Benders (Thursday, Oct. 1, IFC), series debut: Denis Leary has produced shows about firefighters (Rescue Me), EMTs (Sirens) and music (Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll), so it was inevitable he’d get around to another of his obsessions: hockey. Benders’ beer-soaked concept—an amateur hockey league that spends more time bro-bonding and trash-talking off the ice than playing on it—feels a bit off-brand for IFC, which has established itself with a more highbrow style of comedy (or whatever you’d call Maron and Documentary Now!). But Benders is the best new hockey-themed comedy of this season, so it has that going for it.
Dr. Ken (Friday, Oct. 2, ABC), series debut: In the fall battle for Worst New Comedy (not to mention First Cancellation), Dr. Ken may have the edge over Grandfathered and Truth Be Told: The latter two have stars that could, in theory, carry a well-executed comedy, whereas Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Community) is the definition of the A Little Goes a Long Way Side Player Who Should Never, Ever Be Expected to Carry a Show on His Own. (See also: any former Seinfeld co-star who’s not Julia Louis-Dreyfus.) Jeong is Dr. Ken Park, a physician with a crazy work and family life, and … well, that’s all there is. No, ABC, the fact that Jeong was actually a doctor before becoming an actor does not add to the comedy in the least.
The Leftovers (Sunday, Oct. 4, HBO), season premiere: Remember last year’s feel-bad hit of the summer, The Leftovers? The bleak tale of the aftermath of an unexplained kinda-Rapture that saw 2 percent of the world’s population literally disappear didn’t inspire Game of Thrones-level interest (maybe not even Hello Ladies-level interest), but it was still an intriguing depresso-wallow. In Season 2, New York cop Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and family, and a whole lot of other travelers, are headed to Jarden, Texas (aka “The Jarden of Eden”), a “miracle” town from where no one was taken in the great Departure. It’s a chance for the spiritually devastated Garveys to start over, and there’s no chance of loony cult activity in this community, right? Wrong. Break out the tissues; hide the pills and sharp objects.
Casual (Wednesday, Oct. 7, Hulu), series debut: Director Jason Reitman (Up In the Air, Juno) probably didn’t mean to remake Fox’s canceled 2012 sitcom Ben and Kate, but no one saw that, so who cares? Casual stars Michaela Watkins (scene-stealer of 100 comedies, most recently Trophy Wife and Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer) and Tommy Dewey (The Mindy Project) as a divorcee single mom and her bachelor brother who are once-again roommates trying (and mostly awkwardly failing) to teach each other how to navigate the Tinder age. It’s sharp, funny and everything on which corporate cousin NBC’s Comedy Division (now located in an abandoned basement utility closet) has completely given up.
American Horror Story: Hotel (Wednesday, Oct. 7, FX), season premiere: Creator/producer Ryan Murphy has said that Season 5 of his anthology series American Horror Story will be “Much more horror-based … much more dark … a little bloodier and grislier.” Whoa. That may seem impossible after 2014’s colorfully bizarre Freak Show (you’re still missed, Stabby the Clown), but the present-day-set, Los Angeles-based Hotel is a return to AHS’ Season 1 roots, the fantastic but sometimes overlooked Murder House debut. That initial run leaned far more scary than funny, and Hotel doubles down on both the darkness and star power: In addition to a slew of returning American Horror Story players (with the exception of Connie Britton yet again—damned Nashville), model/tabloid regular Naomi Campbell, New Girl’s Max Greenfield and little-known indie singer Lady Gaga will also be checking into the Hotel Cortez (and, presumably, never checking out). Although Hotel is connected to Murder House, and will feature characters from Asylum, Coven and Freak Show, AHS will somehow work around the absence of the series’ figurehead, Jessica Lange. (Season 5 is the first without her.) The stacked cast and elevated horror may be overcompensation … and I’ll gladly take it.