Happiness is a Warm TV

What to watch and what to skip: Our guide to Fall TV, which includes 2 shows set in NC

The new Fall TV season kicks off next week and we’ve plowed through a fresh crop of lawyers, doctors, demonic possessions, drunken choir directors, a superhero and even an animated series set right here in North Carolina and a comedy about a Raleigh “unicorn” — all to figure out which shows you should watch and which shows you’re OK to skip.

Scanning the lineup, a lot of big names jump out: Jimmy Smits, Patricia Heaton, Michael Sheen, Kristin Wiig, Bradley Whitford, Timothy Hutton, Walton Goggins, Allison Tolman, Nancy Drew.

OK, “Nancy Drew” is a TV show and not a real person, but she felt very real to many young girls obsessed with her books. Will the new show live up to the expectations of those little girls, all grown up now? We’ll see soon enough.

We’re especially excited this season for a couple of new shows that are set in North Carolina.

One of those shows, the CBS comedy “The Unicorn,” is not only based on the life of a Raleigh native, it’s actually set in Raleigh. In “The Unicorn,” Walton Goggins plays a widowed father of two whose friends encourage him to re-enter the dating world. It’s inspired by the life of Grady Cooper, a Raleigh native who graduated from Broughton High and UNC-Chapel Hill. Cooper is an Emmy-nominated editor now living in Los Angeles. We’re told that an early episode even mentions the downtown Raleigh restaurant, Humble Pie.

[Read more about Grady Cooper’s story and how “The Unicorn” got made.]

We also get a new Fox animated series, “Bless the Harts,” created by North Carolina native Emily Spivey, and set in the fictional town of Greenpoint, N.C. Spivey is known for her years of writing on “Saturday Night Live” and “King of the Hill,” and “Bless the Harts” is her homage to the “authentic Southern people” she grew up with. One of the episodes is about the Jamestown hitchhiking ghost, which is a real ghost story that originated in the Greensboro area.

Here’s the full lineup of new shows (limited to broadcast network TV, no cable or streaming shows here) with mini reviews and premiere dates.

Monday, Sept. 23

From the new CBS sitcom “Bob (Hearts) Abishola, Folake Olowofoyeku, left, and Billy Gardell. Sonja Flemming CBS

“Bob (Hearts) Abishola” 8:30 p.m., CBS

What’s it about? In the latest from Chuck Lorre, CBS King of Comedy, Billy Gardell (“Mike & Molly”) plays Bob, a middle-age sock salesman who has a heart attack and falls in love with his cardiac nurse, a Nigerian immigrant named Abishola, played by Folake Olowofoyeku. Bob then essentially stalks Abishola (he bribes a fellow nurse for her address and goes to her home!) and tries to win her over with free socks.

Should you watch? There’s some (heart) in the pilot, but I must admit that “immigrant humor” (which makes up a lot of the first episode) coming from Chuck Lorre makes me a tad nervous. Olowofoyeku is great, and her dry humor is the reason to watch.

From the CBS drama “All Rise,” Wilson Bethel, left, and Simone Missick. Michael Yarish CBS

“All Rise” 9 p.m., CBS

What’s it about? We get a couple of new legal dramas this season, and this one is set in LA and follows the personal and work lives of judges, prosecutors, public defenders and bailiffs at the Los Angeles courthouse. At the center of the show is Judge Lola Carmichael, played by Simone Missick. We start with her first day on the bench, and she wastes no time doing things the way she wants instead of the way they’ve always been done.

Should you watch? The jury is out on this one. I like the premise, but the pilot didn’t do much for me. I’ve already forgotten everyone in the show except for Missick. It could be worth catching one more episode before deciding.

The cast of Fox’s “Prodigal Son,” (L-R): Frank Harts, Keiko Agena, Aurora Perrineau, Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Sheen, Tom Payne, Bellamy Young and Halston Sage. Mark Seliger FOX

“Prodigal Son” 9 p.m., Fox

What’s it about? In short, the son of a notorious serial killer grows up to be a serial killer profiler for the FBI, and eventually has to turn to his imprisoned dad for help in solving cases. It’s sort of like “Silence of the Lambs,” if Clarisse was Hannibal Lecter’s kid and she had to chain herself in bed at night because of the night terrors her progenitor inspired. The son, Malcolm, is played by Tom Payne (you may remember him as Jesus in “The Walking Dead”) and the father, Dr. Whitly, is magnificently played by Michael Sheen (you may remember him from everything, including “The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon” and “Masters of Sex”). It also stars Lou Diamond Phillips (“Longmire”) as an NYPD detective and Asheville native Bellamy Young (“Scandal”) as Malcolm’s mother.

