Ellen Gray: Daily News TV critic Ellen Gray chooses her top 5 fall TV shows

J.D. Pardo stars in "Revolution" on NBC.
J.D. Pardo stars in "Revolution" on NBC. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: September 06, 2012

I REALLY wanted to fall for Fox's "The Mob Doctor."

It would have been so cool to splash that name over the cover of our fall TV preview.

But as much as I love saying "The Mob Doctor" - try it, it's like "Snakes on a Plane" - I decided, as they say in Hollywood, to go in a different direction, with a big, splashy show set in the home of country music and starring a woman only recently freed from a house of horrors, and with four other shows that, based on one episode apiece, I'm crawling way out on a limb to call my Top 5 for Fall:

* ABC's "Nashville"

In the best new show of the fall, Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights," "American Horror Story") plays a country star fighting to stay on top in a business ready to push her aside for an up-and-coming crossover artist (Hayden Panettiere) who's pretty much her worst nightmare.

What I like about it: For all the hissing that goes on in the first episode of "Nashville," there's more here than a catfight. This sweeping, filmed-in-Nashville ensemble drama from screenwriter Callie Khouri ("Thelma and Louise") and documentarian R.J. Cutler ("The War Room") embraces music, politics and a rapidly changing economy. There's also family drama and humor. And, yeah, there's sex.

It's a top-of-the-line soap, set to some pretty good music. And I'm counting on Khouri not to take this one off a cliff.

You might be a "Nashville" fan if: You never miss "The Good Wife." You think the discoveries of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood alone were enough to justify the entire, increasingly excruciating run of "American Idol." You loved Britton in "Friday Night Lights" and you're never happier than when you're listening to her say "Y'all."

Airing: 10 p.m. Wednesdays, 6ABC.

Premieres: Oct. 10.

* CBS' "Elementary"

Jonny Lee Miller ("Eli Stone") and Lucy Liu ("Ally McBeal") star as Sherlock Holmes and, yes, Dr. Watson, in an update of the classic detective series - and the first one in which we meet Holmes shirtless.

What I like about it: "Elementary" manages not to encroach too much on "Sherlock," that justly celebrated PBS "Masterpiece Mystery!" series that stars Benedict Cumberbatch (with whom Miller nightly swapped roles in a recent London theater production of "Frankenstein"), while at the same time gently pressing against the usual constraints of a CBS procedural.

Miller, who gets to use his own accent for a change, as well as his own tattoos, is fun to watch as the brilliant (and in this case, hyperkinetic) British detective who, after fleeing rehab, moves to New York, where he's been saddled with a "sober companion" (Liu). And given how much television owes to Arthur Conan Doyle's detective, it's good to see Holmes getting to use his own name for a change.

You might be an "Elementary" fan if: You can't get enough of murder mysteries. You've always wanted a closer look at Miller's body art. You loved "Sherlock" but are willing to cheat on Cumberbatch with a different Holmes.

Airing: 10 p.m. Thursdays, CBS 3.

Premieres: Sept. 27.

* NBC's "Go On."

"Friends" star Matthew Perry plays a radio sports-talk show host who's forced by his boss to seek help after his wife dies and who ends up joining a possibly inappropriate support group that happens to fit his schedule.

What I like about it: Dead wife, grieving husband. Sounds like a million laughs, right? But I did laugh, more than once, at "Go On," something I can say about precious few of the so-called new comedies this fall. (Though I seem to be one of the few critics who also giggled a bit during ABC's "The Neighbors," the ABC extraterrestrial-in-New Jersey sitcom that many consider the season's worst new show.)

Perry, who's always funnier when his characters are a little unhappy, finally has a decent reason for that unhappiness. He's also surrounded by a great crowd, most notably "Everybody Hates Chris" star Tyler James Williams, who plays another member of the group.

You might be a "Go On" fan if: You loved Perry in "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Mr. Sunshine" but weren't sure his characters always deserved to be so grumpy.

Airing: 9 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC 10.

Premiered: On Aug. 8, during the Olympics. Returns next Tuesday.

