I know. I know. We’re all so stressed out. If Kevin Can Wait doesn’t get a third season, how will we know which character the show unceremoniously kills off over the summer? Such a cliffhanger!
I kid. But this is the time of year when broadcast networks are making the big decisions. What new shows will they pick up? What shows on the proverbial bubble will get a reprieve? Which ones will be sent to that great TV set in the sky?
Over the coming weeks, this will all come to fruition as the broadcast networks gear up for upfronts, which begin May 14. This is the glitzy, star-filled dog-and-pony show where they unveil their 2018-2019 TV season to advertisers. So here we are with an early plea for which shows each network needs to renew.
Fresh Off the Boat
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World
ABC is the place to go for smart family comedies. But the network is losing The Middle this year—no, I’m still not ready to talk about saying goodbye to the Hecks—and Roseanne, which was picked up for a 13-episode second season last week, is problematic, to put it mildly. The star herself is controversial, spewing vile conspiracy theories and hate-filled speech, and this week’s episode advocated for corporal punishment and took a racist swipe at the other comedies in ABC‘s lineup. (The reason this episode wasn’t made available early to TV critics was suddenly very clear). So the network needs its three hilarious family comedies that celebrate what’s great about the family unit without cynicism or an undercurrent of nastiness.
While it doesn’t get the critical acclaim, American Housewife homes in on the truths of raising children in suburbia (and any show that can work in a Venn diagram joke and a shout out to the characters on 90210 is my kind of show). Fresh Off the Boat offers an insightful look at life in the 1990s and keeping your family heritage alive while navigating American culture. Constance Wu’s Jessica is one of the best characters on TV right now. She’s a mom who loves her children unconditionally but also on her own terms. The poignantly hilarious Speechless is such a tremendous TV gift that it’s hard to even fathom that it hasn’t been picked up for a third season. The DiMeo family achieved what few shows have before—JJ (Micah Fowler) is a fully realized character, not defined or sainted by his cerebral palsy. In its second season, the show blossomed as it gave JJ his independence, Ray (Mason Cook) a love life, Jimmy (John Ross Bowie) a promotion and Maya (the incomparable Minnie Driver) a cause greater than advocating for her own child (she taught others how to advocate). To paraphrase an oft-used cliché, these comedies make us laugh, think, cry and, yes, they just might change our lives.
As for ABC’s dramas, I’m not going to tell you that Kevin (Probably) Saves the World didn’t have issues. The show struggled with exactly how Kevin (the always affable and charming Jason Ritter) is going to seek out 36 righteous souls. I watched every episode this season and I still can’t really explain the show’s mythology. But the series offered something no other show on TV is offering right now—a feel-good procedural. A more modern, less treacly Touched by an Angel or Ed with a little bit of spiritual magic thrown in. In each episode, Kevin finds someone to help, which he does to varying degrees of success and with varying degrees of aptitude. I know it’s a long shot, but I want TV to have room for a show like this.
Madam Secretary, created by Barbara Hall (Judging Amy, Joan of Arcadia) and starring Téa Leoni as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, is the ultimate form of escapism: Though it’s set in the same world, roughly speaking, as the press conferences and stump speeches that populate our screens the rest of the week, for one hour each Sunday, the series transports us to a place of soluble problems. In fact, against the constant deluge of atrocities, offenses, mishaps and self-owns that characterizes the current State Department, helmed until recently by a Scrooge McDuck oil magnate and leeched near to death by decades of unthinking militarism and now 270-some days of desperate presidential dick-measuring, this studied diplomatic blandness reads as speculative fiction. Madam Secretary, always idealistic—it’s cut from the same cloth as The West Wing and Commander in Chief—now appears positively utopian, even compared to CBS’ other bubble shows, like Living Biblically and Man with a Plan. Its crises—biological weapons, the suspicious death of a foreign dignitary, civil war in North Africa—resemble our own, perhaps, but their swift and sensible resolution requires the suspension of disbelief: It asks us to imagine, as another series might the disappearance of two percent of the world’s population or the colonization of the Asteroid Belt, decent leaders, competent aides, careful negotiations, goodwill and good faith; it asks us to accept a fictional universe in which the secretary of state cares about an injured child and the president utters the words, “The world is too dangerous to go it alone.” That’s a series worth holding onto. —Matt Brennan
NBC has had several rounds at the Must-See-Comedy rodeo. With the glorious The Good Place already renewed, the peacock network has the chance to reclaim its comedy glory once again. A line-up of Great News, Champions andThe Good Place could rival years when NBC had the comedy gold trifecta of The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. Great News does for the local news what 30 Rock did for sketch comedy shows, with the added bonus of revealing to the world that Nicole Richie can be really, really funny. Although still in its nascent stages, Champions, from executive producers Mindy Kaling (who has a recurring role) and Charlie Grandy, has a break-out star. J.J. Totah is fabulous (to use a phrase his alter-ego would love) as the pop-culture loving 15-year-old sent to Brooklyn to live with the father (Anders Holm) and uncle (Andy Favreau) he never knew he had. Favreau and Holm have a naturally funny rapport and the supporting cast of gym employees is strong. Given the chance, the show could be Kaling’s next big hit.
