The onslaught of fall 2012 TV series debuts begins this week, with networks rolling out their shiny, new programming between now and mid-October. We’ve already let you know which shows we’re most looking forward to, but why simply take our word for it when ABC, NBC, and Fox have already uploaded some of their buzziest pilots for your previewing pleasure? We’ve rounded up all the full episodes that are currently available online, with our initial thoughts on each one, so you can get a jump start on deciding which new shows will get your attention and which aren’t worth a second glance.
Last Resort (ABC)
In a sentence: The crew of a US Navy nuclear submarine receives a mysterious order to launch a missile at Pakistan, and are forced to abandon ship and commandeer an island when they refuse to comply and are attacked by another American sub.
First impression: Action-drama is far from our favorite genre of TV show, but Last Resort‘s pilot is among the best we’ve ever seen. Once the crew of the USS Colorado receives the order, tension soars, with the suspense and surprises maintaining the momentum throughout the entire episode. The pilot covers quite a bit of ground, but not at the expense of character development — this is thanks largely to the strong performances from a cast including Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman, Robert Patrick, Autumn Reeser, and Dichen Lachman.
The Mindy Project (Fox)
In a sentence: Mindy Kaling is an OBGYN whose obsession with romantic comedies is wreaking havoc on her love life.
First impression: We’ve loved Kaling’s comic voice and persona for a while, so it’s no surprise that her character and dialogue charmed us — even if the “single, professional woman with pathetic personal life” trope is growing tiresome. We’re not fans of the New Girl-style ensemble, either, but the raw material is good enough that we expect great things once The Mindy Project distinguishes itself. Also? If M.I.A. and Le Tigre on the soundtrack to the pilot isn’t a good sign, we don’t know what is.
The New Normal (NBC)
In a sentence: Young mother Goldie Clemmons (Georgia King) flees repulsive, cheating husband and ends up the surrogate for a pair of gay wannabe dads (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha).
First impression: Ryan Murphy’s The New Normal is a promising show that’s full of contradictions. Earnest pro-LGBT rights propaganda (“A family is a family and love is love”) coexists with edgy humor (Ellen Barkin’s bigoted grandmother character refers to a couple as “ass campers”; Goldie’s daughter replies, “Nana, you’re a bigot. I’m unfriending you right now”), in a mix that’s delightful at some moments and cringe-worthy at others. As with Glee, there’s ample potential for both greatness and frustration.
In a sentence: J.J. Abrams is back with yet another sci-fi drama, this one set 15 years after a mysterious phenomenon suddenly kills all advanced technology on Earth.
First impression: Oof. Is it a lost cause? No, but something’s got to give. So far, this is the kind of show where, every time a band of crusaders rides into town looking for a specific person, he turns out to be the first guy they encounter. Seriously, it happens twice in the pilot alone, and that’s not the only unbelievable coincidence. The characters, meanwhile, are vague sketches, and the acting (with the distinguished exception of Giancarlo Esposito) isn’t so hot. If anything saves Revolution, it will be the kind of tight and twisty plot that Abrams excels at — but that the pilot only really delves into in its last few minutes.
Ben and Kate (Fox)
In a sentence: This year’s odd couple is Kate Fox (Dakota Johnson), a responsible, young single mom, and her irritating yet kindhearted man-child of an older brother, Ben (Nat Faxon).
First impression: Sweet, goofy, and lightweight, Ben and Kate is an entirely inoffensive sitcom without a whole lot to distinguish it from the pack. The writing is fine (if not inspired), although the pilot’s story line feels contrived. We’re hoping to see a whole lot more of BJ, played by hilarious British actress Lucy Punch, the ultimate bad-influence best friend, who stole every scene she appeared in.
Go On (NBC)
In a sentence: Matthew Perry is Ryan King, a sportscaster sent — kicking and screaming — to group therapy after the sudden death of his wife.
First impression: We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this one. Yes, Perry is basically playing a Chandler Bing-style wisecracking skeptic — but that’s what he’s good at, and it’s legitimately delightful to watch him shake up a support group steeped in self-help jargon. It’s not going to be easy balancing Ryan’s work with his therapy, though. In this pilot, it was the former that suffered. The wonderful John Cho, who plays Ryan’s boss, feels particularly wasted.
Animal Practice (NBC)
In a sentence: The womanizing veterinarian (Justin Kirk) who runs a chaotic animal hospital, complete with monkey doctor, learns his ex-girlfriend has inherited the practice.
First impression: Not even Weeds’ lovable Uncle Andy can save this one. With characters that range from forgettable to offensive, a so-what plot, and animal-based slapstick that gets old within the first half of the episode, Animal Practice is just plain stupid.