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Not far from the White House, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Yayoi Kusama’s blockbuster retrospective show Infinity Mirrors has been attracting insanely large crowds of people who stand in line, eager for the 20-second stretches of disorientation inside Kusama’s infinity rooms.

The rooms use facing mirrors, hanging lights and polka dots to create vistas of infinite regress. As art, it is perhaps underwhelming—an empty spectacle with no real depth. But as I stood in “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” I snapped a picture and realized it was far more compelling on my screen than in life—perfect art for the age of the selfie.

On my phone, I saw myself in a Blade Runner-like world of “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” as the lights created towering psychedelic spires surrounded by replicants of myself. It was impossible to tell which one was real—because none of them were. They were all reflections on the screen.

I felt a similar sense of vertigo a few days earlier at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding Russian active measures—or propaganda—intended to use the refracting mirrors of the Internet to disrupt our election.

“What’s hard to distinguish sometimes is: Did the Russians put it out first, or did Trump say it and the Russians amplify it?” said Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, to reporters after his testimony on Trump’s embrace of propaganda conspiracies. “He actually repeats propaganda put out by RT or Russian sources and, vice versa, they parrot him.”

Reflections reflecting reflections again and again so that nothing is true.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Russia’s propaganda strategy was designed and perfected by Vladislav Surkov, who brought postmodern theory to the Kremlin, creating and managing Russian political reality like performance art. When he was sanctioned by the United States for his role in the invasion of eastern Ukraine, which he largely orchestrated, he said he didn’t mind. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

In Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, he writes that “Surkov’s genius has been … to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose.”

Pomerantsev says that Surkov turned Russian politics into a reality show.

Then, as if in a new kind of arms race, we elected a real reality-show star as president.


I wrote that just before I heard that Trump had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airbase after pictures of gassed children in that country changed the president’s mind about intervention. He explained the strike to the nation in a statement recorded at his country club.

Our country is making one of the most serious decisions possible, and yet, locked in our mirror rooms of constant conspiracy, we have no way to know what is actually happening. We don’t know whether Trump is trying to show that he is independent of the Kremlin, or whether this is another one of Putin’s ploys as he manipulates Trump. Trump himself has told us not to trust the intelligence community, and no one has any reason to trust Trump.

In “Without Sky,” a pseudonymous short story generally attributed to Surkov and set after the “fifth world war,” he describes the “the first non-linear war,” a war “of all against all.”

“A few provinces would join one side,” he writes. “A few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part.”

This sounds precisely like the situation we are getting into—Assad, ISIS, Russia, American-backed rebels, Iran, and now Trump’s Tomahawks. All sides shifting. Regardless of the aims of this attack, the spectacle and confusion are good for Trump and Putin. And bad for the Syrian people who will continue to die. Those who escape will be denied entry into the U.S. as refugees.

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” NBC’s noted fabulist Brian Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

Surkov couldn’t have scripted it better. It is so disorienting, but it all feels somehow familiar.

I was 18 the night we went into the Gulf War in 1991. Those missile launches were prompted in part by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, which collaborated with one of the chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to present fabricated testimony to the caucus about atrocities committed by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait. But we were all mesmerized by the night-vision green missiles flying through doors.

In 2003, we went back to Iraq on the basis of another massive PR campaign.

Perhaps the best way now to know if something is propaganda is when they say it is not. Marco Rubio—who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the way—went on CNN to praise Trump and call the attack “an important decisive step ... not a message.”

But a step toward what? Do we want to take out Assad? At this moment, nobody knows. But people are lining up behind Trump. He will realize war, the ultimate image enhancer, is good for him.

“Trump became president of the United States (last night),” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said the next morning.

It’s like we’re all trapped in one of Kusama’s infinity rooms, waiting for the missile to burst through the door. But we don’t know where the door is. We have lost all orientation.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in National/International

Parenthood (Thursday, Sept. 25, NBC), season premiere: As in, final season, Parentheads—you have 13 episodes to make peace with the impending departure of the Braverman family. To make matters worse, the show’s producers have hinted that one of the characters won’t live to see the tearful series finale that will undoubtedly be set to classic soft-rock hits, and the candidates are obvious: Kristina (cancer—in remission, but still, cancer) or Zeek (old; spent last season mad bucket-listing; longs to be reunited with his ponytail in heaven). The Only TV Column That Matters™ is holding out hope that it’ll be Max (annoying, one-note character) or Hank (annoying, is Ray Romano), however.

How to Get Away With Murder (Thursday, Sept. 25, ABC), series debut: With Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and now this, the Shonda Rhimes takeover of Thursday nights is complete, leaving How to Get Away With Murder star Viola Davis (playing a morally ambiguous, far-too-well-dressed college professor who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery with her law students) to chew scenery with impunity. Also, there’s a character named Bonnie Winterbottom. No more witnesses!

