Since 2021, seemingly out of the blue, Michigan has become a major setting for TV shows.
There is “BMF,” the Starz drama based on real-life brothers from southwest Detroit who became titans of the illegal drug trade. And “The Mayor of Kingstown,” a Paramount+ series about how prisons fuel the economy — and shady doings — of a fictional Michigan town. And HBO Max’s adaptation of the novel “Station Eleven,” a post-apocalyptic imagining of a traveling Shakespeare troupe in Michigan 20 years after the world’s population is decimated by flu.
And that’s not even counting the NBC comedy “American Auto,” a chronicle of the dubious efforts of Payne Motors to stage a financial comeback. Or the build-back-boldly efforts of “Bargain Block,” an HGTV reality show that turns down-and-out Detroit houses into affordable design showcases. Or “The Big Leap,” a Fox dramedy about second chances through a ballet competition.
Television shows connected to the Detroit region and other pockets of the Great Lakes State are in the midst of a renaissance (or at least some extremely good karma). So let us hit the pause button and explore the history of 45 essential TV shows set — yet only occasionally filmed — in Michigan.
It’s a list peppered with one-season failures that may not ring a bell and a few familiar names that were shot in Hollywood studios and often relied on sweatshirts — Go Blue! Go Sparty! Go Lions! — to create a sense of place.
In recent years, there have been attempts to really capture Detroit and other distinctive regions of the state. (Bless you, “Joe Pera Talks with You” and your U.P. charm.) In the comedy category, we’re ready to declare Comedy Central’s much-missed treasure, “Detroiters” our masterpiece. Someday, we hope, there will be a definitive drama that reveals us the way HBO’s “The Wire” revealed Baltimore.
More: Vote here for your favorite set-in-Michigan TV shows
To be included in this collection, a show needed to have a significant chunk of its story unfold in the state. Unless noted otherwise, these programs were not shot here. It wasn’t until the state’s film incentives program (which lasted from 2008 to 2015) that Michigan saw a notable increase in visiting TV productions. Some — such as “BMF,” which has Detroit native Randy Huggins at its helm — are still coming even without the financial boost.
Though we don’t claim that the list covers every potential candidate, we tried to be as comprehensive as our 2019 Free Press list of Michigan’s 50 most essential movies (which spawned a piece on a dozen films we missed). If a recent or long-ago favorite of yours isn’t mentioned, drop us an email at [email protected] for a possible follow-up.
And one more thing. Please take time to vote for your five favorite Michigan-linked TV shows. The results will be revealed in an upcoming story. Who knows? Maybe one of your top picks will start trending, get noticed in Hollywood and be revived or rebooted. Could this mean there will be a third season of “Detroiters,” after all? We live in hope.
The premise: Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), a power tool-loving, grunt-communicating family man, is the lovable center of this hit comedy. He’s surrounded by his sensible wife, Jill (Patricia Richardson), three sons, face-hiding neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman) and “Tool Time” home improvement show co-host Al Borland (Richard Karn).
How it fared: “Home Improvement,” one of the most popular shows of the 1990s, made a star out of metro Detroit comedian Tim Allen, whose stand-up routines about men in the modern world informed his character. The series also was a breakout career moment for Pamela Anderson, the original “Tool Time” girl, and made a teen heartthrob out of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played middle son, Randy. Throughout the seasons, Allen showed his loyalty to the state he considered home by wearing sweatshirts and T-shirts from various Michigan colleges.
What critics said: Entertainment Weekly liked Allen’s persona: “In his sitcom debut, Tim Allen is a natural — not just funny, but an interesting TV presence: charming but a little edgy, a wise guy, but a wise guy with a lot on the ball”.
The premise: Co-creator Martin Lawrence plays Martin Payne, a deejay in Detroit for WZUP who later becomes the host of a public-access talk show. Lovable but self-centered, Martin is surrounded by his sensible, forgiving girlfriend — and, eventual wife — Gina (Tisha Campbell) and their friends Pam (Tichina Arnold), Cole (Carl Anthony Payne II) and Tommy (Thomas Mikal Ford, who died in 2016). Lawrence also appeared as a number of parody characters, most notably the over-the-top Sheneneh Jenkins.
