Michael J. Fox is back on television, where he has always belonged, with his own series.
Joss Whedon is back, too. So are Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. And Sean Hayes.
Seems like old times. Which is good for the most part.
Mind you, Ironside is back, too, and we’re not sure what to make of that.
The 2013-14 TV season is upon us. A handful of shows have launched already, but the season begins in earnest this week. That adds up to 26 new series, and nearly 60 returning favorites, on the five broadcast networks.
A lot of the new shows seem immediately familiar, nostalgic even. And some of them are quite good.
We looked at it all, the excellent and the awful, to help you cut through the clutter and find the gems.
The best of what’s new
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Premieres 7 p.m. Tuesday, ABC
Joss Whedon — the brilliant mind behind Marvel’s The Avengers and, before that, Buffy the Vampire Slayer — has concocted this sort-of Avengers spinoff, which might be TV’s best new roller-coaster ride.
Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), not as dead as we believed in The Avengers, is concerned about a mysterious new scourge called the Rising Tide and assembles a select group of agents to investigate strange new threats around the globe.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. team isn’t made up of superheroes, but the members are extraordinary — and amusingly mismatched. Their first mission is to track down an ordinary man who has gained “extra-normal” powers that could have devastating consequences.
Whedon’s a master at larger-than-life, action-packed storytelling that’s also packed with laughs and surprising emotional depth. Expect the same combo here.
Additional cast: Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge
The Michael J. Fox Show
One-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Thursday (will air 8:30 p.m. Thursdays)
Michael J. Fox, one of TV’s best loved stars, left the hit sitcom Spin City in 2000, in some part because of his Parkinson’s disease. Now he’s headlining this comedy in which Parkinson’s is a large part of the premise. In fact, Parkinson’s is practically a co-star.
There’s a scene in the pilot, for example, in which fumble-thumbed Fox, as Mike Henry, mistakenly dials 911 instead of the 917 area code, prompting police to rush to his home. It’s funny because it seems like a genuine slice of what his life must have become — and it seems real because it actually happened to Fox.
In short, the show is self-deprecating without being self-pitying. His character is a cherished New York news anchor who put his career on hold to spend time with his family and focus on his health. Now, with his kids growing up and Mike getting restless, he decides to go back to work.
Additional cast: Wendell Pierce, Betsy Brandt, Conor Romero, Juliette Goglia, Jack Gore, Katie Finneran
Premieres 9 p.m. Monday, NBC
Two ingredients make this otherwise conventional action-conspiracy thriller so emminently watchable. One is the scene-stealing performance of James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a slippery super-criminal, the so-called Concierge of Crime, who inexplicably switches sides so he can give up the goods on the fellow bad guys with whom he has grievances. It’s a long “blacklist” of master criminals, international terrorists and crooked politicians, many so stealthy that our government doesn’t even know about them.
The other reason to watch is Megan Boone in a breakthrough role as rookie FBI profiler Liz Keen. She’s the agent whom Red personally has chosen to work with. He clearly has an agenda that will become clear only when he chooses to reveal it.
But for now, the good guys are cleaning up the streets.
Additional cast: Diego Klattenhoff, Harry Lennix, Ryan Eggold
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fox (premiered last week)
Seems like every office has a resident goofball like Jake Peralta. He’s the guy whose antics often get in the way of any real work being done. But without him, the workday would be unendurable.
That said, you don’t expect the office clown to be a police detective. Imagine a Marx Brother with a badge. That’s Peralta, played with an aren’t-I-hilarious?, ear-to-ear grin by Andy Samberg, who is genuinely hilarious while turning every cop-show cliche inside-out.
Peralta gets away with his inappropriate behavior because he’s also the best detective in the department. But his by-the-book new captain (Andre Braugher) expects him to toe the line. Their battle of wills in the pilot, with Jake being required to wear a necktie, had a terrific payoff: He cracked the case the next day, while wearing a tie AND a Speedo! Expect more of the same.
Additional cast: Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Stephanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti
Premieres 9 p.m. Monday, CBS
In this taut 15-episode thriller, a prominent D.C. surgeon, Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), is preparing to perform an operation on the president. The night before surgery, intruders break into her home and threaten to kill her entire family unless she deliberately botches the operation and leaves the patient dead on the table.