Family Guy (Sunday, Sept. 28, Fox), one-hour season premiere: Brian: “Guess we’re in a town called Springfield.” Stewie: “Springfield, eh? What state?” Brian: “I can’t imagine we’re allowed to say.” Thus begins a full crossover hour of inside jokes about Family Guy being a rip-off of The Simpsons, Peter’s non-sequitur habit, Springfield’s “hepatitis”-skinned citizens, the inevitable extended fight sequence, and even a nod to Bob’s Burgers and the late Cleveland Show as ’toon hangers-on. If you’re not convinced Family Guy can still bring the funny 13 seasons in, just wait until Mulaney shows up next Sunday.

Selfie (Tuesday, Sept. 30, ABC), series debut: Ex-Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan is a little too good as a social-media-obsessed airhead who suddenly realizes that her thousands of “friends” aren’t real friends; viewers will probably be tuning out after five minutes of her overly affected hashtag-speak. Too bad, because this roundabout My Fair Lady/Pygmalion riff turns sweet, funny and—sorry—educational once co-star John Cho begins schooling her Eliza Dooley (yes, really) on how to interact with Real People in Real Life. Selfie may be a more obvious movie than a series, but Gillan and Cho have the chemistry to give it legs … if only it could be under a different title.

Manhattan Love Story (Tuesday, Sept. 30, ABC), series debut: Speaking of names, Manhattan Love Story could be the worst title of the year—and this is a season that also includes Black-ish and Jane the Virgin. All you need to know about MLS: Analeigh Tipton is a-dor-a-ble; the she-thought/he-thought dating conceit works far better than you’d think; did I mention that Analeigh Tipton is adorable? Give this one a chance; not to plan your Tuesdays, romantics, but Selfie and Manhattan Love Story into Fox’s New Girl and The Mindy Project would make for a solid evening on the couch.

Stalker (Wednesday, Oct. 1, ABC), series debut: It’s difficult to say who’s working harder on Stalker: Dylan McDermott, acting his ass off to prove that he’s a brilliant Noo Yawk detective, or the special-effects crew toiling to give co-star Maggie Q cleavage. Both fall ... flat. As the title suggests, this series is about a threat-assessment unit of the LAPD that works stalker cases, but it’s just another under-lit clone from the CBS Cop Show Replicator 3000®. Maggie Q deserves better; McDermott, not so much.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR SEPT. 30!

24: Live Another Day

Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) grimaces back into action to save the U.S. president (William Devane) from assassination in London—fortunately, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and her new hair just happen to be in the area. Also, not 24 hours long. (Fox)

Are You Here

A TV weatherman (Owen Wilson) helps his shlubby bud (Zach Galifianakis, of course) protect a fat inheritance from his crazy sister (Amy Poehler) and his late father’s young widow (Laura Ramsey). Prepare to feel all the indie feels. (Millennium)

Space Station 76

Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer and Jerry O’Connell star in a … parody? tribute? … to ’70s sci-fi movies replete with big hair, bell-bottom jumpsuits and pretty much zero plot—but at least it looks cool. Wiki Space: 1999, kids. (Sony)

Transformers: Age of Extinction

“Inventor” Mark Wahlberg and the “Twansfomahs” are gonna save the world, you guys! Clang! Crunch! Clang! Crunch! Clang! Crunch! Clang! Crunch! Clang! Crunch! Clang! Crunch! Clang! Crunch! And we’re done. (Paramount)

More New DVD/VOD Releases (Sept. 30)

Chef, Cold In July, Decoding Annie Parker, Delivery: The Beast Within, Hellion, Lucky Them, The Mentalist: Season 6, Mike and Molly: Season 4, My Little Pony: The Compete Series, NYPD Blue: Season 7, Team Hot Wheels: The Origin of Awesome!, Third Person.

Published in TV

COMIC BOOK AND FANTASY ACTION

Gotham (Fox, premieres Monday, Sept. 22)

The “Garfield Minus Garfield” jokes regarding Gotham’s “Batman Minus Batman” origin story are valid, as is the observation that it’s just a highly-stylized cop show with the occasional glimpse of a future villain. (“Hey, look, the Penguin! And there’s Poison Ivy!”) However, a highly stylized cop show is better than a no-style cop show—as you’ll see soon—and Gotham, centered around detectives James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), sports this season’s priciest-looking pilot: The police station looks like the ’40s; the cars look like the ’70s; and you never see a cell phone or computer, but there are satellite dishes on the rooftops. Gotham occupies no time period, you see, and of all the excellent performances (McKenzie is as stoic and solid as Logue is manic and morally fluid), the most surprising of all is Jada Pinkett Smith’s as Gotham crime boss Fish Mooney—any show that can make her likable (as a villain with a ridiculous name, no less) is onto something.

