This fall's crop of comedies and dramas is both a happy distraction for those in back-to-school mode and a welcome water-cooler alternative to politics for the office crowd. Sure, the première dates now stretch out farther than ever, and more people choose their own viewing moment via TiVo, DVR, Hulu, and Netflix. But as long as the format endures, this will be the time of year that critics and audiences check out what's worth watching.
Female headliners and big names abound. These include: Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) in the lead role of a geeky but feisty young medical intern in Emily Owens, M.D.; Reba McEntire in Malibu Country in which she plays (surprise!) a country music singer who heads west with her mom (Lily Tomlin) to start over after her husband cheats on her; Mob Doctor, a based-on-real-life drama about a surgeon (Roberta Chung) who must treat organized crime figures to help pay off her brother's debts; Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights"), in Nashville, plays a country music singer whose long career is in decline and is asked to team up with ayoung rising star (Hayden Panettiere); Revolution, which features a "Hunger Games"-style future in which a teen girl (Tracy Spiridakos) sets out to avenge her father and discover the cause of the planet's dark state; Mary McDonnell comes back with most of the cast from TNT's "The Closer," in the spinoff, Major Crimes; Mindy Kaling leaves "The Office" to star in The Mindy Project, in which she plays a doctor who cannot quite handle a career and a love life; Elementary, yet another Sherlock Holmes update, stars Lucy Liu as Watson; and Ellen Barkin in an Archie Bunker-style role as an "I'm not a racist" character who is the mother of a surrogate mom for two gay men in The New Normal.
There are plenty of returning high-profile men, both behind and in front of the camera. Top show creators include Ryan Murphy of "Nip/Tuck" ("The New Normal"), J.J. Abrams of "Lost" ("Revolution"), and crime procedural titan Dick Wolf, who returns with Chicago Fire, full of, er, hot young firefighters. Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis face off as a rancher-turned-sheriff and his mobster nemesis in Vegas, based on a true story; Matthew Perry ("Friends") is in group therapy after his wife dies, in Go On; Andre Braugher plays the captain of a US nuclear sub gone rogue after being fired on by another US vessel in Last Resort; and Terry O'Quinn presides – with Vanessa Williams – over a spooky Manhattan townhouse where dreams come true – but at a supernatural price, in 666 Park Avenue.