By Curtis Caesar John | Shadow and Act September 16, 2013 at 1:22PM
After a summer with a mixed bag of television with a few great but mostly mediocre shows mixed with tired reality shows I and many of you are aching for a return to the new Fall network television season. Though, aching is what we may be left with after previewing some of these new shows.
Most of the previews and pilots that are now available online or on Hulu are a crude example of what the show may become or even survive as, if at all. There are only nine returning new shows from last year, yet a show like ABC’s The Neighbors co-starring Toks Olagundoye was universally panned but survived the ratings gauntlet. Meanwhile, Fox's Ben and Kate was loved by most critics, but it did not make it to the end of the season (though the BBF on the show, Echo Kellum, an actor with good comic timing is returning on NBC’s Sean Saves The World – a show that chances are will not last) . The result is that there no accurate way to determine what will work and what will not.
Before giving my breakdown of which five new shows with Black talent (even as recurring guests) have the most promise, since I was on a sojourn this summer from S&A here is my breakdown of the Black summer TV season, which mostly includes cable shows.
Hands down the 'Best New Show' of the summer, and arguably of the year, is ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. The Netlfix released prison drama about a spoiled 30-something city girl who goes to jail for 15 months after being convicted of a transporting drug money for her ex-girlfriend Alex, who is also locked up in jail with her. Orange has an array of mostly unknown Black and Latino female talent characters including transgender actor LaVerne Cox as Sophia, sad clown Danielle Brooks as the systemized (foster care, jail, etc) Taystee, the fiesty Samira Wiley as her buddy (and secret crush) Poussey, Lolita Foster as prison guard Officer Maxwell, Dascha Polanco as the Dayanara, the young Puerto Rican inmate who not only is in jail alongside her mother but also becomes pregnant with a prison guard’s baby, and Vicky Jeudy as Janae, the always angry former track star. While the most surprising performance has come from theatre actress Uzo Aduba as Suzanne aka 'Crazy Eyes' Warren, the standout on the show is co-star Michelle Hurst, one of the program’s strongest actors (alongside Kate Mulgrew who plays the manipulative Red) with one of the most tender plotlines on the show, as the no-nonsense Haitian inmate Miss Claudette . Stay tuned for more about her in a future column.
Second place for Best New Show goes to GRACELAND. The Daniel Sunjata starring drama about a house of federal agents (FBI, DEA and Customs) has more twists and turns than your normal cop procedural. Sunjata as Agent Paul Briggs is riddled with secrets and should be totally untrustworthy, yet he is able to win over his fellow agents as well as the unscrupulous people he is investigating. Although looked over earlier in the season, co-star Brandon Jay McLaren as the stoic Customs agent Dale Jakes finally received attention in a story arc highlighting his past as a failed husband and father, followed by the final one he is a longtime ally of Briggs. He is truly underrated as a actor. But the 'Best Casting' of the summer shows went to guest star Gbenga Akinnagbe as the ruthless drug lord Bello. Akinnagbe was downright scary in this role, and Graceland allotted him a lot of room to flex his range into a forbidding, even if sometimes cartoony, place.
Unfortunately the show that had even better initial casting has been an utter disappointment. Lennie James, hands down one of the best international actors on television and on the silver screen, is misused as Det. Joe Geddes on the AMC Network's LOW WINTER SUN. Continuously lying and easily suspicious, James seems unclear how to play the character and is constantly overacting. Constantly. Watching the show is a waste of time and you would be better off watching him in reruns of Jericho (2006-08) or the BBC miniseries Line of Duty, but not on this. Just as badly executed is the ABC Family show THE FOSTERS starring Sherri Saum (Sunset Beach, In Treatment) and Teri Polo (Meet The Parents) as two mothers raising a mix of biological kids, adopted kids, and foster children. I like that the show, as promised, helps broaden the definition of family but the storylines are as tired as the tough-girl-from-the-bad-part-of-town that the family takes in during the pilot episode. It is also pretty sad that while The Fosters (that is the name of the family as well, just not the show) have these house full of children that not one of them is Black or African-American like Saum. I guess no one in their town wants to adopt Black children.
Now that the summer is wrapped up, let us move onto the Fall TV season, which can also be called 'Black Cop'!
Premiering tonight is one of the shows I initially thought looked dumb, but as I saw more previews I think it may work.
SLEEPY HOLLOW stars S&A fave Nicole Beharie as Sheriff Abbie Mills, who finds Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a man who claims to have just awoken after being frozen in time for 250 years. When the town begins getting ravaged by a Headless Horseman that Crane was enlisted to track down by General George Washington, Beharie and her boss Captain Irving (Orlando Jones) enlist Crane's help to stop him. Further complicating matters, it seems that the Headless Horseman is one of the Biblical Four Horseman of the Apocalypse…so expect three other bad-azz monsters to show up. In the previews Beharie seems as confident as ever in her role, and it is refreshing to see a Black woman as one of the tough female cops that seems to be pervasive in every TV show on the air today (I know that was a good compliment mixed with a bad one, but as gender-diverse as they are trying to make some shows it now ends up feeling like a formula. Leave it to Hollywood to make something that should feel right into something that now feels forced).
