When it comes to originality, television writers can be found wanting.
I could fill a page with all the “Sopranos” imitators, with all their charming, homicidal antiheroes. Or half a page with those forgettable “Sex and the City” knockoffs including “Cashmere Mafia” and “Hot Properties,” whose only similarity to the sparkling original was a cast of four leading ladies and many high heels.
But you know the networks. They see that the competition has a hit and they want one that smells just like it.
This year, the show launching a fleet of wannabes is NBC’s flashback drama “This Is Us.” Seldom has a series so successfully mined a dead man’s (Milo Ventimiglia) life for material than this one; the awards — the post-episode, social-media sobbing — are proof of a narrative strategy that is clearly working. So this fall we will have dead people — or characters haunted by the Grim Reaper — popping up everywhere. Keep a black suit handy for the network TV wake.
“A Million Little Things” (Sept. 26, ABC)
In lieu of the dead dad, this ensemble drama serves up the dead friend (Ron Livingston), whose sudden exit from the planet sends his buddies reeling and his wife burning in the house of shame. Expect what the dead man knew and didn’t know about his life in its final minutes to shape the arc of the season, with Livingston popping up in revealing flashbacks.
“God Friended Me” (Sept. 30, CBS)
A podcast produced by a hipster (Brandon Micheal Hall) whose atheism was precipitated by the sudden death of a parent — whose cancer was thought to be cured — is the catalyst for this new hour-long drama that wants to lift you up where you belong. No one’s feeling as guilty here as they are on “A Million Little Things.” Instead, the normally self-serving young characters start doing altruistic things after receiving a Facebook friend request from God. Facebook’s shares may tumble further as this conceit plays out.
“New Amsterdam” (Sept. 25, NBC)
Originally called “Bellevue” after the legendary New York hospital, this series pits an uncompromising medical director (Ryan Eggold) against a bedeviling bureaucracy. If he’s going to treat Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers and the US president, he needs more money, more staff — the usual. But who’s taking care of Dr. Goodwin? When not exercising his altruistic impulses, he’s secretly dancing with Dr. Death — there’s something nasty on his X-rays. Will he live long enough to win an Emmy? Do dead men win Emmys?
“Manifest” (Sept. 24, NBC)
If you thought the smaller bathrooms on American Airlines was your biggest problem, consider the quandary faced by the passengers of Montego Air Flight 828. After a spot of turbulence on their journey, they land at the airport printed on their e-ticket and learn that five years have passed and their loved ones think they are dead. Talk about baggage claim. In a variation on the “This Is Us” format, these not-dead characters indulge in some magical thinking and wonder if they’re supposed to serve a special purpose. #Unlikely.
“The Inbetween” (NBC , midseason)
You know how it is when you talk to dead people. People look at you funny because you are really talking to yourself. Not Cassie Bishop (Harriet Dyer), the “gifted” heroine of this offbeat procedural. When the local detectives hear about her abilities, they corral her into helping them solve murders. Does this job come with a pension?
“The Red Line” (CBS, midseason)
Death hangs over the lives of three Chicago families when a white cop mistakenly shoots an African-American doctor. The networks’ previous attempts to do the cop-shooting drama (“Shots Fired” and “American Crime”) have varied in quality so “The Red Line” will have some hurdles to clear.
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