The fall broadcast TV season offers several upbeat, quality programs with positive messages for family audiences…and several far from ideal for families.
Every year, the PTC attends the Paley Center for Media’s Fall TV Preview event, during which some of the new TV programs premiering in fall are shown. We then offer our evaluation of the new shows, particularly which programs are safe for families and children, and which parents should be certain their children avoid. Here are PTC’s top three picks for Best and Worst series of fall 2016.
Pitch on Fox
A delightfully well-crafted drama with an upbeat, family-friendly premise, Pitch tells the story of Ginny Baker, the first female pitcher in major league baseball. Drilled in pitching since childhood by her demanding father, Ginny earned her way up through the minor leagues, and is now starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres. But while the media – and millions of little girls – look up to her, Ginny must strive to overcome both the sexism of her teammates and her own self-doubt.
Pitch is an impressively well-thought-out program, and Ginny herself is an inspiring creation: a strong, grounded young woman, who still struggles with doubts about whether she’s worthy – and able – to be the idol of millions. Girl viewers can draw inspiration from the character of Ginny and the way she overcomes through determination and the help of her friends; and boys, too, can root for the underdog lead character winning through. While the program does feature some salty language realistic for a pro sports team, the first episode’s director, Paris Barclay, accurately summarized the program: “I’ve been aching to have a show I can watch with my family, and now there is one.”
For viewers who enjoy sports, involving family drama, or a powerful message that girls can do anything, Pitch hits it out of the park.
Pitch premieres Thursday, September 22 at 9:00 p.m. ET on Fox.
This Is Us on NBC
One of the best new shows of the year, This Is Us is a touching, inspirational slice-of-life drama involving multiple characters: a plus-size woman seeking acceptance and love, a successful businessman who is confronted with the father who abandoned him at birth, a couple facing the birth of triplets, and an actor who has quit a successful sitcom out of a desire to be taken seriously. These diverse individuals will find their lives intertwining in unforseen ways.
This Is Us offers a touching look at ordinary peoples’ lives: how we all struggle with problems large and small, and how life’s lemons can be turned into lemonade. Despite a bit of adult language, the program is positive and life-affirming without being saccharine, and is a solid pick for families.
This Is Us premieres Tuesday, September 20 at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC.
Designated Survivor on ABC
When the Capitol is bombed during a State of the Union address, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman suddenly finds himself President of the United States. With only the help of his wife Alex, his teenage son Leo, and his chief of staff Emily, Kirkman must lead America through the crisis and deal with political rivals and enemies in the White House, all while learning the toughest job in the world.
Similar to shows like The Good Wife and Madam Secretary, Designated Survivor promises to be an involving drama with strong storytelling surrounding personalities and politics. It is particularly noteworthy for 24 action hero Kiefer Sutherland’s affecting portayal of a nervous, mild-mannered academic overwhelmed by the responsibilities he now faces, but determined to do what is right.
Designated Survivor premieres Wednesday, September 21 at 10:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
Son of Zorn on Fox
Zorn is an animated cartoon character, a barbarian warrior who is able to step out of his cartoon and enter the real, live-action world. There, he seeks to reconnect with his geeky teenage son Alan, forge a friendship with his remarried ex-wife Edie, and hold down an industrial sales job – all while continuing to act like the cartoonish savage he is.
Fox’s attempt to restart its discredited, ultra-graphicADHD cartoon line, Son of Zorn is drenched with cartoon gore,with animated characters and animals being killed in splats of blood, then dismembered. Sexual innuendo and dialogue also abounds, with Zorn calling a waitress “whore,” as well as crudely joking with Edie about “that fivesome we had with the mountain trolls” and suchlike.
Son of Zorn is a leaden parody which would be acceptable as a one-shot short feature on Adult Swim; but instead, it’s a 13 week series on Sunday evenings, in the very heart of prime time. Parents are duly warned that children watching Son of Zorn will be exposed to gory cartoon violence, foul language, inappropriate sexual innuendo, and “comedy” that stunts their sense of humor.
Son of Zorn premiered Sunday, September 11 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Fox.
American Housewife on ABC
Kate Otto is an embittered housewife obsessed with her own weight and lack of social status. Kate takes her frustrations out on her kids, despising daughter Taylor for her popularity at school (Kate never was) and son Oliver’s desire to hold down a job and save money (Kate calls him a “capitalist pig” and confiscates his savings). Kate is also paranoid about the skinniness and alleged cliquishness of her neighbors, and constantly worries about her own status as “The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport” (which was this show’s working title).
This program features a large amount of content inappropriate for younger viewers. Continuing the Disney-owned ABC’s trend of inserting inappropriate language and content into its alleged “family comedies,” American Housewife contains frequent uses of “bitch,” “ass,” “boobs,” and various bleeped profanities; nasty, mean-spirited behavior by a mother toward her own children; non-stop body shaming language about Kate’s “plus-size fat ass” (if ABC wants to know how to depict a plus-sized woman, they should look at NBC’s This Is Us); and a tiresome “suburban life is hell” theme already worn out on dozens of other programs.
Viewers who do not share American Housewife’s smug elitism, profanity, and sexist toilet humor are urged to tune out this family-unfriendly show.
American Housewife premieres Tuesday, October 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
Bull on CBS
Dr. Jason Bull is a Ph.D. in psychology and an expert in “reading” people and knowing how they think. Bull puts his abilities to work in the courtroom as a “fixer” for defense attorneys, predicting what the jurors will do – then using his skills to create courtroom drama and manipulate the jury into finding his clients innocent.
Frankly, Bull is not as bad as the other programs on this “worst” list; in fact, it is a better choice than Fox’s sexualized and ultra-gory Scream Queens, which also airs Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET. But Bull’s use of adult themes and dialogue (including discussions of teenagers engaging in drug use, bondage, and anal sex), violence, and the lead character’s smug attitude and sleazy occupation – getting off accused criminals, whether they’re innocent or not, by manipulating jurors’ emotions – make it a program inadvisable for family consumption. Families would do better to seek out NBC (The Voice) or ABC (Dancing With the Stars) Tuesdays at 9 this fall.
Bull premieres Tuesday, September 20 at 9:00 p.m. ET on CBS.