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“You can’t watch everything”: A pragmatic guide to peak TV (part 1)

(Illustration: Nick Wanserski)
(Illustration: Nick Wanserski)

The United States is approaching a state of “peak TV” according to FX CEO John Landgraf—and the flood of reports and analyses that followed Landgraf’s peak-TV statements in August. The positives and negatives of the U.S. television industry churning out 400 different scripted programs in 2015 are beside the point. That number presents a new reality for the TV fan: While it once seemed difficult to keep up with all the fresh content of the most recent Golden Age of TV, it’s now impossible to do so. With so many choices and so little viewing time, how do you decide what’s worth watching? You can start with the following breakdown of the new fall premieres, each of which The A.V. Club has ranked on a priority scale of 1 (lowest priority) to 5 (highest priority). Peak TV is scary, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. (For more on these shows, check out their official trailers here.)

Editor’s note: Any pilots referenced within these previews are works in progress and are subject to change prior to broadcast. All times listed are Eastern.

Sunday

Blood And Oil (ABC, debuts September 27 at 9 p.m.)

Following the biggest oil strike in American history, young dreamers Billy (Chace Crawford) and Cody LeFever (Rebecca Rittenhouse) move to North Dakota to make their fortune. That puts them on a collision course with Hap Briggs (Don Johnson), who seeks to expand his empire in the suddenly fertile oil fields of the Great Plains. Can Billy and Cody work with/around this 21st-century J.R. Ewing—or will his good-for-nothing son Wick (Scott Michael Foster) foul everything up?

You have to watch it because: The third item in Blood And Oil’s inventory of gooey liquids is “soap,” and thanks to the successes of Empire and ABC’s Shondaland-driven TGIT block, primetime soaps are currently a hotter commodity than bubblin’ crude. Plus: Don’t you want to tune in just to see Nate Archibald square off against Sonny Crockett?

You can skip it because: With a showrunner change ABC successfully hid from the TV press for most of the summer, the real drama with Blood And Oil might be taking place off-camera.

Priority level: 2. If ABC’s big bet on its reconfigured Sunday night doesn’t pay off, Blood And Oil could go bust before the end of football season. [Erik Adams]

Quantico (ABC, debuts September 27 at 10 p.m.)

Former Gossip Girl and Smash executive producer Joshua Safran is behind ABC’s sexy terrorism thriller (the thriller is sexy, the terrorism presumably less so) starring Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra as an FBI recruit ensnared in the investigation of a horrific attack on New York City. (The only thing worse than the attack itself is that its mastermind is another FBI trainee.) Safran pitched the show as a cross between Grey’s Anatomy and Homeland, an odd yet tantalizing combination.

You have to watch it because: What part of Grey’s Anatomy plus Homeland didn’t you read? Homeland was at its best in its early days, when it had the hook of an agent investigating—and becoming romantically entangled—with a terrorist. Quantico offers the same hook with the romance and dark-and-twisty goodness of Grey’s.

You can skip it because: Let’s face it: The world is not in desperate need of yet another terrorism-themed thriller. Plus, Quantico leans on the Grey’s model a little too hard, even going so far as to include, as its essential tough-as-nails instructor character, a black woman named Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis).

Priority level: 3. The pilot is implausible, fun, and implausibly fun. And there are nothing but good things to say about Chopra, who is virtually unknown Stateside, but not for long. [Joshua Alston]

Flesh And Bone (Starz, debuts November 8)

Breaking Bad alum Moira Walley-Beckett turns from the meth trade to ballet in this Starz limited series, and Walter White, cartels, and FBI agents, have nothing on ballerinas. Claire (Sarah Hay) escapes her troubled Pittsburgh home to gain a spot at the prestigious New York ballet company, led by the narcissistic and ruthless Paul (Ben Daniels). She’s a natural, poised to become a star, meaning she’s skipping ahead of many of the women who have suffered through horrific injury, starvation, and drug dependency for a chance at the spotlight. They aren’t happy about it.