* Fox's "The Mindy Project"

Mindy Kaling ("The Office") stars as a young doctor in love with the idea of love in this winning sitcom about a woman who's far from a loser but who's always looked to romantic comedies for guidance and can't figure out why that's not working for her.

What I like about it: Kaling's channeled her own very strong comedic voice in a character who's not quite like anyone else on television and yet has enough in common with her "New Girl" lead-in to help Zooey Deschanel fans make a night of it.

You might be a fan of "The Mindy Project" if: You think Kaling's leaving "The Office" is maybe what finally killed it. You loved "Bridget Jones's Diary" but kind of wished Bridget could be a little smarter.

Airing: 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox 29.

Premieres: Sept. 25. (The pilot is already available for streaming online at Hulu.com.)

ABC's "Last Resort."

Andre Braugher ("Homicide: Life on the Street," "Men of a Certain Age") and Scott Speedman ("Felicity") star as U.S. Navy officers who go rogue with a nuclear submarine after their country turns on them for questioning orders to fire on another country.

What I like about it: Co-creator Shawn Ryan has taken big swings before - in "The Shield," he had his main character kill a fellow cop in the show's very first episode - but this one's so out there it requires the full weight of Braugher's considerable screen presence to keep it from spinning out of control. And even then I'm not sure it's going to be enough. But I can't wait to see Episode 2.

You might be a "Last Resort" fan if: You loved "Lost" at least as much for the Hawaiian scenery as you did for the smoke monster. You've seen "The Shield" and "Terriers" and "The Chicago Code," and you're basically willing to follow Ryan wherever he takes you. You've never heard of Shawn Ryan, but you worship Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan.

Airing: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 6ABC.

Premieres: Sept. 27.

Five more worth a look

Every year, there's at least one show that based on a single episode doesn't make my top tier, only to turn out to be a favorite (last year, it was "Revenge").

So although these shows haven't totally won me over, my mind's still open on these (and yes, even on "The Mob Doctor"):

* ABC's "666 Park Avenue." Another possibility for "Lost" fans (and maybe for "American Horror Story" devotees), this one stars Terry O'Quinn of "Lost" and Vanessa Williams of "Desperate Housewives" as the owners of a Manhattan apartment house straight out of "Rosemary's Baby." Dave Annable ("Brothers & Sisters") and Rachael Taylor ("Transformers") play a young couple who are lured into a well-appointed hell by a rent-free apartment.

Airing: 10 p.m. Sundays, 6ABC.  

Premieres: Sept. 30, 6ABC.

* CBS' "Vegas." Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis ("The Shield") star in a drama from Nicholas Pileggi set in 1960s Las Vegas and loosely based on the experiences of Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Quaid). Chiklis plays a Chicago mobster who's out to take over the town.  

Airing: 10 p.m. Tuesdays.

Premieres: Sept. 25, CBS 3.

* Fox's "Ben and Kate." A close second to "The Mindy Project" for Fox's best new comedy, this odd-couple siblings show stars Dakota Johnson (the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) as Kate, an anxious single mom, and Nat Faxon (an actor who won a screenwriting Oscar for co-writing "The Descendants") as her far-too-laid-back brother, Ben. The pair have terrific chemistry and I liked them a lot. I just haven't laughed much yet.

Airing: 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox 29.  

Premieres: Sept. 25. (Already available on Hulu.com.)

* NBC's "Revolution." Another possibility for "Lost" fans (most "Jericho" ones will already be there), "Revolution," from J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, is about a post-United States of America where the lights (and everything else electric) have been out for 15 years and the simpler life has proved not so simple. Probably worth seeing for Giancarlo Esposito ("Breaking Bad") as a very different kind of heavy.

Airing: 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC 10.

Premieres: Sept. 17.

* CBS' "Made in Jersey." British actress Janet Montgomery ("Black Swan") plays a working-class Italian-American lawyer from New Jersey who goes to work for a fancy New York firm in this drama created by Moorestown, N.J., native Dana Calvo. Montgomery's Joisey accent could use some tamping down, but she has undeniable star power, and fans of "Unforgettable" and "Cold Case" might easily fall for another procedural with personality.