How it fared: “Martin” was a big hit for Fox and lives on through syndication and streaming. Thirty years ago, it had real cultural effect as a rare sitcom centering on the relationship of two young Black characters in love. Today, Martin and Gina are remembered as one of the great TV couples of that era. The show’s ending in 1997 was driven partly by Campbell’s harassment lawsuit against Lawrence and the producers, which was settled out of court. Recently, that rift has been repaired. In mid-February, news broke that a 30th anniversary “Martin” reunion special will air on BET+, featuring Lawrence, Campbell, Arnold and Payne.
What critics said: The initial Detroit Free Press review was less than enthusiastic, describing the writing as erratic. But a 2014 appreciation from “Grantland” saw “Martin” in deeper terms as “a weirdly beautiful show about a flawed, interconnected community.”
Network: Comedy Central
The premise: Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson) and Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson), best friends who live next door to each other, struggle to land local accounts for their small Detroit advertising agency.
How it fared: Made in Detroit and packed with insider local references, “Detroiters” won raves from comedy pros like NBC “Late Night” host Seth Meyers for its goofy, sweet humor fueled by the friendship of real-life buddies (and series co-creators) Robinson and Richardson, who originally met through Detroit’s improv comedy world. Featuring parodies of classic Detroit TV commercials and guest roles for Robinson and Richardson’s Detroit pals (Keegan-Michael Key, Tim Meadows, Larry Joe Campbell) and local legends (University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, Pistons great Rick Mahorn, WDIV-TV 4 anchorman Mort Crim), this was the rare show that treated Detroit with true affection. Robinson went on to earn raves for his Netflix cult hit “I Think You Should Leave,” while Richardson has had a burgeoning TV and film career, including a guest role on “Ted Lasso” (which was created by Jason Sudeikis and Joe Kelly, both executive producers of “Detroiters”).
What critics said: New York magazine called the show “pretty damn funny” and praised its lead characters as “a couple of regular guys who are loyal to each other and to their city, and that grounds the comedy in an against-the-odds optimism that supersedes the squirminess.”
The premise: Lindsay Weir and her little brother, Sam, belong to very different high school cliques of the early ’80s in the fictional Motor City suburb of Chippewa. Lindsay, a mathlete, changes her image and bonds with the rebellious freaks (or slackers, as they’d be termed a decade later), while Sam and his friends belong to the socially awkward geeks.
How it fared: The dramedy created by “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig set a gold standard for empathetic portrayals of teen angst. Feig, an alum of Clinton Township’s Chippewa Valley High (hence the show’s fictional suburb name), drew on memories like his own teen years for certain story threads. His collaborator, executive producer Judd Apatow, went on to cast the show’s emerging stars (including Seth Rogen and Jason Segel) in his future movies. Although its life span was one season, “Freaks and Geeks” is eternal as great TV.
What critics said: When the then-Fox Family Channel gave “Freaks and Geeks” a re-airing in 2001, the New York Times celebrated its bittersweet accuracy: “The most believable thing about this utterly believable show is that virtually every episode is made to pivot on an experience intrinsic to teenage life: embarrassment.”
Network: ABC (followed by the WB)
The premise: Long-lost twins adopted by different parents accidentally meet at the mall. Tia (Tia Mowry) lives in Detroit with her seamstress mom (Jackee Harry), while Tamera (Tamera Mowry) grew up in the suburbs with her businessman dad (Tim Reid).
How it fared: A favorite of late Gen Xers and early millennials, “Sister, Sister” was part of the wave of 1990s shows with predominantly Black casts. With a great cast and gentle themes that addressed growing up and navigating those difficult teen years, it was beloved by fans who still hold out hope for a “Saved by the Bell”-style reboot with the Mowry sisters as adults. Acquired by Netflix, the show landed in the Nielsen top 10 streaming series in September 2020.
What critics said: Entertainment Weekly described it as “standard stuff, filled with generic topical jokes (‘He’s so dumb, he thinks Dr. Dre invented penicillin’). But the Mowry twins are glowingly likable, and there’s a nice comic tension between the deadpan Reid and the manic Harry.”
The premise: How bad is the Great Recession in and around Detroit? So bad that middle-aged (but still hunky) high school basketball coach Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) turns to male prostitution for fast money after a fire guts his modest lakefront home. See, Ray is generously endowed, and that’s not a reference to his 401K.
