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Fall TV Preview 2014: The Good, the Bad & the Gotham

From ‘Batman: The Wonder Years’ to the ‘fun-cedural’ genre and Katherine Heigl superspy, this may be the craziest season yet

Fall TV

Jessica Miglio/FOX; Adam Taylor/ABC

You know how every year people complain network TV has hit the lowest of lows? That was before they gave us Selfie: The Sitcom or Katherine Heigl: Action Hero! That was before they invented the "fun-cedural." This fall is a historic boneyard for mind-blowingly bad new shows. But there are glimmers of light amid all the carnage – at least some of the terrible ones are comically terrible. The lack of fresh ideas is frightening. What does it mean that superhero comics are stealing all the TV thunder? And what does it mean that Selfie turns out to be one of the better sitcoms? Only that the networks have really hit the lowest of lows this time. Save us, Katherine Heigl.

Téa Leoni stars as Elizabeth McCord, the newly-appointed Secretary of State in 'Madame Secretary'

Craig Blankenhorn/CBS

‘Madam Secretary’

CBS Sun., 8:30 p.m. 

Téa Leoni as the secretary of state? The Veep-ish bits are 10 times better than the sappy West Wing-ish bits, but you can probably guess which predominate – especially since Leoni can't work blue on CBS. She's always had an attractive mean streak lurking in the twitch of her eyebrows, and Madam needs way more hostility, less heartwarming.

John Cho and Karen Gillan in 'Selfie'.

SELFIE - "Pilot" -- Social Media superstar Eliza Dooley has 263,000 followers who hang on to her every post, tweet and selfie. But after a workplace mishap goes viral, she quickly realizes that being "instafamous" isn't all it's cracked up to be and being friended is not the same as having actual friends. She enlists co-worker and marketing guru, Henry, to 'rebrand' her self-obsessed reputation and teach her how to connect with people in the real world, whether she 'likes' it or not, on the series premiere of "Selfie," TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30 (8:00-8:30 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eric McCandless) JOHN CHO, KAREN GILLAN

Eric McCandless/ABC

‘Selfie’

ABC Tues., 8 p.m.

It was unavoidable that this year there would be a sitcom ­titled Selfie, so let's just be grateful we avoided the Amazeballs scare of 2010. And let's be grateful Selfie is the fall's best network rom-com, which admittedly is not a heated competition. Karen Gillan is the social-­media obsessive who realizes she needs a life after she goes viral with the wrong video. Gillan is a little too close to Zooey Deschanel's New Girl human-emoji antics for comfort, but Selfie has promise – it just needs more LOLs. .

Det. Jack Larsen (L) and Lt. Beth Davis assess the threat level of victims in 'Stalker'.

Richard Cartwright/CBS

‘Stalker’

CBS Wed., 10 p.m. 

This is the kind of thing networks call a psychological thriller – I usually file it away under the category "SODL," or Stacks O' Dead Ladies. It's not my personal cup of bloodbath even when it's done well – i.e., when it involves Kevin Bacon. So it's gratifying to see it done as badly as Stalker. You don't even hit the opening credits before the first torture killing. (You're not going to believe this, but the victim? Female!) If you can buy Maggie Q as a cerebral criminal psychologist, then you'll probably buy Dylan McDermott in anything – the man with the perma-frown hasn't looked so haunted since his poignant masturbation scene in American Horror Story. Cheer up, Dylan – it'll be over quick.

(l-r) Lucy Griffiths as Liv, Matt Ryan as John Constantine

CONSTANTINE -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: (l-r) Lucy Griffiths as Liv, Matt Ryan as John Constantine -- (Photo by: Quantrell Colbert/NBC)

Quantrell Colbert/NBC

‘Constantine’

NBC Fri., Oct. 24th, 10 p.m.

Yet another DC Comics superhero franchise. Why is network TV desperately attaching its vampire fangs to the comics fan base in search of fresh blood? Maybe they've just noticed they don't know how to tell a story anymore, while comics do. Constantine is a work in progress – they're still adding cast members. (They were probably spooked by nightmares of Keanu Reeves' film version.) But the smirking Matt Ryan as the demon-hunting John Constantine adds sour humor to all the dark-arts devilry. Go in peace, Keanu, and sin no more.

Katherine Heigl in 'State of Affairs'

STATE OF AFFAIRS -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: Katherine Heigl as Charleston Tucker -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC)

Michael Parmelee/NBC

‘State of Affairs’

NBC Mon., Nov. 17th, 10 p.m. 

Don't miss State of Affairs if you're a gourmet for Truly Wretched TV – if you live for the kind of fiasco you can mention in a bar three years from now, confident none of your friends will believe this show ever happened. "Katherine Heigl is a rogue CIA agent" is the new "Geena Davis is the president." Like most CIA agents who report directly to the president, Heigl is too edgy to play by the rules – you can tell because she wears a leather jacket to the White House. Nobody gets her except President Alfre Woodard, whose mortified expression is the most believable thing here. Oh, and Heigl was once engaged to the president's son – before he got killed by terrorists! Only the gods of TV badness know how long State of Affairs will last – breathe in the magic while you can.

Dominick West and Ruth Wilson in 'The Affair'.

Dominic West as Noah and Ruth Wilson as Alison in The Affair (Pilot). - Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: TheAffair_101_1106ra1.c

Craig Blankenhorn/SHOWTIME

‘The Affair’

Showtime Sun., 10 p.m.

Dominic West, forever known as McNulty from The Wire, is a happily married public-school teacher, spending the summer on Long Island with his wife and kids. Ruth Wilson is a waitress in a local diner, a gal with a hard-luck past and a shaky marriage. She catches his eye and gets under his skin. What happens next isn't exactly a surprise – see the title – but the layered story is the smartest and saddest drama anywhere this fall. West is impressively deft as a husband who never realized how weak he is. Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney are excellent as the cuckolded partners. The Affair tells the story from multiple points of view, exposing all the nooks of heartbreak under the summer-fling surface.

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