Should you watch? This series is creepy and intense — two qualities I love — and I’m personally here for it. But if creepy killer shows turn you off, skip it hard. What I like about this one has everything to do with Sheen. He straddles menacing and wryly funny in the best possible way, and he’s so much fun to watch in every single scene.

From the NBC dram a “Bluff City Law,” (L-R): Caitlin McGee as Sydney Strait, Jimmy Smits as Elijah Strait and Michael Luwoye as Anthony Little. NBC NBC

“Bluff City Law” 10 p.m., NBC

What’s it about? This very earnest legal drama is most notable on the surface because it features Jimmy Smits, who got his big break on the NBC legal hit “L.A. Law” back in the 1980s. Smits trades Los Angeles for Memphis here, playing famed civil rights lawyer Elijah Strait, whose daughter Sydney, a tough-as-nails lawyer herself, hates him. But after the sudden death of Elijah’s wife/Sydney’s mom, Sydney agrees to join his firm and they work on healing their relationship while winning cases for the underdogs.

Should you watch? Well, it’s Jimmy Smits. I think that means you have to at least try. The show isn’t doing anything new, exactly, but what it does, it does well. It’s not only set in Memphis but shot there, and we get to see a lot of the city. And there’s a very interesting twist at the end of the first episode that at least makes me curious enough to watch one more.

Tuesday, Sept. 24

From the new ABC comedy series “Mixed-ish,” (L-R): Gary Cole, Arica Himmel, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Ethan Childress, Tika Sumpter. Eric McCandless ABC

“Mixed-ish” 9 p.m., ABC

What’s it about? This “Black-ish” prequel tells the story of Rainbow’s crazy childhood. It starts with Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross), Dre (Anthony Anderson) and the family from “Black-ish,” and Bow reminiscing about her childhood growing up on a commune. (In an inspired line from Ross, she casually references a Netflix documentary which she says explains it all.) Then we flash back to 1985, when Bow was 12 years old and transitioning — along with her parents (Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tika Sumpter) and little brother and sister — from cult life to “normal” life in Santa Monica. Gary Cole plays the grandfather, a multi-millionaire ambulance-chasing lawyer who is providing the family a home.

Should you watch? The kids are cute and funny (particularly the little sister, played by Mykal-Michelle Harris), but the show falters a bit when it focuses too much on the adults. If you like “Black-ish” (or if you used to like it but have grown tired of it recently), it’s worth watching.

Allison Tolman, left, and Alexa Swinton in the pilot for the new ABC drama “Emergence.” Virginia Sherwood ABC Studios

“Emergence” 10 p.m., ABC

What’s it about? A young girl (Alexa Swinton) is found at the site of a plane crash on a beach, physically unscathed, but with no apparent memory of who she is or where she’s from. She forms an instant bond with the female police chief (Allison Tolman from the FX series “Fargo”) who finds her on the beach. Everything seems OK until fake federal agents show up to investigate the crash, and then a series of sketchy characters appear, all trying to snatch the kid.

Should you watch? Tolman is great in everything she does, and this is no exception. Her police chief character (she also played a police officer in “Fargo”) is a single mom living with her dad, a former firefighter who has cancer. The fact that so many people are after this kid, who seems to be able to make weird magnetic force field-type things happen, makes me think there must be an alien element somehow. And that isn’t usually my thing, but Tolman makes me care. I’m in.

Wednesday, Sept. 25

Cobie Smulders in the new ABC drama “Stumptown.” Mitch Haaseth ABC

“Stumptown” 10 p.m., ABC

What’s it about? Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”) plays Dex Parios, an Afghanistan war veteran who has been through some rough stuff and is having a hard time adjusting to normal life back home in Portland, Oregon. She agrees to help the owner of the local Indian Casino locate her missing granddaughter (Dex has a complicated history with this family) and things go sideways. Enter Det. Miles Hoffman, played by Michael Ealy and his blue eyes, called in to investigate what is now a kidnapping case. Dex and Miles are at odds. And then they aren’t. And then they are. And then they aren’t.

Should you watch? Did I not mention Michael Ealy? I mean, yes, of course. Watch this. There’s action and drama and humor. The cast is great. In addition to Smulders and Ealy, we get Jake Johnson (“New Girl”) and Camryn Manheim (“The Practice”). And speaking of the cast, the mixtape stuck in Dex’s car stereo is used so perfectly that it should get top billing.

