Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Fall’s First Television Premieres May Make You Go ‘Meh’

Four new shows launch Monday, including Young Sheldon.

  • 'Young Sheldon''Young Sheldon,' CBSYoung Sheldon. CBS. Monday, September 25, 8:30 p.m.
  • Me, Myself, and I. CBS. Monday, September 25, 9:30 p.m.
  • The Brave. NBC. Monday, September 25, 10 p.m.
  • The Good Doctor. ABC. Monday, September 25, 10 p.m.

The hell with Charles Dickens. The new fall television season is certainly not the best of times, nor is it the worst of times (mostly, anyway, though CBS' 9JKL certainly gives pause). It is, perhaps, the most mediocre of television times since The Sopranos and Sex and the City established cable TV as a programming force in which a Nielsen rating of 35 could not be reasonably mistaken for the average IQ of the viewing audience.

Nineteen new series will debut on broadcast television between now and November 2. (Well, 18; The Orville, Fox's cartoon send-up of Star Trek, somehow slipped through security a couple of weeks ago, and if you're only learning this now, count yourself lucky.) And they are nothing if not diverse.

There are American Special Forces troops in Syria (NBC's The Brave), American Special Forces troops in Liberia (CBS' Seal Team), and American Special Forces troops in America (The CW's Valor). There are remakes from the 1970s (CBS' S.W.A.T), remakes from the 1980s (The CW's Dynasty) and remakes from the 1990s (NBC's Will & Grace, less a remake than a desiccated zombie clawing its way back out of the grave, since it features the same cast). There are mutants battling a fascist military government (ABC's Marvel's Inhumans) and mutants battling a fascist civilian government (Fox's The Gifted).

What there is not is a surefire breakout hit. (Though, to be honest, my track record on picking hits is almost as bad as that of actual network programmers. When I started writing about television in 2002, I never dreamed Survivor and The Bachelor would still be with us 15 years later, or I might have stopped right then and there.) Even DVR-worthy shows were spotted less frequently than virginal Kardashians. Wading through the pilots reminded me of the 2008 fall season that followed a five-month writers' strike that resulted in a lineup pockmarked with shows like Stylista, which made me want to eat the brains of pretty people, and the remake of Knight Rider, which made me feel like my own brain was being eaten.

Why things went so badly this year, I can't tell. One argument that will doubtless be advanced is that so-called peak television—the glut of production triggered by digital services like Netflix and Hulu joining the business with broadcast and cable channels—has stretched the Hollywood talent pool too far. That doesn't make sense to me; the biggest bucks, generally speaking, are still in broadcast TV, which should ensure that it gets the top talent.

Whatever the explanation, this is the couch-potato diversion we have chosen. All that's left to us is to clench our remotes tightly in our teeth as we ride boldly and well into the jaws of video banality.

The fact that NBC's The Brave is just one of three new series about U.S. combat operations in the Islamic world is, unfortunately, probably less a marker of television's follow-the-leader mentality than a depressing reminder that we've been at war there for 16 years, through three presidencies, and seem no closer to the end of the chapter than we were at the beginning.

Of course, that wouldn't be true if these TV troopers were unleashed over there. As movies like Hacksaw Ridge have grown more gruesomely honest about the quantity and quality of battlefield deaths during wartime, TV has gone the opposite direction. The Brave guys—err, persons; gender integration of combat units is a lot further along on television than it is in the Pentagon—are all but impervious to bullets and bombs.

And because of all their high-tech toys that can look and listen though walls, in most armed encounters, they mostly have inflicted Custerian body counts before the enemy even knows they're there. Just as prospective jurors are now cautioned that real-life police forensics lag well behind those of the CSI supergeeks, we may soon have a reality-check officer installed at each military recruiting station, explaining that, well, yeah, you might get killed. Really.

