TV is an unforgiving business, especially these days. There are hundreds of scripted shows competing for a finite number of viewers with limited time and reduced attention spans. Even if you succeed in making something good, it’s possible — even likely — that you won’t find an audience, because people won’t take the time to appreciate what you’ve done. Instead, they’ll render a snap judgement based on superficial criteria, ranging from “I don’t like the lead actor” to “I don’t like the title” to “I can’t watch this because I’m currently trapped under a heavy object.” It’s a deeply unfair system.
By the way: I am about to render a snap judgement of some TV shows based on superficial criteria.
This fall, dozens of new shows will premiere. After scouring the listings and perusing trailers made available online, I’ve compiled my top five list of shows that I predict will not survive past their first seasons. Let me be clear: I am not making a definitive statement about the quality of these shows, because I have not actually watched them. I’m judging them based on the premise and the trailer, which is how all shows are judged by prospective viewers. If it looks bad to me, it will probably look bad to you.
5. Kevin Can Wait (CBS)
Premise: Ex-King of Queens star Kevin James is back as a recently retired police officer who finds [stereotypical ’80s sitcom announcer voice] that life at home with his improbably attractive wife and blandly cute kids is just as dangerous as workin’ his old beat!
Dubious highlight of the trailer: An extended bit about James gorging on a bag full of hamburgers that is played for laughs (as opposed to Cronenberg-esque body horror).
Why it will fail: Betting against a CBS sitcom starring Kevin James is like putting money down against road rage in the middle of rush hour. Somehow, the darker impulses of the public always find a way to prevail. However, there is such a thing as the law of diminishing returns. Based on the trailer, Kevin Can Wait looks like virtually the same show as The King of Queens, only fatter and dad-ier. Again, “fatter and dad-ier” can be a winning formula, and James has an undeniable track record of dragging dire-looking projects (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, the Grown-Ups franchise) across the finish line. But it’s always tough for sitcom stars to reboot themselves with a new show. (Just ask Jason Alexander, Matt LeBlanc, Kirstie Alley, or anyone who isn’t Julia Louis-Dreyfus.) And it’s not like James has support from the critical community — Kevin Can Wait seems destined to become the go-to signifier of “trash culture,” like Nickelback for TV. And it’s not like even Nickelback is as popular as they used to be.
4. The Great Indoors (CBS)
Premise: Joel McHale plays an old-school, man’s man-type magazine writer put in charge of an outdoors-lifestyle website.
Dubious highlight of the trailer: Lots of “millennials are soft” jokes, including a riff on participation trophies. Did I mention that this is a CBS sitcom?
Why it will fail: If you are one of the millions of people who relies on the internet for information and entertainment, it’s easy to forget that there’s a population out there for whom the web represents a mysterious, ephemeral world populated by total dorkus-malorkuses. The Great Indoors is a web-oriented show for those web-averse people. It’s a show in which the term “online content curator” is considered a punchline, and that punchline is underlined by casting McLovin as said curator. It makes you wonder who exactly The Great Indoors is for. The idea seems to be “The Big Bang Theory + BuzzFeed jokes.” But will the average CBS viewer care enough about BuzzFeed to be engaged? As for the real-life dorkus-malorkuses populating the internet, The Great Indoors at best looks anachronistic and at worst insulting.
3. Lethal Weapon (Fox)
Premise: Two cops (Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans Sr.) fight bad guys while sharing names and boilerplate biographical details with characters from the popular ’80s action franchise.
Dubious highlight of the trailer: Not one person says, “I’m getting too old for this sh*t.”
Why it will fail: Remakes are plentiful in this year’s fall schedule, but while I can talk myself into sort of caring about Training Day (with Bill Paxton!) and The Exorcist (starring Geena Davis?), this Lethal Weapon redux seems utterly pointless. The first Lethal Weapon re-invented the buddy-cop genre, but in the intervening 29 years, the old “white cop, black cop” routine has been played out in dozens of iterations. The only thing that’s unique about Lethal Weapon in retrospect are the performances by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Take that out of the equation, and Lethal Weapon seems like just another cop show. Adding Wayans just makes me wish this was a Last Boy Scout remake instead.
2. Man With a Plan (CBS)
Premise: Matt LeBlanc is a dad who stays home to take care of the kids after his wife goes back to work.
Dubious highlight of the trailer: The Office‘s Jenna Fischer originally co-starred as LeBlanc’s wife, but apparently her role has been re-cast with Liza Snyder now assuming the role. Fischer still appears in the trailer, though mostly with her back to the camera.
Why it will fail: Doesn’t it seem weird that there isn’t already a CBS show named Man With a Plan? This is a network already deeply committed to melding men with plans. Half of the shows on CBS right now could be called Man With a Plan. If the premise of Man With a Plan sounds similar to Kevin Can Wait, perhaps it’s because both shows will anchor Monday’s CBS lineup, the one place where shlubby, retrograde white guys are still presented as lovable. But whereas Kevin Can Wait merely seems tired, Man With a Plan appears to be a genuinely troubled mess. Which is a shame, because LeBlanc actually is an all-time TV schlub, and his Who’s The Boss?-era Danza impression in the trailer is kind of endearing. But what’s around him is stultifying.
1. Imaginary Mary (ABC)
Premise: A career-minded woman (Jenna Elfman) falls for a divorced father of three, which prompts her childhood imaginary friend (?) to appear as an adviser (??) for her transition to family life (?!?).
Dubious highlight of the trailer: Too many to choose from, but gun to my head, I’ll go with the part where the heavily CGI’ed imaginary friend does the Macarena.
Why it will fail: I’ll be honest: It makes me happy that shows like this still exist. When you live in the prestige TV bubble of cable and streaming services, the seriousness of self-consciously created and presented “art” can feel exhausting, even suffocating. It makes you long for the trash TV of your youth — what else explains the existence of Fuller House or prestige shows like Mr. Robot referencing ALF? Well, my friends, you don’t have to go back to the ’80s to find high-concept cheese. In addition to Imaginary Mary, there’s also a new show called Downward Dog starring Fargo‘s Allison Tolman that is told from the perspective of a neurotic dog. But that show actually looked too good for me to include on this list. Hopefully, Downward Dog will pull through with a pooch doing the Macarena, and then maybe we can take it seriously.