Winter puts new midseason TV shows in the spotlight
As a popular phrase has it, this is the age of “peak TV,” a term incidentally evocative of the mountains of television under which we now are buried — a mountain that just grows bigger with every passing season, midseason, mini-season and micro-season. According to one recent account, 409 original scripted series aired, streamed or came through the cable in 2015. There is nothing I can do about that.
A certified professional with years of specialized training, I have come once again to your rescue, to help you tunnel your way up and out of this higher-than-ever Everest, to get on top of it, to take its measure, and to get out alive. I will be your guide, helpfully indicating as we go the significant flora and fauna: many new shows that seem familiar, some that look alike, a few that might be the start of a brand-new species.
You might want to take notes:
“Angel From Hell” (CBS, Thursdays). Magical pal show, in the noble lineage of “Mr. Ed,” “My Favorite Martian,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” with Jane Lynch as a rule-bending, elbow-bending, altogether less than invisible guardian angel to grown woman Maggie Lawson.
“Shades of Blue” (NBC, Thursdays). Everyone’s dirty in this New York City cop drama, but some are dirtier than others. Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta occupy different points on a slippery sliding scale.
“My Diet Is Better Than Yours” (ABC, Thursdays). Yet another competitive weight-loss show pits trainer against trainer as well as dieter against dieter — like “The Voice,” kind of, with calories.
“Shadowhunters” (ABC Freeform, Tuesdays). Pretty young people with angelic superpowers keep the world safe from pretty young people with demonic superpowers, as it ever has been since Buffy got her slayer on. From the “Mortal Instruments” series of words written on paper, bound together between covers.
“Second Chance” (Fox, Wednesdays). Literally crusty old disgraced former L.A. County sheriff Philip Baker Hall is thrown off a bridge, scientifically resurrected from the dead as a younger, stronger, hotter Six Billion Dollar Man (Rob Kazinsky) that his FBI agent son Tim DeKay apparently does not recognize. There’s more to it than that.
“Teachers” (TV Land, Wednesdays). One of two school comedies this year created by and starring members of an existing comedy troupe. This one’s from Los Angeles-based the Katydids (six women), remaking their Web series.
“Colony” (USA, Thursdays). “Lost” writer Carlton Cuse’s new project finds “Lost” actor Josh Holloway trapped again, this time inside Los Angeles, which has been surrounded by a big wall by ... I dunno who ... and filled with metaphors. (Pick one you like.) To collaborate or resist is the question Holloway’s former FBI agent must ask himself, as we all must, sooner or later.
“Mercy Street” (PBS, Sundays). Sumptuous, “Masterpiece”-style period, social-medical, crinoline-and-morphine soap opera set in a Civil War army hospital in Union-occupied Virginia. Dedicated nurses, complicated doctors, North, South, free, slave, richer, poorer, better, worse.
“Billions” (Showtime, Sundays). The rich and powerful and their special problems, with Damian Lewis as a hedge-fund Midas and Paul Giamatti as the U.S attorney under whose bonnet he’s a bee. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman are the women behind and sometimes above them.
“Angie Tribeca” (TBS, Sundays). Although a straight series with Rashida Jones as an L.A. homicide detective could totally work, this confection by Steve and Nancy Carell basically resurrects “Police Squad!,” a 1980s sitcom by the people who made “Airplane!,” of which you’ve heard, surely. And I didn’t call you Shirley.
“Real Housewives of Potomac” (Bravo, Sundays). Wherever you go, there they are.
“War & Peace” (A&E/Lifetime/History, Mondays). That fat Russian novel you’re going to get around to reading right after you get to that seven-volume French one and “Infinite Jest” becomes a miniseries (BBC muscle is behind it). Paul Dano, Lily James, Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson play characters with long names.
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” (The CW, Thursdays). Arthur Darvill, “Doctor Who’s” Rory Pond, does not fall far from that tree as a time traveler enlisting characters drawn from other CW DC-Comics series to save the future by way of the past. See also: “11.22.63,” below.
“London Spy” (BBC America, Thursdays). Super-slo-mo contempo thriller in which nothing is as it seems, including what seems to be not what it seems. Is it a love story wrapped in a spy story, or a spy story in the guise of a love story? Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling puzzle it out.
“Baskets” (FX, Thursdays). Zach Galifianakis, working his special vein of softhearted angry immaturity, plays a man whose study of French clowning gets him no farther than a Bakersfield rodeo. More delicate than you might think.
“Mad Dogs” (Amazon Prime). Middle-aged dudes Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco, Ben Chaplin and Steve Zahn join old friend Billy Zane for a Belize vacation that goes bad, like “Deliverance” with palm trees, or a Three Stooges movie in which people die. Oh, the testosterone!
“Chelsea Does” (Netflix). Chelsea Handler stars in a four-part, host-on-a-journey documentary series, with segments on drugs, technology, marriage and racism. New streaming talk show to follow, sometime this year.
“Beowulf” (Esquire, Saturdays). Not your father’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s “Beowulf.” Kieran Bew, William Hurt and Joanne Whalley lurk largely in this great mead hall, brought over stick by stick from Britain’s ITV.
“The X-Files” (Fox, Sunday; moves to Mondays on Jan. 25) Technically not a new series, but children have been born and injected with alien DNA and graduated middle school since David Duchovny’s Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Scully — back with their oppositional attractiveness intact — last had a TV show together.
“Lucifer” (Fox, Mondays). “Castle,” supernatural: The Devil (Tom Ellis) has quit Hell for L.A., where he runs a nightclub and drives a convertible — so predictable, Satan — but discovers what he really wants to do is solve crimes alongside homicide detective Lauren German. (”Will they, won’t they?” gets a whole new level.) It’s a comedy, happily.