How it fared: Filmed mostly in Oakland Country (the body of water next to Ray’s house was played by West Bloomfield’s Middle Straits Lake), “Hung” was an ambitious blend of comedy and economic anxiety, done in HBO’s characteristic for-grown-ups-only style. Co-creators Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson had real empathy for the challenges faced by workers in the region. “Everything’s falling apart,” said Ray in a voice-over in the first episode that accompanied a montage of depressing local images, including Tiger Stadium’s demolition. But as catchy as the creative hook of “Hung” was, it ran out of gas after two seasons.
What critics said: Time admitted to being “really drawn in to its dark-comic, dead-timely vision of the American economy and the American spirit.”
The premise: Struggling Detroit automaker Payne Motors hires a new CEO (“Saturday Night Live” alum Ana Gasteyer) with zero experience — and little interest — in cars.
How it’s faring: Since arriving in December with two sneak-peek episodes, this ensemble comedy is still finding its feet, ratings-wise. The reviews, however, have been kind for creator Justin Spitzer’s take on the corporate flip side of his previous hit, “Superstore.” Spitzer has stressed that Payne isn’t supposed to be Ford or GM, just another huge company grappling with new products, quarterly earnings calls and diversity-challenged commercials (to name a few recent themes). In short, Gasteyer’s “girl boss,” as the character puts it, shares only a gender and some smartly tailored jackets with Mary Barra.
What critics are saying: “I wouldn’t buy a used car from these people, but I’ll relish watching them dig their own graves in a future auto graveyard,” said the TV Insider website.
More: ‘American Auto’ takes TV viewers into corporate HQ of Motor City carmaker
The premise: A Detroit police homicide squad pursues murder cases and navigates personal relationships in this gritty crime procedural that harks back to the days of “NYPD Blue.”
How it fared: Shot in and around Detroit (except for the pilot), the ABC drama came to the Motor City with good intentions, a commitment to getting the city’s details right and a strong cast that included Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”) as a former NYPD police detective, Aisha Hinds (“Harriet”) as the boss of the homicide unit and James McDaniel (“NYPD Blue”) as a longtime Detroiter and veteran police sergeant who’s about ready to retire. Welcomed as a potential source of years-long income for Michigan’s film and TV workers (a goal of the state’s then-burgeoning film tax incentives), the series had its fumbles (remember the character who said “soda” instead of “pop”) and faced a prime-time schedule glutted with cop shows. Canceled after one season, it stands as an honorable attempt.
What critics said: “It’s a solid, character-based network drama with a better-than-average sense of place,” wrote Time.
The premise: Inspired by the real-life crime exploits of two brothers from southwest Detroit, Demetrius (Big Meech) Flenory and Terry (Southwest T) Flenory, who built a cross-country network of cocaine trafficking, this series traces the brothers’ origin story as teens in the mid-1980s who turn to selling drugs as an escape from poverty.
How it’s faring: Starz renewed the drama — which comes from executive producer Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson — for a second season just days after its 2021 premiere drew healthy ratings. The series is laced with authentic Detroit touches (and it filmed a portion of the first season in the Motor City). There’s no skimping on the gritty details of the rise of the Flenorys. This is the story of a family in crisis. The cast includes Demetrius (Little Meech) Flenory Jr., who plays his real-life father; Motor City rapper Kash Doll; and guest stars like Eminem, who did a cameo as Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe.
What critics are saying: The A.V. Club described “BMF” as “organized-crime myth-making at its most potent.”
More: First episode of ‘BMF’ TV series earns an A for Detroit authenticity
The premise: Recovering in a hospital from a heart attack, a white man from Detroit who runs a sock company is instantly smitten by a Black cardiac nurse from Nigeria who is caring for him. Their romance blooms across racial and cultural lines — and despite their difficult families.
How it’s faring: Sitcom king Chuck Lorre scored another success with the tentative, tender romance of Bob (Billy Gardell), and Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku, who’s originally from Nigeria). Filmed in Los Angeles, the series has a sprinkle of Detroit-centric details such as the names of Woodward Memorial Hospital (named after a key city thoroughfare) and Jamerson Middle School, a nod to great Motown bass player James Jamerson. The first episode even landed a joke about the Michigan accent when Bob told Abishola, “I never liked the sound of my name, but when you say it, it sounds nice: Bobe. Oh yeah, it’s way better than Baaab.” CBS has renewed it for 2022-23.
