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Supergirl is one of the best new shows of the fall.
Supergirl is one of the best new shows of the fall.

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Fall TV: The best and worst of 2015

We love the Muppets and Supergirl. We're less enthused about several other things.

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

I have seen worse fall seasons than this one in my time as a TV critic, but it's close. The new fall shows of 2015 are a dire, dreary lot, and even though I've found seven to recommend (as I did last year), only one of those positive notices comes without reservation. There are some shows that have promise this season, but they'll need to do some work to fully live up to it.

And yet this is a fall with lots and lots of question marks. Some of the most exciting new shows of the season (like Netflix's superhero saga Jessica Jones and AMC's martial-arts series Into the Badlands) have only shown critics trailers, and still more (including two that made my list) have yet to screen full pilots for us. So consider this more of an educated guess than usual.

On with the list.

The Best


The Expanse (Syfy)

I didn't know I needed another space opera so much until I watched the thoroughly entertaining pilot for The Expanse, which somehow combines a private detective story, a politically deft tale of the build-up to war, and a bunch of sci-fi tropes into a big, intriguing stew. It's not yet Battlestar Galactica (what is?), but it's the closest any sci-fi show has come since that show left the air to capturing some of its charm. And the cast is full of ringers, including the gruffly exasperated Thomas Jane (as a detective with ridiculous hair) and Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (as a politician swept up in a much larger conspiracy). Keep an eye on this one.

What it will need to do to improve: The pilot is a lot of intriguing setup, but it would be all too easy to squander that. Other than that, though, I only hesitate to call this the "best show of the fall" because it debuts in December.

Debuts: Monday, December 14, at 10 pm Eastern.


The Grinder (Fox)

Fox has the season's two most promising comedies in this and the John Stamos vehicle Grandfathered. Really, both are good, but most critics seem to prefer one over the other. And I prefer The Grinder, which has its problems (particularly in establishing its high-concept premise) but also boasts a ridiculously funny cast. Rob Lowe plays a guy who played a lawyer on TV, so he's clearly the person to help his Boise-based brother in his real legal practice, right? Did I mention the brother is Fred Savage?

What it will need to do to improve: Lowe isn't quite a natural at playing a jerk, and the show could stand to be about 10 percent less manic. Also, a recent showrunner change doesn't bode well. But I have faith!

Debuts: Tuesday, September 29, at 8:30 pm Eastern.


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

If I had seen more than 30 minutes of a show that will run 42 minutes and change, I would recommend Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with much more fervor. As it is, I love what I've seen so much that I'll take a chance on what was meant to be a cable comedy (for Showtime) but is, instead, being changed into a network hourlong (for The CW). Protagonist Rebecca, on the fast-track for promotion at her New York law firm, realizes how unhappy she is and ditches everything to pursue a former boyfriend to West Covina, California. There's singing. There's dancing. It's delightful.

What it will need to do to improve: Having to write new original songs every week is always a warning sign, and there's the whole "having to turn this into an hourlong show" thing.

Debuts: Monday, October 12, at 8 pm Eastern.


Supergirl (CBS)

Let's be clear: Supergirl boasts a deeply imperfect pilot with a fair number of flaws. It occasionally feels as if a superhero show has been flattened into the CBS "case of the week" format, and there's a kind of blandness that seeps into much of the proceedings. But, man, when this one finds a spark, it's a lot of fun, and the build-up to the show has prominently featured star Melissa Benoist holding a puppy with Girl Scouts. If the show can capture some of that innocence and light, it will be a lot of fun.

What it will need to do to improve: It needs to find a way to make this more than a supervillain-of-the-week show, then convince CBS to let it pursue that course.

Debuts: Monday, October 26, at 8:30 pm Eastern. (It moves to 8 pm the next week.)


The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)

The reasons I'm docking this sci-fi show aren't really fair. For as much as I enjoyed the Man in the High Castle pilot, I'm a little terrified at the notion of changing the seminal alternate-history novel into a TV series, one that will presumably run a few seasons. Still, former X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz is just the guy to take on Phillip K. Dick's novel of Nazis and the Japanese splitting up the United States after winning World War II, and the pilot concludes on a hell of a twist, even if you've read the book and know it's coming.

What it will need to do to improve: Just don't screw this one up, Spotnitz.

Debuts: All episodes debut on Amazon Prime Friday, November 20.


Quantico (ABC)

Sometimes, you just want some dumb, entertaining trash, and Quantico is mostly well-made trash. Too many of its beats go on past the point when they would be dramatically interesting, and the flash-forward story structure is way too overheated. But in the scenes when the show simply settles in to letting leading lady Priyanka Chopra hang out at the Shonda Rhimes version of the FBI Academy, it's a surprisingly fun hang-out soap. If that sounds good to you, check this out. All others need not apply.

What it will need to do to improve: It should probably stop taking much of what's happening (which is pretty ridiculous) so seriously.

Debuts: Sunday, September 27, at 10 pm Eastern.


The Muppets (ABC)

The pilot presentation ABC made for The Muppets is a ton of fun, but it's also not at all what audiences will be seeing when the show debuts. The show that will air this fall follows the behind-the-scenes antics at a late-night talk show hosted by Miss Piggy. The speed with which the show has been thrown together should concern anyone, but the folks producing the show (particularly Big Bang Theory veteran Bill Prady) understand TV and the characters. Fortunately, the first episode (recently made available to critics) has its speed bumps but is mostly a warm, funny revival of the characters.

What it will need to do to improve: Don't screw this one up, Prady!

Debuts: Tuesday, September 22, at 8 pm Eastern.

The Worst


Truth Be Told (NBC)

Really, I could put every show on NBC here. The network's fall slate is just that dire. But in the interest of not ragging on one network too much (particularly since I really love one of its midseason entries and am baffled as to why it's not on in the fall), I'll only pick on Truth Be Told, by far the worst new show of the fall. The show wants to be about how people discuss political and social issues when they're in private company. That's a fine central nugget for a show, but this is yet another sitcom where nobody speaks like a human being but, instead, like a series of catchphrase-generating machines. Hard pass.

What it will need to do to improve: I'd love to see this one get better, but I don't imagine it will get the time, buried on Fridays as it is.

Debuts: Friday, October 16, at 8:30 pm Eastern.


Angel from Hell (CBS)

CBS has never been known for its ability to pull off single-camera sitcoms (the ones that look like movies, not filmed stage plays with live audiences). It's tried many times over the years, but it's always come up wanting. (Its last successful one was M*A*S*H, which went off the air three decades ago.) Angel from Hell isn't going to change that record. In theory, Jane Lynch as a guardian angel, who might be a crazy homeless person, is fun casting, and Maggie Lawson could be a good straight man for Lynch's wackiness. But the whole thing feels like it's trying too hard. Also, this is the key art.

What it will need to do to improve: Tone down about 98 percent.

Debuts: Thursday, November 5, at 9:30 pm Eastern.


Rosewood (Fox)

Unlike the two above shows, Rosewood isn't bad so much as mediocre. But to stand out in this TV landscape, a show needs an immediately arresting pilot, and this one isn't that, even with the endlessly charming Morris Chestnut in the lead role. Putting Chestnut at the center of a medical show isn't a bad idea, but did it need to be one where he solves crimes? Come to think of it, every single new Fox drama not named Scream Queens shoehorns a "crime-solving" plotline into the proceedings. America can handle non-cop shows, Fox. You have Empire. You should know this.

What it will need to do to improve: Maybe have Chestnut's character do something other than solve crimes for an episode or two? Bake brownies? Teach piano? Be a doctor?

Debuts: Wednesday, September 23, at 8 pm Eastern.


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