The Flash (The CW, premieres Tuesday, Oct. 7)

In other DC Comics news, The Flash is poised to become this year’s Insta-Hit, a spin-off of Arrow that retains all of that series’ superhero soapiness and turns up the brightness several notches. The Flash, about Central City CSI investigator-turned-Fastest Man Alive Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), has more in common with the early years of Smallville than the dark ’n’ growly Arrow; even though there’s some darkness in his past, nerdy Barry is having far more fun here than broody stud-boy Oliver Queen is back in Starling City. The special effects are on the right side of budget camp, and the show’s comic-book-true vision is immediately clear. Unlike, say …

Constantine (NBC, premieres Friday, Oct. 24)

In other-other DC Comics news, turns out most of the advance complaining about Hellblazer adaptation Constantine was spot-on: This show probably can’t be done on network TV—but what NBC has come up with isn’t a total loss. First of all, Matt Ryan is markedly better than Keanu Reeves was in the 2005 Constantine movie, injecting the right amount of seething swagger into the titular demon hunter—he’s Gordon Ramsay, literally in hell’s kitchen. And … that’s about it. The occasionally impressive effects don’t mask the fact that potentially excellent support players like Lucy Griffiths (who’s outta here after the first episode, anyway—smart move) and Harold Perrineau have nothing to do, and there’s So. Much. Exposition. that NBC could saved everyone a headache by just mass-mailing Hellblazer comics to fans of Grimm, Constantine’s lead-in and target audience. First cancellation of the season—I’m calling it right here.

Forever (ABC, premieres Monday, Sept. 22)

Ioan Gruffud (Fantastic Four) plays a New York City medical examiner who knows everything—literally, because he’s been alive for 200 years. When he teams up with plucky, equally pretty NYPD detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza), there’s no crime they can’t solve … if Castle or Elementary haven’t already closed it. Gruffud and de la Garza make a passable, vanilla-latte version of Castle/Beckett and Holmes/Watson, but it won’t matter: Forever is a far-too-optimistic title for an ABC series airing normally on Tuesdays.

Jane the Virgin (The CW, premieres, Monday, Oct. 13)

Accidental artificial insemination? Let’s say it’s a thing. During a routine checkup, engaged 23-year-old virgin Jane (Gina Rodriguez), is inadvertently inseminated with a sample meant for another patient—making matters even worse, the sample is from her handsome boss at the hotel where she works! How will she explain this to her family? Her fiancé? The idiotic Christian groups who think Jane the Virgin is a show about abortion? Of course she’s going to keep the baby—this is The CW, not Cinemax. If you loved Ugly Betty back in the day, but thought it never went telenovela hard enough, Jane is for you, and Rodriguez will be America’s new mid-level TV sweetheart. Oh, and congratulations on all of the free advance publicity from the aforementioned idiotic Christian groups, CW.


COMEDY ONSLAUGHT

Red Band Society (Fox, premieres Wednesday, Sept. 17)

A dramedy with all of the snarky teen attitude of Glee and none of the musical numbers, Red Band Society (a title that beat out Sadder Childrens Hospital and Kancer Kidz!) is the only real chance Fox is taking this season besides Gotham—the exec who greenlighted Sleepy Hollow, Almost Human and anything else remotely weird last year is waaay fired. Like the kids on early Glee, the young cancer-ward residents are all fresh-faced newbies spouting rapid-fire pop-cultural zingers, leavened with gallows humor and grounded by older actors of note (Octavia Spencer and Dave Annable as hospital staff) who only come out of the background as needed. And the show’s narrator is a child in a coma, so “deal with it” (even Coma Kid has ’tude). So, are we supposed to get attached? Ask Walter White—we had him around for five seasons.

Black-ish (ABC, premieres Wednesday, Sept. 24)

For a new series airing after the whitest show on television, Modern Family, Black-ish sure does bring up some Bernie Mac Show memories—how did this happen? And how does it lead into Nashville? Anthony Anderson stars as a family man with a corporate PR job and a sweet suburban spread, but he’s becoming more and more aware (via narration, this season’s hot trend, along with the Chubby Bearded Bud) of his clan’s disassociation with black culture; the casual disapproval of his live-in dad Pops (Laurence Fishburne) only exacerbates his anxiety. For a seemingly one-note premise, Black-ish delivers as many laughs in its debut episode as its more-established sitcom neighbors—this is either what The Boondocks railed against, or really wanted, all along.

Selfie (ABC, premieres Tuesday, Sept. 30)

Ex-Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan is a little too good as a social-media-obsessed airhead who suddenly realizes that her thousands of “friends” aren’t real friends—viewers will probably be tuning out after five minutes of her overly-affected hashtag-speak. Too bad, because this roundabout My Fair Lady/Pygmalion riff turns sweet, funny and—uh oh—educational once co-star John Cho begins schooling her Eliza Dooley (yes, really) on how to interact with Real People in Real Life. In turn, she teaches his Henry Higenbottam (the hits keep coming) how to lighten up and have a little fun. Selfie may be a more obvious movie than a series, but Gillan and Cho have the chemistry to build it into something longer-lasting. With a different name—seriously, Selfie #sucks.

