Freaks and geeks, cops and robbers, aliens and outlaws, vampires and queens, a talking rabbit and a headless horseman — you can find just about any type of character in broadcast television’s fall lineup.
The long, hot summer of reruns and reality is over and a new season begins for returning series, newbies and, yes, reality shows. The Emmy telecast on Sept. 22 signals the annual onslaught, even though a few upstarts arrived early.
Familiar faces and newcomers are cast in a potpourri of offerings, as the major networks throw concepts on the TV screen to see what sticks, proving that nothing is too weird in 2013:
*Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” for example, has Ichabod Crane coming back after a 250-year nap to fight crime and the seemingly unstoppable Headless Horseman.
*NBC’s “The Blacklist” casts James Spader as an eccentric criminal genius who mysteriously helps an attractive FBI profiler catch bad guys, recalling Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs,” but without the psychotic killer part.
*The CW’s “Originals” and NBC’s “Dracula” both give us vampires, and NBC’s version has the fanged one as an 1800s environmentalist killing off wealthy polluters.
*ABC’s “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” has Alice and a CGI White Rabbit cavorting with pirates, genies and the dark side.
*CBS’s “The Hostages” wants to be a nail-biter about the president’s surgeon (Toni Collette), who is ordered to assassinate after a rogue FBI agent (Dylan McDermott) takes her family hostage.
And those are just some of the dramas. A slew of new comedies are coming, too.
With the ever-increasing fragmentation of the audience, it’s difficult to gauge how much excitement is generated by the start-up of the traditional TV season.
For decades, September meant the end of summer and the return of college and professional football, a return to the classroom, new fall clothes, new models of cars unveiled and a new TV season full of promise. We just knew there would be at least one series we’d fall in love with.
Football is still a big deal, but the arrival of the new TV season is not what it used to be. There are so many choices out there with new series debuting throughout the year on cable networks. And many couch potatoes are opting for online streaming of television series past and present.
But the broadcast networks cling to tradition, and still nab a huge chunk of the audience, so we will see some 30 new series this fall. And there are more newcomers waiting to arrive by mid-season (January 2014).
Science fiction and fantasy are in vogue with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” getting the most buzz. It’s about five very attractive young people, with special skills but not superpowers, who are recruited to fight an evil organization. Fans of the comics that inspired this action series will at least be up on the scenario. But they also might be the first to be disappointed if it doesn’t live up to the hype.
The special effects in “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” look impressive, but will we like Alice as an action hero? The pilot of “Sleepy Hollow” was fun with a mix of humor, fractured history and horror. NBC’s “Dracula” stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as 19th-century American industrialist and bloodsucker seeking an alternative to oil — even before cars were a big deal.
The CW’s “Tomorrow People” follows another set of very attractive young people who are evolving into an advanced race of psychics, mind-readers and time travelers. Fox’s “Almost Human” is a police drama with a twist, set 35 years in the future, when human officers work alongside humanoid androids.
The CW’s “Reign” may look like a period piece, but this drama about the teen years of Mary, Queen of Scots, plays like a fantasy aimed at young women who are into the princess thing.
Not every drama is fueled by the supernatural. NBC brings back “Ironside” as a crime procedural, with Blair Underwood taking on the Raymond Burr role of a police detective in a wheelchair. ABC adds “Betrayal,” a soaper that follows a couple who start cheating on their spouses, and “Lucky 7,” a dramedy that follows seven people whose lives are changed by winning the lottery.
On the comedy front, the networks have loaded up, with NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show” looking good out of the gate. Touching and funny, it’s about a local TV personality (Fox) who returns to work after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
The rest of the lot is a mixed bag. Fox has a silly but funny comedy: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” about a screwball New York cop (Andy Samberg) and his oddball buddies.
This new crop of comedies is packed with old-timers coming back to TV. Robin Williams, who soared to fame on “Mork and Mindy,” is his wildly ad-libbing self as a crafty advertising executive in CBS’s “The Crazy Ones.” And James Caan, a former rugged film star, is the crusty old dad on ABC’s “Back in the Game,” starring Maggie Lawson as a single mom and fierce baseball coach who moves in with her father.
Oldsters Martin Mull and Peter Riegert (“Animal House”) are bickering fathers on Fox’s annoying “Dads,” with Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as their whining sons.
Another face from the past, Linda Lavin (“Alice”), is an outspoken mother to a divorced son (Sean Hayes) who is raising his teenage daughter on NBC’s comedy “Sean Saves the World.”
Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”), who turns 60 in October, plays an aging lothario on CBS’s male buddy comedy “We Are Men,” with Jerry O’Connell, Kal Penn and Chris Smith as younger leeches.
Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) is the star of “The Millers,” playing a TV reporter who takes in his recently separated mother (Margo Martindale). Beau Bridges plays his grumpy, befuddled old dad.
Once a film heartthrob, George Segal is the carefree grandpa on “The Goldbergs,” about a kid growing up in the 1980s.
Other sitcoms seeking laughs include ABC’s “Trophy Wife,” about a naïve blonde who marries an older man with two ex-wives; ABC’s “Super Fun Night,” with Aussie comic Rebel Wilson as a plus-sized single gal; and CBS’s “Welcome to the Family,” about two culturally diverse families thrown together when their teen offspring fall in love.