What critics said: “Although the jokes are broad and the studio audience laughter as loud and long as any other Lorre show, there’s something quiet, simple and satisfying about “Abishola” that makes it stand out among the producer’s canon,” wrote USA Today.
The premise: Three metro Detroit women (Christina Hendricks, Retta and Mae Whitman) resort to theft when they become overwhelmed with money worries and the problematic men in their lives. Their robbery of a grocery store complicates their lives and plunges them into dangerous predicaments they didn’t foresee.
How it fared: Praised for its twist on typical crime capers (and the appeal of its trio of stars), “Good Girls” was helped on the authenticity front by consulting producer Carla Banks Waddles, a native Detroiter and Cass Tech High School alum who became executive producer in the fourth and final season. Although devoted fans hoped for a fifth season to wrap up plot threads, NBC dropped the show and a possible move to Netflix never materialized.
What critics said: Entertainment Weekly captured the mood perfectly: “If you’ve ever found yourself simmering with ‘Must I do EVERYTHING around here?’ resentment, then NBC’s Good Girls would like to invite you to its she-shed for a glass of chardonnay.”
More: She used to work at RenCen. Now Detroiter is at helm of NBC’s ‘Good Girls’
The premise: Paul (John Ritter), a Detroit newspaper columnist who works at home, and Cate (Katey Sagal), who’s returning to the work force as a nurse, cope with raising their teenage children.
How it fared: Originally titled “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter,” the sitcom about an overprotective father was created by Tracey Gamble, a writer and producer for “Home Improvement,” and was based on a book by Michigan native W. Bruce Cameron. The show suffered a tragedy when Ritter died suddenly after the first season. The addition of some new characters — Cate’s father (played by James Garner) and Cate’s nephew (David Spade) — couldn’t save the show from cancellation after three seasons. One of the co-stars, Kaley Cuoco, went on to stardom with “The Big Bang Theory.”
What critics said: “With ‘Home Improvement,’ you had the zing of discovering a hot new comic talent and his loopy ‘Tool Time’ wit. With ‘8 Simple Rules,’ you may well have the sense you’ve seen it all before,” declared the Free Press.
The premise: Two Detroit homicide detectives become ensnared in a web of deceit involving the killing of a Motor City cop and an attempt to hide the crime.
How it fared: Developed by executive producer Chris Mundy (now showrunner for Netflix’s “Ozark”) and filmed under the now-gone Michigan film tax incentives, the 10-episode reboot of a BBC miniseries was filmed and set in Detroit. British actors Mark Strong (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) and Lennie James (the “Walking Dead” franchise), along with the entire cast and crew, worked hard to get the atmosphere of the city right. One of the main co-stars, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (who played the precinct commander), had a personal tie to Detroit: He earned a master’s degree from Wayne State University. In the end, “Low Winter Sun” was more ambitious than successful and lasted one season.
What critics said: Esquire deemed the series too downbeat. “The opening credits have a dog with a rat in its mouth, which is pretty much the happiest moment in the whole show. At least the dog is winning.”
Streaming site: Paramount+
The premise: Mike McLusky (Jeremy Renner), part of the ruling McLusky family in fictional Kingstown, Michigan, is a key power broker in an ailing city where for-profit prisons are the growth business.
How it’s faring: “Kingstown” is a nod to co-creator Hugh Dillon’s hometown, Kingston, Ontario, which is a six-hour drive from Detroit. Kingston had nine prisons, as Dillon told TV Insider, “Growing up in a place like that does something to you.” Dillon teamed up with Taylor Sheridan (“Yellowstone,” “1883”) on the series, which has earned a higher score with viewers than reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes.
What critics are saying: According to CNN, the streaming series “mostly plays like the outline for a pretty conventional TV drama of the past, garnished with R-rated content standards.”
Streaming site: HBO Max
The premise: Jumping back and forth across time, the limited series reveals a catastrophic flu pandemic that decimates civilization and, 20 years later, follows a traveling Shakespeare troupe of survivors on its annual tour through Michigan.
