Brace yourself. Another fall television season is upon us, and as usual, the broadcast and cable networks are sending an insanely massive fleet of new shows our way.
You simply don’t have the time to watch all that programming, nor would you want to. That’s where we come in.
To help you narrow your focus – and ease the stress on your weary DVR – we’ve done a deep dive through 20-plus shows to come up with five that are extra see-worthy.
Keep in mind that these picks are based solely on the strength of pilot episodes. A strong pilot, of course, doesn’t guarantee sustained greatness. But it at least offers some promise and hope.
Here then are the five shows we’re most excited to see:
1. “Gotham” (Fox): No fall show arrives lathered in more hype than this Batman prequel, and fortunately, its pilot delivers a great big blast of escapist fun.
Ben McKenzie radiates steely-eyed intensity as a rookie cop who will someday become Commissioner Gordon, and Donal Logue is full of brash charisma as his jaded partner, Harvey Bullock. But the real surprise is Jada Pinkett Smith, who gobbles up scenery as Fish Moony, a fierce gang boss with swagger to spare.
Well-paced and visually gorgeous, “Gotham’s” noirish opening hour puts several juicy story lines into motion and gives us tantalizing glimpses into how notorious villains like Catwoman (Carmen Bicondova), the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) got their start.
We anticipate spending many a dark Monday night with this bunch.
2. “The Affair” (Showtime): Extramarital relationships have fueled oh so many steamy soaps. But where this provocative drama promises to separate itself from the pack is in the way it intimately explores the emotional fallout.
Dominic West plays a novelist and father who appears to be happily married. But during a summer vacation on Long Island, he is drawn to a troubled young waitress (Ruth Wilson). One thing leads to another, and complications arise.
With a sly narrative structure that swivels between now and then and presents events from different illuminating perspectives, “The Affair” becomes thick with tension while hinting that it will evolve into much more than what its title implies. Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson round out the excellent cast on this Sunday night show.
3. “Gracepoint” (Fox): Inspired by the superlative British crime drama “Broadchurch,” this 10-episode whodunit airing on Thursday nights has a lot to live up to. So far, so good.
David Tennant (“Doctor Who”), reprising his role from the UK version, plays a cop assigned to investigate the murder of a young boy in an idyllic seaside hamlet. Anna Gunn (“Breaking Bad”) is his partner.
The remake deftly captures much of what made its predecessor so gripping: the moody intrigue, the crime’s emotional and psychological ripple effects, the sense of a small town losing its innocence.
And early on at least, “Gracepoint” clings to the “Broadchurch” narrative. (Why not? It’s a proven playbook). But producers have promised that their show will soon diverge in “significant ways.” Our curiosity has been piqued.
4. “Black-ish” (ABC): Sitcoms are often better when they’re not only funny but have something interesting to say.
Enter Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anthony Anderson), a man with a loving biracial wife (Tracee Ellis Ross), great kids, a rewarding job and a sweet colonial home in the ’burbs. It’s all good, right? Yes, except Dre worries that, amid the upper-middle class trappings, his family is losing touch with its African-American heritage.
Anderson throws off a lot of fun sparks with Ross, as well as Laurence Fishburne, who plays his old-school Pops. And the kids? They’re downright adorable.
“Black-ish” doesn’t hit every note, but it delivers some hearty laughs and an insightful discussion about cultural identity, while giving us a modern family we can relate to on Wednesday nights.
5. “The Flash” (The CW): We hesitated to place another comic book-inspired show on our list, but lead actor Grant Gustin won us over with his irresistible charm, and the first hour of this “Arrow” spinoff airing on Tuesday nights sucked us in with its visual verve and zippy pace.
Fans know the story: Barry Allen (Gustin) was just 11 years old when his mother was killed and his father was falsely convicted of the murder. He grew up to be an endearingly geeky forensics investigator, who, in a freak accident, was struck by lightning and somehow gained the gift of super-speed. Now, he’ll use his newfound power to fight crime in Central City.
We have no idea where this turbocharged saga is headed, but something tells us we’ll get there in a blaze of glory.
OTHERS TO CONSIDER: Also making good first impressions were three shows that just missed the cut – the teen-centric medical series “Red Band Society” (Fox, Wednesdays), Shonda Rhimes’ latest intriguing, over-the-top drama, “How to Get Away With Murder” (ABC, Thursdays), and the endearing telenovela adaptation “Jane the Virgin” (The CW, Mondays).