Manhattan Love Story (ABC, premieres Tuesday, Sept. 30)

On the name front, Manhattan Love Story could be the worst title of the year—and this is a season that includes Selfie, Black-ish and Jane the Virgin. All you need to know about MLS: Analeigh Tipton is A—Dor—A—Ble; the she-thought/he-thought dating conceit works to far better comedic effect than you’d think; did I mention that Analeigh Tipton is adorable? Give this one a chance, and not to plan your Tuesdays, romantics, but Selfie and Manhattan Love Story into Fox’s New Girl and The Mindy Project (or, less likely, NBC’s Marry Me and About a Boy) would make for a solid evening.

Mulaney (Fox, premieres Sunday, Oct. 5)

Daaammmnnn. Maybe it’s all the “new Seinfeld” comparisons being thrown around, presumably by someone paid by Fox to do so, but Mulaney is an even bigger disappointment than present-day rich-asshole Jerry Seinfeld showing up at your kid’s birthday party for a standup set. (“Nice Hot Wheels—check out my Porsche, ya little shit.”) Comic/writer John Mulaney plays an unnervingly stiff version of himself, a struggling New York comic working for a comedy-legend-turned-game-show-host (Martin Short) and living with a couple of wacky roommates (Totally Biased’s Seaton Smith and Saturday Night Live’s Nasim Pedrad). They then throw in a random gay-geezer neighbor (Elliot Gould), because why not? That’s a whole lotta talent working overtime to produce no laughs whatsoever—except from the … ugh … laugh track. Besides Fox, who’ve already ordered damned near a full season of this trainwreck (Dads 2.0!), everyone involved seems to be thinking “Is this going on TV? For real?” Unfortunately, yes.

A to Z (NBC, premieres Thursday, Oct. 2)

Remember the Mother from How I Met Your Mother? Who was pursued for years as The Girl, only to be killed off in favor of The Other Girl in the end? Jennifer Love Hewitt action figure Cristin Milioti is back in A to Z, starring opposite Ben Feldman (Mad Men—Ginsberg!) in a romantic comedy that should be insufferable, but actually works in spite of itself. Andrew’s a romantic; Zelda’s a pragmatist; and when they meet due to an Internet-dating website glitch (a site which Andrew works for, in the office building adjacent to Zelda’s—see how this is going already?), undeniable sparks fly. A to Z is unapologetically fluffy, but it’s probably due for a longer life on NBC than …

Bad Judge (NBC, premieres Thursday, Oct. 2)

You’re thinking “Bad Teacher as a judge,” and you’re mostly right—except that Rebecca Wright (Kate Walsh) is a smart, respected criminal court judge by day who just happens to party like 10 animals and play drums in a rock band with her BFF (Arden Myrin) by night. Walsh has always had a wicked comic streak, and Bad Judge would have finally been a killer vehicle for it—on FX or Showtime. On NBC, it’s just a bed-headed, half-dressed lead-in for the sweeter A to Z and Parenthood. I know I’m in, but I’ll be one of the few who watches until it’s canceled by the end of October.

Marry Me (NBC, premieres Tuesday, Oct. 14)

If you’re a fan of Happy Endings, Burning Love, Wet Hot American Summer, Childrens Hospital and all the other comedies in which Casey Wilson and/or Ken Marino have starred, you’re really, really, really going to want to like Marry Me. Unfortunately, their collective manic energy initially overpowers what’s supposed to be a sweet li’l rom-com about a couple seemingly doomed to never propose at the right time. Then again, Happy Endings (which was helmed by the same guy behind Marry Me) didn’t click right away, so this could still work out over the long haul—good thing Marry Me isn’t airing against New Girl. Oh, it is? Never mind.

Cristela (ABC, premieres Friday, Oct. 10)

Says here Cristela Alonzo is a “breakout star.” If that means she’s breaking out of the TV screen, grabbing you by the neck and screeching, “Laugh at my plight of being a modern Latina dealing with racism, sexism and following Tim Allen on a Friday night!!!”, then, yeah, because that’s pretty much the entire show.

The McCarthys (CBS, premieres Thursday, Oct. 30)

A fat, loudmouthed, sports-obsessed Bah-ston family has a gay son—and, it’s a go for borderline homophobic comedy! Or borderline comedy, period. Even sadder then the continued use of the laugh track (yes, there’s only one—the shows share it) in 2014 is the abject laziness in the writing, staging and execution of The McCarthys: It’s like a CBS programmer found a cheap ’80s pilot in the closet, dusted it off, and said, “Here, just jam this into Thursday night so we can hit happy hour and blow some of that Big Bang money!”


CRIME, COPS AND FEDS

The Mysteries of Laura (NBC, premieres Wednesday, Sept. 17)

There are actually two shows here: One in which a surprisingly-effective Debra Messing plays a wisecracking, been-there-done-that NYPD detective who wouldn’t be out of place on Brooklyn Nine-Nine or even Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (you do need a new Munch, SVU—just sayin’), and another in which she’s a harried single-ish mom to awful, awful twins. Call me when they dump the brats.