“The Magicians” (Syfy, Mondays). This downbeat, postgrad “Harry Potter,” based on Lev Grossman’s books, ditches the Victorian filigree and wands and capes and conducts its business in mostly American accents and various shades of modish youthwear; Jason Ralph is the handsome, mopey Chosen One recruited to the academy just as it all goes poof.
“Recovery Road” (ABC Freeform, Mondays). Jessica Sula is a substance-abusing teen whose self-destructive antics land her in a colorfully populated halfway house — that “high-functioning” stuff won’t cut it anymore, missy. Not too preachy. But don’t take drugs.
“Outsiders” (WGN America, Tuesdays). Stubbornly isolated Appalachian mountain folk clash with the modern world when coal company, cops come calling. “Justified” fans will not need a compass to know where they are.
“Grease: Live!” (Fox, Sundays). Fox takes a tip from NBC, getting into the Make an Old Musical Current by Definition by Staging It Live on TV game. Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit are the lovers from different worlds whose tryst must surely end in death — or, more likely, a big production number borrowed from the movie.
“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” (FX, Tuesdays). For anyone eager to relive this awful bit of American history but with actors and for those too young to remember but prefer the past docudramatized. Cuba Gooding Jr., is the man nobody calls “The Juice” now, with John Travolta as Robert Shapiro by way of Dr. Evil, Sarah Paulson as souped-up Marcia Clark, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian (watch for little Kim, et al.), and so forth and so on.
“Madoff” (ABC, Wednesdays). More crimes of the rich and (latterly) famous, retold as a miniseries, with Richard Dreyfuss as the financial double-dealer and Blythe Danner as his high-living missus. Will art make them more sympathetic or reconfirm their monstrosity? Peter Scolari, Frank Whaley, Charles Grodin and Lewis Black appear in supporting roles, so some good has come out of all this.
“Animals” (HBO, Fridays). Pigeons, rats and roaches lead lives indistinct from their human neighbors in a cartoon from Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano, with the Duplass Brothers producing.
“Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” (TBS, Mondays). “Daily Show” alumna gets her own “Daily Show,” with a different name at, yes, a different place.
“Not Safe With Nikki Glaser” (Comedy Central, Tuesdays). The Nikki of MTV’s “Nikki & Sarah Live” hosts a sex-minded mix of talk and stunts and bits and things. Comics, saying aloud what the rest of us are afraid even to think of thinking.
“Those Who Can’t” (TruTV, Thursdays). One of two school comedies this year created by and starring members of an existing comedy troupe. This one’s from the Denver-based Grawlix (three men), remaking their 2013 Amazon Studios pilot.
“Vinyl” (HBO, Sundays). Love and hope and dirty dreams and still surviving on the street, along with — I’m just guessing — laughter, joy, and loneliness and sex and sex and sex and sex (and drugs) in this 1970s New York music-business epic from Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese and “Boardwalk Empire” writer Terrence Winter. Shadoobie. Bobby Cannavale stars as a record man whose headaches do not yet include the Internet.
“11.22.63” (Hulu). Stephen King’s novel becomes a miniseries in which English teacher James Franco — typecasting! — goes back in time to stop the JFK assassination, because Chris Cooper, who has some sort of wormhole in a closet in his diner, has convinced him that this would be good idea. Have they never read Stephen King?
“Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” (CBS, Wednesdays). Gary Sinise, franchise-hopping from “CSI,” heads a globe-trotting FBI unit assigned to extract luckless Americans from dangerous foreign entanglements, bumping heads or fists with the local constabularies as they go. Stay home, kids, is the subtext.
“The Real O’Neals” (ABC, Wednesday; moves to Tuesdays on March 8). Columnist Dan Savage sparked this comedy, in which teenager Kenny (Noah Galvin) comes out as gay to his picture-book family, occasioning a storm of mutual confession. Human seal of quality Martha Plimpton plays the mom.
“The Family” (ABC, Thursday; moves to Sundays thereafter). Creepy family drama, with Joan Allen as an ambitious politician making hay from the return of a son abducted a decade before, if that’s really what’s happening. (All equals not what it seems.) Andrew McCarthy is the wrongly convicted weirdo next door. Or is he?
“Of Kings and Prophets” (ABC, Tuesdays). From out of that bloody potboiler, the Old Testament, this muscular retelling of the tale of King Saul (Ray Winstone) and little David (Olly Rix) is as much “Game of Thrones” as books of Samuel, as Middle-earth as Middle East.
“Underground” (WGN America, Wednesdays). Multithread drama set around the Underground Railroad has “The Great Escape” in its bones. Aldis Hodge, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mykelti Williamson, Christopher Meloni are involved.
“The Catch” (ABC, Thursdays). “The Killing’s” Mireille Enos on the trail of a new mystery as an L.A. fraud investigator defrauded by her fiance (Peter Krauss). Mireille Enos is all you need to know here.
“The Path” (Hulu). Formerly “The Way.” Created by Jessica Goldberg (a writer for “Parenthood,” whose creator, Jason Katims, produces), a drama that has something to do with a cult that has something to do with relationships. Hugh Dancy is in it (as the leader); Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan are in it (in a relationship). That is all I know for now.
To be determined
“The Circus” (Showtime, January). Weekly look at the 2016 presidential race. The word “verite” has been used.
“Containment” (CW). Love in the time of a disease no one has a name for yet. A zombie show in which the dead stay dead.