Party Over Here (Saturday, March 12, Fox), series debut: Fox’s history with late-night comedy programming ranges from near-great (1995-2009’s MadTV; 2006-09’s Talkshow With Spike Feresten) to passable (the current Animation Domination High-Def) to WTMFF? (1993’s The Chevy Chase Show, one of the most famed flameouts in TV history). Party Over Here has near-great potential: It’s a sketch-comedy half-hour from The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) and Paul Scheer (The League, NTSF:SD:SUV), mixing live-in-front-of-a-studio-audience bits with filmed shorts while being fully aware of the elusive target audience: “In an age where most Millennials don’t even know what a TV is, we’re really excited to be getting into the TV business,” Scheer says in the Fox PR. At least Party Over Here won’t be going directly up against Saturday Night Live … right?
Crowded (Tuesday, March 15, NBC), series debut: After tonight, NBC will sentence Crowded to die on Sundays with The Carmichael Show—when was the last time any network besides Fox sustained a half-hour comedy on Sundays? Who besides a TV critic would know such a stat? Why am I talking to myself? Anyway: Crowded is yet another “multi-generational family comedy,” and a lazily written waste of the talents of Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement, every cartoon ever), Carrie Preston (True Blood), Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly), Mia Serafino (Shameless), Stacy Keach (everything) and Carlease Burke (Ballers), so it’s easy to see why NBC has zero faith. But, as he proved through, what was it, 58 seasons on Rules of Engagement, Warburton can bring the funny to even the bleakest, laugh-track-ridden sitcom hellscapes, and Preston ain’t bad, either (as she proved in Showtime’s late, great Happyish). Just don’t get attached to Crowded.
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (Wednesday, March 16, CBS), series debut: No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Quit trying to make a Criminal Minds “franchise” happen already! Five years ago, CBS launched, and crashed, the ill-advised Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and the memory of Forest Whitaker and Janeane Garofalo straining to tolerate the show and each other still burns. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, an international-FBI twist, at least has a better cast (including CSI:NY’s Gary Sinise and Forever’s Alana de la Garza), but still little reason to exist, because we already have a perfectly good Criminal Minds—even if the current Season 11 has been more uneven than a stack of dead hookers in an alley behind a Wichita waffle house (which I believe will be CM’s season-finale case).
The Americans (Wednesday, March 16, FX), season premiere: When last we left The Americans, Ronald Reagan was giving his infamous 1983 “Evil Empire” speech, and couple of actual Americans had been made aware of the true identities of “Americans” Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) as undercover Russians working for the KGB. The big question at the onset of Season 4 is: Who will meet their inevitable end first? Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), the mutual-friend-of-Jesus of distraught daughter Paige (Holly Taylor); or Philip’s FBI informant, Martha (Alison Wright)? Let’s say Pastor Tim—dude’s creepy, even by early ’80s standards.
Hap and Leonard (Wednesdays, SundanceTV), new series: Further proof that There’s Too Many Shows: The premiere of SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard slipped right by me—and I never miss anything even remotely connected to Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks! Based on a series of novels by Joe Lansdale, Hap and Leonard is a six-episode story about 1988 Texans Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams), a pair of luckless laborers dragged into a get-rich-suspiciously-easy scheme by Hap’s ex-wife (Hendricks), who has a lead on a cool million residing at the bottom of a river from a botched heist 20 years earlier. But what seems like a simple plan (or the 1998 flick A Simple Plan) soon spirals into a cacophony of conflicting agendas and colorful characters with Fargo-like comic-to-violent jolts. Catch up on Hap and Leonard now; the other Too Many Shows can wait.