Scorpion (CBS, premieres Monday, Sept. 22)

Seems like we’re a year or two overdue for a Nerds Assist the Feds procedural, but here’s Scorpion, wherein three good-looking “outcasts” and one token fat guy in glasses clack keyboards, drop sci-fi references and run wires to fight The Terrorists. Working for squinty fed Robert Patrick, the Scorpion—or, as it will never, ever be used, </scorpion> … yep—team are “brilliant misfits who comprise the last line of defense against complex, high-tech threats of the modern age.” But wait, it gets stoopider: The team insists on adding their favorite local waitress (Katharine McPhee, whose acting has somehow gotten worse since Smash) to the payroll because, as the single mother of a budding genius, they can “translate” him for her, and she can “translate” the non-nerd world for them. </blech>

NCIS: New Orleans (CBS, premieres Tuesday, Sept. 23)

Any need to spell this one out? Scott Bakula is the Aw-Shucks Silver-Maned Leader; Lucas Black is the Leather-Jacketed Wild Card; Zoe McLellan is the Sensible Female Presence, and CCH Pounder is the Quirky Science Lady; they investigate military crimes in New Orleans. Don’t worry; your town will eventually get its own franchise … were we talking about NCIS or Popeye’s?

How to Get Away With Murder (ABC, premieres Thursday, Sept. 25)

The Shonda Rhimes takeover of Thursday nights is complete, leaving How to Get Away With Murder star Viola Davis (playing a morally ambiguous, far-too-well-dressed college professor who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery with her law students) to chew scenery with impunity. Also, there’s a character named Bonnie Winterbottom. No more witnesses!

Stalker (CBS, premieres Wednesday, Oct. 1)

It’s difficult to say who’s working harder on Stalker: Dylan McDermott, acting his ass off to prove that he’s a brilliant detective with every right to be the cocky prick with perfect stubble he is, or the special-effects crew toiling to give co-star Maggie Q cleavage. Both fall … flat. As the title suggests, this series is about a threat-assessment unit of the LAPD that works stalker cases, but it’s just another under-lit clone from the CBS Cop Show Replicator 3000®. Maggie should be free from those torture devices in 13 episodes, if that.

Gracepoint (Fox, premieres Thursday, Oct. 2)

It’s like no one’s even trying with the show titles this season—Gracepoint? Could be a condo development, a Toyota hybrid, a Cialis product, who knows? In this case, it’s an American remake of the British crime-mystery series Broadchurch, with the rare convenience of having both the original star (David Tennant—you know, one of those Doctor Whos) and show creator/producer onboard. But it’s still just a cop procedural, and not even Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) as Tennant’s partner can distract from the fact that Gracepoint is a dour trudge that’s as dull as its name. And Dour Trudge was my favorite Downton Abbey character, too.


POLITICAL UNREST

Madam Secretary (CBS, premieres Sunday, Sept. 21)

When the secretary of state is killed in a plane crash, Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni), who quit the CIA years ago over “ethical issues,” is suddenly yanked out of her college-professor gig to replace him … because that happens. Once past the shaky setup, however, Madam Secretary kicks into full-tilt West Wing mode of establishing Government as We Wish It Were Run with McCord’s zero-tolerance policy for bureaucratic bullshit and useless protocol (though it is funny to see her balk at having an appointed stylist, as she looks like she has one of her own on retainer). Madam Secretary is as solid a political drama as network TV has seen in years, and handled right, could be Leoni’s The Good Wife moment—don’t blow it, CBS.

State of Affairs (NBC, premieres Monday, Nov. 17)

Katherine Heigl was great in Grey’s Anatomy, and then Knocked Up—so let’s pretend she joined the Peace Corps in 2007 and is just now returning to acting, OK? In State of Affairs, she plays a CIA analyst/adviser with a special relationship with the president (Alfre Woodard)—no, not like that: She was engaged to POTUS’ son before he was killed in a terrorist attack (as depicted in the pilot’s intense, straight-outta-Zero Dark Thirty cold opening). Now, she drowns her pain in booze and random hookups by night, and helps set foreign policy by day. Of course, this couldn’t be just a straight-up political drama (right, Tea?), so there’s some Blacklist-y conspiratorial intrigue about the fiancé not being what he seemed/seems. Upside: Heigl has better hair than Lizzy from The Blacklist, and a less-scary cryface than Carrie from Homeland.


MIDSEASON SERIES

You may see some of these in 2015—if not sooner. Or never.

American Crime (ABC, drama): Sure to still be timely in 2015, American Crime follows the toll taken on those affected by a racially motivated crime and trial. If TV audiences are clamoring for anything, it’s to be lectured on race and class politics every week.

The Astronaut Wives Club (ABC, drama): From the book of the same name, the true-ish story of the ’60s women behind the men who went into space, back when ’Merica did that. The series was supposed to debut in July, but was pushed to 2015. Not a good sign.

