Roseanne Returns, Paranoia Abounds: Our (Very Early) Fall TV Preview

A look at what the networks are planning for next television season


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It's been a disappointing television season. NBC's charming adult romantic comedy Free Agents died a quick, early death. The Mad Men-inspired period boom fizzled on networks, where the clothes, hair, and '60s sexism didn't quite add up to the sum of their parts. The much-vaunted lady comedy boom yielded pleasant surprises like working-mom sitcom Up All Night on NBC, but also toxic junk like Are You There, Chelsea? (a flop) and 2 Broke Girls (a huge smash—which is disappointing, given its persistent racism). HBO's horseracing drama Luck proved David Milch has never quite found a subject as engrossing as the founding of Deadwood, and got shut down when horses kept having to be killed. And if the new shows weren't disappointing enough, Community, the brilliantly weird sitcom that's a reminder of how ambitious television can be when it tries, went off the air for three months.

To be fair, the year's not over. HBO's still got Girls, the Lena Dunham-created, Judd Apatow-produced sitcom about young women navigating their post-collegiate friendships in New York, and Veep, Armando Iannucci's comedy about a bumbling vice president (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on tap for April. ABC's launching Scandal, a new show from Shonda Rhimes about a Washington, DC crisis management expert, and the very funny-looking, Krysten Ritter-starring Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23. And if all else fails, there's still the return of Game of Thrones (and the potential redemption of The Killing) this weekend to keep you going.

But even with those shows to come, the six months between now and the beginning of the new fall television season can't pass quickly enough. The networks have been casting pilots for the last several months, and the themes of these new shows give some indication of the big trends on Hollywood's collective mind.

Like everyone else, television is obsessed with the economy, though it's getting to the big stories in its own way, and in its own typically sweet time. In 2010, the New York Times ran a major trend story about why twenty-somethings were failing to grow up, evidenced by an increased number of young adults moving back home with their parents. At the time, the piece cited the short-lived, Twitter-based sitcom S#*! My Dad Says, and Big Lake, which ran for ten episodes on Comedy Central, as evidence that television was tackling that particular facet of our arrested development.

This year, the networks are gearing up to try again: There are three "moving home" pilots in production, including ABC's How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life, in which a divorced mother moves home; an as-yet untitled CBS sitcom about a man who loses his house to foreclosure; and Fox's El Jefe, about a man in his 30s who moves in with his former nanny, a scenario that takes the idea of raising other people's children to a real extreme.

And when people aren't moving in with their biological or hired parents, they're struggling financially while creating new families. Roseanne Barr is making her much-vaunted return to network television with Downwardly Mobile, a look at the residents of a trailer park who land there on their way down the economic ladder. Whether the woman who created one of the most enduring working-class sitcoms of the last three decades still has her magic touch after rising to wealth herself and enduring an embarrassing dip in the reality television pool will be one of the most interesting creative questions of the fall.

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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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