How it fared: Adapted from the 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel, the 10 episodes painted a grim yet beautiful portrait of a post-apocalyptic world struggling to retain art and empathy in a dangerous time. The post-pandemic theater group makes stops in real Michigan places like Petoskey and fictional ones like the Severn City airport and the town of St. Deborah By the Water. There also are references to Traverse City and Mackinac Island. “Station Eleven” isn’t an easy watch, but reviewers were almost unanimous in finding it rewarding.
What critics said: “Encountering ‘Station Eleven,’ a story about the good that can rise out of a cataclysmic pandemic that reshapes existence within a matter of days, would be a strange and magical gift at any time,” mused Salon. “Seeing it arrive during a pandemic that’s stretching toward the two-year mark is uniquely strange.”
The premise: Les Gold, his son Sam and daughter Ashley operate the family’s store in Detroit as this reality show catches the drama and comic relief of the pawn shop trade.
How it fared: The goings-on at American Jewelry and Loan proved to be a hit for TruTV, earning record viewership for the network and making the Golds famous. As patriarch Les told the Free Press in 2013, “I’m a celebrity and I’m a badass street fighter.” The show was so popular it spawned “Hardcore Pawn: Chicago.” There was some criticism of its stereotypical depiction of a down-and-out Detroit, yet fans from across the globe came to the city to visit the flagship store in person. The show’s final season in 2015 coincided with TruTV’s effort to rebrand for younger viewers.
What critics said: The Washington Post noted the program “raises all sorts of concerns that it never addresses about the real biggies: class, race, ethnicity, money, family.”
More: ‘Hardcore Pawn’ stars say they are expanding American Jewelry & Loan to Downriver
Network: Adult Swim (the evening programming slate of Cartoon Network).
The premise: A soft-spoken choir teacher from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula explores topics like how to choose an easy chair and when to feed your girlfriend pierogi when he’s not sharing odd, mostly endearing moments from his everyday life.
How it’s faring: Created by comedian Joe Pera, these 15-minute segments are a celebration of the ordinary — and a reminder that each person’s small joys — like Joe’s discovery of the Who song “Baba O’Reilly” — are special. Whether he’s exploring the history of church fires in Marquette or keeping his anxious girlfriend company in her survivalist basement, Pera’s irony-free vignettes are quirky affirmations of everyday life.
What critics said: According to IndieWire, “Maybe the show’s most impressive achievement is its ability to switch from the profound to the profoundly goofy with a snap.”
The premise: In this Detroit-set dramedy about a fictional reality competition, a notorious Detroit Lions star (Ser’Darius Blain), an auto company executive (Piper Perabo), a laid-off auto worker (Jon Rudnitsky) and a single mom (Simone Recasner) are among the amateur dancers given the challenge of a lifetime: learning the choreography for “Swan Lake” and then performing it on TV.
How it fared: Filmed in Chicago, “The Big Leap” was touted as a feel-good show for viewers in need of uplift after a year of coping with the pandemic. Its Detroit premiere was delayed because the local Fox station aired a Monday football game between the Lions and the Green Bay Packers. The network canceled it in March 2022 due to struggling ratings.
What critics said: “Sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, the show benefits from a well-chosen cast,” noted the Oregonian.
The premise: Single friends in suburban Detroit banter, bicker and commiserate together at a Royal Oak bar owned by one of them.
How it fared: Executive-produced by Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs”) and the show’s creator, Adam Sztykiel (a grad of Groves High School in Beverly Hills), the comedy arrived in the summer of 2014 as a bromance seemingly headed for cancellation. It did well enough to be renewed, in no small part because of breakout star Ron Funches, a gifted comedian who always wore clothing with a Detroit theme on the show. After the third season, which aired live in an effort to boost viewership, NBC canceled the series.
What critics said: “Sporadically funny, this Bill Lawrence production is unpretentious, but ultimately tedious,” judged Variety.
The premise: The action begins on 2016’s presidential election night. Inside one house, a nervous young man in humble surroundings watches Fox News alone as the tallies point to a Donald Trump victory. In an upscale house, a small group sips wine and watches MSNBC in despair. Welcome to Brookfield Heights, Michigan, a fictional city filled with anger, paranoia, terror and a possible insane clown posse (only it’s not the Detroit hardcore rap group).