Fresh Off the Boat (ABC, comedy): A ’90s coming-of-age tale about a young Asian-American boy and his family moving from Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown to Orlando, Fla.—a trip that requires no boat, but whatever.

Galavant (ABC, comedy): A “musical fairytale comedy” (!) about a knight’s quest to rescue his true love from the clutches of an evil king. Think Men in Tights meets Game of Thrones meets ABC hopes everyone will have forgotten about The Quest by 2015.

Marvel’s Agent Carter (ABC, drama): In this 1946-set spin-off of Captain America, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes on spy missions for Stark Industries, because she’s a skilled, capable woman (yay), and she needs a distraction from pining over Cap (boo). Unlike S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter only has eight episodes to get it right.

Members Only (ABC, drama): Get ready to fall in indifference with the Holbrooke family, a wealthy clan of beautiful people whose lives aren’t as perfect as they seem—being rich and living at the country club is hard, you guys.

Secrets and Lies (ABC, drama): A cat-and-mouse mystery thriller pitting a possibly innocent family man (Ryan Phillippe) against a determined homicide detective (Julliette Lewis) in what sounds like a direct-to-VHS (look it up) potboiler from the ’90s.

The Whispers (ABC, drama): A sci-fi epic (starring American Horror Story’s Lily Rabe) about an alien invasion targeting Earth’s children, because executive producer Steven Spielberg apparently forgot that he’s already done that with Falling Skies.

Battle Creek (CBS, drama): Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan created Battle Creek more than a decade ago, and it’s finally being produced for a network—too bad it should be on cable. Dean Winters (Law and Order: SVU, Rescue Me) and Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas) star as mismatched cop partners in a bankrupt Michigan city, and it’s way too dark-humored and subversive for CBS. If it ever makes the schedule, watch it hard.

CSI: Cyber (CBS, drama):This is more like it for CBS: an IT version of CSI, starring network vets Patricia Arquette and Peter MacNicol. Tell your parents about it the next time you have to reset their wireless router again.

The Odd Couple (CBS, comedy): Oscar (Matthew Perry) is a slob; Felix (Thomas Lennon) is a neat freak. See, kids, in the ’70s, this is all the plot you needed to pitch a sitcom.

Zoo (CBS, drama): Remember that reality show When Animals Attack? Now it’s a sci-fi drama, based on the James Patterson novel about the world’s animal life finally turning on mankind. Pick a stance on this one, PETA.

Backstrom (Fox, comedy): A self-destructive-but-brilliant Portland, Ore., detective (Rainn Wilson, The Office) is given one last chance to get his shit together by leading a special crimes unit. At least it’s not called Special Crimes Unit.

Bordertown (Fox, comedy): Seth MacFarlane and some Family Guy/American Dad/Futurama alum team with Mark Hentemann, Independent contributor Gustavo Arellano (Ask a Mexican) and Lalo Alcaraz (La Cucaracha) for an animated Tex-Mex comedy. They’re gonna hate it over at Fox News.

Empire (Fox, drama): Terrence Howard stars as an ex-street-thug-turned-hip-hop-mogul who has to groom one of his three sons to take over the business before a debilitating disease incapacitates him, and his insane ex-wife takes it all. Oh, and his character’s name is Luscious Lyon. Still in?

The Last Man on Earth (Fox, comedy): Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte is, literally, the last man on Earth. No one will ever see this.

Wayward Pines (Fox, drama): Trapped in Idaho! might have been a better title, but this M. Night Shyamalan production—don’t run away yet—about a pleasant small town from which no one can escape already has enough weirdness going for it. Matt Dillon and Carla Gugino bring the star power, as do the TV-overextended Juliette Lewis and Terrence Howard.

Weird Loners (Fox, comedy): Underutilized comic actors Becki Newton (Ugly Betty) and Zachary Knighton (Happy Endings) should probably be able to perk up the tired sitcom format of Chronically Single New York Pals … or at least upstage Undateable.

Allegiance (NBC, drama): Decades ago, KGB agent Katya (Hope Davis) was given the mission to recruit an American businessman (Scott Cohen). Instead, she fell in love with him, and the Kremlin just said, “Go ahead and move to the U.S.; we’ll be in touch.” Guess who now wants a favor from the couple and their newbie CIA analyst son? Ripped from today’s headlines about The Americans.

Aquarius (NBC, drama): A 1967 Los Angeles detective (David Duchovny) deals with hippies, cultural upheaval and a certain amateur cult leader named Charles Manson—it’s Hannibal meets Mad Men. Another obvious Shoulda Been on Cable candidate, though Aquarius might contain too much actual history for the History Channel.

Mission Control (NBC, comedy): Will Ferrell and Adam McKay produce a David Hornsby (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) comedy about a female 1960s astronaut (Krysten Ritter) trying to break into the NASA boys club. Even in space, you can already hear this being canceled.