The bad guys are led by a rogue FBI agent (Dylan McDermott) who claims to be doing this bad thing for a good reason. He seems to have planned for every contingency except one: Ellen is a craftier, more formidable opponent than he expected. She’ll manage to buy herself and her family some time — allowing the producers to stretch this story into 15 hours — but those behind this political conspiracy won’t have infinite patience.
What can Ellen do to keep her family AND the president alive?
Additional cast: Tate Donovan, Sandrine Holt, Rhys Coiro, Billy Brown, Quinn Shephard, Mateus Ward, James Naughton
Super Fun Night
8:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC (premieres Oct. 2)
There’s a fearlessness in Rebel Wilson that makes her an unlikely winner. Because of the Aussie actress’s big frame, she’s hard to ignore. Because of her big personality, she’s impossible to dislike.
As Kimmie Boubier, an awkward young lawyer who recently got a big promotion, life is one cringe-worthy mishap after another. The pilot, for example, features not one but two humiliating wardrobe malfunctions. Yet Kimmie stays upbeat.
She and her friends Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) and Marika (Lauren Ash) are determined to step outside their comfort zone. Every Friday for them will become Super Fun Night, when they take new risks. Kimmie’s got her eye on a new guy, an English lawyer who likes “a bit of chunk.”
She also makes a “frenemy,” a beautiful (but only on the outside) lawyer. Kimmie will take some missteps along the way, but she’ll also enjoy many tiny victories.
Additional cast: Kevin Bishop, Kate Jenkinson
8 p.m. Monday, Fox (premiered last week)
Every episode is like Halloween in this paranormal/time-travel/buddy-cop/conspiracy series that reimagines Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow from top to bottom.
Ichabod Crane is no longer a timid schoolteacher, afraid of his own shadow; here, he’s a bold and handsome soldier. The Headless Horseman isn’t just a ghost of a Hessian soldier; he’s one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
And thanks to Ichabod’s Rip Van Winkle-style, 250-year nap, the drama plays out not only in 1776, but also in 2013. Crane (Tom Mison) and his modern-day police detective partner, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), quickly discover that stopping Mr. Headless is only the beginning.
He’s just one of many supernatural evils that will pose threats to Sleepy Hollow. Assisting Ichabod from the past with cryptic clues is his good-witch wife, Katrina (Katia Winter).
Additional cast: Orlando Jones
The Crazy Ones
Premieres 8 p.m. Thursday, CBS
On paper, Robin Williams, an improv-loving wild-man performer, and David E. Kelley, a control-freak writer-producer, wouldn’t seem to make good partners for a TV show. Their styles don’t mesh.
But the initial results for this workplace comedy, which marks Williams’ first regular TV series role since Mork & Mindy went off the air in 1982, are good. Williams plays an iconic advertising genius whose bizarre methods would get him fired if he weren’t the boss.
Sarah Michelle Gellar — Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the flesh, back on series TV after the 2011 misstep that was Ringer — is his daughter, business partner and polar opposite in personality. She’s focused, organized and responsible. Together, they’ll try to cook up advertising gems like in the pilot, in which they convince Kelly Clarkson to sing a McDonald’s jingle.
Additional cast: James Wolk, Hamish Linklater, Amanda Setton
The rest of what’s new
9 p.m. Sunday, ABC (premieres Sept. 29)
This softcore sex-filled soap opens with a sparks-filled first meeting between Sara (Hannah Ware), a photographer, and Jack (Stuart Townsend), an attorney, who can’t resist an inevitable adulterous affair.
Only then do they find how complicated their relationship will be: Sara’s husband, an up-and-coming district attorney, lands a high-profile murder case against the son of a powerful and shady business magnate. Jack, naturally, will be the opposing counsel.
Additional cast: Chris Johnson, Wendy Moniz, Henry Thomas, James Cromwell
7 p.m. Monday, Fox (premieres Nov. 4)
In the year 2048, a world that looks a lot like a future imagined in Blade Runner and RoboCop, police officers are partnered with highly evolved humanlike androids.
Karl Urban plays John Kennex, the grumpy human half of the detective team; Michael Ealy plays Dorian, his new android partner, one unlike all the others because he’s programmed to have unexpected emotional responses. It comes from J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman of Fringe.
Additional cast: Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook, Michael Irby, Lili Taylor
We are Men
7:30 p.m. Monday, CBS (premieres Sept. 30)
This comedy is about four single guys living in a short-term apartment complex after bad breakups, who find camaraderie after their many missteps in love.