How it fared: The seventh season of the “American Horror Story” anthology series veered away from the haunted hotels and warped carnivals of past installments and toward the terror of the nation’s political divide. Despite a knockout first episode and the presence of “AHS” regulars like Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters, the action devolved into the usual sordid nastiness — and the politically polar-opposite characters were beyond stereotypical.
What critics said: Opined Rolling Stone, “It’s a dumb, ugly, blunt time to be alive, and to it has come an often dumb, ugly, blunt TV show. It is called ‘American Horror Story: Cult.’ And it’s a major missed opportunity.”
The premise: A dashing, straight-arrow FBI agent formerly with the Detroit office (Josh Duhamel of the “Transformers” movies) and a cynical, volatile police detective (Dean Winters of “Law & Order: SVU” and those Allstate ads) form an uneasy alliance to fight crime in America’s cereal capital, Battle Creek.
How it fared: After earning kudos for “Breaking Bad,” Vince Gilligan found a buyer in CBS for a concept he developed in 2002 about a misfit pair of law enforcers. With Gilligan preoccupied by his “Breaking Bad” spin-off, “Better Call Saul,” the running of the show was handled David Shore of “House.” Duhamel and Winters were an appealing crime-fighting duo and cast members like Janet McTeer (“Ozark”) and guest stars like Patton Oswalt and Candice Bergen added to the show’s pedigree. Although the reviews were admiring, the so-so ratings meant no season second to grow the audience.
What critics said: Calling it “a delight,” the New York Times praised “Battle Creek” as an “engaging series about a likable bunch of co-workers that isn’t too sweet or predictable.”
The premise: Original “Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell returns as the iconic Ash, only this time, the wisecracking character is middle-aged. And he is fighting personal demons along with the actual ones first unleashed decades ago by the influential 1981 movie.
How it fared: Set in Michigan and filmed in New Zealand, the series reunited the metro Detroit trio behind “Evil Dead.” The inimitable Campbell was the show’s star and executive producer, while Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert also were on board as executive producers. After a respectable three-season run, Campbell tweeted that he was retiring as Ash. Last year, however, he indicated he would be willing to provide the voice of Ash for future animated projects.
What critics said: The Wrap concluded that “if they’re merely reanimating the corpse, ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ nonetheless deserves credit for striking the exact right modest tone, acknowledging the silliness of the entire endeavor while still generating sufficient thrills and giggles.”
The premise: God (the voice of the late James Garner) and the devil (Alan Cumming) form a pact in this animated comedy that will allow God a do-over of Earth if a person chosen by the devil — a beer-drinking Detroit autoworker (French Stewart) — doesn’t save humanity with his redeeming behavior.
How it fared: Hailing from TV producing icons Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, the prime-time cartoon featured a God who resembled Jerry Garcia and stirred the ire of some religious leaders (and the attorney for Garcia’s heirs). Apparently, 2000 was too soon for a series involving a barroom bet between the Almighty and Satan. When NBC canceled the series with some episodes unaired, Adult Swim aired the remaining ones.
What critics said: The San Francisco Examiner saw promise in the animated show: “‘God, the Devil and Bob’ is mostly funny and at the very least mildly amusing.”
The premise: Two renovators who are personal and business partners buy abandoned houses in a Detroit neighborhood and turn them into eye-catching abodes, then sell them at affordable prices with the help of a local real estate agent.
How it fared: Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas relocated from Colorado to Michigan in 2017 to pursue their unique vision for rehabbing houses. They were approached by HGTV about doing a series and filmed a pilot in 2019. Local real estate agent Shea Hicks-Whitfield joined them for the rest of the episodes, which were shot through 2020. The duo transformed 18 houses for the first season, each with a different style. The houses cost them as little as $1,000 and were sold in the range of $70,000 to $100,000. “The idea of making something beautiful and making it attainable is kind of how I live my whole life,” Bynum told the Free Press.
What critics said: Reviews of the series are scarce, but viewers voted with their remotes and put the show in the top 10 list of new unscripted series, according to HGTV, which has ordered 10 more episodes for a second season.
The premise: A metro Detroit mom of two shakes up her routine by forming a garage band with her unemployed neighbor, her mail carrier and her daughter’s boyfriend.
