Superheroes and fairy tales dominated the midseason lineup at ABC’s upfront presentation, with shows like Galavant and Marvel’s Agent Carter coming soon. “We may be a terrible network,” joked Jimmy Kimmel, “but we are a great birthday party for a 6-year-old.” But for fall, ABC stuck to the basics: broad comedies, police procedurals, and Shonda Rhimes, whom ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee described as the Charles Dickens of our generation. Her latest show, How to Get Away With Murder, isn’t exactly Great Expectations, but it might be the only new ABC series worth watching. Quick takes on the others follow below.
HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER
Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) has already proven herself as the master of fun, soapy melodrama, and her latest project promises not to stray too far from what she does best: The title alone begs you to twirl your mustache when you say murrrr-durrrrrr. Slotted into ABC’s Thursday night schedule, which already includes Grey’s and Scandal, this thriller focuses on Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), a “brilliant, charismatic, and seductive” criminal law professor whose students end up using her lectures in real life when they get “entangled” in a murder plot. (Wouldn’t Entangled be a great title for a Shonda Rhimes drama about a brilliant, charismatic, seductive, murderous hairdresser?) The pretty, aspiring lawyers in Professor Keating’s orbit, played by Matt McGorry (Orange Is the New Black), Aja Naomi King (The Black Box), and Katie Findlay (The Carrie Diaries), seem to wear easily unbuttonable button-down shirts, which is a good thing, since Keating’s number one lesson seems to be “sleep with everyone you can steal evidence from.” And there are plenty of accidental walk-ins and where-to-hide-that-corpse? dilemmas in the trailer. All of this might add up to a little too much Shondadrama for one Thursday night, especially since How to Get Away With Murder should already be the title of Scandal. But Davis brings quality wherever she goes. Just watching this scene, which finds her writing the show’s ridiculously long title on the blackboard with a firm, forceful hand, you can tell that Keating is not to be messed with. Only Davis could make you believe this woman is capable of killing people, possibly by writing on them with chalk.
MANHATTAN LOVE STORY
When you hear the premise – a man and a woman go on a blind date, and viewers get to hear their internal monologues from the moment they meet – you might predict what’s coming next: He’s thinking about her boobs. But judging by this first look clip, that’s not how the relationship begins. Actually, both of them are thinking about her boobs. During ABC’s upfront presentation, Paul Lee called this a “classic romantic comedy,” but it’s actually so ridiculously old-school, it’s practically reactionary. The guy (Jake McDorman), who’s cute in an I-just-spent-nine-hours-cultivating-the-carelessly-shaggy-look way, thinks about sex 98.2 percent of the time. (The remaining 1.8 percent is devoted to wondering whether he watered his ficus plant.) And the woman (Analeigh Tipton) fantasizes about handbags, wonders whether she shaved her legs, and solves a bunch of difficult physics equations. Only kidding about that last one, but she does cry on the first date. The whole thing looks like another boring Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Mars’ Shopping Malls premise that’s been the bane of ABC for the past few years. (See also: Last Man Standing, Man Up.) And although it’s billed as a New York love story, nothing about this trailer feels geographically specific beyond the fact that the woman wants to visit the Statue of Liberty. If this was a real Manhattan love story, this couple would just make out in the bar and take separate cabs home. Is there anything funny in this trailer? Well, at least the word “ficus” made me laugh.
Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) is a New York City medical examiner who can always predict a person’s cause of death. That’s because he’s dead too. While helping detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza) solve mysteries, Henry begins to reveal details about his very long life, which apparently resets every time he passes away and comes back to life, naked, floating in a body of water. (Wait – what?) But despite the weirder details, this looks like just another Sherlock Holmes reboot, especially in this clip, where Henry inspects a dead rat and immediately figures out what killed it. “Foaming at the mouth, distended abdomen, this one died from something it ate… monkshood! Also known as aconitum variegatum.” Judd Hirsch also stops by to offer some hoary aphorisms (“You might not be able to die, but you haven’t lived!”), but despite all the ruminations on immortality, there’s nothing all that deep here. Forever does answer the question of what happens after you die, though: Apparently, you learn Latin.
Even though this single-camera comedy is semi-autobiographical, inspired by the life of showrunner Kenya Barris (The Game), the pitch is obvious: It’s a Cosby Show for the so-called post-racial generation. An upper-middle class black man (Anthony Anderson) tries to raise his children with some sense of black cultural identity, though his biracial wife (Tracee Ellis Ross), traditional dad (Laurence Fishburne), and “color-blind” sons and daughters don’t always agree on what that means. One son wants a bar mitzvah, but mostly for the presents, which leads to some uncomfortable jokes about staging an African Heritage Celebration and throwing a “bro mitzvah.” (Ugh.) There are also some jokes about field hockey and other things you’d find on Stuff White People Like. Now that even the president has a bit of Bill Cosby in him, we’re long overdue for a new Cosby Show, but the humor here is a little too tame to make any real impact. Does anyone really think that Ross might not really be black just because she eats yogurt?
Anyone who has never heard of the very funny comedian Cristela Alonzo should check out her stand-up on Comedy Central, where she recently joked about her love of whitening strips: “I asked my boyfriend if they were working, and he looked at me and said, ‘Nah, you still look Mexican.’” Here, she plays a law student who’s about to score her first big internship at a prestigious firm, though her traditional Mexican-American family doesn’t understand her ambition. But when white people mistake Cristela for a cleaning woman, it’s unclear whether it’s a joke about racism or simple self-loathing. And this unfunny clip, which finds her drinking the last beer in the house, doesn’t look any different from any other broad comedy featuring white people. Is that progress? Well, maybe. But not enough to make anyone want to watch Cristela more than an Everyone Loves Raymond rerun.
Loosely based on My Fair Lady, this goofy comedy centers on Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan), who has 263,000 followers on Twitter, Instagram, and elsewhere, but no actual friends. So she asks marketing guru Henry (John Cho) to “rebrand” her, turning her from a total narcissist into someone who cares about actual human beings. Written by Emily Kapnek and directed by Julie Anne Robinson, both of Suburgatory, it should be the perfect YA makeover fantasy, but the dialogue is cheesy (“I blew out my curls and pushed up the girls”), the rom-com tension heavy-handed (Eliza and Henry stand out in the pouring rain like they’re waiting for Nicholas Sparks to write them into a novel), and the teen-speak is eye-roll-worthy (“Totes. Coolio. Dunzo.”) Whether you watch might depend on your tolerance for people who use the word “hashtag” out loud.