Also of interest is Blair Underwood in IRONSIDE, a remake of the 1960-70's classic show of the same name that starred Raymond Burr in his biggest post-Perry Mason television show. Underwood plays Sgt. Robert Ironside, shot in the line of duty and now bound to a wheelchair, but still a tough cop now leading his select group of detectives aided by a keen perspective to see justice triumph. And the ladies still love him despite his handicap since, naturally, he is Blair Underwood. Although the show does not premiere until October 2nd at 10pm and can hopefully do well in its Wednesday night timeslot previously occupied by Chicago Fire, the pilot episode is currently available on Hulu. I did watch it, and the show is decent, but it does not really stand out yet from other procedurals on the air the way Elementary did last season. But with his second NBC show in three years (the previous being the failed The Event) hopefully it can last and compete against ABC’s Nashville, which actually has an entire different audience base.
Premiering tomorrow night on Fox is BROOKLYN NINE-NINE. Starring newly-retired Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg as a goofy detective Jake Peralta, who despite being a jokester is actually a good detective. As TV Line.com shared in a recent interview with Executives Producer/co-creator Michael Schur,"The thing that we knew from the very beginning is that he was going to solve a crime in the cold open…That was a key component in making this a real place that wasn't a parody…(For reference, Samberg joked: "My [character is] like McNulty from The Wire, but instead of drinking problems and philandering, he does stupid gags in the office.")" Terry Crews also co-stars as one of the 99th Precinct detectives and he has already proven he can do comedy with his movies and starring as dad Julius on Everybody Hates Chris for four years.
Even more significant (no offense Mr. Crews) is that Andre Braugher stars as the new precinct captain, and the positives that most reviewers highlight is his comedic timing alongside Samberg – a duo I would never have predicted. Braugher last played a cop on a regular television show in Homicide: Life on the Street, the Tom Fontana produced drama that made Braugher a star and earned him his first Emmy Award back in the 1990’s. I have never kept a secret that Andre Braugher is enthusiastically my favorite actor and Homicide my favorite cop show ever (sorry fans of The Wire). It was disappointing when his show Last Resort did not attract enough viewers to last a full season (a horrible timeslot was the main reason), as when his Men of a Certain Age, which highlighted his comedic chops, left airways the year before. That said, I feel good about Brooklyn Nine-Nine being a success. You can catch it tomorrow and every Tuesday at 8:30pm, though good luck watching its lead in DADS, which looks really bad. It will also face stiff competition from the ABC show Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD.
A spinoff of CW Network hit The Vampire Diaries, THE ORIGINALS is about the Original family of vampires how sired the entire race. If sexy vampires who can walk around during the daylight are your kind of thing, though I do not know if these ones glisten, then this is the show for you. Hunky actor Charles Michael Davis, most recently seen as Kwan Kirkland on The Game and as Dr. Jason Myers on Grey's Anatomy, co-stars as Marcel, the vampire ruler of New Orleans who was sired by moody vampire daddy Klaus (Joseph Morgan), who has come back to the N.O. to live – and from all appearances reclaim. I have not seen a full episode and so am not sure how good it will be, but its chances of lasting bode well as it will air directly after The Vampire Diaries on Thursday nights. Catch the premiere on Thursday October 3rd at 9pm on the CW Network.
The last show does not premiere until November, but as a reviewer I am still feeling the loss of good J.J. Abrams network TV science fiction since the end of Fringe last season. So I am eagerly anticipating ALMOST HUMAN. Starring Michael Ealy and Karl Urban, the show takes place on Earth in 2048 where both crime and technology have run amok, so human cops are now paired with android partners. Urban, now best known as Dr. 'Bones' McCoy from the new Star Trek movies, is the human detective John Kennex who after waking up from a 17-month coma where he lost one of his legs and his human partner in a shootout because a police android deemed them statistically unnecessary to save is naturally hesitant to be paired with a now mandatory android partner upon his return to duty. After destroying his new partner, Kennex is paired with an older model android, the DRN, or rather Dorian (played by Ealy), who unlike the newer models has 'bugs' – which means it actually can develop feelings and actually has free will.
The last of his kind, he is essentially a maverick like Kennex making them ideal partners. This the second time Ealy has played a cop in the last year, most recently with the failed USA Network show Common Law. Almost Human looks markedly better than that show and Ealy appears both forthright and sympathetic as Dorian. Watch the preview for Almost Human below.
Also check out Wendell Pierce in the new THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW (September 26th at 9 and 9:30pm on NBC) Isiah Whitlock Jr. in LUCKY 7 (premieres September 24th at 10pm on ABC), and Nonso Anozie on Dracula (Friday October 25th at 10pm on NBC).
Join me next time as I predict the Emmy winners and report in about the new TV season on the networks and cable.