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September 21, 2016

Faces of Fall

The industry is buzzing over this dynamic dozen, who are all stepping forward in new fall shows.

Mark Morrison
  • Lucas Till, MacGyver

    Robert Ascroft
  • Tori Anderson, No Tomorrow

    Robert Ascroft
  • Matt Lanter, Timeless

    Robert Ascroft
  • Peyton List, Frequency

    Robert Ascroft
  • Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us

    Robert Ascroft
  • Kylie Bunbury, Pitch

    Robert Ascroft
  • Clayne Crawford, Lethal Weapon

    Robert Ascroft
  • Katy Mixon, American Housewife

    Robert Ascroft
  • Micah Fowler, Speechless

    Robert Ascroft
  • Italia Ricci, Designated Survivor

    Robert Ascroft
  • Alfonso Herrera, The Exorcist

    Robert Ascroft
  • Brenda Song, Pure Genius

    Robert Ascroft

Lucas Till

MacGyver, CBS

TV’s new Macgyver wasn’t yet born when a mullet-haired Richard Dean Anderson debuted as the genius scientist who wields a swiss army knife instead of a gun and saves the day with bubble gum, duct tape or whatever’s handy. Till wasn’t quite two when the ABC action-adventure show wrapped a successful seven-year run in 1992.

Which means that the actor, now 26, should bring a fresh spin to CBS’s MacGyver reboot — just as he’s brought his own take to the last three X-Men movies, in which he plays the mutant Alex Summers, aka Havok, a superhero who has trouble controlling the powerful plasma blasts he generates.

Born in Texas and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, Till has been acting since he was 11. At 13, he played Johnny Cash’s older brother in Walk the Line, then entered the teen-heartthrob arena as the lead opposite Miley Cyrus in 2009’s Hannah Montana:The Movie just as he was graduating high school (with honors).

He also appeared in Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me” video. As in the original series, Angus “Mac” MacGyver uses his unfathomable scientific knowledge and extreme resourcefulness to save lives — or save the world. The boyish Till promises to bring a light, modern touch to the role, but one question remains: will his longish blond hair ever rival Anderson’s iconic ‘do?

Tori Anderson

No Tomorrow, The CW

Evie Callahan works in quality control at Cybermart warehouse, which is TV shorthand for risk-averse. At 30, she’s insecure, awkward and precise, yet also kind, earnest, dreamy-eyed and dreamy-looking, with blonde hair, long legs and, as one character says, a ”great bum.”

She’s also something of a TV archetype, the latest in a line of spunky, single working women with untapped potential — think Mary Richards, early Meredith Grey and Ally McBeal, and Monica Geller (before Chandler).

Canadian actress Tori Anderson, previously seen on Smallville and Reign, returns to the CW in No Tomorrow, throwing herself into the role with the kind of relish that makes Evie real and relatable. Based on the Brazilian series Como Aproveitar o Fim do Mundo (How to Enjoy the End of the World), the dramedy hinges on Evie’s random meeting with a roguish Echo Park hipster who wears turquoise jewelry and woolen caps.

Xavier (Joshua Sasse of Galavant) seems like her dream guy — until she finds out that he’s a doomsday theorist who’s convinced the world will end in eight months and 12 days when an asteroid hits Earth.

But the more important conceit is this: because he believes life will soon be cut short, he lives it fully and freely — and he challenges her to join him in exploring his “Apocalyst,” a pre-Apocalypse bucket list. Call it contrived, but as her TV alter ego is about to learn to do, Anderson knows how to make the most of every moment.

Matt Lanter

Timeless, NBC

Every sci-fi saga needs a fearless protagonist with gladiator good looks and a cocky confidence that lets you know everything will turn out okay. As soldier Wyatt Logan on Timeless, Matt Lanter is one of an odd trio of time travelers chasing a bad guy who’s hijacked a state-of-the-art time machine.

With Abigail Spencer as a history professor and Malcolm Barrett as a scientist, Logan seeks no less than to protect history as we know it. Fortunately, Lanter has the sturdiness, strength and killer smile that invite us to follow him into any era.

Born in Ohio, he grew up in Atlanta (where he was a bat boy for the Braves) and majored in sports business at the University of Georgia. In 2004, he was a contestant on Bravo’s reality-competition show Manhunt:The Search for America’s Most Gorgeous Male Model.

