolutely destroying any concept of subtlety, second-guessing everything you've ever done in your life, This Is Us (I guess?), choose-your-own-adventure books but choosing every single option
Who's in it? James Wolk, Natalie Martinez, Elizabeth Lail, Charlie Barnett
What it's about: Some ordinary guy named Joe (Zoo hero James Wolk) graduates college and is faced with three choices -- like, he's literally standing in the quad facing his potential decisions: hang out with his "female best friend," chat up the girl he just bumped into and felt a connection with, or go get dinner with his family. We get to see what happens with each choice as all three of those decisions play out in wildly different, concurrent timelines -- He's a rock star with a beard! He's a nurse with glasses! He's a cop... with a gun! -- that flirt with the concepts of free will and destiny. 
Is it good?: It's overly showy and in love with its gimmick, but it's also the most interesting of all the new broadcast fall shows coming out in the first week of the season. Over the course of the pilot, the premise of Ordinary Joe will be beaten into your brain as if you are a lobotomy dummy in quack doctor med school. Between the voiceover explaining exactly what you are already watching, the color scheme that signifies each timeline, and the split-screen showing all three Joes simultaneously, if you leave this show not knowing what's going on, there's no hope for you. It's a bit much, but maybe it's only like that in the pilot. The drama of the show comes with the differences in each timeline more than anything else -- Joe marries his crush in one timeline but barely knows her in another, for example -- which makes me think the novelty could wear off pretty quickly or run into problems as the timelines diverge from each other (or worse, stay too closely aligned). If there was some hint at an endgame it might be more engaging, but keeping this show interesting will be a challenge for the writers once the novelty wears off. Still, it feels more complete than many of the other new fall broadcast shows as it has a clear concept. It's definitely watchable if only to see the gimmick play out for an episode or two and bask in the twists.


FBI: International


Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 10/9c on CBS
For fans of: FBI, CBS franchises, crossover episodes, same shows but in different places, solving crimes without guns
Who's in it? Luke Kleintank, Heida Reed, Vinessa Vidotto, Christiane Paul, Carter Redwood
What it's about: The third installment of Dick Wolf's FBI franchise, following FBI and FBI: Most Wanted, follows a new team headquartered in Budapest that chases down threats to Americans on foreign soil. The catch? They can't carry guns! Time to break out the harsh language.
Is it good?: CBS did not make screeners available for advanced review, so we can't say with certainty. What we can say with certainty is that if you like FBI, you'll probably like FBI: International. All three FBI shows air on Tuesday nights, and the premiere episode will be part of a three-way crossover event following a storyline reminiscent of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.


Our Kind of People


Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 9/8c on Fox
For fans of: Empire, the soapiest of soaps, Black women's hair, fierce looks
Who's in it? Yaya DaCosta, Morris Chestnut, Alana Bright, Rhyon Nicole Brown, Joe Morton
What it's about: Created by Lee Daniels (Empire), Our Kind of People follows a single mother (Yaya DaCosta) and her family as they move back to her Massachusetts hometown to boost her new haircare business... and get revenge! See, the mother butts heads with a hoity-toity, wealthy Black family that doesn't want her to be involved in their elite social circle, but buried secrets surface that will turn everything on its head and people talking.
Is it good?: Not particularly. Where Empire is built around an instantly fascinating scenario -- a music label in the midst of major changes and run by a family full of ambition -- Our Kind of People isn't pegged to anything as concrete, at least in the first episode. Characters and pieces are placed where they need to be, but after that, it quickly becomes a "stuff just happens" show with soap opera twists leading to constant shifts of power. It feels like a daytime show that snuck into primetime. The hair is outstanding in this, though, so please consider Our Kind of People for next year's Creative Arts Emmys. 


Alter Ego


Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 9/8c on Fox
For fans of: The Masked Singer, that time when CNN used a will.i.am hologram, Ready Player One's Oasis
Who's in it? Alanis Morissette, Nick Lachey, Grimes, will.i.am (as judges)
What it's about: This new singing competition reeks of an executive's desperate attempt to find a companion for The Masked Singer as amateur singers compete against each other as... digital avatars. 
Is it good?: Nope. Maybe in like 20 years, performing as computerized avatars will be the norm as technology advances and humans recede into their virus-proof burrows, but in 2021, it doesn't work. The tech is impressive -- the avatar moves in real-time to what the performer is doing -- but it isn't quite impressive enough as the characters' lips don't have the detail or reaction to compare to the real thing. This is a singing competition in a massive field of singing competitions, so why would you watch one that is less than the others? And will.i.am speaking in emojis doesn't help, either. 