Of course, we're supposed to pretend that The Brave isn't all about the bang-bang. The show's novelty element is that it's a two-pronged story, in which the knuckle-dragging Special Ops grunts (led by Under the Dome's Mike Vogel, who admittedly gives pretty good macho swagger) are under the command of a DIA deputy director (Anne Heche) and two analysts back in Washington

Series creator and producer Dean Georgaris, whose judgment in these matters must be assessed in light of his coauthorship of the lunkhead screenplay for the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, seems to think this introduces a new line of creative tension. Weigh that against the opinion of the retired CIA operations officer who, when I asked him what he thought of the Tom Clancy books featuring fearless CIA analyst Jack Ryan, laughed. "Those analysts don't do shit," he cackled.

If the superpowers of the soldiers in The Brave are predictable, those of Shaun Murphy, the young, brilliant and autistic surgeon who's the title character of ABC's The Good Doctor, are depressing—because they reflect the collective judgment broadcast television bosses that their viewers are bigoted halfwits. Netflix's Atypical manages to be entertaining and insightful by focusing on an otherwise-ordinary teenager trying to overcome the barriers of his autism to cope with ordinary teenage problems. But at the broadcast nets, it's: Sure, guys, we could have a lead character who's autistic. But only if he's a total genius, because otherwise, he's just weird.

So Murphy (played heroically well, amidst the show's chaotic melange of cliche and outright idiocy, by Freddie Highmore of the A&E series Psycho) is not just an incredible surgeon with eidetic memory of human physiology, but a medical MacGyver who can drain fluid off a dying heart with a boxcutter and a bottle of bourbon.

His enigmatic demeanor serves him well in ignoring the truly awesome array of Grey's Anatomy outtakes cascading around him, including a chief surgeon and hospital director who hate one another, a staff with the arrogance of Hitler in Paris, and residents boinking in every supply closet. ("We don't have a relationship, we have sex," as one primly corrects another.) So the Democrats are right: There is something worse than Obamacare.

Shaun Murphy, in the view of some, is not the only autistic character getting his own show on the season's opening night. Many viewers (including a number in the autistic community) suspect that his OCDishness, his tenuous grasp of sarcasm, and general lack of empathy mean that Sheldon Cooper, the nerdiest of the nerd astrophysicists on CBS' long-running hit comedy The Big Bang Theory, has Asperger's syndrome. The show's producers refuse to even discuss the subject, so there's been no definitive answer to whether he's mildly autistic or simply eccentric.

One thing everybody will be able to agree on, though, is that the 9-year-old version of Sheldon in the Big Bang spinoff Young Sheldon is not ready for prime time or even the pre-dawn hours of a public-access channel. This prequel about Sheldon's childhood in rural Texas, surrounded by an uncomprehending family and a hostile town, is hideously misconceived.

Iain Armitage, the accused bully in HBO's Big Little Lies, does his best to play a kid version of the character that Jim Parsons has carefully crafted over more than a decade on Big Bang. But it's an impossible task.

Photo Credit: 'Young Sheldon,' CBS

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

Media Contact Reprint Requests

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    They still make television? For who?

  • Rhywun||

    I'm glad I've reached the age where I don't really give a damn about episodic television anymore just as all the media companies are deciding to throw their existing customers under the bus and jump on the "streaming" bandwagon.

  • p3orion||

    Hi Jupu-
    I assume the lucrative work-from-home opportunity you're talking about is your popular "Handjobs for Hobos" webcast, right? I'm glad to hear you're earning an actual paycheck from it, especially since you used to just trade your "services" for little baggies of meth. It's nice to see you moved up while you still have most of your teeth, and are now making a living doing something you obviously enjoy!

    I'm looking forward to your next show, but please get those genital warts looked at soon; they seem to be getting worse.

  • esteve7||

    I work in IT, and the Big Bang Theory is the worst show on television. It is what non-tech people think tech-people are like. And their jokes are not funny at all.

    I have never met an IT person at work or in my industry ever mention the big bang theory.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    You're conflating science with IT. It was amusing for the first few seasons, at least until Penny cut her hair.

  • Agammamon||

    For the sort of people who still watch NCIS.

  • patskelley||

    and Criminal Minds where we all learn to understand and sympathize with motivations of the serial killer

  • Radioactive||

    Which I happen to enjoy, you privledged douchebag

  • esteve7||

    I've been a lifelong Star Trek Fan, and have watched every episode, etc. But I'm actually more looking forward to The Orville than Star Trek Discovery. Looks like one big SJW crap-fest.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    These favorite episodes chosen by the creators doesn't instill the Star Trek fan with confidence in the new product.