Though he didn’t win, he finished in the top 10, which led to acting roles: he was Geena Davis’s son on the 2005 ABC series Commander in Chief and Beverly Hills bad boy Liam Court for four seasons of the CW’s 90210.

Despite his athletic build and Kennedy-like gloss, Lanter is more than a pretty face — he’s also a go-to guy for voicing animated characters (Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars:The Clone Years and Aquaman in Justice League:Throne of Atlantis, among others) and has appeared on stage with Laurence Fishburne in Alfred Uhry’s Without Walls at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum.

With any luck, the actor (who married longtime girlfriend Angela Stacy in 2013) will prove over a long career that he, too, is timeless.

Peyton List

Frequency, The CW

If at first you don’t succeed.... Peyton List knows all about that one. After playing Blonde Girl #1 on a Sex and the City episode as a teenager, she spent four years on As the World Turns before landing regular or recurring roles on a number of short-lived series, including NBC’s Windfall, the CW’s The Tomorrow People and ABC’s Big Shots, Flash-Forward and Blood & Oil. She was arguably most memorable as Roger Sterling’s trophy wife, Jane, on AMC’s Mad Men.

Frequency is an update of Gregory Hoblit’s 2000 feature, a fantasy thriller of the same name. The raven-haired beauty plays NYPD detective Raimy Sullivan, a distaff version of the John Sullivan character Jim Caviezel played in the movie.

After a freak electrical storm mysteriously recharges an old ham radio in the garage, she is suddenly able to talk with her late father, Frank (Nashville’s Riley Smith, in the role originated by Dennis Quaid). But she’s in 2016 and he’s still in 1996 — the year he was killed on the job under suspicious circumstances.

It’s a showcase role for Boston-born List, who was raised in Baltimore and began modeling at age nine. She appears in nearly every scene, and her poise and presence make her likable and accessible, which helps the audience suspend disbelief and buy into the supernatural scenario. Even better, she has the hallmark of a real TV keeper: she makes you want to tune in to see what happens next.

Sterling K. Brown

This Is Us, NBC

Following his Emmy-winning turn as Christopher Darden in FX's The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Sterling K. Brown delivers another standout performance. As Randall, a successful L.A. exec with a beautiful wife, two adorable kids, a showplace of a house and a fancy car he bought for $143,000 in cash, he has all the trappings of success. But he won’t be happy until he finds closure with the biological father who deserted him at birth on the steps of a firehouse.

Randall spends his 36th birthday confronting his long-lost father, which leads to surprising results. In what is arguably the toughest role of this multi-thread hour-long dramedy (the well-cast ensemble also includes Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz), Brown walks the line between comedy and drama with consistent balance, even as he becomes unglued.

He brings tremendous nuance to the role of a modern man who isn’t sure if he’s on the verge of a breakdown or a breakthrough. The St. Louis–bred actor squeezes more from every line than creator–executive producer Dan Fogelman (also responsible for this season’s Pitch and the 2011 film Crazy, Stupid, Love) might have imagined.

A stage-trained actor who studied at Stanford and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and has been toiling in TV for more than 10 years (Third Watch, Supernatural, Army Wives), Brown brings unexpected emotional depth to every scene. He’s a delight to watch in a turn that is nothing less than... Sterling.

Kylie Bunbury

Pitch, Fox

From the very first shot, Kylie Bunbury gets the full star treatment.

First, you see her toned legs. Then, her mass of wildly curly black hair. Next, her lithe body as she wakes up and slips into Nike athletic wear. Only after that wind-up do you see her model-gorgeous face. Bunbury plays Ginny Baker, a 23-year-old sports sensation who’s about to take the mound with the San Diego Padres; she’ll be the first woman athlete to compete in one of the four major North American leagues.

“She is Hillary Clinton with sex appeal... a Kardashian with a skill set,” boasts her agent, Amelia Slater (a delightfully prickly Ali Larter). “She’s a gimmick,” groans star slugger Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar in a game-changing role).

Fox’s sharply written new drama, Pitch, from Dan Fogelman, makes this fiction feel real. “My teammates... 75 percent think I’m the next San Diego Chicken; the other 25 just want to see me shower,” Ginny says knowingly.

