What three new series could catch Emmy’s eye? Maybe these

Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall in the revamped "The Equalizer."
(Barbara Nitke/CBS)

From the mixed bag of scripted TV shows that premiered during the pandemic, three star-driven series stand out with original twists on familiar titles or concepts.

Two are reboots that stray considerably from their progenitors. The other is the latest, and perhaps surliest, entry in the crowded field of shows about teens trying to fit in. All feature strong lead performances and merit a look from viewers and voters alike.

“Chad,” TBS


Obsessed with becoming popular, 14-year-old Chad (Nasim Pedrad) tells tall tales and treats his friends, family members and Iranian heritage with a disregard bordering on contempt.

“Saturday Night Live” veteran Pedrad goes deep into character and oversize sweatshirts as Chad, whose fierce emotions and blunt delivery make him highly effective at roasting others. But most jokes are on Chad, whose lack of filter leads to near-constant awkwardness at school.

“Teenagers don’t know what’s so funny about being a teenager — they are just sort of living it,” said Pedrad, also “Chad’s” showrunner. “Only an adult can bring that kind of perspective and nuance of having survived adolescence and come out on the other side.”

Nasim Pedrad dances in a scene from "Chad."
Nasim Pedrad plays a teen boy in “Chad.”
(Scott Patrick Green/Turner Entertainment Networks)

Offsetting the cringe factor are Chad’s gentle best friend (Jake Ryan), kind uncle (Paul Chahidi) and frustrated but patient mother (Saba Homayoon). For a show built on “this conceit that a woman is playing a teenage boy … it was imperative that the world around him feel incredibly honest and grounded,” Pedrad said.

The reviews: Pedrad “is so natural in the role that it’s not long before the device is overshadowed by the character, a kid coming to terms with his identity,” EW’s Kristen Baldwin observes. AV Club’s Saloni Gajjar compares Chad to the king of cringe, “The Office’s” Michael Scott, noting that the new show “doesn’t hesitate to invoke brutal, unflinching but brilliant details that add humor as well as a realistic touch.”

The scoop: In the five years between this show’s pilot stage at Fox and its premiere in April at new home TBS, seemingly 1,000 shows about goofy teens came out, including Hulu’s “PEN15,” which has cocreators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle playing versions of their 13-year-old selves. Pedrad remained confident throughout that her show was one of a kind.

“I knew I was writing a show that was authentic to my experience growing up the child of immigrants,” she said. Born in Iran, Pedrad was raised in Orange County. “I knew my story wouldn’t feel identical to someone else’s, even if there are aspects that are similar.” Lauding “the incredible work of the women of ‘PEN15,’” Pedrad adds that “it’s cool we are living at a time when both can even exist.”

“The Equalizer,” CBS

Queen Latifah assumes the role of the ex-intelligence officer and off-the-books odds-evener originated by Edward Woodward in the 1980s CBS series and further popularized by Denzel Washington’s 2014 film and 2018 sequel.

Her Robyn McCall, hoping to atone for the darker aspects of her past as a CIA operative, helps people without the means and/or inclination to go to the cops. Assisted by shadowy but good-humored sidekicks — Chris Noth plays her former CIA boss, and Adam Goldberg and Liza Lapira are a couple with tech and sharpshooting expertise — Robyn goes home to a teenage daughter (Laya DeLeon Hayes) and an aunt (Lorraine Toussaint) who lives with them.

Warmer than Woodward’s character, less brutal and isolated than Washington’s, Robyn is their equal in going hand to hand, and foot to back, with criminals when necessary.

“How many opportunities do any women, much less Black women and women of color, get to be physical” on screen? asks “Equalizer” executive producer Debra Martin Chase. Latifah’s also over 50, adding another layer of revelation to Robyn’s takedowns of bad guys.
The reviews: TVLine’s Dave Nemetz calls the show “pretty standard-issue CBS crime drama fare” but says Latifah’s “star presence gives it an edge. She has an easy charisma and an air of authority.”

Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall in "The Equalizer."
(Barbara Nitke/CBS)

Slate’s June Thomas notes the show as one of the first procedurals from CBS — which has been accused of “copaganda” — to premiere since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. With “a Black Robyn Hood at its center and a Black male cop (played by Tory Kittles) whose commitment to justice has him chafing against the system he’s part of,” Thomas writes, the show’s “timing could not be better.”
The scoop: “We started developing this before the pandemic, before Black Lives Matter, before a lot of upheaval that has taken place in our society in the past year,” Chase said. “But even then … we knew there was this sense of hopelessness and helplessness in American society. We knew the justice system was broken. We knew people were feeling disenfranchised.”

Posting solid ratings since premiering in the sweet post-Super Bowl slot in February, “The Equalizer” already has been renewed for a second season.

“Perry Mason,” HBO

Matthew Rhys plays the crusading lawyer from Erle Stanley Gardner’s books and the Raymond Burr series as a pre-courtroom, pre-close-shave private investigator performing ungentlemanly tasks for dapper lawyer E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) in a decidedly noir 1931 Los Angeles.

The show provides origin stories for Mason, here a haunted World War I veteran, and two supporting characters crucial to Mason lore. Della (Juliet Rylance), E.B.’s razor-sharp assistant, tries to keep her boss on track while keeping her female romantic partner a secret. The reimagined Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), one of the LAPD’s only Black officers, is wary of endangering his job and life by calling out the dirty cops around him.

“We wanted to make him an outsider,” executive producer Susan Downey said of the new Mason. “That was a Robert idea early on.” Susan and husband and fellow EP Robert Downey Jr. shepherded the project for a decade as it morphed from movie to series, both at one time potentially starring Robert.
Their vision of Mason, Susan said, always was as someone “who, along with Paul and Della, was going to take on this incredibly corrupt system that was in Los Angeles at the time.” Almost like Avengers.

Matthew Rhys stars as defender of the innocent Perry Mason on HBO's new spin on the beloved character, set in 1930s L.A.
(Merrick Morton/HBO

The reviews: The “superb new ‘Perry Mason’ … is the perfect lesson on how to update an icon, honoring the character by giving him the emotional depth and complexity he never had,” Hank Stuever enthuses in the Washington Post. The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert notes that “Rhys … has a greater range with watchable mournfulness than anyone else on television.”

The scoop: Already an Emmy winner for “The Americans,” Rhys scored a Golden Globe nomination for his down-and-out Mason. But Downey harbors no regrets that he was always too busy to play the role himself, Susan Downey said.

“At this point, Robert is like, ‘I was never meant to play Perry. This is clearly Matthew’s role.’ ... He honestly is like a proud papa to this project.”