Fall TV Preview: The Mysteries and Horrors of Wednesday Nights

Debra Messing, Laurence Fishburne, the bearded lady, and a bunch of mean little hospitalized teenagers attempt to give you a reason to watch TV on Wednesdays this fall. 

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Even back when people's TV-watching habits were more constrained to the nights and timeslots when the shows aired, Wednesdays never had much character. Not like comedy Thursdays or prestige drama Sundays or wasteland Fridays. This year is no exception, with a smattering of dramas, comedies, old war-horses, and flashy comic-book fare. The four new shows represent seven different genres, though admittedly most of that is due to The Mysteries of Laura having no earthly idea what kind of show it's trying to be.

8 p.m. - 9 p.m.

The Mysteries of Laura (NEW): If the two things you've always wanted to see Debra Messing do on TV are solve crimes and raise children, this is absolutely the show for you. If any part of that sentence gives you even a little pause... well, you're right to be nervous. Messing plays a detective (she plays by her own rules and gets things done!) and mother of twins (they're just so messy!), and Josh Lucas is her estranged husband who (SPOILER) becomes her boss at the end of the pilot. Any part of this that might be charming or compelling is hampered by a truly bizarre mashup of tones. Things go from slapstick to lite-thriller to domestic dramady without anything approaching elegance, and more often than not, Messing is just unable to muscle her way through. This is a rough one. [Premieres September 24 (though the pilot previews September 17 at 10 p.m.)]

Arrow:  The third season of the CW's flagship handsome-superhero show promises some development for the Oliver/Felicity relationship (he's actually going to ask her out on a date, aw), but what fans may be more interested in is that we'll be getting filled in on Felicity's backstory via flashbacks, and producers have been teasing an Oracle storyline. Other buzzwords of interest to comics fans: an appearance by Deathstroke; Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) joins the cast as a recurring character; and the season's big bad is shaping up to be Ra's al Ghul. And look out for a crossover event with new series The Flash. [Returns October 8]

The GoldbergsOne of last year's stealth successes makes the move from Tuesdays to Wednesdays, where it should be an even better fit sandwiched between The Middle and Modern Family than it was between Agents of SHIELD and Trophy Wife (R.I.P.). [Returns September 24, 8:30 p.m.]

SurvivorThe ol' war horse of reality television is, of course, back for its TWENTY-NINTH season. It's another "Blood vs. Water" setup, which (ignore the imprecision of the language there) pits pairs of loved ones (spouses, siblings, parent/child pairs) against one another. Last time they did this, it was ten all-star contestants from Survivor past and their loved ones, but this time it's all new players, though CBS is goosing the lineup a bit with former Amazing Race twins Natalie and Nadiya (they're formerly on The Amazing Race; they're still currently twins) and ex-Major League Baseball pitcher/controversy magnet John Rocker. [Returns September 24]

Also: Gordon Ramsay returns to FOX for another season of hollering and ineptitude on Hell's Kitchen (September 10), and Patricia Heaton looks to break the Guinness world record for most seasons spent playing a harried mom* on TV when ABC's The Middle returns on September 24th.

* Not a real record

9 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Black-ish (NEW)Anthony Anderson headlines this ABC family comedy that deals with the stresses and fears of a black family assimilating (perhaps too much?) into white suburban life. As a premise, it's both potentially tricky and refreshingly topical. Honestly, I started off pretty skeptical. Shows that use soft boys as punchlines — not to mention as a catalyst for disappointed fathers — are not my jam. But Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross (as his wife) have fantastic chemistry, the kids are miraculously not annoying, and the comedy shakes out as far more endearing than aggravating. All this, plus Laurence Fishburne as Anderson's cranky dad. Probably my favorite new show of the season. [Premieres September 24, 9:30 p.m.]

Red Band Society (NEW): In the first two minutes of this FOX hour-long dramady, one of the lead characters, a monstrously bitchy cheerleader type, lets loose with a barrage of teen-speak ("nip-lash"; "man-struating") so aggressive and effortful that you'd be forgiven for turning the show off right then. You'd be missing out on a show that ... might be better than that. It's hard not to see the invisible cloak of Glee draped over this show, in which a wing full of adolescent long-term hospital patients (they have cancer; they need transplants; they're in comas). The twist is that these TV-ready young teens are — I hope you're sitting down — sarcastic and rebellious and sometimes mean! Sometimes unrelentingly mean, which is what, combined with the show's tendencies to  gives this whole enterprise an air of a Ryan Murphy wannabe. Octavia Spencer, as a no-nonsense nurse (are there any other kinds?), will work hard to give us a character to root for. [Premieres September 17]

Also: The Television Academy-approved greatest program on television, Modern Family graces ABC (and us all!) with its fractured take on family starting September 24. The CW brings back The 100 for a somewhat improbable second season on October 22. Otherwise, it's the same grisly crime procedurals that have been sustaining us for years: Criminal Minds (returns to CBS on October 1) and Law & Order: SVU (returns to NBC on September 24.

10 p.m. - 11p.m.

Stalker (NEW): After Kevin Williamson delivered the most critically-loathed show on television in The Following, he had to figure the knives were out for his new CBS procedural. So it's anybody's guess why he was seemingly so unprepared at this past TCA conference that he ended up firing back at Vox's Todd Van Der Werff on Twitter like an insecure brat. Regardless, it makes Stalker seem like a much more controversial show than it's built to be. As it stands, it's a middling procedural, if a fairly dark one (a woman is set on fire before the credits roll), that ought to appeal to the Criminal Minds crowd and fans of Maggie Q. The most problematic part is Dylan McDermott as Q's new partner, who may or may not actually be a stalker himself. [Premieres October 1]

American Horror Story: Freak Show: Ryan Murphy's most grounded TV series to date (think about THAT for a second) looks to rebound, at least creatively speaking, from the rather sloppy Coven season, though popular interest has never been higher. In many ways, the 1950s-set Freak Show — featuring Jessica Lange as a German ex-pat running one of the last American freak shows in Jupiter, Florida — has the potential to feel familiar before it even begins. We aren't that far removed from HBO's similarly set Carnivale, and at some point, Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and company playing a gallery of grotesques might start to seem repetitive. Even John Carroll Lynch cast to play a killer clown feels so far up Murphy's alley that you struggle to realize he hasn't already done that yet. That said, AHS has always managed to be at least mostly entertaining, even when struggling through narrative lulls. Think about how much joy last season's recurring Stevie Nicks theme brought into our lives. Add Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Frances Conroy, and Patti LaBelle to the mix and suddenly I'm all the way back onboard. [Returns October 8]

Also: Nashville (ABC, September 24) returns from a second-season finale packed with breakups and proposals and secret confessions. Will Chase and Oliver Hudson (a.k.a. the most likeable men in Hollywood) have been bumped up to series regulars, and Tony-winner Laura Benanti will join the cast as a friend of Rayna's. Chicago PD (NBC, September 24) returns just in time for you to realize you missed seeing Sophia Bush on your TV.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.