Thursday, Sept. 26

Bradley Whitford as Arthur in the NBC sitcom “Perfect Harmony.” Justin Lubin NBC

“Perfect Harmony” 8:30 p.m., NBC

What’s it about? Bradley Whitford (“West Wing”) plays a retired Princeton music professor who, while visiting his late wife’s tiny Kentucky hometown for her funeral, is convinced to help a struggling church choir train for a competition. Whitford’s Arthur Cochran is dark, depressed and often drunk. But he’s also very much alone in the world without his beloved wife, who is buried there in the town. He sticks around. And he’s funny, in that dry way that elite snobs are around simple, small town people.

Should you watch? Alarm bells went off early, because if there’s anything I hate it’s a cliche sitcom that makes fun of small town people (especially Southerners). But goshdarnit, this has heart. The mutual disdain between Arthur and the townspeople turns into appreciation, and then affection. There’s a scene in the choir competition near the end of the pilot that is touching in a way I never expected. And Whitford is very good here — especially if sarcasm is something you love (and I so do!).

Walton Goggins plays a single parent to two daughters in the CBS sitcom “The Unicorn.” Monty Brinton

“The Unicorn” 8:30 p.m., CBS

What’s it about? We see the softer side of Walton Goggins (“The Shield,” “Justified,” “Vice Principals”) in this new sitcom, where he plays a widowed father of two young girls, convinced by his supportive friends to re-enter the dating world. Because he’s such a genuinely good guy, they explain, he’s a “unicorn” in the dating world, and women will go crazy for him. And they do.

Should you watch? This is a very sweet show, and I love some Walton Goggins. Plus, there’s a terrific supporting cast (Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Omar Benson Miller and Maya Lynne Robinson are the best friends) and cute kids, who manage to be funny and not annoying (Ruby Jay and Makenzie Moss). Plus, there’s a scene with a giant dog lying on a kitchen counter at the beginning of the show that won me over. This is the show based on a Raleigh native and set in Raleigh. If you somehow needed more reasons than “Walton” and “Goggins” to watch, there you go. The bad part is that it’s on opposite “Perfect Harmony,” but that’s why God invented DVRs. Watch it.

From the new NBC comedy “Sunnyside,” (L-R): Joel Kim Booster as Jun Ho, Poppy Liu as Mei Lin, Samba Schutte as Hakim, Kal Penn as Garrett, Diana Marie Riva as Griselda, Moses Storm as Brady. Colleen Hayes NBC

“Sunnyside” 9:30 p.m., NBC

What’s it about? Kal Penn (“Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle,” “House”) plays a failed New York City council member who can only be described as a huge loser. When he hits rock bottom, he pretends to help a group of immigrants become citizens, but when things get very real for them, he decides to actually help.

Should you watch? There’s a really diverse immigrant cast here (including Diana Maria Riva, Joel Kim Booster, Kiran Deol, Poppy Liu, Moses Storm and Samba Schutte), which is great. But the laughs (for me) were few. Maybe it gets better.

Ito Aghayere, left, and Patricia Heaton in the CBS comedy “Carol’s Second Act.” Sonja Flemming CBS

“Carol’s Second Act” 9:30 p.m., CBS

What’s it about? Emmy Award-winner Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) returns to TV with this very old-fashioned sitcom about a 50-year-old woman who decides to go back to school and become a doctor after her kids leave the nest.

Should you watch? This is tricky. A lot of people really love Heaton, who was amazing on “Raymond.” But I found it unwatchable. It’s very joke-driven, but the jokes are lame. And the live studio audience is heavily prompted to laugh — way too often — at things that aren’t funny. It’s a throwback, for sure, and maybe that’s what turns me off. Heaton deserves better.

Aasif Mandvi, left, and Katja Herbers in the new CBS drama “EVIL.” Elizabeth Fisher CBS

“EVIL” 10 p.m., CBS

What’s it about? From the creators of “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight,” strangely enough, comes a drama in which a skeptical psychologist joins a priest-in-training and a carpenter to investigate the Catholic Church’s backlog of unexplained mysteries. That means demonic possessions, hauntings and miracles. The investigative team is Katja Herbers (“Westworld”) as psychologist Kristen Bouchard, Mike Colter (you know him as Luke Cage in the Marvel Universe) as priest David Acosta and Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show”) as Ben Shroff. Michael Emerson (“Lost,” “Person of Interest”) also stars.

Should you watch? I like spooky, and I like mysteries. And once I saw that it was from the creators of “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight,” I noticed the stylistic similarities to those shows, which is another plus. And Herbers is very good here. Definitely added to the DVR.

