It's a big week for new shows, and the season's just getting started so I hope you saved the fall preview guide my colleague Robert Lloyd so wittily and thoughtfully compiled for Sunday's Calendar. Here are a few premieres you won't want to miss.
"The Blacklist." James Spader stars as Raymond "Red" Reddington, a rogue spy who, after 20 years freelancing his services, turns himself in. In exchange for all sorts of groovy intel, he asks only for a luxurious hotel suite and the (strictly professional) attentions of recent Quantico grad/profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), with whom he forms a Hannibal Lecter-Clarice Starling bond, sans (thankfully) all the gross stuff. He has a list, you see, of international baddies, which he is happy to share, via Elizabeth, and only Elizabeth.
It's a heady blend of character study and high-octane procedural -- each episode will, presumably, see Red helping Keen thwart another attack or capture another villain -- but honestly, they had me at James Spader. Radiating a kind of furious patience, he chews through scenes and scenery with epicurean delight, and then delicately wipes his mouth with the sleeve of whoever is standing next to him. The set up is promising, the writing is clever enough and Boone hits her marks like a pro. But Spader? He's having a blast, and ensuring that we do the same. NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." I defy anyone to think of a more awkward and irritating title for a television show but I guess they couldn't officially call it "That Avengers Show," if only because there are no actual Avengers in it. (Television may be in its Golden Age, but Downey's salary alone would sink a series.) Instead, Joss Whedon has constructed something that is not so much a sequel to the last "Avengers" movie as it is a parallel track to that sequel. As the Avengers do whatever it is they do when not being summoned by Nick Fury, beloved second-in-command Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) has been miraculously resurrected for the purposes of running Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. (The name, which began as a running gag in "Iron Man," continues to provide joke fodder though seriously guys, if you can bring Coulson back from the dead, it is not too late to rethink the punctuation?)
Although the films might lead one to believe that there are already plenty of heroes to go around, Coulson is still attempting to harness the superpowered for good before they either self-destruct or find less trustworthy captains. So a bit like SyFy's "Alphas," but with a much bigger budget. The pilot is nowhere near as in-your-face as one might think, which is probably a good thing; television can do many things but it cannot out-blockbuster a blockbuster. Whedon seems willing and able to find another, still intriguing but lower-key way. In Gregg's Coulson, he has a superpower adjacent Everyman who may be able to make the television series just as good, in its own way, as the film franchise. Cameos still welcome, though, from the film franchise stars. ABC, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.
"The Crazy Ones" and "The Michael J. Fox Show." Robin Williams and Michael J. Fox return to their roots in shows that explore work and family from an off-kilter midlife point of view. In ABC's "The Crazy Ones," Williams plays Simon Roberts, the zanily brilliant brains behind a big-ticket ad agency run by his hyper-organized partner, and daughter, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Tensions run high and occasionally hilarious as Simon worries that he's lost his touch and Sydney frets that he's finally lost his mind. Over on NBC, Fox plays popular news anchor Mike Henry, who left his job when his Parkinson's disease (which Fox, of course, actually has) began to progress. After driving his teacher wife (Betsy Brandt) and their three children crazy playing Mr. Mom, Mike goes back to work, where he still manages to drive his family, and now his boss, crazy.
Neither show has a killer pilot -- "The Crazy Ones" is bogged down by a guest appearance by Kelly Clarkson and "The Michael J. Fox Show," even at an hour, simply has too much preliminary exposition, but both revolve around men who clearly know what they're doing in front of a camera and, more important, both have stellar supporting casts, including the above-mentioned actors as well as James Wouk in "The Crazy Ones" and Katie Finneran in "The Michael J. Fox Show." ABC, Thursdays, 9 p.m.; NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.
"The Hollow Crown." Four of Shakespeare's "history plays" -- “Richard II,” “Henry IV, Part 1,” “Henry IV, Part 2” and “Henry V" -- get a the full-bore cinematic treatment on location, with hordes of extras and heavyweight but highly accessible stars, including Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Rory Kinnear and Ben Whishaw. The very best of stage, screen and television. Literally. PBS, Fridays, 9 p.m.
[For the Record, 10:18 a.m. PDT Sept. 19: An earlier version of this post said Carrie Underwood would appear on "The Crazy Ones." Kelly Clarkson is making a guest appearance on the show.]
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