As October begins so does my favorite season — that’s right, it’s pilot season! Every fall, TV networks unleash new shows onto the world to compete for our attention, a challenge that is becoming increasingly difficult as the field of scripted series continues to expand. The debut season, and especially the opening episodes, are the most dangerous for new shows, and many find themselves canceled before they can complete their creators’ visions. So, let’s step in and check out a selection of the most interesting TV pilots set for release in 2019.
Emergence (Tuesday, 10 p.m. EST)
A small-town sheriff (Allison Tollman), who lives in Long Island with her father and daughter and has a fairly companionable relationship with her ex-husband, finds her world shattered by a crashed airplane, men in black and an amnesiac child with mysterious powers.
The show seems to be taking a few pointers from the “Stranger Things” playbook, but I’m also catching a vibe from other special children shows, which admittedly haven’t done well, like “Touch” and “The Passage.” If you don’t remember these shows, don’t worry: They didn’t stick around for long. Even though I found the pilot entertaining, these comparisons make me think “Emergence” doesn’t have a solid future.
Stumptown (Wednesday, 10 p.m. EST)
Cobie Smulders of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Avengers” fame plays Dex, a veteran from the “war on terror” balancing untreated PTSD, a brother with Down syndrome and a gambling addiction, who stumbles her way into a career as a private investigator in Portland, Oregon. “Stumptown” seems to offer fun alongside its serious subject matter. There’s a fun scene set to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and it seems that the Native American characters, such as the casino boss played by Tantoo Cardinal (“Wind River,” “Dances with Wolves”), will play a significant role in the show, both of which I interpret as major positives.
Mixed-ish (Tuesday, 9 p.m. EST)
A spin-off from “Black-ish,” the series follows the model of retrospective comedies like “The Goldbergs” with the adult Tracee Ellis Ross’ character Rainbow “Bow” Johnson narrating the story of her childhood growing up in the 1980s as the child of a hippie interracial couple. Like its parent show, “Mixed-ish” promises to be a heartwarming family comedy with a specific focus on racial issues, specifically addressing the experiences of mixed-race individuals.
However, I worry that there might be too many elements involved; it’s a period piece with fish-out-of-water scenarios that stem from the family’s movement from a commune to the suburbs in addition to the typical formula of the “-ish” universe. Plus, the recasting of Bow’s father from the original pilot also suggests the network wasn’t entirely happy with the product. However, the ratings and reviews from the first few episodes are fairly strong. Who knows? “Mixed-ish” might be another hit.
Batwoman (Sunday, 8 p.m. EST)
Expanding from an appearance in last year’s “Elseworlds” crossover between “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “Supergirl,” “Batwoman” follows Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), Bruce Wayne’s cousin, who takes over for the caped crusader following his three-year disappearance from Gotham. This is the sixth DC superhero show to air on The CW, and the franchise’s momentum remains stronger than ever. Now, fans will get to add another hour of television to their roster.
Nancy Drew (Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST)
Strangely, the advertising for this teen suspense series relies on viewers knowing who Nancy Drew is and also being aware of “Riverdale,” since both programs share a production team. However, similar to “Riverdale,” this show comes with a twist.
In “Nancy Drew,” the title character Nancy — played by Kennedy McMann — is drawn into investigating a murder that may have been committed by a ghost, meaning that everyone, including herself, is a suspect. I like the idea of combining “Riverdale” intrigue with the supernatural elements of “Sabrina,” but even as both shows are successes where ratings are concerned, their plot twisty-ness can become excessive and exhausting.
Katy Keene (Coming Soon)
Though it might not look like it at first, this is, in fact, a “Riverdale” spinoff based on another “Archie Comics” character. In her show, Katy Keene (Lucy Hale) is an aspiring fashion designer living in New York City. Soon, she’s joined by “Riverdale” alum, Josie (Ashleigh Murray), of Josie and the Pussycats fame, as her new roommate. Together, Katy, Josie and two other friends pursue their dreams in the big city, a premise which foretells a far sunnier tone than its parent show. Did I mention that “Katy Keene” takes place years after the events of “Riverdale”? Considering its spinoff status, the show is guaranteed to earn views, but the radically different tone, combined with “Katy Keene” marking Lucy Hale’s second TV pilot in as many years, might spell doom for the show.
Prodigal Son (Monday, 9 p.m. EST)
This show seeks to combine Michael Sheen’s rise in popularity due to this year’s “Good Omens” with the “Silence of the Lambs”-esque atmosphere of a previous Fox hit, “The Following”. The crime drama follows a former FBI profiler (Tom Payne) who begins working with the NYPD by using his unique insight into the criminal mind, which is partly due to his own father (Michael Sheen) being a serial killer. “Prodigal Son” might be a paint-by-numbers serial killer procedural undercut by an eccentric police consultant and a muted color palette, but there are some interesting elements, and Sheen plays his character with charismatic panache.
Almost Family (Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST)
This comedy follows a woman (Brittany Snow) who discovers she has dozens of half-siblings — all brothers except for two sisters (Emily Osment and Megalyn Echikunwoke) — when her father is exposed for using his own genetic material in his work as a fertility doctor. As a result, the three women are forced to deal with their individual issues while also grappling with the reality of having family that they knew nothing about. Unfortunately, the reviews coming out regarding the show aren’t very positive. Putting aside the underplayed treatment of what amounts to medical rape, to be honest, the show just isn’t that exciting.
Perfect Harmony (Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST)
Surprisingly, the strangely complicated premise of this Bradley Whitford-starring comedy is glossed over within the first few minutes of the pilot.
Arthur Cochran is the disgraced former head of Princeton University’s music department who moves to his wife’s rural southern hometown to lay her to rest. With nothing to live for, he plans to kill himself outside the church but is stopped by the sheer awfulness of the church choir. After he gives them an impromptu music lesson, the colorful cast of characters in beg him to coach them to victory at a choral competition, which he only agrees to because their rival choir belongs to the megachurch that wouldn’t let his wife be buried in their cemetery.
All this is backstory sets up Arthur as the elitist “Yankee” character among the small-town folk; Arthur’s caustic personality and belief in absolute honesty ruffles feathers but ultimately helps while the cynical ex-scholar learns something in exchange.
“Perfect Harmony” is definitely a “your mileage may vary” type of show, but its cross-market appeal will assuredly boost ratings.
Bluff City Law (Monday, 10 p.m. EST)
Like many shows this season, this TV pilot is trying to bring “This Is Us” to its respective channel. As a result, viewers get a show about complicated family dynamics that wears its moral compass and idealism strong.
Jimmy Smits — a long-time television actor known for “NYPD Blue” and “The West Wing” — stars in this drama about a father/daughter law firm in Memphis and their pursuit of justice. While the script can be stilted and wordy at times, “Bluff City Law” is a legal drama separated from the mind of Dick Wolfe, which is a true rarity on NBC. Additionally, its focus on defending the innocent from injustice brings a different approach to the courtroom than “Law and Order.” Regrettably, ratings are less than positive, but the show harbors elements that could turn themselves into quality entertainment if handled correctly.