You have to watch it because: The talent behind Flesh And Bone is fantastic: David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) directs the pilot, focusing less on the majesty of dance and more on the stark, gritty reality these women live in. It’s also soapily tantalizing, making Flesh And Bone intensely watchable.

You can skip it because: Soap is great, but it also means that the show teeters on the edge of addictive and totally ridiculous. Swerve one way and it’s brilliant. Swerve another and it’s awful.

Priority level: 5. The minds working behind the scenes just have too good of a track record to let Flesh And Bone go too far off the rails. [Molly Eichel]

Into The Badlands (AMC, debuts November 15 at 10 p.m.)

In a post-apocalyptic American South teeming with Civil War fashions, motorcycles, and swords (but, conveniently, no guns) a warrior (Tai Chi Zero’s Daniel Wu) contemplates fleeing the service of his cruel master The Baron (Marton Csokas) in favor of the unexplored lands beyond his known world. Along the way, he protects a young indentured servant (Aramis Knight) destined to join Csokas’ teen army.

You have to watch it because: Wu and action unit director Stephen Fung collaborated on the energetic Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero, and they’ve brought along martial arts coordinator Master Dee Dee (who worked on films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill) to choreograph the plentiful action sequences promised by the show’s trailer. Loosely based upon the Chinese tale “Journey To The West,” the production, whose aesthetic borrows heavily from all of the Louisiana locations used to build the show’s unique world, at least promises something different.

You can skip it because: With all the shirtless teenagers running around, it doesn’t look different enough from the ongoing spate of Young Adult fantasy shows and movies out there. And while Wu certainly looks good in the action scenes, his dour, blank-faced lead doesn’t look charismatic enough to carry a series.

Priority level: 2. From Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, Into The Badlands looks, for all its balletic bloodshed, to be too nondescript a fantasy world to truly spark the fan interest necessary to carry its unusual premise past its initial six-episode order. [Dennis Perkins]

Monday

Blindspot (NBC, debuts September 21 at 10 p.m.)

Television’s It Boy Greg Berlanti co-created NBC’s latest attempt to duplicate the success of The Blacklist with an ingenious new take on the police procedural. Jaimie Alexander stars as the nameless main character, who crawls out of a duffle bag in Times Square with no recollection of her identity and a bunch of tattoos she doesn’t recognize. So yes, it’s exactly like your last bender, except that the tattoos contain clues for crimes her FBI handler (Sullivan Stapleton) has to solve.

You have to watch it because: The premise is crazy like a fox. Blindspot is the classic example of a television show that sounds insanely stupid on paper, but is saved by its deft execution, which comes as no surprise given Berlanti’s Midas touch.

You can skip it because: The premise is just crazy. It’s one of those shows you’ll only be able to talk about with other people who watch it, otherwise it’ll be really difficult to explain how a tramp stamp led to the end of a counterfeiting ring.

Priority level: 4. Alexander’s performance makes Blindspot one of NBC’s strongest new shows, and she’s backed by an impressive cast including Rob Brown and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Plus it’ll give you a ton of new ideas for tattoos. [Joshua Alston]

Life In Pieces (CBS, debuts September 21 at 8:30 p.m.; moves to Thursdays in November)

It’s one of the more radical sitcom gimmicks to come along in recent years: Four short stories per episode, each following different members of the same multi-generational clan. The presence of executive producer Jason Winer indicates that Life In Pieces will be more Modern Family than Glass family, but a solid ensemble (including James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Betsy Brandt, and Colin Hanks) and snappy-by-necessity storytelling promises a series that could boot the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker-Delgados from their family-comedy throne.

Why you need to watch it: The cast is aces: Not just the vets like Brolin and Wiest, but dependable sitcom ringers like Dan Bakkedahl and Zoe Lister Jones, appearing here as the second generation’s most experienced father and newest mother, respectively.

