Maybe Olivia Pope needs to do some damage control for ABC, which brought back only two of the 10 shows it premiered last season. At the network’s upfront presentation on Tuesday, Kerry Washington appeared in a pre-taped clip as her character from Scandal, and offered advice to Anne Sweeney, the president of Disney/ABC Television Group, alongside Jimmy Kimmel. Discussing the problem of Dancing With the Stars, which took a ratings dip this season, Kimmel quipped, “For one thing, they’re not really stars.” There aren’t a ton of stars in ABC’s new lineup, either – but there are a whole lot of new shows. So if you can’t find something to watch between the comic-book blockbuster Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the soapy infidelity thriller Betrayal, and almost a dozen other projects, don’t go crying to Olivia. She’s already preparing to slam down the phone and tell you, “It’s handled!”
MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Genius biochemists, martial arts experts, and regular mortal nerds, prepare to program your DVRs, because the geek pedigree here is so strong, you’d need extra-thick coke-bottle glasses to read it. Executive producer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel’s The Avengers) has tapped Clark Gregg to reprise his feature film role as Agent Phil Coulson, the leader of an exclusive team of scary men in dark suits known as S.H.I.E.L.D. who investigate unexplained mysteries around the world. Other things to look forward to? Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) dislocating some kneecaps. Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) flying adorable little sci-fi miniplanes. Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) constantly marveling at some scientific creation or another. (“It’s not of this Earth!”) Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) perfecting his “I’m a very handsome man, and I don’t have time for this nonsense” smirk. And you, super-excited Marvel fan, losing your mind just a little.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND
You might need a few hits off the caterpillar’s hookah before you watch this Once Upon a Time spin-off. Executive producers and writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have recast Lewis Carroll’s classic from the perspective of a troubled Alice (Sophie Lowe) who’s staying in a mental ward, trying to prove to her doctors that the invisible cat, the red queen, the white rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow) and a charming genie (Peter Gadiot) whose bottle she rubbed aren’t just figments of her imagination. The hypercolored backdrops and hair-blowing-in-the-wind embraces between Alice and the genie feel a little too much like a bad romance novel to me, but Lowe is charming, and Once Upon a Time fans will eat this up like so many tiny “Eat me!” cakes, so what do I know?
SUPER FUN NIGHT
After Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, I’d watch Rebel Wilson in anything. Go ahead, cast her on Dance Moms or My Cat From Hell – I will still totally watch. She makes everything at least 54.3% funnier, so it’s exciting that someone finally let her have her own show. Here, she plays junior attorney Kimmie Boubier, who has kept a standing stay-inside-and-drink-in-your-pajamas date with her two best friends, Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) and Marika (Lauren Ash), every Friday night for the last 13 years. Encouraged to network by her boss (Kelen Coleman) and invited to a trendy club by a cute British attorney Richard Lovell (Kevin Bishop), she decides to take Super Fun Night out of the house, where things are bound to go terribly, horribly, accidentally-exposing-her-heart-patterned-underwear-ingly wrong. There’s so much potential here, I’m going to pretend like the trailer doesn’t have any groan-worthy jokes about Wilson’s zaftig figure. So let’s just say her clothes don’t split in half. Twice.
It’s exactly like The Wonder Years, except it takes place in the ’80s, and the dad (Jeff Garlin) sings off-key to REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and the hairspray-addict mom (Bridesmaids‘ Wendi McClendon-Covey) keeps reminding her 11-year-old son Sean (Giambrone) to “wash your bottom,” and there doesn’t seem to be much here beyond the nostalgic thrill of Alf clips and Sam Goody references and other tired ah, we were so ridiculous back then! jokes that may or may not be inspired by Buzzfeed’s 80 Totally Awesome Things From the ’80s. Okay, maybe it’s not like The Wonder Years at all.
Young wife (Malin Akerman) marries not-so-young guy (Bradley Whitford) and must make peace with his two ex-wives (Michaela Watkins and Marcia Gay Harden) and three step-children (Gianna LePera, Ryan Scott Lee, and Albert Tsai). Tsai might be the breakout star here – he’s pretty funny when he’s mouthing off to Akerman’s character, insisting, “You’re not even a real grown-up. Your car is full of garbage and shoes” – but a little kid can’t save this grown-up disaster on his own. Expect lots of ladies-bein’-all-jealous-of-other-ladies tension, creepy Oedipal humor, head-slapping look-who-burned-the-pancakes! moments, and at least one shot of Akerman grabbing her own breasts.
