Film & Television

Fall’s Network Line-Up:
Where to Find TV’s Latest Heroines

Back in the 60s and 70s and 80s, we looked forward every year to a special issue of TV Guide, so thick that it made the September Vogue feel like a pamphlet. Inside was the weekly line-up for all three (yes, only three) networks, and a full-page story for each new program.

Of course, times have changed. And, when we tell our children that we only had a handful of channels to choose from, we must sound like our own parents remembering when milk was a nickel and they had to walk six miles to school, uphill both ways.

Basic cable, pay channels, and now streaming networks Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and more have irreversibly changed the game. New shows premiere throughout the year, entire series often available to binge immediately. But, the broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC (and I’ll add CW and Fox to that list), still announce their new series every fall. This year, there are several featuring strong women, many in rather unexpected roles.

ABC has two shows starting that may prove worthwhile. Emergence, promoted as a character-driven genre thriller, focuses on a police chief who finds a little girl at the scene of a mysterious accident. The child has no memory, but appears to have supernatural powers, and attracts a lot of unwanted if not downright sinister attention. The trailer has a bit of an X-Files feel to it. Stage actress Allison Tolman stars, along with young Alexa Swinton from Billions. The series is produced and written by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas. Emergence debuts September 24th and runs Tuesdays at 10 pm.

Stumptown is adapted from a popular graphic novel series based in Portland, Oregon. It follows Dex, played by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders, an army vet turned private eye. She’s a bit of an anti-heroine heroine, one with a gambling problem, a messy love life, and a predisposition toward writing her own rules. The always-terrific Camryn Manheim also stars as a police lieutenant, whose no-nonsense approach promises to clash with Dex’s less orthodox one. Stumptown debuts September 25th and runs Wednesdays at 10 pm.

CBS is launching three series with women front and center. All Rise is a courthouse drama, starring Simone Missick as new judge Lola Carmichael, finding her way while trying to cut through the bureaucratic bullshit that gets in the way of justice. She quickly earns the nickname “The Rollercoaster,” because, as one aide explains, “None of us know where the ride is taking us, but nausea is likely to set in.” Familiar face Marg Helgenberger is set up as Carmichael’s well-heeled adversary. All Rise debuts September 23rd and runs Mondays at 9 pm.

Carol’s Second Act is the only sitcom on my list, and hopefully the laugh track in the trailer will be a little less grating in the sixty-minute show. The story follows newly divorced and even more newly white-coated Carol, TV veteran Patricia Heaton, as a middle-aged intern finding her way among her much younger hospital peers. The trailer’s best line: “My husband went off to find himself and now he’s sleeping on his sister’s futon and I’m a doctor. So, life is good!” Carol’s Second Act debuts September 26th and runs Thursdays at 9 pm.

Evil, produced and written by wife-husband team Michelle and Robert King, is a mystery/psychological thriller that examines the relationship between science and religion when it comes to acts of extreme violence and terror. A clinical psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers of Westworld) teams up with David, “an assessor” from the Catholic Church (Mike Colter, The Good Wife), to determine the line between insanity and demonic possession. As their work together draws them into darker and darker territory, Kristen and her family find themselves in horrific danger. Christine Lahti also stars as Kristen’s mother. Evil debuts September 26th and runs Thursdays at 10 pm.

NBC is also launching a new procedural. Bluff City Law features a father-daughter legal team in Memphis. Although Elijah (Jimmy Smits) and Sydney (Caitlin McGee) get along like oil and water, they realize that “their differences can be their strengths.” With her passion and his experience, they defend civil rights and fight corporate greed. Jessica Yu (whose credits include the controversial 13 Reasons Why and the summer’s phenomenal Fosse/Verdon) directs. Bluff City Law debuts September 23rd and runs Mondays at 10 pm.

The CW has two new series that may target a younger demographic, but put heroic women in the spotlight, or in one case, in the bat signal. Batwoman (how pleased I was that they weren’t reverting to the belittling “Batgirl” from the 1966 series) is a new take on one of the caped crusader’s cohorts — in this case, his cousin Kate Kane. Australian Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) outspoken and self-described genderfluid, promises to add an edgy new vibe to the superhero genre. Batwoman debuts October 6th and runs Sundays at 8 pm.

Nancy Drew should need no introduction. And quite frankly, after the CW turned innocent Archie comics into the mass murder mystery Riverdale, a modern adaptation of the famous girl detective feels overdue. In this version, Nancy and her deliberately diverse crew work at the local diner — when they’re not solving crimes. My hunch is that the series will prove a bit too contemporary for those of us who grew up reading the Carolyn Keene series, but shows with smart, capable female leads deserve all the support they can get. Nancy Drew debuts October 9th and runs Wednesdays at 9 pm (right after Riverdale).

Fox is premiering an interesting new series, drawn from sensational real-life headlines. In Almost Family, Brittany Snow, one of the saner songstresses from the Pitch Perfect films, plays Julia Bechley, daughter and publicist for renowned fertility doctor Leon Bechley (Timothy Hutton). A shocking media exposé reveals that Dr. Bechley used his own sperm (“I stacked the deck,” he shrugs) and fathered more than 100 children. It’s going to take some time for Julia to get to know all the siblings she never knew she had. Almost Family debuts October 2nd and runs on Wednesdays at 9 pm.

One more suggestion (or guilty pleasure, depending on your point of view). While you’re waiting for these series to debut, you may want to take a walk down an AstroTurf memory lane. A Very Brady Renovation launches later this week on HGTV. In a highly publicized (and controversial) real estate deal last year, HGTV purchased the house that was used as the exterior of The Brady Bunch home in the beloved 60s series. (Interior shots were done in the studio.) Pulling together the six actors who played the original Brady kids (now ranging in age from 58 to 64), the network has renovated the house to be a perfect replica of the fictional Brady home. The actors aren’t portraying Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, and Bobby here. Rather, they’re interacting as themselves, sharing what the show meant to them as they take on the challenging renovation process. A Very Brady Renovation debuts September 9th at 9 pm.

Apparently, some of us can go home again.


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  • Christina Lombardi September 5, 2019 at 10:43 am

    Stumptown is now on my list. As is ‘Evil,’ mostly due to Mike Colter — who you forgot to identify as LUKE CAGE, Marvel’s best TV hero.