Why you can skip it: Pairing Life In Pieces with The Big Bang Theory is a tremendous vote of confidence from CBS. But the network has a bad track record with single-camera sitcoms (We Are Men, anyone?) and little patience with comedies that attract viewers but don’t sell “Bazinga!” T-shirts (as happened with The Millers)—especially when those shows are owned by outside studios, like the Fox Television-produced Life In Pieces.

Priority level: 4. Somebody has to support outside-the-box sitcom thinking, because you can’t count on CBS to do it. [Erik Adams]

Minority Report (Fox, debuts September 21 at 9 p.m.)

Fox’s upcoming Minority Report seeks to continue the universe and premise set up by the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie of the same name. The pilot spends its first few minutes re-establishing the concept of “pre-crime” before jumping to the year 2065, where an idealistic precog named Dash (Stark Sands) uses his future-seeing abilities for good. If Minority Report is trying to send a message about crime, privacy, and justice, it hasn’t quite found the words to do so yet. Because of its futuristic setting, sometimes the substance gets lost in all the spectacle.

You have to watch it because: The visuals are impressive. A lot of effort has been put into the production to make it look like a flashy but somewhat believable 2065. The effects are one of the pilot’s greatest strengths, along with solid performances from Sands and Meagan Good, who remain fully committed to the emotions of their characters, even when they’re stuck with delivering clunky exposition.

You can skip it because: At times, Minority Report takes itself too seriously. While the effects and visuals are strong, the show works too hard to remind viewers that this is the future.

Priority level: 2. Like a lot of series that deal with complicated science-fiction concepts, Minority Report has some wrinkles to work out. Even if you’re a fan of the original film, there’s little the television series has in common with the movie beyond its initial premise—which could end up being a good thing, eventually. [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW, debuts October 12 at 8 p.m.)

Call it Jane The Stalker: After launching a dubious concept (American telenovela with voiceover narration) with an irresistible lead, The CW is hoping Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is its second lightning strike. YouTube sensation and former Robot Chicken writer Rachel Bloom and The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna co-created this musical comedy, which follows a less-than-together woman who moves cross-country to try rekindling a relationship with her high school sweetheart.

You have to watch it because: Bloom is an absolute delight. The supremely skeptical crowd at the Television Critics Association press tour was ready to dismiss Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on sight, but Bloom forced the room into submission with an all-singing, all-dancing death grip. The performances are great fun, and it’s just the right amount of quirky.

You can skip it because: The premise makes the show tricky as a long-term commitment. The lovable stalker is a classic rom-com trope, but it’s usually better when it’s limited to movie length. There’s also the matter of the musical performances, which will be as hit and miss as musicals always are.

Priority level: 3. The effervescent Bloom makes Crazy worth at least a one or two-episode trial run, but considering how Jane The Virgin (and for that matter, iZombie) snuck up on everyone, don’t be surprised if people start asking if you’re watching it. [Joshua Alston]

Supergirl (CBS, debuts October 26 at 8:30 p.m.; moves to 8 p.m. on November 2)

Shortly before Superman was rocketed to Earth from the dying planet Krypton, his older cousin was loaded into her own intergalactic lifeboat. Unfortunately, Kara Zor-El was knocked off course, stranded in the inescapable prison dimension known as the Phantom Zone. When she finally arrives at her destination, she finds the cousin she was sent to protect has grown up—and grown into his own role as protector. Two decades later, Kara (Melissa Benoist) strikes out on her own in National City, living a mild-mannered life assisting media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) until the day she embraces her destiny and flies to the rescue.

You have to watch it because: While Zack Snyder constructs DC’s new cinematic universe in the shadows, Supergirl executive producer Greg Berlanti is not-so-secretly building a brighter alternative on The CW. Supergirl brings this TV Justice League to the broadcast big leagues, putting a sparkling young talent in the lead role and giving Calista Flockhart her best role since Ally McBeal.

