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From fall's TV crop, these 10 shows deserve a look

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(AP photo)
Scott Speedman (left) and Andre Braugher star in "Last Resort," premiering Sept. 27 on ABC.

NEW YORK – You know how it goes. With the arrival of fall, a flurry of new shows descends from the five broadcast networks.

Many will be gone by next spring's thaw. A year from now, most will be faint memories, if that.

But a handful will take hold. Which? No one knows.

What can you do while you wait to find out? Sample the new crop (and take special note of the 10 recommended shows below). Then pick your favorites, tell your friends and keep your fingers crossed.

— "Ben and Kate" (Fox; premieres Sept. 25). In a nutshell: This is the funniest new comedy of the fall and an instant candidate for most charming sitcom on the air. Ben is a high-rev, up-for-anything flibbertigibbet. Kate, his younger sister, has been pressed into timidity by setbacks in life. A single mother of adorable Maddie, she is barely making ends meet as a bar manager. She's stuck and reluctant to move. How fortunate that Ben drops in to stir up his trademark brand of chaos. Meanwhile, she and Maddie are ready to help ground him a bit. This slender premise is made robust by the writing and the actors, notably Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson in the title roles, who both are irresistible in vastly different ways (he is kinetic, she is winsome), not to mention being skillful comedians. And Lucy Punch is a scene-stealer as Kate's co-worker and her sexy, screwball best friend. "Ben and Kate" strikes a wonderful balance: wacky and warmhearted, a gang you'd want to join crouched under the nearest dinner table for their regular "family meetings."

— "Emily Owens, M.D." (CW, premieres Oct. 16). This romantic drama proposes that hospital life is like a high school do-ever. At least, Denver Memorial Hospital could end up being that for Emily Owens, a former high school geek and recent medical school graduate who now is starting her internship. Maybe this new beginning will give her a chance to be the person she always meant to be. And yet her history plagues her. One of her fellow interns is a med-school crush who still turns her to jelly. Another intern is the gorgeous high school rival who shut Emily out of the cool-girls clique. But despite her bouts of klutziness and her tendency to sweat buckets when feeling stressed out, Emily is no shrinking violet. She is smart, dedicated and sensitive. As played by the appealing Mamie Gummer, Emily brings some new moves to the well-worn premise of callow-intern-confronting-the-world. Emily seems to have the goods not only to make herself into the doctor she wants to be, but also to appreciate the person she is.

— "Last Resort" (ABC, premieres Sept 27). This drama spins questions one after another in its pilot episode. Why has the commander of the U.S. ballistic missile submarine Colorado received orders to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan? Why, when the commander demands confirmation of those orders, is the submarine targeted and hit? And with the crew taking refuge on a distant tropical island, how can they discover why they've been declared U.S. traitors? Can they ever get home and clear their names? Created by Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," ''The Unit"), with Andre Braugher headlining a large cast, "Last Resort" in its first episode is a firehose of action and unsettling twists that may leave the viewer as mystified as the Colorado crew. But all the questions come accompanied with an implicit promise: Once some answers start coming to light, this show could get fascinating fast.

— "Made in Jersey" (CBS, premieres Sept. 28). With her plentiful hair and short skirts, Martina Garretti is a not-so-secret weapon in the lofty Manhattan law firm where she's just starting out. A New Jersey girl with a blue-collar background and a big Italian family, she has street smarts and empathy to help her in the courtroom and in preparing her case: Turns out she's a pretty good detective as well as a fine lawyer. This drama works nicely thanks to its aversion to stereotyping. Martina's style is different from most of her co-workers, but not a caricature. Part of that is explained by the writing, and part thanks to the spot-on performance by British actress Janet Montgomery, who stars as Martina. Granted, she takes a bit of guff at the office: "Don't worry," says one colleague as Martina faces a courtroom date — "you'll lower expectations just by walking in the room." But this isn't a fish-out-of-water tale. It's the story of a different kind of fish getting used to life in a posh aquarium.

— "The Mindy Project" (Fox, premieres Sept. 25). Maybe Dr. Mindy Lahiri is Dr. Emily Owens a few years down the line. She's a seasoned physician who shares a practice with several other doctors, but, like Emily, her private life is dizzy and her love life is a mess. The long-term appeal of this single-camera comedy will largely depend on Mindy Kaling, who, after all, is the star as well as creator-writer-producer. She comes with much goodwill from her years as a writer-performer on "The Office," and she's surrounded with able co-stars, including Chris Messina and Stephen Tobolowsky (the hey-I've-seen-that-guy-all-over-the-place actor from "Californication," ''Groundhog Day," ''Deadwood" and "Seinfeld"), who brings a spark to everything he's in. The riskiest thing about "The Mindy Project" is its effort at mixing madcap comedy (typically Mindy off the job) with serious moments (at her medical practice). But the pilot serves as an auspicious start, and Kaling is undeniably a multi-hyphenate talent. This, her new TV project, is ambitious but promising.

