1. Dads (Fox): Where to start with this so-called comedy about two men in early middle age whose fathers move home and begin making life hell for their sons? Maybe with the fact that when Veronica (Brenda Song), the capable product manager for the video game company run by a pair of doofus bros (Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green as Warner and Eli) isn't being asked to dress up in a sexy anime outfit to impress some potential Chinese investors, she's wearing nothing but see-through tops. Maybe it's the way that Vanessa Lachey, who plays Camilla, Eli's wife, vacillates back and forth between wild sex kitten and castrating shrew. Or the rampant racism spouted by David (Peter Riegert) and Crawford (Martin Mull). Green and the show's producers tried mightily to argue at the Television Critics Association press tour this summer that Dads is meant to be sending up racism and sexism, rather than reveling in it. But the way the studio audience laughs along with the rampant bigotry, rather than in horrified response to it, makes clear that even if that's what they intended, Dads is failing miserably.
2. We Are Men (CBS): There's a moment in this pilot about Carter (Christopher Nicholas Smith), a man who gets left at the altar and moves into an apartment complex where he finds a community of like-minded bros, where the camera lingers on a rear view woman in a bikini and Carter explains in voiceover: "She has nothing to do with this story, I just thought she deserved a moment." For a show about men supposedly liberating themselves from the clutches of the women who have divorced them, caught them cheating, or discouraged them from careers in high school basketball coaching, the freedom Carter and his new friends find seems awfully depressing. Tony Shaloub, who plays Frank, a much-divorced man who's settled for sleeping with very young Asian women, told me that "You see all this anger, the men's anger towards women, because I really believe that that is it's sort of misplaced. Their anger is really I believe it's anger at themselves, and that gets misdirected to their various exes and the women in their lives." I'd watch the heck out of a comedy that actually nailed that dynamic. But We Are Men, with its Asian-chicks jokes and ass shots, isn't it. Men in search of a sensitive comedy about their lives deserve better.
3. The Millers (CBS): It's not so much that this family sitcom about children who find themselves burdened with their parents when they divorce, is offensive. It's mostly that it takes Margo Martindale, a tremendously gifted actress who has nailed wildly innovative roles in shows like Justified, where she played a Kentucky crime boss, and The Americans, where her steely fortitude as Granny, a Soviet spy-handler, makes her tough enough to stand up to a beating from an enraged Kerri Russell--and reduces her to a farting grandma with a Dirty Dancing fixation. Maybe her character will smooth out, and the trials of being a newly-single woman in your sixties will get treated as something other than an excuse to mock an older woman for not having mothballed her sexuality. But right now, The Millers feels like it's trying to put on a clinic explaining why people think multi-camera sitcoms are juvenile and unserious.
4. Welcome To The Family (NBC): A clash of classes and cultures, this sitcom ponders what would happen if a Latino valedictorian (Joseph Haro) from an upwardly mobile family got his dummy party girl honey (Ella Rae Peck) pregnant just as they were finishing high school and headed off to college. The constant attempts to communicate just how airheaded Molly is lends the entire show a dislikable air. How are we supposed to care about the parents who raised her (a wholly wasted Mike O'Malley and Mary McCormack) to be self-absorbed and careless. And why, exactly, are we meant to think that ditching their college plans, getting married as teenagers, and raising a baby is supposed to be good for these kids? Throw in some Firey Latino stereotyping, and a lot of bad sex jokes, and stick a fork in this one.
5. Betrayal (ABC): I hate to say a bad word about any project that director Patty Jenkins is involved in, so let me begin by saying that the pilot for Betrayal looks very lovely indeed. But beyond that, Betrayal feels like a signal that ABC's somehow lost its way. If you want to make a sexy drama for women, you've got to do more to convince us that Sara (Hannah Ware) and Jack (Stuart Townsend) are irresistible to each other than having her give him picture framing recommendations, and writing them some dialogue about how they both like water. And ABC would do well to remember the lesson of Scandal, which is that it's nice for your female main character to have things to do, rather than simply becoming a pawn in larger games played between powerful men. Right now, Sara's pulled into a conflict between her lawyer husband and Jack's powerful father by coincidence, and the frame for the pilot shows her being bundled, seriously injured, into an ambulance. A network that constantly touts its affluence female audience should be able to do better than this.
And Five We're Waiting On
1. Super Fun Night (ABC): We badly want Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson to find her place at the center of the screen after great supporting turns in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect. But in this sitcom about a group of nerdy friends who try to expand their social lives, she beats up on her own character so hard that it's painful to watch.
2. The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC): On the plus side, there's Breaking Bad's Betsey Brandt as Annie, the sharp teacher wife of Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox), a newscaster who quit because of his Parkinson's Disease, but is considering getting back in the game. In the minus column? The show isn't actually funny through its first three episodes, and Mike's sister is a delusional social climber, while his daughter is a self-righteous nag.
3. Back In The Game (ABC): Michelle Betts stars as Terry Gannon, a single mother moving back in with her father (James Caan), who finds her place in her new community as the coach of an underdog baseball team. There's promise in Terry's partnership with a loopy, wealthy woman with a potentially gay son, but the show needs to figure out how it's going to generate storylines week to week.
4. Trophy Wife (ABC): Much funnier than its title would suggest, this sitcom from writers Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins stars Malin Ackerman as the third wife of Bradley Whitford. But instead of painting Ackerman's Kate as a gold digger, or her predecessors as shrews, it's clear that Whitford's Brad is the person with problems. And watching Kate try to be a good stepmother to teenagers long before she's ready suggests that this could develop into a charming and unconventional family comedy.
5. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC): Joss Whedon's given us plenty of terrific female characters in the past. But his latest venture in the Marvel Universe features a flatly-written hacker (Chloe Bennet), a cutesy girl scientist, and an Asian martial arts expert who almost never speaks. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will need to get stronger in its first outing if it doesn't want to feel dangerously cliche.