You can skip it because: Because if you add one more superhero to your season passes, your DVR will start visualizing every sound effect.

Priority level: 5. When the comic-book bubble bursts, it won’t be Supergirl’s fault. It’s enough of a brand extension (the rich supporting cast, the sense of humor Snyder has seemingly removed from his heroes) and enough of its own thing (namely: a show about a female hero) to be DC-on-TV’s biggest hit to date. [Erik Adams]

Tuesday

The Bastard Executioner (FX, debuts September 15 at 10 p.m.)

No one can accuse Sons Of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter of going the obvious route with his follow-up series, a bloody historical epic about a knight in King Edward I’s army who vows to leave behind his life of violence only to find himself forced to become an executioner, the most violent life of all.

You have to watch it because: Surely your bloodlust needs a new supplier now that Sons has ridden off into the sunset, and Executioner is one of the goriest shows to hit basic cable in a while. Between its rampant sex and violence and feudal intrigue, Executioner could make a great substitute while waiting for Game Of Thrones to return.

You can skip it because: Just like Game Of Thrones, Executioner requires a high level of dedication and patience early on. It’s also a bit too gritty at times, placing greater emphasis on swordplay than exploring the characters behind it.

Priority level: 4. Sutter’s writing can occasionally be a blunt instrument, but he’s a savvy storyteller who seems genuinely jazzed by the historically based subject matter. Plus Sutter is irascible and has access to swords now, so you probably don’t want him mad at you. [Joshua Alston]

Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris (NBC, debuts September 15 at 10 p.m.; moves to 8 p.m. on September 29)

Based on the British series Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, this Neil Patrick Harris-led effort to revive the TV variety show is going to feature sketches, stunts, guest stars, and games, all happening live. Harris is both the producer and star, and will undoubtedly reshape the concept to fit his own sensibility, mixing in magic tricks and Broadway spectacle.

You have to watch it because: You’ll want to be tuned in if something truly nuts goes down on live TV. Also, there’s a strong likelihood that Harris will sing a funny song at some point.

You can skip it because: Harris’ reputation as “the perfect host” took a hit with his fumbling stint on the Oscars this year. Plus, with his irritating Heineken commercials popping up on TV seemingly every 10 minutes, we may have reached a point in our culture where we need a little less Neil Patrick Harris.

Priority level: 3. No one aces the Oscars, and beer commercials are what they are, so there’s no reason to think that Harris has suddenly lost his ability to be witty and entertaining. There may, however, be some reason to be concerned about this project’s live element. Network executives tend to pitch live TV as having the potential for “anything can happen” outrageousness, but more often the shows turn out either overworked or plagued by awkward technical snafus. Still, given that there’s nothing else like Best Time Ever on the fall schedule, it’s hard not to be curious about how it’s going to turn out—and even to root for it a little. [Noel Murray]

The Muppets (ABC, debuts September 22 at 8 p.m.)

Following a big-screen reboot, Jim Henson’s proudest creations (and the most lucrative Disney acquisitions without super powers or Force sensitivity) return to their true home: television. Updating The Muppet Show for a post-Office world, The Muppets co-creators Bill Prady and Bob Kushell use mockumentary devices like handheld camerawork and talking-head confessionals to capture the personal and professional lives of Kermit The Frog and company as they go to work on the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational talk show in all of late night, the fictional Up Late With Miss Piggy.

You have to watch it because: It’s been nearly 20 years since The Muppets’ last primetime gig, the short-lived Muppets Tonight. Prady goes way back with the characters—his Muppet caricature has been hanging around in the background since The Jim Henson Hour—and a mockumentary is a fittingly modern fit for the characters’ showbiz send-ups and backstage antics.