Last Man on Earth
One need only watch this week’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which found Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) and Jake (Andy Samberg) interrogating a murder suspect (guest star Sterling K. Brown), to understand that the comedy is not only going strong but absolutely thriving in its fifth season. Not only was “The Box” a delightful homage to Braugher’s defining work on Homicide: Life on the Street, it also pulled off the rare feat of being a hilarious and surprisingly tense half-hour. I would posit that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is currently the best workplace comedy on TV.
There’s probably no stranger show on TV right now than Last Man on Earth, which this season alone has seen a hostage situation (via Kristen Wiig), the birth of three babies, flashbacks to a murderous Mexican cartel, a cannibal (in the form of Fred Armisen), and lots and lots of wine. The series is truly bizarre and you never know what is going to happen next—where the characters’ quest for survival will take them. But the four-season journey has been, for lack of a better word, a hoot. I need to know where these survivors end up.
When iZombie premiered in 2015, its biggest strength was in how ex-medical student Liv Moore (Rose McIver) so compassionately zombified the physician’s “First, do no harm” maxim, turning her newfound need to eat brains—which, in iZombie mythology, temporarily transfer memories and personality to the zombie eating them—into a tool of compassion by finding work as a “psychic” medical examiner consulting for the Seattle homicide department. It was fun and funny to watch Liv take on the personalities of people very unlike herself, and satisfying to see her honor and speak for the dead by solving their murders, but the show’s beating heart—Liv clawing her way through her horrorshow of a new un-life, slowly recalibrating her understanding of what it means to be human—was always the “there” there, the substance that made “just another show about zombies” into something unique and (pun intended) vital, and none of Liv’s goofy personality shifts ever crossed the line into the kind of grotesquery that could distract from that mission.
If that were the show that was still on the renewal bubble, I would be clamoring at the CW’s gates—especially as, four seasons in, zombies are no longer underground, Seattle has been walled off for zombie “quarantine,” and Jason Dohring (Veronica Mars’s Logan Echolls) has joined the cast as the stoic leader of the private military tasked with keeping the citizens of Seattle, human and zombie alike, in peaceful safety. Add those complexities to Liv’s Season One humanity recalibration, the fact that iZombie is one of the only shows on air with multiple platonic ‘ships, and the fact that Liv’s only female friend, Peyton (Aly Michalka), has finally been added to the regular cast, well, that would be a show worth saving.
But as it is, the last few seasons have lost all sense of proportion, the show falling in love way too hard with McIver’s gameness to play to extremes, and while the rest of Seattle has gradually become both aware of and populated with zombies, who we see living their daily lives more or less as the people they were before—including, for better or worse, the members of the Seattle PD who are now taking on Liv’s role as respectful investigative tools across the organization—we now get an insanely off-the-wall new Liv every single week, her Season One existential monologues replaced by grotesque slapstick and goofy accents. It’s fun, I guess, but it makes absolutely no sense for either the show’s thesis, or its own established rules of zombiedom.
I haven’t followed ratings, but I have never imagined they were high, even by The CW’s standards. So maybe this disappointing move to broad comedy happened at the behest of the network, with the hope that silliness would attract viewers. But The CW, home of the venerably goofy but still emotionally complex and never grotesque Supernatural, should know better. If they do decide to keep iZombie in the land of the undead, I’ll stick around—but only if it has the brains to return to its subtler Season One roots. —Alexis Gunderson
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .