Fall is here, and chances are your DVR is absolutely brimming with the week's many premieres. The broadcast networks worked overtime this week to bring your attention to their new and returning series, so there's been a ton to take in on the TV scene. To help keep you up to speed, and to reward those shows that managed to stand out amid the incredibly busy schedule, here are our picks for the many, many standout moments of the week on the small screen.
Messiest mom: Sierra (Emily Browning) has been struggling with motherhood on The Affair all season long, but never more so than this week. In the latest episode, she had to balance her responsibilities to her colicky baby with a void of partnership and babysitting options and the career opportunity she'd been waiting on her whole life. The decisions she made have been born of desperation, but they were no less shocking. First, she left little Eddie in her car while she did an audition — one only needs to glance at the headlines to know the irresponsibility and danger of that act — and then, she left him alone with an inexperienced preteen and drove off with him after a night of partying, totaling her vehicle with him inside. Reckless parenting has been a centerpiece of The Affair all series long, but this week was especially difficult to bear witness to. (To be fair to Sierra, her own mother left her in a bind, as did Helen, who was unusually callous about the child and other familial situations, but her gasp at seeing him after the accident was all of us, really.)
Creepiest courtship: As cute as it might be, the premise of Bob (Hearts) Abishola is a little bit weird, isn't it? Our new friend Bob (Billy Gardell) got hung up on Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku), the nurse who treated him after a cardiac incident, and decided to make good on his promise to provide her with some of his company's prized socks. To do so, he paid off a charge nurse to get her home address and approached her there, showed up at her workplace, and followed her on the bus ride home. There's a lot to like about this new show, but, uh, we gotta admit Bob's kind of a stalker, no?
Best recovery: The premiere of CBS's All Rise introduced us to an exciting new judge with a fascinatingly cool temperament. Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) might not have much experience being called “Your Honor,” but she's ready for the responsibility in more ways than one. Unfortunately for her, she took an embarrassing spill on day one before she could even reach her seat. Instead of shrinking back with horror, she picked herself up and said to her gaping courtroom crowd, “I'm here all day.” Now that's how you rule, Judge.
Best Erin Brockovich callback: The premiere of NBC's Bluff City Law might've reminded you of a certain legal biopic film which earned Julia Roberts her first and only Oscar. It, too, started with a company covering up the harmful health effects of its chemicals, with one gung ho advocate leading the charge to expose their malfeasance. Perhaps as a bit of a subtle wink to that story similarity, the pilot brought in Erin Brockovich actress Veanne Cox to play an important role in the pursuit of justice — you might remember her as the stodgy attorney who tried to take over the PG&E case in that film — only this time, it was her on the delivery end of an impassioned plea to help the victims.
Meanest mindtrip: A lot of words have been written about Fox's Prodigal Son here and for good reason. It's an intriguing blend of a serial killer drama and a crime procedural, and the cast is clearly having a blast with it. And Monday's series premiere opened with a few simple words that will undoubtedly haunt our new hero (?) Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne). His father Martin (Michael Sheen) told him at 10 years old, “I will always love you because we're the same.” That might be nice enough in the ordinary course, but Martin is a famed serial killer called The Surgeon who claimed the lives of almost two dozen people. So, what might be a Hallmark card-level sentiment for one family is more like mental time-bomb for Malcolm Bright.
Creepiest kid: Stranger Things fans might have to wait a while 'til they see what Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) gets into next, but ABC's Emergence seems poised to fill that Firestarter-style void with a new telekinetic teen. In the premiere, we meet Piper (Alexa Swinton), an apparent plane crash survivor who can't remember who she is and doesn't even try to explain the phenomena that seems to surround her. She's sympathetic enough, but in the final few minutes, we're given ample reason to believe there's more than meets the eye when it comes to little Piper, especially when she carves out a piece of her own skin without so much as flinching in the final shot. Yikes.