The Wonder Years


Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 8:30/7:30c on Fox
For fans of: The original The Wonder Years, nostalgia, historical moments playing out on a sitcom
Who's in it? Elisha Williams, Dulé Hill, Saycon Sengbloh, Laura Kariuki, Julian Lerner, Don Cheadle (narrator)    
What it's about: This reboot of the late-1980s comedy about growing up in the late 1960s takes the original's premise but changes the family at the center to a middle-class Black family living in Alabama.
Is it good?: It's OK. As the lone new comedy in the first week of the fall season, there's nothing to judge it against, but looking at the rest of ABC's family comedies, The Wonder Years feels more reverential and less sitcommy than those. In fact, The Wonder Years isn't that funny at all, with jokes landing softly while sentimentality for the old days takes the lead. It appears that The Wonder Years will lean into its history more than the original did, with the shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King playing a part in the pilot. That may make The Wonder Years more socially important than, say, The Goldbergs, but I'm not sure it's more fun to watch yet.

La Brea


Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 10/9c on NBC
For fans of: Terra Nova, disaster movies, spectacular sci-fi bombs
Who's in it? Natalie Zea, Eoin Macken, Karina Logue, Zyra Gorecki, Jack Martin
What it's about: When a giant sinkhole opens up in the middle of Los Angeles -- right next to the La Brea Tar Pits -- people are sucked down into a prehistoric world that apparently exists just below the surface of the Earth. A mom (Zea) and her son (Martin) get separated from the rest of the family and must survive, along with others, threats like wolves, sabre-toothed tigers, and dinosaur-looking things.
Is it good?: Absolutely not. The season's flashiest series to date is also its worst, with characters giving way to ridiculousness and mysteries piling up before you can even bother to care. If you don't mind that and just want to watch for the special effects, I have bad news on that front, too: It looks bad. And if you enjoy shows that are so bad they're good, then this is either too bad or not bad enough, because there's no enjoyment to be had here. Even Fox's similar Terra Nova was more interesting when it started. 


CSI: Vegas


Premieres: Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 10/9c on CBS
For fans of: CSI, CSI: NY, CSI: Miami, CSI: Cyber

Who's in it? William PetersenJorja FoxWallace LanghamPaula NewsomeMatt Lauria, Mel RodriguezMandeep Dhillon
What it's about: The gang is back together! Well, most of them. The sequel to the flagship series in the franchise returns to Las Vegas with Gil Grissom (Petersen), Sara Sidle (Fox), and David Hodges (Langham) solving crimes with some new coworkers in Sin City once again. The crime scene zooms and forensics montages still remain!
Is it good?: It's exactly what you'd expect. Apparently six years of no CSI was too much for CBS, as the returns of Petersen, Fox, and Langham mean this is essentially a rebirth of CSI. The new characters, including lead investigator Josh Folsom (Lauria), Head Medical Examiner Hugo Ramirez (Rodriguez), and CSI Allie Rajan (Dhillon), show promise. 


Ghosts


Premieres: Thursday, Oct. 7 at 9/8c on CBS
For fans of: Dark but charming humor, comedies that don't seem like a good fit for CBS
Who's in it? Rose McIver, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Brandon Scott Jones, Richie Moriarty, Asher Grodman, Rebecca Wisocky
What it's about: This Americanized version of the 2019 BBC comedy series Ghosts follows a very alive couple who inherit a mansion that's inhabited by ghosts who don't want anyone to live there. 
Is it good?: Maybe I'm being possessed by an evil spirit with bad television taste, but I think this is actually quite good! The most important thing is that it retains much of the same charming spirit the original has, and the changes made appropriately fit American audiences. There's a good balance of humor and heart, and early on, the members of the huge cast -- there are several ghosts -- get to show off their comedy chops despite limited camera time. The question is how this will fit on CBS. My guess is it will move to Paramount+ as an exclusive at some point, because tonally, it certainly isn't like Young Sheldon


Queens


Premieres: Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 10/9c on ABC
For fans of: Girls5eva, '90s hip-hop

Who's in it? EveBrandyNaturi NaughtonNadine Velazquez, Pepi Sonuga
What it's about: Girls5eva, but make it... slightly more dramatic and infuse it with the inherent silliness of network TV. The show focuses on four women, played by Eve, Brandy, Naturi Naughton, and Nadine Velazquez, who once made up a very famous '90s hip-hop group known as the Nasty Bitches. After a series of events, they broke up and went their separate ways, all going on to live unsatisfying lives. Fast-forward to the present day, where they're given the chance to reunite and show the world they've still got it. "It" being talent, but also a host of personal problems that have the potential to hold them back from a second chance at the limelight.
Is it good?: This is one of the better network offerings so far this fall. The writing is pretty silly, the tone is all over the place, and at times it really does feel like someone tried to clone Girls5eva and only kind of succeeded... but it's fun! The best thing about the show is the fact that three out of four of the leads are played by actual musicians, who are able to show off the fact that they're all still really good at rapping. The show shines when it lets Eve, Brandy, and Naughton do their thing when their characters have to perform, and luckily, there are quite a few of those scenes in the first episode, which seems promising. -Allison Picurro

The Best New Shows of 2021

Natasha Rothwell and Murray Bartlett, The White Lotus

Natasha Rothwell and Murray Bartlett, The White Lotus

Mario Perez/HBO