The underlying drama comes from the personal pain that’s driving her, and the Canadian actress underplays those scenes with a low-key realism reminiscent of Friday Night Lights. “I’m a robot in cleats,” she tells her father (Michael Beach), who taught her to throw a mean screwball. Whether the series makes it on base or fouls out depends a lot on Bunbury.

And she grounds the show without ever relying on her looks, proving all the more what it means to be a natural.

Clayne Crawford

Lethal Weapon, Fox

Google the word swagger and you may find an image of Clayne Crawford.

After two seasons as manipulative Ted Talbot, Jr., in SundanceTV’s under-recognized drama Rectify, Crawford tackles Martin Riggs — a character made famous by Mel Gibson in Richard Donner’s 1987 buddy action film, Lethal Weapon, and its three sequels.

What’s more, he makes the familiar part his own. Comparisons may be inevitable, but they’re unnecessary. The story doesn’t differ much from the movie: Riggs is an unpredictable, unstable war hero with a suicidal streak who lost his very pregnant wife in a car accident.

Now, as an L.A. cop, he’s partnered with middle-aged family man Roger Murtaugh (an excellent Damon Wayans), with whom he butts heads, yet grudgingly bonds. Equal parts Marlboro Man and street smartass, Crawford brings a reckless renegade edge to the role, with just enough sulky sex appeal to make him both volatile and vulnerable.

Born and bred in Alabama, he plays Riggs as an all-American casualty with a heart of gold — more Steve McQueen than Mel Gibson. And there’s enough comic banter, generational conflict and macho pride between the two leads to keep this bro-cedural crackling with humor as well as action. And lest we forget, McQueen got his start on television, too.

Katy Mixon

American Housewife, ABC

She’s “so real.” It’s a running joke in American Housewife. Katy Mixon plays Katie Otto, a wife and mother of two who doesn’t fit in with all the health drink–guzzling, size-two Connecticut housewives around her. Which is why pleasantly plus-size Katie calls herself “the second-fattest housewife in Westport” (the series’ original title).

Because she doesn’t pretend to be perfect, the other housewives don’t know what to make of her. However, the truth is, the strength of both Katie and Katy is that they are so real. After five seasons and 127 episodes as Melissa McCarthy’s sister Vanessa on Mike & Molly — and four seasons and 20 episodes on Eastbound & Down — Mixon is, for the first time, the star of the show.

Go-to funnyman Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) plays her husband, Greg; he’s real too, spending more than his share of camera time on the toilet.

Following in the tradition of other mouthy moms on ABC comedies — from Roseanne Barr to The Middle’s Patricia Heaton — Mixon can be bossy, but she wears her heart on her sleeve. And she’ll beat anyone to the punchline — to make sure she doesn’t become one.

As her heart-shaped face stares down some skinny adversary, this Pensacola-born alum of Carnegie Mellon (and many supporting parts and TV guest-star roles) does a masterful job of wordlessly conveying both regrets and resilience. Some may say the show inadvertently insults plus-size women, but Mixon does her best to keep it real. She just can’t help it.

Micah Fowler

Speechless, ABC

In this unorthodox comedy, Minnie Driver has top billing, but it’s hard to take your eyes off Micah Fowler. Driver plays Maya DiMeo, a dauntless mother of three teens who keeps moving her family to improve their circumstances — especially J.J.’s (Fowler). Her eldest child, he has special needs and gets around in a wheelchair.

The 18-year-old Fowler, who has cerebral palsy and uses a walker as well as a wheelchair (but speaks for himself, unlike J.J.), made his television debut on Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues when he was nine. He later appeared in several episodes of Sesame Street and made his feature film debut in Jason Reitman’s 2013 drama, Labor Day, with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.

His J.J. is a wily, irrepressible 16-year-old who seems better adjusted to his physical challenges than everyone around him. He’s as devilishly disarming as Driver is bold and brassy.

And he’s an impish counterpoint to his affable younger brother, Ray (the equally excellent Mason Cook, 15, whose long résumé includes recurring roles on The Middle and The Goldbergs), and sister, Dylan (Kyla Kenedy), whose own adolescent needs often take a back seat to his. Yet, armed with a high-spirited laugh and the requisite teenage eye roll, J.J. still manages to be a knowing big brother.

