In fashion, some color is always being touted as “the new black.” Maybe it’s red or pink or (shudder) chartreuse. But every few years, editors are finally forced to admit that black is the new black. Or the old black. Whatever. The point is, everything old is new again—which could be a great slogan for this fall’s crop of new TV shows and movies.
The next few months seem to herald a return to a quaint, sort of early-’90s simplicity in both form and content. On the small screen, gone are the risky, genre-busting, trendsetting high-concept shows (only one dystopian society! No singing teenagers!). In their place, you’ll find traditional sitcoms centered on a plucky protagonist (or couple) surrounded by zany co-stars, and hourlong dramas set in the comfortingly mundane, well-traveled (and oversexed) halls of law firms and hospitals.
In the cineplex, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a wunderkind in any of the major Oscar categories. Get ready to watch warhorses Daniel Day-Lewis, Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks chew up scenery in sprawling biopics, epic adventures, historical thrillers and feel-good sports movies. These films will be directed by Spielberg, Tarantino and P.T. Anderson (and thanks for the mammaries, Kristen Wiig and Meryl Streep, but this year is, as almost always, all about the dudes).
The most chilling signs of this retrocultural movement, however, may be on TV, where you’ll notice an almost complete lack of new reality programming—or offerings from the major cable channels. Network narrative shows, it seems, are the new black. And when was the last time you could say that with a straight face?
Next-Gen Situation Comedies: The Mindy Project (Fox, 9:30 p.m. Sept. 25): Mindy Kaling is a gynecologist looking for love in all the orifices.
Animal Practice (NBC, 8 p.m. Sept. 26): Veterinarian loves animals, despises humans. Feces will hit the wall.
Guys With Kids (NBC, Sept. 26, 8:30 p.m.): Based on the sexist premise that men taking care of babies—much like women working in the sports world—is fundamentally hilarious. If you agree, you will probably love this.
The New Normal (NBC, Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m.): Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Glee) brings us a very 2012 sitcom that follows a gay couple as they become fathers via surrogacy—and get involved in their baby mama’s messy life. Think Modern Family minus the rest of the family.
Partners (CBS, Sept. 24, 8:30 p.m.): David Kohan and Max Mutchnick (Will & Grace) helm this semi-autobiographical series about two business partners and best friends—one straight, one gay.
Go On (NBC, Sept. 11, 9 p.m.): A sports radio host (Matthew Perry) tries to move on after his wife’s death. But funnily!
Reality Shows: OK. I want you to try to relax as I tell you that to our knowledge there is only one big reality show premiering this fall: CBS’s The Job. It’s literally about people trying to get a job. And to our knowledge, not one of those people is Snooki or Charlie Sheen. Reality TV has officially become Bummer Land.
This-Meets-That Drama: 666 Park Avenue (ABC, Sept. 30, 10 p.m.) Upscale tenants in Manhattan suspect their building is run by the devil: Rosemary’s Baby meets Million Dollar Listing.
Made in Jersey (CBS, Sept. 28, 9 p.m.) Jersey girl makes good at hotshot New York law firm: Working Girl meets Ally McBeal.
Emily Owens, M.D. (CW, Oct. 16, 9 p.m.) Newbie doctor realizes her med-school crush works at her new hospital: Felicity meets Grey’s Anatomy.
The Mob Doctor (Fox, Sept. 17, 9 p.m.) A doctor is forced to work off a family debt to the mafia while she juggles her day job as a brilliant surgeon: Grey’s Anatomy meets The Sopranos.
Chicago Fire (NBC, Oct. 10, 10 p.m.) Firefighters … who live in Chicago: Chicago Hope meets Third Watch.
Revolution (NBC, Sept. 17, 10 p.m.) Survivors search for salvation in a post-apocalyptic America in which all forms of technology have ceased to work: Lost meets Colonial House.
Elementary (CBS, Sept. 27, 10 p.m.) Sherlock Holmes and his female Asian Watson (hi, Lucy Liu!) solve mysteries in a modern, American setting: Sherlock meets… Sherlock. Stateside.