Sunday, Sept. 29

“Bless the Harts” follows the Harts, a Southern family that is always broke, and forever struggling to make ends meet. Violet ( voiced by Jillian Bell) and Jenny (voiced by Kristen Wiig). FOX

“Bless the Harts,” 8:30 p.m., Fox

What’s it about? It’s an animated comedy series from North Carolina native Emily Spivey about the perpetually broke Hart family, made up of three generations of strong Southern females (plus one lovable boyfriend). Kristen Wiig voices Jenny, a single mom to Violet (Jillian Bell). Maya Rudolph voices the hilarious grandmother, Betty. Ike Barinholtz is Wayne, Jenny’s boyfriend. In the first episode, Jenny wants to sell her mother’s extensive (and expensive) Hug N’ Bugs collection (think twisted Beanie Babies) to pay the water bill. Meanwhile, disaffected teen Violet really wants a creative space of her own, and goodhearted Wayne tries to make her wish come true.

Should you watch? That’s a yes. Many adult animated comedies feel very much like they are imagined and produced for dudes. This one is different. It’s created by, written by and (mostly) acted by females. And there’s no feeling that the Southern family portrayed is the butt of a joke — they aren’t dumb and they aren’t losers, they’re just going through a rough patch. Plus, it’s set in North Carolina! Spivey wrote for “Saturday Night Live” and for “King of the Hill,” so she knows what she’s doing, and her love for her native people makes me confident that it won’t devolve into something insulting.

Wednesday, Oct. 2

From the Fox drama “Almost Family,” (L-R): Emily Osment, Megalyn Echikunwoke and Brittany Snow. Linda Kallerus FOX

“Almost Family” 9 p.m., Fox

What’s it about? Timothy Hutton plays Leon Bechley, a renowned fertility doctor who for many years used his own sperm to impregnate his patients. When the Wall Street Journal breaks the story, three very different women — who conveniently already kinda-sorta know each other and also kinda-sorta hate each other — discover they are sisters. One of the women is Bechley’s daughter (the one he raised, we should clarify), played by Brittany Snow. The other women are played by Megalyn Echikunwoke and Emily Osment — but there could be dozens more of these surprise siblings popping up through the season.

Should you watch? There are plenty of cliches and a bit more exposition than necessary (usually an indication of lazy writing), but most of all a feeling that Hutton, especially after his recent turns on ABC’s “American Crime” anthology series, should be in a much better drama.

Sunday, Oct. 6

Ruby Rose, left, as Kate Kane (Batwoman) and Camrus Johnson as Luke Fox in the new series “Batwoman” from The CW. Kimberley French The CW

“Batwoman,” 8 p.m., The CW

What’s it about? The CW loves a superhero show (by my count, this makes five in the CW’s DC Comics Universe), but “Batwoman” may be the twist the genre needs. With Ruby Rose in the lead, we may not be getting the first gay character in a superhero TV series, but she is the first gay title character — and that’s an important distinction. “Batwoman” starts three years after Batman disappeared from Gotham, a city now under siege by the Alice in Wonderland gang. Bruce Wayne’s cousin, Kate Kane (Rose), also previously exiled from the city, returns to help find Sophie, a missing police officer Kate loves. She discovers cousin Bruce’s hidden Batcave and realizes what she must do.

Should you watch? If you’re into CW’s superhero shows or into DC Comics in general, absolutely. The casting of Rose was controversial, but she holds her own. Her scenes with Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) — he’s sort of the “Alfred” here — are particularly fun. I’m not into the CW superhero shows, but I was a fan of “Gotham” on Fox, and there’s a similar vibe.

Wednesday, Oct. 9

Kennedy McMann as Nancy in “Nancy Drew” on The CW. Robert Falconer The CW

“Nancy Drew” 9 p.m., The CW

What’s it about? This is a hard reboot of the beloved, classic detective series. In this version, as in the books, Nancy’s father is a lawyer and her mother is dead. But in this updated version, Nancy (Kennedy McMann) is a disaffected teen shattered by her mother’s death from cancer, skipping college, working in a diner and bickering with her dad. She’s still solving mysteries, though. The diner in her small marina town is sort of her base camp, and her teenage coworkers (and her boyfriend, Nick) are her Scooby gang — but in the pilot, we don’t know if all of them (or any of them) can be trusted.

Should you watch? This is not your mother’s Nancy Drew. The CW is clearly going for more of an edgy “Veronica Mars” vibe, but the pilot is far too humorless for that comparison. There’s also a bit of a supernatural element, and I can’t decide how I feel about that. I really wish The CW had offered up more than one episode for review. Some casting notes: Freddie Prinze Jr. plays Nancy’s father, Carson, in the pilot, but is replaced by Scott Wolfe in subsequent episodes. Also, Pamela Sue Martin, who played Nancy Drew in the 1970s TV series, guest stars in the pilot as local medium Harriet Grosset.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.