This week concluded the yearly "up-fronts," where advertisers and affiliates convene in New York City so that the various networks can trot out their exciting new fall products. It brings an end to "pilot season," in which initial episodes are furiously produced and then handily judged, and kicks off the excitement for the following fall. (Even though, as we're becoming increasingly aware, the traditional notions of when shows are supposed to air and how long they're supposed to be are blurring considerably.) Out of all of the new shows – dozens and dozens of hours of freshly scripted content – we have chosen the ten shows that we find the most promising; five hour-long dramas and five sitcoms. Don't change that dial.
"Almost Human" (Fox)
Created by J.H. Wyman, whose background includes everything from the underrated Guy Ritchie riff "Keen Eddie" to work as a producer and writer on J.J. Abrams' "Fringe" (Abrams returns the favor by executive producing this), "Almost Human" has an intriguing concept that, at least based on the footage, seems to be pulled off with some lively flair. In the future, all cops are partnered with robots (you know, because it's the future). Karl Urban plays an ornery cop named Kennex (because 'x' appears in more peoples' names in the future) who lost his leg in a shoot out and had to get it replaced with a synthetic model, which makes him hate all robots. He's teamed with a "defective" model named Dorian (Michael Ealy) and wackiness ensues. Well maybe not wackiness. But Minka Kelly is also in the cast, and the appearance of any "Fright Nights Lights" alum has us just as excited as anything involving robots.
How's this for a hook – the president of the United States is going in for a life-saving surgical procedure. This leads a rogue, conspiracy-minded FBI Agent (Dylan McDermott, more "American Horror Story" season 2 than "American Horror Story" season 1) to take the surgeon's family hostage with instructions that she kill the president on the operating table. Oh and the surgeon is played by Toni Collette. The show, which also stars Tate Donovan, is one of those "limited" series (which means it only has 15 episodes and will be replaced halfway through the season by "Intelligence," about a spy with a microchip in his head). It'll be interesting to see if they can keep the intrigue going for 15 episodes -- frankly, it's hard to see how the premise will work past the pilot -- but so far we're intrigued.
Yes, there seem to be a whole lot of shows where the evil criminal mastermind turns himself in, only to be working the feds from some vague angle. And here's another one! This time it follows Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader, sans hair) who was a spy turned "Concierge of Crime." He turns himself into the FBI but demands to only speak to a plucky young agent who just graduated from the academy (Megan Boone). The pilot was directed by "The Grey" filmmaker Joe Carnahan and it looks like it could offer some thrills and chills, if only because we trust Spader to make even the most middle-of-the-road television truly weird.
Again, file this one under the "intriguing premise but is it sustainable enough for an entire season" category – a young boy (Landon Gimenez), thought to have died more than 30 years ago, returns to his parents (Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher) seemingly the same age as when he disappeared. An immigration agent (Omar Epps) investigates, but things start to get really weird when other people in their small Missouri town start experiencing similar phenomena… The show was based on the novel "The Returned" by Jason Mott and adapted for television by "The Killing" writer Aaron Zelman. The early footage has an eerie beauty to it (even if it's a little soppy) and ABC still seems to be on the hunt for "the next 'Lost'" (it's not happening), for better or worse. Again, it's hard not to think that this thing will run out of steam far too early. Still, here's hoping.
"Mind Games" (ABC)
We're looking forward to "Mind Games" if only because it's the third (and hopefully longest-running) series from Kyle Killen, who created Fox's brilliant, desperately under-watched "Lone Star" and NBC's similarly wonderful (and short-lived) "Awake." Those shows were admittedly somewhat impenetrable, hanging sky-high concepts in a dull primetime landscape. "Mind Games" looks more accessible, and honestly a little bit more fun, with a pair of brothers (Steve Zahn and Christian Slater) who run an agency where they use subliminal cues to change people's minds. (A kid in the trailer calls them "Jedi mind tricks." Sure.) While this could potentially tip over into a bland USA-style show, for now it looks like it could be the real deal. Hopefully third time's the charm for Killen.
We are (of course) also looking forward to Joss Whedon's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" (ABC) with some hesitation, along with Alfonso Cuaron's midseason J.J. Abrams collaboration "Believe" (NBC), which would be on this list were it not premiering in 2014, though if something else tanks, it might well move up, and we hold out cautious optimism for both"Dracula" (NBC) and "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" (ABC), two period productions that look like they might have some actual money behind them. (Although we're still sore at ABC for not picking up that show based on the Big Thunder Mountain Disneyland attraction.)