Vegas (CBS, Sept. 25, 10 p.m.) A cowboy-sheriff and a mob fixer in 1960s Vegas butt heads: Mad Men meets Las Vegas.
Oscar Bait: In Argo (Oct. 12), Ben Affleck doubles down by directing himself as he rescues six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis in this based-on-a-true-story drama (not to be confused with the popular brand of baking powder). Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a charismatic religious leader in the post-World War II period piece The Master, from director Paul Thomas Anderson. And Clint Eastwood plays another codger with a heart of slightly dented steel in Trouble With the Curve (Sept. 28) as an aging baseball scout who’s going blind. But Lincoln (Nov. 9) is just shameless: Daniel Day-Lewis goes method as Abraham Lincoln in a biopic directed by Steven Spielberg. Fellow future Best Actor nominees, that sound you hear is your life’s dream shattering.
For the Ladies: Won’t Back Down (Sept. 28): Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis star as scrappy inner-city moms fighting the man to try to start a charter school in a bad neighborhood. The big question, of course, is—will they back down? I’m guessing no.
Bachelorette (Sept. 6): Kirsten Dunst navigates a debauched weekend of prenuptial pandemonium in this ensemble comedy that seeks gender equality for bodily fluid-based sight gags.
Not-So-Cheap Thrills: End of Watch (Sept. 21): Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are L.A. cops targeted by a notorious drug cartel after they make an accidental discovery.
The Words (Sept. 7): Bradley Cooper plays a writer who plagiarizes, and pays for it. OK, Oprah, you can stop scaring James Frey now.
Looper (Sept. 28): Joseph Gordon Levitt is a time-traveling mafia hitman who somehow has to avoid killing his future self, who is Bruce Willis. (We’re already confused.)
PG Horror: On the heels of August’s ParaNorman come Hotel Transylvania (Sept. 28) and Frankenweenie (Oct. 5), both of which tackle scary subjects through kid-friendly animation. The first imagines Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) as a hotel owner and overprotective father. The second, from Tim Burton, explores what happens when a budding young scientist reanimates his dead dog.
Movies That Challenge Stereotypes …: Tyler Perry doesn’t appear to wear a wig as the star of Alex Cross (Oct. 19), a cop-versus-serial killer thriller. In sadder news, Channing Tatum doesn’t appear to wear a thong in 10 Years (Sept. 14), a romantic drama about a high school reunion.
…And Those That Embrace Them: Requisite probably-terrible Nicolas Cage thriller: Stolen (Sept. 14).
Dysfunctional family rom-com featuring Robert De Niro as a stodgy paterfamilas (and Robin Williams as a zany priest! Double points!): The Big Wedding (Oct. 26).
Crazy-ass Tarantino Asian-fetishistic action slasher: The Man With the Iron Fists (Nov. 2).
Kevin James vehicle in which he plays a schlub-turned-unlikely hero with an inexplicably hot love interest: Here Comes the Boom (Oct. 12).
>A Library of Book Adaptations: Anna Karenina (Nov. 16): Keira Knightley plays the world’s most famous Russian literary heroine. No pressure or anything.
Life of Pi (Nov. 21): A fantasy adventure in which an Indian zookeeper’s son is marooned with a menagerie of animals after a shipwreck.
Killing Them Softly (Oct. 19): This Brad Pitt project was originally called Cogan’s Trade, after the 1974 crime novel it’s based on. But then someone played some Roberta Flack, and the rest is history.
The Silver Linings Playbook (Nov. 21): The Fighter’s David O. Russell directs Bradley Cooper in this dramedy about a teacher on the mend from a nervous breakdown who moves back in with his parents.
The Paperboy (Oct. 5): Apparently Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron in this campy thriller from the director of Precious. That’s really all we know, but it already seems like too much.
Celluloid Miscellany: Butter (Oct. 5) Jennifer Garner carves butter sculptures.
Pitch Perfect (Oct. 5) Anna Kendrik sings.
Gambit (Oct. 12) Cameron Diaz and Colin Firth, comedy co-stars at last!
Flight (Nov. 2) Denzel Washington crashes a plane, heart-warmingly.
Twilight: The Breaking Dawn Saga, Part 2 (Nov. 16): FINALLY, THE END.