They see themselves as a “band of brothers,” three of the guys taking newcomer Carter (Chris Smith), who recently was left at the altar, under their wings. They’re more like a band of losers, armed with a nonstop supply of bad advice when it comes to the opposite sex.
Additional cast: Tony Shalhoub, Jerry O’Connell, Kal Penn, Rebecca Breeds
Premieres 8:30 p.m. Monday, CBS
Could it be that Chuck Lorre, creator of Two and a Half Men, is atoning for the drunken debauchery that was Charlie Harper? This comedy stars Anna Faris as a newly sober mom raising two kids in a world filled with pitfalls.
Christy is a flawed individual, but she’s trying not to repeat all the mistakes her drunken, adulterous mom (Allison Janney) made raising her. She’ll need all the luck she can get.
Additional cast: Nate Corddry, Matt Jones, Sadie Calvano, Blake Garrett Rosenthal, Spencer Daniels, French Stewart
7 p.m. Tuesday, Fox (premiered last week)
This brash sitcom, co-created by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame, explores the love-hate dynamics — mostly hate — in adult father-son relationships.
Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi are lifelong best friends and mid-30s co-founders of a successful video game company. Their lives would be altogether perfect if their annoying fathers (Peter Riegert and Martin Mull, respectively) hadn’t moved in with them, cramping their styles.
Additional cast: Vanessa Lachey, Brenda Song, Tonita Castro
7 p.m. Tuesday, CW (premieres 8 p.m. Oct. 3)
This Vampire Diaries spinoff promises not to be a mere repeat of the adventures of Damon, Stefan and Elena. Set in New Orleans, it involves the Mikaelson siblings, Klaus, Elijah and Rebekah, and their efforts to rule the city they once controlled.
The old city will become a battleground of race wars: vampires vs. werewolves vs. witches vs. hybrid combos of the three, all played by impossibly good-looking 20- and 30-somethings.
Cast: Joseph Morgan, Daniel Gillies, Claire Holt, Phoebe Tonkin, Charles Michael Davis
Premieres 8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC
This agreeably nostalgic comedy is essentially a redo of The Wonder Years. But instead of the late 1960s and early ’70s, the “simpler time” is the 1980s, a decade of big hair, techno dance hits and primitive computers.
Adam (Sean Giambrone), the 11-year-old youngest of three kids, captures all the craziness with his trusty video camera. For parents, he’s got an embarrassing loudmouth dad (Jeff Garlin) and a smothering mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey).
Additional cast: George Segal, Hayley Orrantia
Premieres 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, ABC
The title character of this sitcom is played by Malin Akerman in a breakout role. She’s a 20-something party girl who fell into the arms (literally) of an older man (Bradley Whitford) at a karaoke bar and married him.
In the process, Kate gained an “insta-family”: three stepchildren and Pete’s two ex-wives. Everyone sees Kate as the embodiment of a male mid-life crisis, but she’s determined to prove herself.
Additional cast: Michaela Watkins, Natalie Morales, Ryan Lee, Bailee Madison, Albert Tsai, Marcia Gay Harden
Premieres 9 p.m. Tuesday, ABC
This ensemble drama, adapted from a hit British show, explores how wealth can bring only unhappiness. A group of seven gas station employees in Queens have pooled their lottery ticket purchases for years. When they hit a winner, their lives change — and not necessarily for the better, particularly for two blue-collar brothers with a dark secret.
Cast: Summer Bishil, Lorraine Bruce, Alex Castillo, Christine Evangelista, Stephen Louis Grush, Matt Long, Anastasia Phillips, Luis Antonio Ramos, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Back in the Game
Premieres 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC
If there had been a Bad News Bears movie sequel in which Walter Matthau’s cute daughter became the coach of the hapless kiddie-league misfits, the movie would have been a lot like what this show is. Maggie Lawson stars as the all-star softball player who becomes the coach of her son’s team.
James Caan is her cranky ex-athlete dad who couldn’t cut it as a baseball pro or as a single father.
Additional cast: Ben Koldyke, Griffin Gluck, Lenora Crichlow, J.J. Totah, Kennedy Waite, Cooper Roth, Brandon Salgado
The Tomorrow People
8 p.m. Wednesday, CW (premieres Oct. 9)
This sci-fi series — about a new race of teleporting super-human teens, the latest leap in human evolution — stars Robbie Amell, whose older cousin Stephen stars in the lead-in series, Arrow.