You can skip it because: A last-minute addition to ABC’s fall lineup, The Muppets was ordered to series before a pilot could be completed. There’s also the off-putting emphasis on the “adult” aspects of the show, an uncharacteristic world-weariness that, among other things, tossed Kermit and Miss Piggy onto this summer’s pile of dead celebrity romances.

Priority level: 5. The “adult Muppet Show” thing is all smoke and mirrors: The first 10 minutes of The Muppets is funny in ways The Muppets have always been funny—even when they couldn’t come out and acknowledge that Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem are perpetually stoned. [Erik Adams]

Scream Queens (Fox, debuts September 22 at 8 p.m.; moves to 9 p.m. September 29)

Ryan Murphy, the face that launched a thousand anthologies, returns to Fox with Scream Queens, an ode to horror-comedy. Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, Murphy’s brain trust on Glee, co-created the show, the first season of which will explore a series of brutal murders plaguing a Heathers-like college sorority.

You have to watch it because: No one does a better job of bringing horrible people to life than the “Glee Three,” and Scream Queens is entirely populated by them. Emma Roberts’ character, the sorority’s queen bee, has as much venom to spit as Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester, and has just as much fun doing it. The inclusion of Jamie Lee Curtis, the original final girl, is a major bonus for nostalgic horror buffs.

You can skip it because: While the combination of horror and comedy seems like a great fit for the tonally experimental writers, there’s something not quite right about the chemistry. Also, exactly none of the characters is likable, including Skyler Samuels’ lead, so its hard to invest in whether they live to snark another day.

Priority level: 2. The pilot is a rough ride, and the anthology format makes it easy to skip the first season and see if the potential second season is more your speed. [Joshua Alston]

Limitless (CBS, debuts September 22 at 10 p.m.)

Executive producer Bradley Cooper is bringing his moderate hit of a feature film, Limitless, to television, and reformatting his starring role into a recurring character in the process. This CBS procedural finds a new luckless protagonist in Brian Sinclair (Jake McDorman), a failed musician who stumbles into receiving a dose of NZT-48, a pill that transforms the user into a temporary super genius. This time out, that luckless protagonist is recruited for the FBI by agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter), who see his abilities as a tool the agency can exploit. Cooper promises to periodically show up, his similarly enhanced character now a U.S. senator.

You have to watch it because: Much like the movie that inspired it, the series promises to elevate what seems like a generic premise with some wit and energy. McDorman and Carpenter are both good in roles that play to their strengths, and this show seems to rely on the natural charms of the former, while pairing it with the tough-cop attitude of the latter.

You can skip it because: It’s yet another procedural about a super smart white guy, only shoehorned into the world established by a movie that doesn’t need a life extension. There’s already plenty of these on television, aren’t there?

Priority level: 3. Surprisingly, the pilot delivers a fleet, inspired take on the material, with some clever riffs on the “quick-thinking problem-solver” imagery tackled by stuff like Sherlock. If you’re on the market for an intelligent procedural, this fits the bill nicely. [Alex McCown]

Grandfathered (Fox, debuts September 29 at 8 p.m.)

John Stamos plays off his “hot bachelor” image as Jimmy, an L.A. restaurateur who discovers in one fell swoop that he is not only a father to Gerald (Josh Peck), but a grandfather to little Edie. “Sure, I always wanted a family. But have I? Or is that just some line I’ve been using to pick up women? It’s a great line, by the way,” Jimmy says upon finding out about his offspring and his offspring’s offspring. Jimmy decides to leave his solitary life behind in order to play pops (and grandpops) with his newly discovered family.

You have to watch it because: Stamos is an inherently likable guy and he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself and his post-Uncle Jesse persona. Paget Brewster, who plays Gerald’s mom Sara, is an excellent foil to the self-involved Jimmy, and the writers are smart to never let her descend into finger-wagging territory. There are even genuine laughs in the pilot that push beyond the concept. Also, the casting feels colorblind without making a big deal of it.