BACK IN THE GAME
If there’s a checklist for easy ways that a TV show can qualify as “inspirational,” this one checks most of them off. There’s a recently divorced mom (Maggie Lawson) who’s trying to make it on her own. There’s her gruff, estranged father (James Caan) who’s softening in the presence of his grandson. And there’s the fact that they’re both former athletes who’ve teamed up to coach a baseball team of athletically-challenged children. You’ve seen this way too many times before – it’s part Trouble With the Curve, part Bad News Bears – but that probably won’t stop a certain type of sports fan from tearing up whenever the little misfits win.
You could call this drama a guilty pleasure, except that there’s way more pleasure than guilt. After Sara Hadley (Hannah Ware) starts an affair with Jack McAllister (Stuart Townsend), things get a little complicated – and not just because they’re both married. Turns out, Sara’s attorney husband Drew (Chris Johnson) is prosecuting a murder case that finds Jack working as the defense attorney, and the suspect happens to be Jack’s father-in-law (James Cromwell). Judging by the trailer, which shows Drew rudely rejecting Sara’s choice of necktie (the monster!), you’re supposed to root for Sara and Jack the whole way, which means you don’t have to feel too bad about relishing every last moment of forbidden, pick-you-up-and-walk-you-to-the-bed passion or fiery if-I-can’t-have-you-I’ll-break-this-wine-bottle! drama. Now that Revenge has gotten kind of crazy, this might be the new soap to watch.
Seven gas station employees win the lottery. And that means Matt (Matt Long) can finally get his girlfriend and two kids out of his mother’s house. His ex-con brother (Stephen Louis Grush) can pay off a dangerous debt. Samira (Summer Bishil) can afford to go to Juilliard. Denise (Lorraine Bruce) can try to rebuild her marriage. Leanne (Anastasia Phillips) and Antonio (Luis Antonio Ramos) can give their kids better lives. And Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), the store’s manager, can finally retire. Easy, right? Well, I’m assuming that someone’s gonna get greedy. There’s so much set-up in the trailer, it’s hard to judge where the rest of the story will go. But if nothing else, it’s good to see The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock, Jr. back again, and still just as unwilling to suffer fools as he was before.
Happy Endings got cancelled for this? Yet another wacky comedy about young, trendy, good-looking, urbanites who “will do ridiculous things for love”? Yeah, it was written by the guys who worked on The Hangover (Scott Moore and Jon Lucas), and the idea that all the action takes place on a single night in a New York City bar feels like a slightly fresher conceit. But it’s hard to imagine that idea sustaining itself for a full season. How many conversations about the relative merits of women who wear flats can one group of guys have? And how much character development can you pack into 24 hours of pick-ups and shut-downs? One thing’s for sure: by the end of the season, the whole bar is going to be drunk.
Everyone sees dead people in this eerie drama. When eight-year-old Jacob (Landon Gimenez) wakes up alone in a Chinese rice paddy, an immigration agent (Omar Epps) takes him home to his house in Arcadia, Missouri. Jacob recognizes the elderly couple who live there (Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher) as his parents, but they insist that their son passed away 30 years ago. Still, Jacob knows details about his own death that others don’t. So the local sheriff (Matt Craven), whose wife drowned 30 years ago while trying to save Jacob, starts to investigate. Is the boy really who he says he is? And if so, will more dead people return to Arcadia? Such mysteries will be probed by writer Aaron Zelman, who has worked on Damages and The Killing, so I’m curious enough to at least check it out.
The premise is totally bananas: Brothers Clark (Steve Zahn) and Ross (Christian Slater) work in a unique agency where they solve clients’ problems using “the hard science of psychological manipulation.” And by “hard science,” Clark admits, they basically mean “Jedi mind tricks.” And by “Jedi mind tricks,” they mean faking a public altercation, forcing an insurance honcho to playing the hero by breaking up the fight, thereby convincing said honcho that he’s actually a very good person and should grant wider insurance coverage to a woman whose son has a heart condition. Wait, what? It’s okay! Just remember that Zahn is funny and don’t think about it too hard!
They’re women! And they’re killers! What more do you need to know? If you’re the type of person who still needs another reason to tune into this Sofia Vergara-produced drama, then you probably shouldn’t be watching this very silly-looking show.
Follow Melissa Maerz on Twitter: @MsMelissaMaerz