— "Nashville" (ABC, premieres Oct. 10). Ideally, this show can find the perfect blend of family drama, show-biz shenanigans, music performances and good, old-fashioned soap opera. Happily, the pilot episode comes close to nailing it. Of course, "Nashville" from the outset can claim one huge asset: Connie Britton. As she has demonstrated on shows as different as "Friday Night Lights" and "American Horror Story," she radiates authenticity. Here she's pitch-perfect as Rayna James, a country music superstar whose popularity in the youth-obsessed marketplace has begun to evaporate after a long reign. All too ready to seize her throne is scheming up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), about whose singing Rayna sneers, "It sounds like feral cats." But theirs isn't the only power struggle. Rayna's happy home is threatened as her husband ponders running for mayor of Nashville, a move Rayna opposes. And she's got a past lover who's back in the picture. A touch of Southern gothic melodrama adds spice to "Nashville." But mostly it's a portrait of a woman anyone can relate to and, thanks to Britton's portrayal, embrace.

— "Mob Doctor" (Fox, premieres Sept. 17). In the pilot, Dr. Grace Devlin dashes around Chicago as if Red Bull were flowing through her veins. She's a top surgeon at Roosevelt Medical Center, but in between saving lives as part of her ordinary workday, she's obligated to make house calls to Southside mobsters for their on-the-job injuries, thanks to her deal with the mafia to pay off her brother's gambling debt with on-demand medical services. It keeps her on the run. But she isn't a victim of some Faustian pact, as it first appears. The narrative potential of "Mob Doctor" emerges from the viewer's growing realization that Grace relishes her dual identity and the power she wields in this brutal, male-dominated world of organized crime. Jordana Spiro glows as the increasingly compromised physician for whom the pledge to "do no harm" could become a dim memory. How far she falls, and whether she can ultimately save herself, are questions that could hook viewers from the first week.

— "666 Park Avenue" (ABC, premieres Sept. 30). Imagine a macabre variation on "The Love Boat" as a luxury apartment house where residents arrive with desires but end up losing their souls. "What I do is fulfill needs," says Gavin Doran, the building's mysterious owner, played by Terry O'Quinn. But the deposit he charges is far steeper than your ordinary Manhattan rental, and the lease can't be broken. Gavin works in cahoots with Olivia (Vanessa Williams), his bewitching wife, who together tempt and torment their building's captive tenants. "666 Park Avenue" is the address for creepy, devilish fun — for visitors in weekly doses, that is.

— "The New Normal" (NBC, premieres Sept. 11). In a modern world where anything goes, Bryan and David are the model of stability. They are a committed, loving couple. But there's something missing from their relationship: They want a child. Fortunately, they meet Goldie, a single mother and struggling waitress who agrees to help them achieve their dream — she will carry their child — in exchange for their help in achieving hers: the financial means for her and her daughter to break from their difficult past. Starring Andrew Rannells ("Girls," ''The Book of Mormon") and Justin Bartha ("The Hangover") and created by no-holds-barred producer Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck," ''Glee," ''American Horror Story"), "The New Normal" is edgy yet life-affirming: "A family is a family, and love is love," says Goldie (Georgia Gold). And if it gets a little preachy, it's refreshing for its boldness in taking a pro-social stand with a certainty that recalls the likes of "All in the Family" 40 years ago. There's even an Archie Bunker-esque point of view voiced by Goldie's snobby, narrow-minded mother (played by Ellen Barkin), who, arguing that she is racially tolerant, declares, "When they opened that Chipotle here, I was the first of my friends to go. And that is SPANISH food!" One other thing about "The New Normal": It's funny.

— "Vegas" (CBS, premieres Sept. 25). Period dramas didn't fare well last season. "The Playboy Club" and "Pan Am" flopped miserably. Now "Vegas" returns to that same early-1960s era, a time when Las Vegas still clings to a dual identity as a cowtown and a budding gambling empire. Conflict is inevitable as Las Vegas Sheriff Ralph Lamb, a fourth-generation rancher, clashes with Vincent Savino, a Chicago gangster who is staking his claim with his glamorous casino. Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis star in this saga, which promises not only to place them at odds with each other but, occasionally, to pit them jointly against a mutual opponent. A handsome show with a fine cast and a hearty story to tell, maybe "Vegas" will succeed in selling viewers on the past and bear out that old saying, "Three's the charm."

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