You can skip because: High-concept shows like Grandfathered tend to peter out once the joke has been told. How many times can Jimmy hold a baby incorrectly before it’s not funny anymore?

Priority level: 4. Done right, Grandfathered could be an edged-up comedy about the neo-families that don’t look like they would live behind white picket fences. [Molly Eichel]

The Grinder (Fox, debuts September 29 at 8:30 p.m.)

After the end of his long-running legal drama, The Grinder, actor Dean Sanderson Jr. (Rob Lowe) is stuck in a rut. Witnessing the happy, fulfilling life his father (William DeVane) and brother (Fred Savage) have made at the family law firm, Dean decides to forestall a Hollywood comeback in favor of practicing what he pretended at for all those years. The people of Boise are thrilled to have “The Grinder” resting in their hometown—everyone but brother Stuart, who’s understandably convinced that catchphrases and charisma are no match for a law degree and actual experience.

You have to watch it because: If not for another agreeably daffy comic turn from Lowe (Dean is all the can-do confidence of Parks And Recreation’s Chris Traeger, with none of the self-awareness), then for the on-camera second coming of Fred Savage. For the past decade, Savage has helped shape the partially improvised face of modern single-camera comedy as a director—now he combines that experience with the everyman charm of his The Wonder Years persona to play the easily flappable half of the fall’s best comedic odd couple.

You can skip it because: It’s already shed a showrunner—though the creative differences that drove Greg Malins off the project may have had to do with Fox execs demanding more Savage (which isn’t a bad thing).

Priority level: 4. It contains traces of a potentially winning family sitcom, legal comedy, and showbiz spoof, all of which the pilot skillfully balances. Grinder rests.

Wicked City (ABC, debuts October 27 at 10 p.m.)

A killer is stalking the nightclubs of 1982 Los Angeles, calling in dedications to his victims on his favorite radio station. Wicked City delivers voyeurism, sexy knife play, emotional manipulation, children in danger, an implied threesome, mid-fellatio murder, and necrophilia—and that’s just in the trailer. Ed Westwick stars as Kent, who seduces women with promises of opportunity and murders them in the seamiest ways possible; his single-mom girlfriend Betty (Erika Christensen) gets drawn into Kent’s grotesque games. Detectives Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto) and Paco Contreras (Gabriel Luna) set aside a personal grudge to pursue the serial killer haunting the Sunset Strip. Taissa Farmiga rounds out the cast as a plucky reporter working the nightclub scene.

You have to watch it because: It’s a slick, sordid period piece focusing on a slick, sordid time in “the serial-killer capital of the world,” complete with trips to the Whisky A Go Go and squalid crimes set to a retro soundtrack.

You can skip it because: Judging by the preview footage, Wicked City is more repugnant than shocking and suffused with smug vacancy instead of significance.

Priority level: 2. Wicked City aims to be scandalous and only manages to be sleazy. It’s a halfhearted period piece; a few outrageous hairstyles, graphic prints, and a street full of vintage cars make it look like ’80s night on the backlot. [Emily L. Stephens]

Chicago Med (NBC, debuts November 17 at 9 p.m.)

Dick Wolf’s quest to take over the Windy City (or at least NBC) continues with the third installment in the network’s ever-growing Chicago franchise, Chicago Med. Based in what is described as the city’s “most explosive hospital”—literally demonstrated by the emergency room explosion in the show’s backdoor pilot—Chicago Med does for doctors what Chicago Fire did for the fire department and Chicago P.D. did for the police force, all while promising crossovers with familiar characters from the other shows in the Chicago universe.

You have to watch it because: They might not be revolutionary, but Chicago P.D. and (especially) Chicago Fire are entertaining dramas that get a surprising amount of mileage out of their frequent (if gimmicky) crossover events, so it’s a safe bet Chicago Med will continue that tradition. Plus you have to watch to be prepared for the mega, four-way crossover between all three Chicago shows and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit planned for February 2016. Four shows! Two nights! So much Chicago! Ignore that one of those shows takes place in New York!