Mr. Robinson (NBC, comedy): The Office’s Craig Robinson stars in the Bad Teacher/School of Rock mashup that was originally produced by the Office team, who have all since quit. But hey, it’ll be fine …

Odyssey (NBC, drama): A soldier (Anna Friel) uncovers a corporate/military conspiracy after being left for dead behind enemy lines in the Homeland-meets-Traffic-meets-Strike Back drama that’s as confusing and ugly as the hyphens suggest.

One Big Happy (NBC, comedy): Lesbian Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert) and straight-dude Luke (Nick Zano) are BFFs trying to have a baby (just go with it), which is cool until Luke meets a ridiculously-hot Brit girl (ridiculously-hot Kelly Brook) and impetuously marries her. It’s more acceptable than The New Normal, because there’s only one gay character.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (NBC, comedy): Ellie Kemper (The Office) stars as a woman starting her life over after escaping a doomsday cult. No one will ever see this, either.

iZombie (The CW, comedy): When medical resident Liv (Rose McIver) is attacked by, and then turned into, a zombie, she takes a job at the coroner’s office to feed her hunger for brains, and passes herself off as goth. Sounds insane, but if anyone can make it work, it’s creator/writer/director Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down).

The Messengers (The CW, drama): A group of strangers are brought together by a mysterious object that’s fallen from the sky, and then charged with stopping (or is it starting?) The Rapture. OK, iZombie—or for that matter, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—doesn’t sound so eff’dup now.


NETWORK SERIES RETURN DATES

Hell’s Kitchen (Fox; Wednesday, Sept. 10)

The Biggest Loser (NBC; Thursday, Sept. 11)

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox; Friday, Sept. 12)

American Dad (Fox; Sunday, Sept. 14)

Dancing With the Stars (ABC; Monday, Sept. 15)

New Girl (Fox; Tuesday, Sept. 16)

The Mindy Project (Fox; Tuesday, Sept. 16)

The Good Wife (CBS; Sunday, Sept. 21)

The Big Bang Theory (CBS; Monday, Sept. 22)

Sleepy Hollow (Fox; Monday, Sept. 22)

The Voice (NBC; Monday, Sept. 22)

The Blacklist (NBC; Monday, Sept. 22)

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC; Tuesday, Sept. 23)

NCIS (CBS; Tuesday, Sept. 23)

Person of Interest (CBS; Tuesday, Sept. 23)

Chicago Fire (NBC; Tuesday, Sept. 23)

The Goldbergs (ABC; Wednesday, Sept. 24)

The Middle (ABC; Wednesday, Sept. 24)

Modern Family (ABC; Wednesday, Sept. 24)

Nashville (ABC; Wednesday, Sept. 24)

Survivor (CBS; Wednesday, Sept. 24)

Law and Order: SVU (NBC; Wednesday, Sept. 24)

Chicago P.D. (NBC; Wednesday, Sept. 24)

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC; Thursday, Sept. 25)

Scandal (ABC; Thursday, Sept. 25)

Bones (Fox; Thursday, Sept. 25)

Parenthood (NBC; Thursday, Sept. 25)

Shark Tank (ABC; Friday, Sept. 26)

The Amazing Race (CBS; Friday, Sept. 26)

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS; Friday, Sept. 26)

Blue Bloods (CBS; Friday, Sept. 26)

Saturday Night Live (NBC; Saturday, Sept. 27)

Once Upon a Time (ABC; Sunday, Sept. 28)

Resurrection (ABC; Sunday, Sept. 28)

Revenge (ABC; Sunday, Sept. 28)

CSI (CBS; Sunday, Sept. 28)

The Simpsons (Fox; Sunday, Sept. 28)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox; Sunday, Sept. 28)

Family Guy (Fox; Sunday, Sept. 28)

Castle (ABC; Monday, Sept. 29)

Mom (CBS; Monday, Sept. 29)

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS; Monday, Sept. 29)

Criminal Minds (CBS; Wednesday, Oct. 1)

The Vampire Diaries (The CW; Thursday, Oct. 2)

Reign (The CW; Thursday, Oct. 2)

Last Man Standing (ABC; Friday, Oct. 3)

Bob’s Burgers (Fox; Sunday, Oct. 5)

The Originals (The CW; Monday, Oct. 6)

Supernatural (The CW; Tuesday, Oct. 7)

Arrow (The CW; Wednesday, Oct. 8)

About a Boy (NBC; Tuesday, Oct. 14)

The 100 (The CW; Wednesday, Oct. 22)

Grimm (NBC; Friday, Oct. 24)

2 Broke Girls (CBS; Monday, Oct. 27)

The Millers (CBS; Thursday, Oct. 30)

Two and a Half Men (CBS; Thursday, Oct. 30)

Elementary (CBS; Thursday, Oct. 30)

For cable returning series and premieres, see this week’s True TV.

Published in TV

Stick a fork in this TV season—it’s time to look ahead to the next one. Here’s some of what the networks have green-lighted for the 2014-2015 season:

Agent Carter (ABC): Or, more likely, Marvel’s Agent Carter, as it’s a spin-off of Captain America: The First Avenger. In the 1946-set drama, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes on secret spy missions for Stark Industries, because she’s a skilled, capable woman (yay) … and she needs something to distract her from pining over Cap (boo).