There’s no room for pity at this party. Like the best of actors, Fowler projects plenty of personality as well as depth, and lets us know that this kid should not be underestimated.

Italia Ricci

Designated Survivor, ABC

In this Washington D.C.-based ensemble drama, Kiefer Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, the low-key, low-level secretary of housing and urban development who’s just learned he’s about to be unceremoniously demoted.

Yet, as fate (or political intrigue) would have it, he’s also the country’s “designated survivor”: should anything devastating happen to POTUS and other cabinet members, Kirkman will be automatically sworn in as the leader of the free world.

As his chief of staff, Italia Ricci is all jangled nerves and earnest ambition — to prove herself, to make her boss look good, to get ahead and maybe even to do something meaningful along the way. As the aptly named Emily Rose, she has the stylish look and thorny goodness of a longtime ingénue eager to be taken seriously.

What she is not, is prepared for what happens next — a catastrophic scenario in which Kirkman and his wife, Jessica (Natascha McElhone), are suddenly whisked to the White House before they can say, “God bless America.” Ricci, a Canadian of Italian descent, takes her time with the role. She’s uptight yet resourceful, harried but not hostile. She’s both pushy and a pushover.

And we know at first glance that her character is trustworthy and ready to rise to any challenge — just like Ricci herself, following short-lived runs as the star of FreeForm’s Chasing Life (2014–15) and the villainess Siobhan Smythe on Supergirl (2016). Rule Italia!

Alfonso Herrera

The Exorcist, Fox

Father Tomas Ortega os Chicago is quietly known as “the rising star” in the Catholic church. The same could be said of Alfonso Herrera, the Mexican actor who plays him in this adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s best-selling 1971 novel — which William Friedkin famously crafted into a classic 1973 horror film.

Like Father Karras, the priest played by Jason Miller in the original, Ortega is a modern man of God with his own doubts and uncertainties. He irreverently calls demons “an invention of the church to explain things like addiction,” asserting, “Demons are a metaphor.”

He soon finds out otherwise, when congregant Angela Rance (Geena Davis), a pillar-of-the-community type, insists a “presence” in her house is possessing her college-age daughter (Brianne Howey). To make matters worse, he’s having nightmares about a priest (Father Marcus Brennan, played by Ben Daniels) who performs terrifying exorcisms on afflicted children in third-world countries.

Herrera was raised in Mexico City, where he attended Edron Academy, a select British-Mexican school, shortly after fellow actor Gael García Bernal. He’s appeared extensively in Mexican films and TV shows and was a member of the Latin Grammy–nominated band RBD. Last year, he became a regular on the Netflix sci-fi series Sense8.

With his wavy dark hair, penetrating eyes and soft, reassuring voice, Herrera projects an intriguing blend of comfort and concern as Father Tomas. And it doesn’t hurt that he looks good in a snug T-shirt. Father Brennan may tell him, “You are way out of your depth,” but on The Exorcist, Herrera is in his element.

Brenda Song

Pure Genius, CBS

In the pilot of this hospital drama, young tech billionaire James Bell (Augustus Prew) keeps calling one of the whiz kids on his team Annabelle, even though her name is Angie.

But there’s nothing forgettable about Brenda Song, the actress who plays her. As created by Jason Katims (Parenthood), Bell woos star surgeon Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney) to join “the revolution,” as he dubs the breakthrough never-say-die (literally) work he self-finances and oversees at his Palo Alto medical center.

As his ace programmer Angie, Song quotes statistics and discusses research without ever seeming nerdy, and her compassion and concern always shine through.

Born in northern California to a Hmong dad and Thai-American mom, Song started appearing on kids’ shows like Fudge at age six, and continued on series such as 7th Heaven and ER into her teens. After a regular role on Nickelodeon’s 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd, she shone in Disney Channel telefilms such as Get a Clue and Stuck in the Suburbs.

Next, she landed a lead as a Paris Hilton–like heiress on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. That led to a high-rated Disney Channel movie, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior, which showed off her skills as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Along the way, she recorded music for Disney and appeared in videos with Jesse McCartney and others.

But since her role in 2010’s Facebook feature, The Social Network, Song has focused on more mature stories and a long-term career. Pure genius.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2016

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