Television keeps changing, but the major networks continue to embrace the idea of premiere week, trotting out a host of new and returning shows beginning in mid-September.
In terms of new series, the popular themes this season include escapism, nostalgia (in the form of reboots, movie adaptations and returning stars) and a bit of silliness. Longer reviews of several newcomers will post later, but here’s a quick breakdown of some of the rest of the week’s offerings, ranging from “promising” to “don’t bother.”
Kevin Can Wait (CBS, September 19, 8:30 p.m.)
CBS is clearly hoping that Kevin James can replicate the success he enjoyed in “The King of Queens,” so much so that they’ve scheduled his new sitcom on the same night – as if hoping that viewers won’t recognize the difference.
James’ appeal will be put to the test by this tired comedy, in which he plays a cop who’s about to retire, grappling with the customary indignities and challenges from his beautiful wife (Erinn Hayes) and three kids. CBS is introducing the show behind TV’s most popular sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” which should boost sampling. Creatively, though, the best thing to be said about this inoffensive throwback is that it’s better than “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”
The Good Place (NBC, September 19, 10 p.m.)
Kristen Bell plays a terrible person who somehow winds up in Heaven (sorry, “The Good Place”) in this whimsical sitcom, which owes a thematic debt to the 1991 Albert Brooks movie “Defending Your Life” with its wry view of the Hereafter.
It’s especially nice to see Ted Danson back in an NBC Thursday-night comedy (after a premiere that follows “The Voice”), playing the bowtie-wearing administrator and genial guide who cheerfully explains the ground rules, which include the fact that any curse words are, conveniently, automatically cleaned up. The show earns points for some of its sheer weirdness, but if it fails, as they say around the Good Place, shirt happens.
This is Us (NBC, September 20, 10 p.m.)
A rare NBC drama without “Chicago” in the title, “This is Us” dares to be soft, even sappy. The series features several parallel story lines, loosely connected (initially, anyway) by the fact the key characters share a birthday.
Frankly, there’s an indie-rock sensibility to it all that might not bode well over the long haul. On the plus side, the show has a strong cast, with Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore as a couple expecting triplets, Sterling K. Brown (fresh off “The People v O.J. Simpson”) as a man who reconnects with his long-lost father and Justin Hartley as a disgruntled TV star. Still, the breakout performance comes from Chrissy Metz as an overweight woman struggling to lose pounds and find happiness.
Speechless (ABC, September 21, 8:30 p.m.)
ABC is in its comedy wheelhouse with this show, which mixes a modest number of laughs with a lot of heart. Minnie Driver plays the fiercely protective mother of three kids, the oldest of whom (Micah Fowler) has cerebral palsy and needs someone to speak and care for him. He finds that voice in Kenneth (Cerdic Yarbrough), the school’s groundskeeper, as the rest of the family seeks to adjust to its new surroundings.
Positioned between “The Goldbergs” and “Modern Family,” “Speechless” hardly breaks any new ground. But the show has enough going for it to fit right in on a night of family comedy.
MacGyver (CBS, September 23, 8 p.m.)
More than 30 years after its premiere on ABC, “MacGyver” gets new address adjacent to another revival, “Hawaii Five-0.” CBS, however, has basically just slapped fresh paint on an old vehicle, with a series that, much like “Scorpion,” weds braininess with spy hijinks, in a light, action-oriented hour that’s breezy to the point of weightless.
Lucas Till (from the recent “X-Men” movies) assumes the title role, rigging fantastic gadgets on the fly to escape perilous situations, with the requisite crack team helping him save the world.
At one point MacGyver calls making a gizmo “DIY or die,” the most inventive line in a ho-hum revival that, despite its title character’s signature skills, clearly has no intention of reinventing the wheel – or much of anything else.