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Broadcast networks stop playing it safe with their new fall shows

Have you heard the one about the suicidal Ivy League music educator who takes over the struggling church choir in his late wife’s rural hometown?

How about the owner of a compression sock company who falls in love with his Nigerian-born cardiac nurse?

After years of cranking out seemingly the same two shows — stale family sitcoms and crime procedurals where the police rely on outsiders from virtually every walk of life to solve crimes better than they can — the broadcast networks are throwing some curveballs with the new fall series they’ll start rolling out this week.

Those comedies — “Perfect Harmony” (8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC), starring national treasure Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”), and “Bob Hearts Abishola” (8:30 p.m. Monday, CBS), with “Mike &Molly’s” Billy Gardell — are just the beginning.

An only child (Brittany Snow) connects with the half sisters (Megalyn Echikunwoke, Emily Osment) her fertility specialist father (Timothy Hutton) created using his own genetic material in “Almost Family” (9 p.m. Oct. 2, Fox).

A criminal psychologist (Tom Payne, “The Walking Dead”) does a reverse “quid pro quo, Clarice” to get his cheeky serial-killer father (Michael Sheen) to help with his cases in the darkly comedic “Prodigal Son” (9 p.m. Monday, Fox).

A disgraced former New York City Councilman (co-creator Kal Penn) helps a wacky collection of immigrants on their path to citizenship in the comedy “Sunnyside” (9:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC).

And a priest-in-training (Mike Colter, “Luke Cage”), a psychologist (Katja Herbers) and a general contractor (Aasif Mandvi) investigate mysteries on behalf of the Catholic Church in “Evil” (10 p.m. Thursday, CBS), the supernatural drama from “The Good Wife” creators Michelle King and Robert King.

Their premises may not be unique, but other new series manage to cut through the clutter on the strength of their lead actors.

Professional eccentric Walton Goggins (“Justified”) plays wildly against type as a charmingly naive widowed father of two, coaxed into dating again, in the comedy “The Unicorn” (8:30 p.m. Thursday, CBS).

“Fargo” Emmy nominee Allison Tolman portrays a police chief who finds a young girl with no memories near the wreckage of an air crash in the conspiracy thriller “Emergence” (10 p.m. Tuesday, ABC).

Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Jake Johnson (“New Girl”) trade on their off-the-charts likability in the graphic novel adaptation “Stumptown” (10 p.m. Wednesday, ABC). The series, which follows the unconventional exploits of a Portland, Oregon-based investigator, has attitude to spare. It’s the sort of entertaining, low-stakes drama that’s squarely in the networks’ wheelhouses.

Despite its stellar voice cast — Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz and Bishop Gorman grad Jillian Bell — the animated “Bless the Harts” (8:30 p.m. Sept. 29, Fox) feels like a watered-down version of something edgier you might find on Adult Swim.

Elsewhere, “Batwoman” (8 p.m. Oct. 6, The CW) makes history as Ruby Rose (“Orange Is the New Black”) portrays prime time’s first openly gay lead on a superhero series.

Obviously, not every freshman series breaks new ground. Some don’t even try.

“Mixed-ish” (9 p.m. Tuesday, ABC), focusing on a young Rainbow Johnson, is the second spinoff of “Black-ish,” while Tiffany Haddish hosts a new version of “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” (8 p.m. Oct. 6, ABC).

It wouldn’t be a fall television season without a couple of legal dramas. “All Rise” (9 p.m. Monday, CBS) is the sort of forgettable trifle that should have been burned off during the summer months. “Bluff City Law” (10 p.m. Monday, NBC) is better, but it’s mostly noteworthy because of the presence of television royalty Jimmy Smits.

In an odd twist, two of the worst new shows have some alarmingly good pedigrees.

“Everybody Loves Raymond” Emmy winner Patricia Heaton returns with the hopelessly broad hospital comedy “Carol’s Second Act” (9:30 p.m. Thursday, CBS) from Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, half of the credited writers on this summer’s critically beloved “Booksmart.”

The duo of Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (“The O.C.,” “Gossip Girl”) usually have no trouble presenting intriguing teens. But their “Nancy Drew” (9 p.m. Oct. 9, The CW) — which, after a brief flashback, introduces its young heroine while she’s in bed at an auto repair shop with some dude she barely knows — feels like something a wonky AI program would belch out after having watched too much “Riverdale.”

Even the more creative new shows aren’t perfect.

Far from it.

But at least they’re trying, and that’s half the battle.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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