  • esteve7||

    Looking back at some of my favorite Star Trek Episodes, they would never be made today. These leftists completely disagree with the individualistic, judge people on their merits ability. Look at "Duet" from Deep Space 9

    Kira is staring out of a window)
    DAX: What are you looking for?
    KIRA: Answers.
    DAX: Found any yet?
    KIRA: Marritza says I don't care about the truth. That all I want is vengeance.
    DAX: Are you worried that maybe he's right?
    KIRA: All I want is to see him punished.

    DAX: Even if he is just a file clerk?
    KIRA: That's just it. I don't want him to be a file clerk. I want him to be, I don't know, something worse.
    DAX: You want him to be guilty.
    KIRA: As far as I'm concerned, if he was at Gallitep, he is guilty. They're all guilty. His punishment will let Bajor feel some satisfaction.
    DAX: It sounds like you're trying too hard to believe what you're saying. You already know if you punish him without reason, it won't mean anything. And you already know vengeance isn't enough.

    Yeah, I'm sure these SJWs would write something like this now

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The Kardassians are the Trump administration and the Bajorins are, I don't know, everyone else?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    (I've been making Keeping Up with the Cardassians jokes too long to spell that right, I guess.)

  • patskelley||

    Continue to mis-spell card-assians anyway youi feel

  • esteve7||

    basically Kira's attitude towards Cardassians (at least in the start of the episode) is how the SJW crowd sees white people.

  • Episteme||

    *grumbles something about the Prophets hanging out with black guys*

  • Rhywun||

    That site is blocked at work but I have some guesses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    No, you don't. Most are random.

  • p3orion||

    Not sure why you couldn't get through, but their favorites were "Mirror, Mirror", "City on the Edge of Forever," "Devil in the Dark," "Shore Leave," and TNG's "The Inner LIght." Not a bad list, though "Shore Leave" is a pretty weak choice.

    The good news: they didn't pick anything from Voyager or Enterprise.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    You're still a pointy eared green blooded son of a robot, Spock!

  • Rhywun||

    I only heard of "Star Trek Discovery" this week and promptly forgot about it because there's no f-----g way I'm going to pay ten bucks a month to watch it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The Orville, by the way, is indeed not good. MacFarlane is even less funny when he has to work clean.

  • esteve7||

    I've only seen the first episode, and it was so stupid I was laughing the whole time. The funny thing is that's going to embody the positive vibe of star trek more then the new star trek

  • Careless||

    You should have see. Last night's episode. So bad. And played completely straight. Two jokes in the episode and no parody elements.

  • Rhywun||

    I can only take Family Guy in small (like, 30-second) doses so this does not surprise me. Nevertheless I will check it out eventually, because sci-fi.

  • Episteme||

    The second and third episodes were actually pretty entertaining. Partly because they were more ensemble versus being so heavily MacFarlane and partly because they actually had pretty workable Star Trek plots in between the comic bits.

  • paranoid android||

    "Not good" is going way too soft. It is mystifying to me that a show could fail so hard at everything it is setting out to do.

    Like, even if you wanted to like it just because it's a carbon copy of Star Trek (to be blunt, it's a total ripoff trying to excuse itself by claiming it's an "homage"), it's copying all of the dumb campy parts of Trek. Color-coded uniforms, spaceships, replicators, holodecks, etc in spades, but plots and characters that are completely one-dimensional and hackneyed. And the jokes are just excruciating.

    There are lots of successful shows that I think are terrible but which I can understand. The appeal of the Orville to anyone is unfathomable to me.

  • esteve7||

    I can't disagree with any of that, but the viewscreen joke had be laughing out loud (where he was all the way off to one side)

  • paranoid android||

    I will say that I do really like that Adrianne Palicki, and she's very well cast, it's just a shame that her character seems to exist mostly for MacFarland to bounce tired ex-wife jokes off of. There are moments that make me think the show could be pretty good with better writing, but they're a long ways from that right now.