The so-called Tomorrow People are being hunted with extreme prejudice by a paramilitary-science group called Ultra. Amell’s character is blessed with powers exponentially beyond the rest — and thus represents their salvation.
Additional cast: Luke Mitchell, Peyton List, Aaron Yoo, Mark Pellegrino, Madeleine Mantock
9 p.m. Wednesday, NBC (premieres Oct. 2)
The original Ironside — a 1967-75 crime drama starring Raymond Burr as a San Francisco-based, wheelchair-using police detective — has been completely reimagined, with Blair Underwood as a New York-based, wheelchair-using detective.
Although a bullet shattered Ironside’s spine two years ago, the new guy is more athletic, refusing to let paralysis slow him down. This version’s also grittier — and “angst-ier.”
Additional cast: Pablo Schreiber, Spencer Grammer, Neal Bledsoe, Kenneth Choi, Brent Sexton
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
7 p.m. Thursday, ABC (premieres Oct. 10)
This is a spinoff from the already successful Once Upon a Time, this version rethinking the story of Alice in Wonderland. It’s set in Victorian England, where a grown Alice (Sophie Lowe), whose fantastic tales of Wonderland landed her in a psychiatric facility, escapes back down the rabbit hole as she searches for her lost true love, a genie.
Unlike the ongoing Once Upon a Time, beginning Season 3, this series is planned as one season and done.
Additional cast: Michael Socha, Peter Gadiot, Emma Rigby, Naveen Andrews, John Lithgow
7:30 p.m. Thursday, CBS (premieres Oct. 3)
This broad sitcom — headlined by a dream cast: Will Arnett, Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale — is about a recently divorced TV reporter who’s actually looking forward to living the singles life.
Then his forever-fighting parents, after 43 years of marriage, decide to split up and, horror of horrors, his prying mom moves in with him. His dream of a bachelor’s paradise suddenly morphs into a nightmare.
Additional cast: Jayma Mays, J.B. Smoove, Nelson Franklin, Eve Moon
Welcome to the Family
7:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC (premieres Oct. 3)
This age-old premise — two very different families brought together by an unexpected romance and, in this case, unplanned teen pregnancy — still works when the comedic conflict is played out by a group of pros.
Here, the bickering Los Angeles-based in-laws are Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormack on one side, Ricardo Chavira and Justina Machado on the other. Each of these stars has at least one TV series hit to their credit. The kids are solid in this agreeable if slight series, too.
Additional cast: Ella Rae Peck, Joseph Haro
Sean Saves the World
8 p.m. Thursday, NBC (premieres Oct. 3)
It’s hard to believe, all these years after Sean Hayes made a name for himself with a scene-stealing showcase performance in Will & Grace, that he has never been the lead of his own series. That changes now.
Hayes plays a divorced gay father who’s balancing a demanding career, offbeat employees, a mean boss, an overbearing mom and sudden responsibilities as a full-time dad (instead of the weekend variety). Can he do it?
Additional cast: Linda Lavin, Samantha Isler, Thomas Lennon, Echo Kellum
8 p.m. Thursday, CW (premieres Oct. 17)
This is perhaps the most unlikely series premise of the new season. It’s a period drama, set in 1557 France, following the teen years of Mary, Queen of Scots — but it has been retooled so that it is palatable for the young-skewing CW audience.
It follows Mary (Adelaide Kane) as she arrives at French court to be married to Prince Francis. Amazingly, life among French and Scottish royalty resembles life in high school.
Cast: Toby Regbo, Torrance Coombs, Megan Follows, Alan Van Sprang, Celina Sinden, Caitlin Stasey
9 p.m. Friday, NBC (premieres Oct. 25)
This 10-episode series has Jonathan Rhys Meyers putting his own spin on the iconic bloodsucker. In it, the infamous vampire arrives in Victorian-era London, posing as an American entrepreneur.
He has a secret agenda, of course, and it’s not just an appetite for pretty English necks. Seems Drac plans revenge on a malevolent secret society called Order of the Dragon. And his partner is Dr. Van Helsing!
Additional cast: Victoria Smurfit, Thomas Kretschmann, Jessica De Gouw, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Nonso Anozie