Airing: 9 p.m. Fridays, CBS 3.  

Premieres: Sept. 28.

Five returning favorites

A new TV season isn't just about new shows - it's also about the ones coming back after a long summer away.

Here are five I'm looking forward to:

* Fox's "Fringe." With 13 episodes to go, the cast and crew of one of TV's smartest shows seem totally focused on bringing this one in for a satisfying, if not necessarily totally happy, landing. I don't intend to miss a minute.  

Airing: 9 p.m. Fridays, Fox 29.

Returns: Sept. 28.

* ABC's "Revenge." Turns out Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) has a mother, after all, and (spoiler alert) we'll be meeting her this season (in the person of Jennifer Jason Leigh) as this guilty pleasure moves to a new night.

Airing: 9 p.m. Sundays, 6ABC.  

Returns: Sept. 30.

* NBC's "Parenthood." I still want to pinch myself when I think about this one coming back (especially after a feel-good season finale that could easily have served as a farewell). But the Bravermans aren't out of problems by a long shot, and Ray Romano - yes, Ray Romano - adds an extra dose of angst in a guest-starring role as a family portrait photographer who comes into their lives.  

Airing: 10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC 10.

Returns: Sept. 18.

* CBS' "The Good Wife." What will Alicia (Julianna Margulies) do next? Who's this guy Kalinda (Archie Punjabi) is married to? And will football ever end in time to get all the dirt on everyone before bedtime? (Good news for time-shifters who also like "The Mentalist": At least we no longer have to set up a recording for "CSI: Miami" just to make sure "The Good Wife" isn't cut off.)  

Airing: 9 p.m.(ish) Sundays, CBS 3.

Returns: Sept. 22.

* CBS' "The Big Bang Theory." If last season didn't already make it clear that this is TV's No. 1 comedy, the network's decision to move "Two and a Half Men" behind it on Thursdays should do the trick.

Airing: 8 p.m. Thursdays, CBS 3.

Returns: Sept. 27.

Don't forget cable

Five reasons I can't cut the cord:

* Showtime's "Homeland." Last season's best drama tries to top itself as the writers find a way to put their bipolar CIA analyst (Claire Danes) back in the field while placing their compromised hero (Damian Lewis) closer to power than ever.

Showing: 10 p.m. Sundays.

Returns: Sept. 30.

* Showtime's "Dexter." I've had my doubts about how long TV's most sympathetic serial killer could keep his streak going before it became truly absurd, but this season's opener takes Dexter (Michael C. Hall) to a place he should have been at least two seasons ago. One way or another, I'm hoping for a strong finish.  

Showing: 9 p.m. Sundays.

Returns: Sept. 30.

* FX's "Sons of Anarchy." Jimmy Smits joins the cast of the motorcycle drama in what turns out to be a special treat for Katey Sagal's character. And that's all I'm saying.

Showing: 10 p.m. Tuesdays.  

Returns: Sept. 11.

* HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." What's it going to be like for Nucky (Steve Buscemi) now that he's gone full-out gangster and done away with Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), the kid he practically raised? Time to find out.  

Showing: 9 p.m. Sundays.

Returns: Sept. 16.

* HBO's "Treme." The long-delayed return of the post-Hurricane Katrina drama lands it in the heart of hurricane season, but on "Treme," they're still dealing with the fallout from the big one seven years ago as creator David Simon shows that he never really left journalism - he just found a new way to bring us the stories we all need to hear.  

Showing: 10 p.m. Sundays.

Returns: Sept. 23.

Worst day for my DVR

Thanks to ABC, CBS, Showtime and HBO, it's still Sunday.

Saving the best for last?

The show with the most buzz for midseason?

That would be Fox's "The Following," starring Philadelphia's own Kevin Bacon, which is shooting in New York and probably won't air for several months. But the pilot, in which Bacon plays a former FBI agent brought back to help track down an escaped serial killer (James Purefoy), has executives all over Hollywood talking Emmys already.

Contact Ellen Gray at graye@phillynews.com or 215-854-5950. Follow her on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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