Special to CNN
(CNN) — Networks unveiled their fall lineups this week in New York at their various upfront events, and although CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox all trumpet their new shows as the best of the best, not every pilot is destined to be a hit, or even worth your time. Which ones are? CNN scoured the various presentations to find the most promising comedies and dramas (and comedy/dramas) of the batch, weighing star power, concepts, production teams and four-quadrant appeal. If the pilots are any indication, these are the shows to watch:
“Almost Human,” Mondays on Fox
In the year 2048, cops are paired with synthetic partners: androids. But one cop, John Kennex (played by Karl Urban), who is battling the rejection of his own synthetic appendage after losing a leg in an attack, also rejects the robots paired with him. That is until a technician (Mackenzie Crook) gives him Dorian (Michael Ealy), an android capable of emotional responses. Shades of “Star Trek,” “Minority Report” and “Robocop” give edge to this action-packed pilot from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot company and showrunner Joel Wyman (“Fringe”).
“It always comes down to the people and why you care about them,” Abrams said at the Fox upfront. “Why do you believe in them? If it’s a drama, it’s because your heart breaks for them.” Rounding out the cast are Minka Kelly as a detective and Lili Taylor as the police captain.
“The Blacklist,” Mondays on NBC
James Spader is Raymond “Red” Reddington, a master criminal and one of the FBI’s most wanted. Reddington mysteriously comes out of exile to turn himself in one day and says that he will speak to only one agent, Elizabeth Keen, a rookie who is on her first day of the job. “You must have many questions, so let’s begin with the most important one: why I’m here,” he tells the FBI. His proposal? That he help catch terrorist Ranko Zamani, who was thought to be dead, and other criminals, mobsters, spies and fugitives on a list he’s been cultivating for over 20 years. “I’m talking about the criminals who matter, the ones you can’t find because you don’t even know they exist,” he says. “Let’s say our interests are aligned.” Look for Spader to be at his creepy best.
“The Crazy Ones,” Thursdays on CBS
David E. Kelly’s new comedy-drama is about the ad agency Roberts & Roberts, run by father-daughter team Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Williams’ Simon Roberts is a slightly unhinged advertising genius, Gellar’s Sydney Roberts is a type-A control freak who has to learn to be a little nuts to make a deal. In the pilot, they have to land a big voice for a fast food ad, and Kelly Clarkson is willing to oblige — so long as she can sing about sex instead of meat in the jingle. If casting like that is any indication of what the show can do, “The Crazy Ones” might not be so crazy after all.
“Hostages,” Mondays on CBS
Expect tons of plot twists in this Jerry Bruckheimer political thriller/family drama. The night before a surgeon (Toni Collette) is to operate on the president of the United States, her family is taken hostage and she’s ordered to assassinate POTUS. To make things more complicated, the terrorist who’s calling the shots (Dylan McDermott) is a special agent for the FBI and a hostage negotiations expert, and may not be a bad guy after all. Her supposedly loving husband (Tate Donovan) has a secret and is urging compliance only because he’s being blackmailed. In case you were starting to wonder how long they could sustain the premiere, it’s a limited-run series and will reach a finale in January.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Tuesdays on ABC
Agent Coulson lives! Despite his demise in “The Avengers,” the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent/fanboy will live another day, at least long enough to assemble a new team for ABC. “When I got the call, ‘Look, he might not be all the way dead,’ I kind of couldn’t believe it,” said Clark Gregg, Coulson’s portrayer across various Marvel films. How this happened, they won’t say, “but trust me when I say we earn it,” showrunner Joss Whedon promised.
The series (about what it’s like to be ordinary people in an unreal world) will also feature Agent Grant Ward (a combat and espionage expert), Melinda May (a pilot and combat expert), Agent Leo Fitz and Agent Jemma Simmons (who together are gadget and biochem experts Fitz-Simmons), and hacker Skye. Who knows? Some of them could turn up in Marvel films in cameo roles, a la Coulson.
“We’re open to that,” Whedon said, “but we’re not focusing on that. I want people to love these guys. Everything else is gravy. I’m not writing ‘Avengers 2’ to go, ‘How can I work them in?’ They’re two separate things. But if they do come together, woo-hoo!” Making the cast go woo-hoo in the meantime are all the fun gadgets they get to play with on the show. “It’s enough of a kind of blend of ‘Men in Black’ and James Bond that ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ has toys that you just can’t even believe,” Gregg said with a grin.
“The Michael J. Fox Show,” Thursdays on NBC
Playing a former beloved New York news anchor (for NBC, natch), Michael J. Fox is Mike Henry, who quit his TV gig after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Five years later, his family wants him out of the house, and his old boss wants him back on the air. “We both know NBC is going to milk it by showing me in slow motion with lame uplifting music in the background,” Mike tells him, which of course, is what happens. “When they show it in slow motion, you’re either dead or under indictment.”
“Mind Games,” midseason on ABC
Although it won’t be on until later in the year, this show (formerly titled “Influence”) might be the one that finally sticks for Christian Slater after his excursions with NBC’s “My Own Worst Enemy” (in which he played dual roles involving an agent unaware of his own double life), ABC’s “The Forgotten” and Fox’s “Breaking In.” This time, he’s the con man brother of Steve Zahn, a bipolar psychological genius. Together, the pair start an “A-Team-like” company that can manipulate people and situations to get the outcomes they desire.
“It’s all these Jedi mind tricks,” Slater enthused. “A lot of it is very scientific, so when I first read the script, I thought, ‘Wow, this is fascinating!’ I was particularly blown away by how you can do this stuff to get things to work in your favor, to get people to see things in a slightly different way and change the scenario.”
Tensions arise between the two brothers, since Slater’s character, Ross, is “money-obsessed” and wants to change corporate deals and political elections, while Zahn’s Clark just wants to help people. “I like that he’s up to no good,” Slater said. “The first episode is about getting a head on the wall, to show that if we can do something impossible once, we can do it again.”
“Resurrection,” midseason on ABC
Based on Jason Mott’s book “The Returned,” “Resurrection” asks what would happen if people who were long dead came back to life — not as zombies or vampires but as flesh-and-blood human beings who want to return to their former lives. Omar Epps’ immigration agent starts to discover the deceased’s return when an 8-year-old boy who died more than 30 years ago turns up in China.
“What got me really excited about the show is that if you approach it from a logical perspective, it opens up a lot of doors,” Epps said. “My character, he’s just like, ‘What’s going on here?!’ And we’ll have wisps of things, religious undertones, the supernatural, but the tone is more real and organic, because this is just impossible, right?” Also on hand are Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher as the parents of the returned boy.
“Sleepy Hollow,” Mondays on Fox
“Star Trek” and “Transformers” writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have updated Washington Irving’s classic, making it both modern-day and a new mystery. Two hundred and fifty years ago, Ichabod Crane (played by Tom Mison) worked as a paid assassin for George Washington, when he crossed paths and became linked with the Headless Horseman. To save him, his wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), casts a spell to put him to sleep, “because the only way to kill the Horseman is to kill Ichabod, and obviously Katrina doesn’t want to do that,” Winter said.
In 2013, someone resurrects both Crane and the Horseman, who turns out to be the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — never a good sign. Adjusting to the modern world, Crane teams up with local law enforcement (which includes Orlando Jones and Nicole Beharie) to try to stop history from repeating itself. “Meanwhile, I’ve been trapped in between lands, and I’m reaching out to him to help,” Winter said. “So it’s got action, the supernatural, hot guys, violence and humor as well. It’s actually really funny.”
“Super Fun Night,” Wednesdays on ABC
CBS almost scored this Rebel Wilson comedy about three nerdy girlfriends who break their tradition of staying in on Friday nights to finally go out and try to have some fun. But after the show got passed over last pilot season and with some retooling (replacing BFFs Jenny Slate and Edi Patterson with Liza Lapira and Lauren Ash), ABC is good to go. “It’s been an 18-month process since I signed this deal, so it’s kind of awesome,” Wilson said.
Calling the show an “anti-‘Sex and the City,’ ” Wilson promised the crowd at the ABC upfront that she wouldn’t be “doing a Lena Dunham” like on ‘Girls’: I won’t be doing nudity unless it’s necessary for the storyline, or if it’s Wednesday.” Of course, the trailer for the show features her dress getting ripped off, revealing lighted-up underwear. “I’m glad I had the flashing nipples, because otherwise my real ones might have shown, because it was freezing that day,” Wilson laughed. “I’m not vain when it comes to comedy. I don’t care. I just go for the laugh.”