New fall TV season: Three to watch and one to skip

Three to watch and one to skip

It’s easier to figure out a plot twist when you know there’s one coming. This is Us was heavily promoted as having a big plot twist that NBC was surprisingly successful in keeping under wraps until the show’s debut. If you watch for clues you can figure it out before the big reveal, yet even knowing what was coming, the pilot’s ending still packed a big emotional wallop. If the show can maintain its balance of humor and heart, this should be a winner.
 
In contrast, the plot setup in Designated Survivor was prominently promoted. Kiefer Sutherland plays a low-level cabinet member suddenly catapulted into the Oval Office after a disaster takes out the president and everyone else before him in the line of succession. He may not be up to the task, and the pilot makes it clear he won’t have an easy time of it, even from his own advisors. Sutherland is an old hand at political intrigue and fans of 24 give this show a built-in base.
 
The Good Place isn’t so good if you’re not good. Kristen Bell plays a self-absorbed, selfish woman mistakenly sent to an afterlife designed for people who led good, selfless and meaningful lives. She tries to blend in to avoid being sent to The Bad Place, but her bad vibes have a negative effect on all that goodness. The tone and setting are appropriately surreal and bring originality to a season filled with reboots of old concepts.
 
One of those reboots, MacGyver, opened with a James Bond-style set piece including a black-tie party, a boat chase, a car chase, double-crosses and murder, all within the first few minutes. Yet with all that action, it felt surprisingly flat. The cliché-ridden dialog and frenetic pace leave no room for the characters to breathe or develop. The show’s trademark of MacGyver using his vast scientific knowledge and making do with what he finds along the way to accomplish his mission is rushed through so we can get to the next big chase scene. The original show raised the question of how MacGyver was going to science his way out of difficult situations. The new one asks, “how can so much action be so dull?” I’m not sure even a Swiss army knife, paper clip, duct tape and chewing gum can save this one.

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