American Crime (ABC): And the dullest show-title award goes to American Crime, which follows the personal toll taken on those affected by a racially motivated crime and trial. If TV audiences are clamoring for anything, it’s to be lectured on race and class politics every week, right?

Forever (ABC): The Fantastic Four’s Ioan Gruffudd stars as a New York City medical examiner who also happens to be immortal and uses his extended life experience to solve crimes with the help of a plucky female detective. Not so much a boring show name as overly optimistic.

The Whispers (ABC): A sci-fi epic about an alien invasion targeting Earth’s children, because Steven Spielberg apparently forgot that he also produces Falling Skies.

Selfie (ABC): After inadvertently becoming a social-media sensation because of a humiliating Internet video, Eliza Dooley (Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan) hires a marketing expert (John Cho, Star Trek) to help her rehab her image. Didya catch the My Fair Lady reference? No? Probably for the best.

Manhattan Love Story (ABC): Gawd, these show names.

Galavant (ABC): A “musical fairytale comedy” (!) about a brave knight (Rogue’s Joshua Sasse) and his quest to rescue his true love (Mallory Jansen) from the clutches of an evil king (Timothy Omundson, Psych). Upside: It’s produced by The Neighbors’ Dan Fogelman, which reduces the Suck Potential somewhat.

NCIS: New Orleans (CBS): It’s NCIS, in New Orleans. Ask your parents.

Backstrom (Fox): A self-destructive-but-brilliant Portland detective (Rainn Wilson, The Office) is given one last chance to get his shit together by leading a special crimes unit. Hey, at least it’s not called Special Crimes Unit.

Gotham (Fox): The origin story of Batman’s Commissioner Gordon (as a young detective, played by Southland’s Ben McKenzie), before Gotham City became a super-crime hub. His most daunting obstacle: co-star Jada Pinkett Smith, aka The Show Killer.

Hieroglyph (Fox): An action-adventure drama set in ancient Egypt that was probably pitched on a dare, like last year’s Dads.

Last Man on Earth (Fox): Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte is, literally, the last man on Earth. OK, maybe this was the dare.

Mulaney (Fox): Speaking of SNL, ex-writer John Mulaney plays himself as an aspiring comic coming up in New York City. Says here, “multi-camera,” which means “laugh track,” which means “The Only TV Column That Matters™ ain’t watching a canned-laughs comedy in 2014.”

Mission Control (NBC): It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s David Hornsby writes/produces an “Anchorman-in-space” comedy starring Krysten Ritter (Don’t Trust the B). This almost makes up for the loss of Community. Almost.

State of Affairs (NBC): Katherine Heigl’s … triumphant? … return to television as a CIA attaché who balances advising the president with her own turbulent personal life. No, the president isn’t a hunky single dad just waiting for the right hot mess to settle down with—it’s Alfre Woodard!

Constantine (NBC): From DC Comics, a supernatural monster-of-the-week drama that will make you forget that 2005 Keanu Reeves flick. Not that you already haven’t.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (NBC): My favorite premise/star of them all: Ellie Kemper (The Office) stars as a woman starting her life over after … escaping a doomsday cult! Even better, it’s produced by Tina Fey and was originally titled Tooken. Can’t wait to watch all three airings of this.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR MAY 20!

3 Days to Kill

A spy (Kevin Costner) sets out on One Last Mission, but gets stuck with his teen daughter and, almost as bad, brain cancer. Can he take down the terrorist and bring his family back together? Hell, if Liam Neeson can do it, why not? (20th Century Fox)

Fugitive at 17

When a teenage computer hacker (Marie Avgeropoulos) is framed for her best friend’s fatal O.D. at a rave, she goes on the lam and uses her cyber-skills to find The Real Killer. Despite all evidence, not a movie from 1996. (MTI)

The Monuments Men

A group of art curators and historians (including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman) are recruited by the Army to retrieve masterpieces from the Nazis during World War II. All together now: It’s Ocean’s 1943! (Sony)

Pompeii

A hunky gladiator (Kit Harington) fights to save his true love (Emily Browning), who’s been betrothed to a corrupt Roman senator against her will. Oh, and there’s a volcano called Mount Vesuvius about to flood Pompeii with molten lava. Priorities. (Sony)

Vampire Academy

So you expect me to believe that, not only is there a movie actually titled Vampire Academy, but there is also a series of books? I’m supposed to accept that the Young Adult audience will just buy any crap? Good day. I said good day, sir! (AnchorBay)

More New DVD Releases (May 20)

Call the Midwife: Season 3, Grand Piano, House of Dust, In Secret, Like Someone In Love, Mischief Night, The Moneychangers, Nikita: Season 4, Pleased to Meet Me, Raze, The Right Kind of Wrong, Warehouse 13: The Complete Series, Way of the Wicked.

Published in TV