Fox, Tuesdays at 8:30
One of the few appetizing comedies on the fall menu, starring Andy Samberg as a bumbling Brooklyn detective. He’s not as broad or clownish as you might expect – his performance has a trace of the gravitas he brought to his immortal role in “Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals.” It’s not a one-man show, either: There are brilliant turns from his compadres at the 99th Precinct, especially Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti. Samberg is rumpled greatness, making his cop a strange crossbreed of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and Wojo from Barney Miller.
The Michael J. Fox Show
NBC, Thursdays at 9:30
Fox could have caught up with Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties, fresh out of jail on parole and ready for some post-Bernie Madoff community service. But it was probably a shrewder move to shoot straight down the middle with this autobiographical tale of a TV star who receives a Parkinson’s diagnosis, retires to spend time with his wife and kids, then realizes he might as well head back to work. There’s no attempt to do anything too clever or edgy here – merely the heartwarming comeback of America’s all-time favorite Canadian, resuming his family-sitcom duties without letting his real-life Parkinson’s symptoms get in the way.
NBC, Mondays at 10
Even though it wasn’t James Spader’s fault he couldn’t salvage what was left of The Office after Steve Carell departed, it was still painful to see the Spade fail like that – it was like watching Don Draper screw up the Hershey’s pitch. But on The Blacklist, Spader gets to dig in and play a mysterious fugitive with plenty of dark secrets and scores to settle. He’s a rogue operative who shows up unexpectedly at FBI headquarters to turn himself in – but, naturally, there’s a catch: He agrees to work with the agency to bring down a cadre of international bad guys – his own personal blacklist. Megan Boone is that beloved cliché, the gung-ho rookie who has a lot to learn about how dirty work really gets done. And Spader’s the guy to teach her. They could have called it Stoner of Interest.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
ABC, Tuesdays at 8
Joss Whedon makes an impressively ambitious attempt at superhero TV, which hasn’t looked like a promising idea since way back when Hayden Panettiere was a pint-size prodigy on Heroes. It’s based on the astounding box-office success of the Avengers movie, with Clark Gregg reprising his role from the film as the gruff Agent Coulson, in charge of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division. He heads up his crack team of brainiacs, taking down bad guys from the Marvel universe. The production values look Hollywood-blockbuster expensive, the dialogue is that signature Whedon banter, and the only question is whether a comics adventure can still fly on the small screen. (Remember No Ordinary Family? Neither does anyone else.)
Sleepy Hollow (Fox, Mondays at 9)
You hate to accuse anyone in the TV biz of doing boatloads of awesome drugs . . . but, well, how the hell else can you explain Sleepy Hollow? The dusty old Washington Irving fable gets an admirably nutballs update when Ichabod Crane wakes up in modern-day Sleepy Hollow. Where the local cops are baffled by an ax murderer who happens to be the dastardly Headless Horseman! The whole thing makes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter look like a History Channel documentary.
NBC, Wednesdays at 10
The original Ironside was one of the weirdest Seventies cop shows, a staple of late-night reruns, with Raymond Burr as a grouchy old crime-fighter in a wheelchair. Now it’s Blair Underwood’s turn to bust perps on the wheels of steel. Years ago, Detective Ironside was felled by a criminal’s bullet – as in the original, it’s just a zany coincidence his name was already Ironside. (Or is it Ironsides? Nobody could ever keep that straight.) Not that it prevents him from fighting crime or being a Shaft-worthy sex machine, but Underwood has the charisma to give this procedural some pulp thrills.
Masters of Sex
Showtime, Sundays at 10
The Fifties sex researchers Masters and Johnson remain household names – back when Don and Megan Draper were in their honeymoon phase on Mad Men, “Masters and Johnson” was their nickname around the office. But since the dirty doctors’ actual story remains largely unknown, this is ripe territory for an edgy cable bangfest – especially with a superb cast headed by Michael Sheen as Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Doctor J. They go up against the forces of sexual clampdown like a couple of erotic revolutionaries, out to change the world one wet spot at a time. And as for the ever-brilliant Caplan, she will blind you with science.
CBS, Mondays at 10
Let’s say you’re a surgeon in Washington, D.C., and you’re scheduled to operate on the president. Except let’s also say you get kidnapped and ordered to let the POTUS bleed to death on the table. In fact, the bad guys are holding your whole family hostage until the deed is done. What’s a doc to do? That’s the dilemma Toni Collette faces in this crackerjack 24-style action romp. If this were Scandal, she could just lighten the tension by giving the POTUS a pre-op romp, but Collette has plenty of preposterous hijinks in the quintessential Jerry Bruckheimer series.
The CW, Thursdays at 9
The CW attempts its very own Game of Thrones: Mary Queen of Scots as a teenage girl, rolling her eyes at the sex, politics, corsets and back-stabbing that goes with her so-called life as a 16th-century monarch-in-training. Teen Wolf alumna Adelaide Kane is exquisitely petulant as Mary, caught up in a web of intrigue based very loosely on historical events. Reign is basically Game of Thrones meets Gossip Girl, conceived and executed with maximum cleverness. It’s never easy being a girl, especially when you’ve got a kingdom to win.
HBO, Sundays at 10:30
You might not know his face, but Stephen Merchant is one of the prime architects of modern-day cringe comedy. Along with Ricky Gervais, he gave us the original British version of The Office. Except back then Merchant was mostly hanging back behind the scenes. And to judge from Hello Ladies, he was keeping himself busy with his life’s work – trying and failing to get laid. Hello Ladies is his comic diary of sexual humiliation, with one facepalm-bait attempted-pickup scene after another. The set-ups aren’t always brilliant, but Merchant is appealingly punchable as a comic presence – tall, gangly, British to the point of self-parody. He’s like an overgrown Harry Potter trying to be Barry White.
This story is from the September 26th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.