  • TW||

    The last two episodes were stronger because most of the focus was *NOT* on MacFarlane and Padelecki (who have no chemistry and their ex-wife shtick wore thin half-way through the pilot episode). Also not a fan of the pilot (who is just there to be an idiot) and the navigator (who is just there to be the non-white straight man for the pilot). The other characters have some potential including the doctor who I didn't care for when she was Cassidy Yates on DS9. Still it's on after Gotham and there's nothing better on that time so it could limp along through at least a full season.

  • p3orion||

    The last two episodes were "stronger" solely because they had no where to go but up. The show is just a god-awful stage for MacFarland's "humor," which seems funny in a comedy (though he may have tainted all my future perceptions of his work) but just seems sub-sophomoric against a semi-serious backdrop. I've watched all three episodes so far (well, two and change, since the third one put me to sleep) only because I've wanted to like it so much, but if this week isn't a vast and surprising improvement, I'm out.

    I have very little expectation that it will get better though. With this being such a labor of love for MacFarland, and so under his control, the one thing it most desperately needs to abandon --the overwhelming "MacFarlandism" of it-- is the one aspect least likely to be changed.

  • Baelzar||

    The reddit sub is sucking this show's wang so hard, I'm starting to think they're paid to do it.

    McFarlane should've gone full funny on this, instead it's comedy that isn't funny mixed with drama that isn't...dramatic. Worst of both worlds!

    Then I heard MacFarlane say he's going for "MASH in space." MASH had talent.

  • John C. Randolph||

    I'm not going to bother with any more episodes after the dreck I saw in the first one. I want that show to crater ASAP so that MacFarlane can get back to his day job. If he wants to do funny sci-fi, he should stick to the Family Guy Does Star Wars format.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    No mention of Black Mirror, Season 4.

  • Rhywun||

    I'm still waiting for Season 3 to come out on DVD. Come on Netflix, don't be a dick about this.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'll have to watch some trailers of this or something, 'cause the Wiki article leaves this reviewer cold.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    I'd rather just rewatch The Defenders.

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    The Iron Fist and Luke Cage are brutally boring television characters, but I do like checking out Krysten Ritter's caboose.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I miss Newhart.

  • patskelley||

    god yes.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Custerian"? Don't you mean "Crazy Horsian"?

  • Empress Trudy||

    It's as if gay retarded Hitler and My Little Pony had a baby and they taught it to fly an airliner into a skyscraper

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    This is the trip and the business we take. This is our number all my trials Lord will be remembered everything has chaaaaannnnnged....

  • patskelley||

    I've watched exactly 5 minutes of the Big Bang Theory. The sum total of all the horrid television ads promoting the show. The younger vesion seems to be a bored narcissist with such limited creative imagination he can only criticize the dumbness of everyone around him . Boy howdy, that's what I want to watch after a long day...30 minutes of put-downs and insults by a smart-ass child with the emotional capacity of a turnip.

  • Radioactive||

    Seriously, it's TV, it's supposed to suck donkey dicks!

  • Mochi234||

    Considering I just discussed this tv show with a coworker of mine who decided to go on a diatribe about how she doesn't care how competent a doctor is, if they have autism or any other disability such as being paralyzed or even missing a leg she won't let them treat her I'd say that yes the public does need to see someone with autism perform as a doctor on television. We are still bigoted and half witted, if this is how someone who is in the education system thinks about someone with autism. That all they can accomplish is potentially dressing themselves, then having a freak out and killing her...

  • CE||

    At least Gotham is back.

  • yourmumlovesit||

    "One thing everybody will be able to agree on, though, is that the 9-year-old version of Sheldon in the Big Bang spinoff Young Sheldon is not ready for prime time or even the pre-dawn hours of a public-access channel. This prequel about Sheldon's childhood in rural Texas, surrounded by an uncomprehending family and a hostile town, is hideously misconceived."

    You're an idiot... how can you hate Young Sheldon? What exactly is there to hate when it's funny, has a great cast and doesn't have any slow moments in it at all.. what a rubbish review to not even have any real reason to not liking it! You should be banned from reviewing on rotton tomatoes...

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online