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Fox has much-needed strong dramas; Messing's 'Laura' is a mess

This is the first part of a four-part series about the new fall shows this season.

Fox desperately needs a dramatic hit this season after the coolest series of last season, “Sleepy Hollow,” was the only one of its rookie dramas to get any traction.

After all, “American Idol” sagged badly last mid-season and “Bones” can’t go on forever.

It also would be nice if larger audiences gravitated to decent Fox comedies like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” The Mindy Project” and “New Girl.’

The good news is that the three Fox dramatic pilots premiering before midseason have promise. Here is a brief summary of the new Fox series premiering this fall, including one that premieres tonight.

“Red Band Society,” premiering at 9 tonight:

Premise: Teen-agers with life-threatening diseases band together in the hospital where they live to find strength, compassion, friendship and some joy while bonding with the doctors and nurses that care for them. The cast of teens in this series produced by Steven Spileberg isn’t as well-known as David Annable (“Brothers & Sisters”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), who play the doctor and nurse who take care of them. Griffin Dunne also is aboard as an eccentric rich guy living in the hospital.

You’ll Like It If: You enjoy a show narrated by a kid in a coma that celebrates life while dealing with the possibility of death and features smart teens who read Shakespeare. And you are a fan of Annable, who is looking a little like Adam Levine these days.

You’ll Hate It If: You don’t want to think about young people who have eating disorders, cancer and need a heart transplant in a show that some critics have referred as "'Glee' in the Hospital."

 My Take: I was originally uncomfortable with the show's premise, but it is so well-done and heartwarming at times without becoming syrupy – especially Spencer’s character -- that it won me over by the end of the pilot. 3 stars out of 4

 “Gotham” 8 p.m. Monday

Premise: Essentially a prequel to the “Batman” series of movies, it stars Ben McKenzie -- the Russell Crowe lookalike from The O.C.” -- as James Gordon (Gary Oldham in the movie). He’s the detective who assures the future Batman, young Bruce Wayne, that he would get to the bottom of who killed Wayne’s rich parents. Donal Logue plays Gordon’s ethically-challenged partner, Harvey Bullock. The cast also includes Robin Taylor (“The Walking Dead”) as a conniving Penguin, Sean Pertwee as Alfred (Michael Caine played him in the movies), Carmen Bicondova as a silent (for now) Catwoman and Jada Pinkett Smith as the evil Fish Mooney.

You’ll Like It If: You’re a fan of the movies and enjoy seeing a series that imagines what the characters were like before they became imbedded in our memories.

 You’ll Hate It If: Who can hate anything involving Batman? OK, there is one thing to complain about. Since we know how these characters are in the future, it removes the suspense of whether they will survive in the past. And the dialogue isn’t always inspired, as when Gordon tells young, powerless Bruce: “There will be light, there will be light.”

My Take: A perfect Monday companion to “Sleepy Hollow.” I was surprised by how involving the stylish pilot was and enjoyed the seeing the back story of the characters we’ve come to know became who they were in the movies. The pilot even had some elements that reminded me of themes in the Martin Scorsese movie, “The Departed.”   3 and a half stars

“Gracepoint,"9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2.

Premise: David Tennant of “Dr. Who” fame and Anna Gunn of “Breaking Bad” star as combative detectives in a 10-part series adapted from the British series “Broadchurch” set in a town where everybody has secrets. The detectives are trying to resolve their differences to solve the murder of a child that has rocked a town in Northern California near the Oregon border. There are multiple suspects in a case worthy of a media investigation. Even the town priest isn’t above suspicion.

You’ll Like It If: You like a stylish murder mystery and don’t mind that Tennant’s no-non-sense, brooding character is as a cold as a Northern California wind and also humorless as he tries to reclaim his professional reputation after a disaster elsewhere.

You’ll Hate It If: You want your series to move at a faster pace. And you have seen “Broadchurch” and don’t see a need to adapt it.

My Take: I didn’t see “Broadchurch,” but this is my kind of series. It is stylish, well-cast (Nick Nolte also has a role) and very involving. I just hope it doesn’t have a disappointing “Twin Peaks” ending. 3 stars

 "Mulaney,” 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct.5:

Premise:  Young John Mulaney, Martin Short, Elliott Gould and Nasim Pedrad of “Saturday Night Live” star in a comedy about a comic who writes for an over-the-top, egocentric game show host (Short) in a series produced by Lorne Michaels. One of his two roommates writes a joke that he hasn’t finished and worries that “people will realize they are laughing at nothing.”

You’ll Like It If: You like watching old comedians chew the scenery and remind you why young comics like Mulaney seem so uninspired when talking about their anxieties.

You’ll Hate It If: You can’t stand forced comedy lines and are embarrassed for old pros Short and Gould.

My Take: I got bored five minutes into the pointless pilot and annoyed when Mulaney sent me the first four episodes to see if it improved. To be honest, I didn’t care and think viewers will quickly realize that there is nothing to laugh about. 1 star

Coming up Thursday: A review of NBC’s show, which start airing tonight with the heavily-promoted “The Mysteries of Laura.”

Here is my review of “Laura,” with the rest of NBC’s new shows reviewed on Thursday.

 “The Mysteries of Laura,” which moves to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, after tonight’s sneak preview:

Premise: Debra Messing (“Smash”, “Will & Grace”) stars as an accomplished New York police detective with twin sons who are nothing but trouble, and a husband (Josh Lucas) reluctant to sign their divorce papers because he still loves her. She tries to solve a murder case at the same time she is trying to find a school that will take her kids.

 You’ll Like It If: You are a fan of Messing and comedy-dramas and wish they made more TV shows like they used to in the 1980s.

 You’ll Hate It If: You are a fan of Messing and wish she had much better material to play with.

 My Take: I really wanted to like this show because I’ve been a Messing fan since her days on “NYPD Blue” and even enjoyed her work on the critically-savaged “Smash.” However, the pilot is just silly, with the so-called mystery an afterthought. NBC didn’t help things by revealing whodunit in its promos. "Laura" probably will get a decent size audience at 10 tonight for the sneak preview, but will get smashed when it moves to 8 p.m. next week.  1 and a half stars

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