Battiest opening: Of all the new fall premieres, ABC's Stumptown undoubtedly had the splashiest opening sequence. The new crime drama opened with a couple of criminals enjoying some Neil Diamond on the road before their kidnapping victim, private eye Dex Parlos (Cobie Smulders) wriggled her way into the backseat and launched an offensive that sent the car flying off the highway and into the air — all before the opening credits rolled. Talk about a hook.
Best pop culture rift: The premiere of mixed-ish began with a scene that should be familiar to black-ish fans: the Johnsons all gathered on the couch for a little family time. Only this time, it devolved into a tense row about the merits of the 1984 dance film Breakin', which was apparently such a formative film for Dre (Anthony Anderson) that he was absolutely ready to fight his family over it. This wonderfully bizarre anecdote somehow served as a segue to Rainbow's (Tracee Ellis Ross) story of growing up on a compound without access to movies and, thus, the introduction of the spinoff's premise, but it was so out of left field that it was the bonkers intro we didn't know we needed to the new show.
Saddest goodbye(s): Man, One Chicago was really going for those heartstrings this week. First, Chicago Med brought about the exit of Connor Rhodes (Colin Donnell) with an extremely unsettling death development, and then Chicago Fire killed off one of Truck 81's originals. That's a lot of emotion for one week.
Craziest comeback: Yes, indeed, Ziva (Cote de Pablo) has returned to NCIS alive and well, and while the details about what she's been up to all these years are still a bit thin, this has gotta be one of the most game-changing moments on TV right now.
Harshest breakup: Sorry, Jaggie fans. The party is over. After the fog incident, Grey's Anatomy premiered with Maggie (Kelly McCreary) and Jackson (Jesse Williams) going their separate ways, and if you had any doubts that they were over, capital O, their final exchange certainly seemed to seal the deal. Maggie was hurt by Jackson's decision to leave her on that scary highway scene, and it didn't matter that he saved people in the process of his second big solo journey of the series. After it became clear he was considering moving on, Maggie gave him a very bitter blessing by saying that she didn't like him, he didn't like her, and what he did was none of her business. As though that weren't biting enough, Jackson then told her that he agreed in the coldest, most disconnected tone he could, and, yep, that's that for this coupling. Ouch.
Strangest throwback trend: Somehow, there were not one but two major shoutouts to the dreaded Kars4Kids jingle during this week's shows. The first came by way of American Horror Story: 1984‘s second episode, wherein Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) employed it as his murder theme song. The second was in the premiere of The Good Place‘s final season, when the Bad Place's council of cruelty started singing it to pump themselves up for more heinous work. The song might be from the '80s, but it's still a useful punchline now, apparently.
The unexpected time twist: This Is Us borrowed a bit from The Affair‘s new playbook in its season premiere by showing us a piece of the future from the perspective of a very important character, and while that twist does take some of the anxiety out of the present-day events surrounding him, it's very cool to get a preview of what's ahead … and we kinda wish we could venture into the future for some of the show's other characters, too.
Cleverest escape maneuver: We've seen how horrific night terrors can be for people in shows before — remember poor Nellie Crain (Victoria Pedretti) in The Haunting of Hill House? But CBS's new creep-tastic series Eviltook that concept to a whole new level in its pilot, as Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) got a few midnight visits from a demon named George who liked to taunt and terrify her. The series opener centered on whether Kristen's visions were real or a figment of her imagination, and how that affected her judgment on the mental soundness of a cold-blooded killer who claimed to be possessed by one of George's friends. In one crucial scene, Kristen cleverly prepared herself for George's next visit by putting a sign on her ceiling that asked simply, “Can you read this?” If the answer was yes, she had a major problem, but if she couldn't make out the words, she could know for sure that she was experiencing some kind of sleep paralysis incident and chalk all the pain and petrification of the visit up to her own mind. What a brilliant way to showcase the merits of skepticism!
Sweetest sendoff: While most shows were enjoying beginnings this week, Suits said goodbye with a wedding scene and a piece of dialogue that nicely book-ended a memorable moment from the beginning of the series. D'aw.