Frank's Faves: TV series debuts and returns

Frank's Faves: TV series debuts and returns

"A message came back from the great beyond: There's 57 channels and nothin' on." — Bruce Springsteen (Only 57 channels? Now those were the days!)

Outside of baseball playoffs and football season, I don't spend as much time in front of the television as I used to, so I have to pick my moments more carefully these days.

That's not easy, given the annual avalanche of fresh programming we can count on from the glut of broadcast networks, cable channels and streaming sites all competing for our viewership. The fact that I'm not currently paying for any premium channels does simplify the selection process somewhat — sorry, HBO, Starz, Netflix, et al. Your new shows for fall look intriguing, but not so much that I want to double what I'm already spending on small-screen entertainment.

Fortunately, that still leaves me with quite a few intriguing possibilities to add to my DVR series manager this fall, and others I want to make sure are still properly programmed and ready to pick up where they left me hanging last spring.

Which brings me, yet again, to two distinctly different lists of faves:


— "Star Trek: Discovery" (Sept. 24, CBS). Set 10 years before the original series and created for the eyeball network's new subscription streaming video-on-demand service, this marks the first TV reboot for the venerable sci-fi franchise in 12 years. Not sure that Gene Roddenberry's brainchild hasn't already milked every possible spin-off to infinity and beyond, but some have been pretty good, so I'm willing to give it a chance ... with one finger judicially poised over the max-warp eject button.

— "Mr. Mercedes" (Wednesdays, Audience). It's no secret I'm a longtime fan of Stephen King, although his forays into weekly TV series of late have been much like the myriad movies based on his works — somewhat hit ("Haven") and miss ("Under the Dome"). This new series, based on the first in a trilogy of murder mystery novels that has proven almost prescient of recent trends in terrorist attacks, looks to have the makings of a hit — with a super cast that includes Brendan Gleeson, Harry Treadaway and Mary-Louise Parker. It started its 10-episode run a month ago, but it's not too late to find the first handful of shows on demand and catch up in a couple evenings. So far, so worth it.

— "The Orville" (Sunday, Fox). "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane is both executive producer and starship captain in this homage to the original "Star Trek," which is supposed to alternate between broad comedy and thought-provoking drama. Having watched the pilot last Sunday, I can't say either direction has exactly taken the helm just yet, but I'm betting Seth's "broad comedy" side wins out here; what do you think?

— "Young Sheldon" (Sept. 25, CBS). The prequel to "The Big Bang Theory" revisits 1989 to show us brainy oddball Sheldon Cooper as a 9-year-old prodigy entering high school. Iain Armitage ("Big Little Lies") plays the title youngster, and Jim Parsons — the adult Sheldon — narrates. Can't say I'm a "BBT" fan, but recalling that Chris Rock's "Everyone Hates Chris" series did well with a similar, albeit lower-brow set-up, this one might be worth a look-see.

— "The Vietnam War" (Sept. 17, PBS). Pull up a comfy chair; it's another epic documentary miniseries from directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick — this one an 18-hour examination of the divisive conflict in Southeast Asia through the stories of those who were there, including both the North and South Vietnamese. Expect this to be an eye-opener.


— "Blacklist" (Sept. 27, NBC). I fell a full season behind on this anti-terrorist, government-conspiracy thriller, but thanks to the longevity of my DVR's memory, my wife and I have been enjoying playing catch-up with James Spader and his FBI associates over the past few evenings. This ethically tangled serial cloak-and-dagger hasn't lost a step — or a lead character, it appears ... yet ...

— "Gotham" (Sept. 21, Fox). This DC Comics-inspired series continues to surpass my expectations. Yes, the show, envisioning the adolescence of Bruce Wayne and the young police career of his future ally and friend, Jim Gordon, is basically a fanboy's dream. The fun is watching each successive supervillain from the Batman rogues gallery introduced and given an origin story. If you're not a Batman geek, just watching Jada Pinkett Smith chew up the scenery as resurrected underworld kingpin Fish is enough to convert you. And her character's not even out of the comic book.

— "Timeless" (Summer 2018, NBC). Three days after the network canceled this sci-fi thriller last May, it reversed itself and renewed it for 10 more episodes, and I couldn't be happier, although fans will have to wait until next summer to find out what Lucy's mother has to do with the shadowy Rittenhouse conspiracy to alter history. This time-travel series doesn't just revisit pivotal moments in history, it asks tough questions about where we would be had they happened otherwise — and whether the end really does justify the means.

— "Designated Survivor" (Sept. 27, ABC). Scarcely a pale shadow of his former self as "24" hero Jack Bauer, Keifer Sutherland has the role of bespectacled president under pressure, rather than the more familiar one of gonzo federal agent sacrificing all to save the world, and yet this political nail-biter managed to keep the tension ramped up to make a second season not just justified, but anticipated. It will be interesting to see where it goes next to keep viewers in suspense.

Topics (1):Television