High Maintenance (Friday, Sept. 16, HBO), series debut: Unapologetically bipolar comedies (half-hours that lean a bit too heavy to be “dramedies”) are apparently the thing this season, and along with Donald Glover’s Atlanta, High Maintenance essentially defines them. The former Web series—created, written and directed by wife-and-husband team Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, about New York City weed dealer The Guy (played by Sinclair)—looks like just another stoner-com from the outside, but it’s deeper than that. The Guy, who’s the only constant of the series, is the thread between a roster of clients who are both comically bizarre (like the deceptively dim bros we meet first) and tragically human (seemingly stereotypical gay-guy/straight-girl BFFs Max and Lainey, the meat of the pilot episode’s story). The pair’s bitchy repartee soon takes a dark turn into co-dependency hell that’s as bitter as it is funny; maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the veiled pathos of Will and Grace. High Maintenance is too layered to watch, well, high; hold off for 30 minutes, perhaps.
The Good Place (Monday, Sept. 19, NBC), series debut: Now-dead Eleanor (Kristen Bell) tries to be a better-ish person with the help of an “afterlife mentor” (Ted Danson). NBC has been promoting the … hell? … out of The Good Place, and Bell and Danson are an unbeatable comic combo, but this might be too wonderfully weird for network TV. Watch hard; watch fast.
Kevin Can Wait (Monday, Sept. 19, CBS), series debut: Former awful sitcom star Kevin James returns from awful movies with an awful new family sitcom—it’ll probably run for 10 seasons on CBS. In Kevin Can Wait … gawd, even the title sucks … James plays a recently retired beat cop who finds that life at home with the family is exactly like a sitcom from the ’80s. Again, 10 seasons.
This Is Us (Tuesday, Sept. 20, NBC), series debut: The closest thing to a straight-up family drama on broadcast anymore has been CBS’ Life in Pieces—and that’s a half-hour comedy. This Is Us is a gorgeously written, filmed and acted capital-letters Family Drama with a mildly quirky plot hook; it’s a smart and grown-up alternative to everything else on Tuesdays. Thanks for trying, NBC.
Bull (Tuesday, Sept. 20, CBS), series debut: Michael Weatherly jumped off the NCIS money train for this? Bull, based on “Dr.” Phil’s early days as a trial consultant, is the latest case of When Legal Dramas Happen to Good Actors (an epidemic this season), as the likable Weatherly is wasted in a rote procedural amongst pretty, interchangeable lawyer-models. And, no mustache?
Lethal Weapon (Wednesday, Sept. 21, Fox), series debut: Riggs (Clayne Crawford, Rectify) and Murtaugh (Damon Wayans Sr.) are back! Uh, why? To paraphrase Murtaugh, Crawford is too good for this shit, and it would have been great to see him in something original, something better, just something … else. Imagine if TV turned Speed into a series—that would be more sustainable.
Designated Survivor (Wednesday, Sept. 21, ABC), series debut: When you ask, “What could be worse than choosing between Clinton and Trump?” you get Designated Survivor: After a deadly attack on Washington D.C., a low-level cabinet member (Kiefer Sutherland) becomes the president of the United States. DS has action and drama to burn, but why didn’t Jack Bauer save the real president? Hey, wait a minute …