You can skip it because: ER exists. Also, the turmoil behind the scenes, with Laurie Holden departing post-backdoor pilot and the recent showrunner shakeup post-TCA appearance, doesn’t necessarily bode well for the show’s creative stability, at least in the early episodes.

Priority level: 3 (bumped up to a 4 if you’re a fan of NBC’s Chicago franchise). Chicago Memorial’s introduction on Chicago Fire wasn’t fantastic, but a decent cast—including Oliver Platt, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Colin Donnell—and the track record of the Chicago franchise make this one at least a solid bet. [Carrie Raisler]

Wednesday

Rosewood (Fox, debuts September 23 at 8 p.m.)

He’s an unorthodox medical examiner. She’s a no-nonsense cop. It’s a tale as old as time, but Rosewood creator Todd Harthan (a former executive producer on Psych), might be the right guy to bring something new to it. Morris Chestnut stars as the title character, Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, who investigates murders in Miami while being suave and concealing a tragic secret.

You have to watch it because: You’re shallow and Chestnut looks like a magical fairy turned a Hershey’s Kiss into a real boy. Plus, with USA deciding to tap into its dark side, there’s an opening for a new blue-skies cop drama featuring a medical savant, and this one just added Lorraine Toussaint to its cast.

You can skip it because: It’s nearly impossible to do with Rosewood what hasn’t already been done with Bones, Castle, and other shows that are not too numerous to list but too difficult to remember. The pilot is a fun and frothy, but it doesn’t exactly leave a strong impression.

Priority level: 2. Fans of Bones would be wise to give it a shot, but it isn’t distinctive enough to distinguish itself among an overcrowded television grid. [Joshua Alston]

Code Black (CBS, debuts September 30 at 10 p.m.)

A “code black” means an emergency room has more patients than it has doctors or resources to treat them. At L.A.’s Angels Memorial hospital, that happens 300 times a year, leaving a hard-nosed head doctor (Marcia Gay Harden), a wise head nurse (Luis Guzmán), and a quartet of overwhelmed first-day E.R. docs scrambling to keep up.

You have to watch it because: Harden and Guzmán (their characters nicknamed “Daddy” and “Momma,” respectively) are great actors whose gallows humor sounds great together. Also, Code Black ensures that the requisite quota of medical shows available to you is maintained for the season.

You can skip it because: In the pilot, Code Black does everything expected without doing anything surprising. (Anyone playing a “doctor show cliché” drinking game will have to seek medical treatment before the pilot is half over.) The “busiest E.R. in America” premise promises an energetic pace the show doesn’t approach in practice.

Priority level: 2.5. Harden and Guzmán (along with equally beleaguered medics Raza Jaffrey and Kevin Dunn) are good enough to keep Code Black exactly as compelling as an (exactly) average doctor show can be. [Dennis Perkins]

Love At First Kiss (VH1, debuts October 21 at 11 p.m.)

Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss co-opts a cringe-worthy Dutch series that brings together various dyads of strangers whose lips meet in the so-called Kiss Room. This will hopefully result in one of two watchable outcomes: incredible awkwardness or white-hot passion. Then these starved-for-attention contestants have two options: never see each other again, or steer the kiss into a two-minute speed date, which then may lead to an actual date. There’s an interesting scientific premise here buried beneath all the voyeurism: Can you have great chemistry with someone you’ve just met?

You have to watch it because: You’re working on a master’s thesis on nature versus nurture. Or pheromones. Or the science behind physical chemistry and attraction.

You can skip it because: You are not studying any of those things.

Priority level: 2. Love At First Kiss smacks of the worst kind of voyeuristic viewing, backed by a soundtrack of unrelenting slurps. And we really shouldn’t encourage these poor contestants so desperate for romance or fame that they would kiss strangers on national television. [Gwen Ihnat]