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Fox’s new Fall 2014 Shows: First Clips, First Impressions
May 13, 2014  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments
 

Fox announced its plans Monday for the 2014-15 TV season, and beyond. Focusing on the fall 2014 announcements, the good news is that most of its new shows may be…good.

Of course, any weighty verdict will have to come after the complete new series pilots are screened for critics – but based on the extended teasers unveiled Monday at the Fox upfront to advertisers, Fox is heading into the fall with a promising roster of new scripted series… and one unscripted series that has the potential to be a major misfire. 

For fall, there is only one new sitcom, a live-action comedy, Mulaney, that, along with the returning Brooklyn Nine-Nine, invades the Fox Sunday lineup previously reserved for “Animation Domination.”

The most attention-getting of the new series is Gotham, a DC Comics spinoff set in the past, when Bruce Wayne was a young boy. Another drama series, Red Band Society, is set in a children’s hospital, and has Steven Spielberg among its executive producers. It, too, looks intriguing at first glance – as does the 10-part limited series Gracepoint, based on the imported miniseries Broadchurch.

All four of these shows look strong. The reality series Utopia, a U.S. rebranding of an international TV hit, doesn’t provide any footage yet, but the very idea of it sounds like a waste of time. This is pre-judging, pure and simple, so I won’t judge officially until I’ve seen it. But my, oh my, this could be the double-down on reality TV that pushes Fox deeper into its alarmingly active ratings sinkhole.

Largely because of annual double-digit losses in the millions of viewers watching American Idol, Fox finds itself, at the end of this current season, looking to finish in fourth place in total viewers – a place formerly held, however reluctantly, by NBC – and dropping to third place in the demographic category of young adults, an audience that Fox always has trumpeted as its primary mission.

Now it’s pushing, more than ever, a year-long look at TV development, so not all its big guns will arrive in the fall. But by scheduling Utopia twice a week in prime time, as it did for years with American Idol, which returns as a single-night series in January, Fox may be heading down a luge run of ratings pain.

That said, last fall on Fox saw a fairly successful development season. Almost Human, Dads and Enlisted didn’t make the cut for a second year, but both Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sleepy Hollow emerged as solid performers.

For fall 2014, the prognosis looks even better.

The one new comedy, Mulaney, is scheduled Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET, after Family Guy. It’s another production from the Lorne Michaels TV factory, which already controls IFC’s Portlandia and a ridiculous amount of late-night TV real estate in Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Mulaney has SNL roots, too. It stars John Mulaney, an SNL writer who co-created Bill Hader’s Stefon character, as a standup comic whose boss is played by long-time Michaels buddy, and former SNL regular, Martin Short. Also appearing, at least in the pilot presentation: current SNL cast member Nasim Pedrad.

Mulaney, in the preview clip presented by Fox, seems instantly likable – and Short, in what appears to be a 21st-century update of the Alan Brady role on The Dick Van Dyke Show, sparkles as well. Here’s what, to me, is a very solid first impression:



Clearly, the biggest gun for Fox this fall is Gotham, which presents a prequel series tied to its Batman movie franchise. The action takes place when Bruce Wayne is just a boy – a boy, remember, who’s orphaned, his parents victims of a brutal street crime.  Commissioner Gordon – the hero here, played by Ben McKenzie from Southland – is a determined young man on the Gotham police force, who pledges to catch the killer of Bruce’s parents, and thus becomes a role model of sorts for the future Caped Crusader.

Other characters include pre-costumed-villain versions of the characters who, in time, will become Catwoman, the Penguin, the Riddler and Poison Ivy. Co-stars in other roles include Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith, and the series comes from Bruno Heller, creator of CBS’s The Mentalist.

Gotham will air Mondays at 8 p.m. ET, as a lead-in to the returning Sleepy Hollow. Here’s a sample:


Another new drama is Red Band Society, scheduled for Wednesday nights at 9 ET. Octavia Spencer stars as a nurse in a children’s hospital ward in Los Angeles. The series is narrated by a boy in a coma, and it’s all about a very disparate selection of young people who are brought together, and eventually band together, because of their various illnesses. One producer, in this sales-pitch-heavy first look, reveals the high-concept pitch line that might have sold the series to Fox: “It’s The Breakfast Club in a hospital.”

But it also comes from Spielberg, which also means something. Here’s a mostly explanatory initial taste:


The final new Fox drama for fall is a 10-part limited series – or lengthy miniseries, or whatever it wants to call itself come awards season – called Gracepoint. It’s all about the murder of a boy in a peaceful small town, and stars David Tennant as an investigator who comes to town to help solve it, sometimes conflicting with the local investigator who knows the community so well.

If that sounds eerily like BBC America’s 2013 import of Broadchurch, which also starred Tennant, that’s because this is an Americanized remake, complete with one of the two original stars. (Olivia Colman, who starred opposite Tennant in Broadchurch, is replaced for Gracepoint by Anna Gunn, fresh from the brilliant Breaking Bad.)

Broadchurch was so good, the first question is, why remake it? This first taste may or may not provide the answer – but it does provide Tennant the chance to revisit his character with a different take, and even a different accent:


Last and what looks to be least, there’s a new Fox reality series, Utopia, scheduled both Tuesdays at 8 ET and Fridays at 9 ET on the Fox evening lineup. Based on a hit new show from Holland, Utopia drops 50 people into a remote location for one year, telling them to build their own society as the cameras roll. Fox calls it “a social experiment,” which is what CBS called the horrible, quickly canceled Kid Nation in 2007.

Utopia comes from producer John De Mol, whose credits include The Voice, but also include, sigh, Fear Factor and Big Brother. “The ultimate goal is to make great television,” he says in the explanatory promo below. If so, since when?

But here it is:

And that’s about it for Fox this fall. I’m intrigued by the comedy and by all three of the dramas, and not at all intrigued, in advance, by Dystopia.

Sorry, that’s Utopia.

I’m trying hard not to pre-judge… but sometimes, it’s all but impossible.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Ed Quigley
David, sorry for double posts (I can't edit my initial one) but is Gracepoint going to be an American remake of Broadchurch or its own story loosely based on Broadchurch? I ask this because Gracepoint looks very strong with an excellent cast but I have Broadchurch on my queue to watch this summer. Watch both? Thanks
May 14, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
Ed Quigley
Well, the Mulaney promo does look intriguing. Of course as we all learned from Medellin, promos don't make the show (or movie in fictional Medellin's case). Elliot Gould in what must be either a small or unfleshed out role is also a positive sign. He was great in Friends
May 14, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
 
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