2021 fall television preview

Summer is sagging, the pandemic is persisting and we need a fresh diversion.

We need the new TV season – new shows, new … Well, maybe we can settle for “new-ish.”

The season officially starts Monday (Sept. 20), when all of the reruns and most of the summer reality shows vanish. But by pre-pandemic standards, this won’t seem terribly new.

New scripted shows, broadcast networks

It’s a small, sturdy crop – this year’s group of new shows on the broadcast networks.

There are only 11 scripted ones at the start of the season, about half the usual total. Many are spin-offs or reboots. And most have sent only a rough pilot film, not ready for review.

Still, a few shows already stand out. We’ll list them first, then the rest; both lists are chronological:

Piper Perabo, left, and Jon Rudnitsky in a scene from the new Fox series "The Big Leap," premiering Sept. 20.

The best

“The Big Leap,” 9 p.m., Mondays, Fox (starting Sept. 20). The fictional notion makes little sense: A national dance show focuses only on contestants from Detroit … concluding with “Swan Lake.” (A reality show, setting up a ballet?!?) Once you get past that, you’ll find deep characters. Scott Foley plays the cynical producer; Teri Polo plays someone in mid-life crisis. Other roles go to relative newcomers (led by Simone Recasner as a young single mom); you’ll quickly root for them.

“NCIS: Hawaii,” 10 p.m., Mondays, CBS (Sept. 20). Sure, it’s just a spin-off, the fourth in the “NCIS” empire. But this gets it right – an appealing star (Vanessa Lachey as the bureau chief) … strong support (especially Alex Tarrant, a New Zealand actor with Maori roots, as the lone native-Hawaiian on her team) … smart stories … and Hawaii itself. It’s a splendid backdrop.

James Wolk as Joe in one of the three possible lives he has in NBC's "Ordinary Joe."

“Ordinary Joe,” 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC (Sept. 20). Here’s the consummate character study – the same guy in three different lives, depending on which path he took. That only works if you have a gifted actor – Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1998 “Sliding Doors” or James Wolk, who’s been terrific in everything from “Mad Men” to “Zoo” and “Watchmen,” here.

“The Wonder Years,” 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC (Sept. 22). The original series was a wondrous look at the 1960s, via a modern narrator. Now we do the same, with a Black family in a middle-class Alabama neighborhood. This is partly a comedy, but it’s set in 1968, so tragedy looms in the opener. The result is quietly involving; Fred Savage, the original “Wonder Years” star, is producer-director.

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