How it fared: The consensus was that Nicole Sullivan (“MadTV” and “King of Queens”) and Tisha Campbell (“Martin” and “My Wife and Kids”), who played Rita and postal employee Patty, deserved a better vehicle than this tired family sitcom.
What critics said: “This is a standard-issue dom-com (domestic comedy) that teeters on the edge of — if it never entirely succumbs to — pointlessness,” judged the Boston Globe.
The premise: Centering on five Lebanese-American families in Dearborn, the documentary series explored the day-to-day joys and challenges of their lives.
How it fared: Created by filmmaker Mike Mosallam, the former head of the Wayne County film office, “All-American Muslim” was applauded for countering lingering post-9/11 anti-Muslim prejudice with its engaging, relatable look at a pair of newlyweds, a high school football coach, a wedding planner, a deputy police chief and more. Although the show wasn’t renewed, it helped open doors for Mosallam, whose engaging movie about a gay Muslim doctor who finds love, “Breaking Fast,” earned an online release last year.
What critics said: While appreciating its good intentions, the New York Times pointed out that the show “only fitfully displays the kind of melodrama or incidental humor that can get you addicted to a documentary reality show.”
Network: Spike TV
The premise: Blade, played by rapper Kirk (Sticky Fingaz) Jones, returns to his Detroit hometown to deal with vampires not annihilated by the third “Blade” movie’s killer virus.
How it fared: Created by Ann Arbor native and veteran screenwriter David S. Goyer (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the “Blade” movies), the series picked up where the vampire hunter played on the big screen by Wesley Snipes left off. But without the charisma of Snipes, the small-screen adaptation didn’t survive.
What critics said: The New York Times called the series “surprisingly inoffensive” and wrote, “These are hot, well-dressed vampires with huge hypodermic needles. (‘Bite you?’ one says. ‘No. That’s for savages.’)”
Network: Nat Geo Wild
The premise: The reality series focuses on the patients and staff of Dr. Jan Pol’s veterinary clinic in rural Weidman, Michigan, roughly northwest of Mt. Pleasant. The practice, launched in 1981 by Pol, who grew up in the Netherlands, treats pets and large farm animals.
How it has fared: Pol’s old-school manner and his practice’s encounters with everything from cows with tremors to malnourished alpacas have been a ratings hit for Nat Geo Wild. The staple spawned a regular holiday marathon, “12 Days of Dr. Pol.” The show runs two seasons per year and is now at No. 20 and counting.
What critics said: In a 2018 profile of Pol, the Los Angeles Times wrote, “In a world of cable news brawls and social media tantrums, the down-to-earth charms of Pol have proved a soothing panacea.”
The premise: Rev. Mike Weber (Dan Aykroyd), a minister and a widower with four children, tries to be a good parent in this gentle sitcom.
How it fared: With a name that evoked the Blues Brothers version of the Sam & Dave hit — and character details inspired by the real-life Aykroyd (such as Rev. Mike’s penchant for motorcycles) — this sitcom aimed to be family-friendly and yet have some hipster cred. It bounced between the 8 and 8:30 p.m. time slots just before “Home Improvement,” but didn’t have a prayer in the ratings.
What critics said: “Stability? Elwood Blues craves stability? Absolutely,” wrote Detroit Free Press TV critic Mike Duffy in a story about Aykroyd’s decision to do a TV comedy, describing the series as “part of a recent boomlet in shows that have spiritual themes or a religious setting.”
The premise: Anna Maria Horsford (NBC’s “Amen”) plays the owner of Detroit radio station WBLZ, known as the “voice of Black Detroit.” Roger Kabler (aka the guy in the fedora in early ’90s ads for Zima) is a white disc jockey named Bobby Soul. The sitcom also featured Vanessa Bell Calloway (“Coming to America”) and Ron Glass (“Barney Miller”).
How it fared: This badly conceived — make that offensively formulated — show was slammed by critics for having a racist premise, according to the Los Angeles Times. How awful was it? The first episode revealed that the “hyperkinetic, jive-talking” Soul — hired to save the Black-owned station — was chosen on the basis of his audition tape, which meant the owner didn’t realize he was white. At a news conference for the show, a TV writer criticized Kabler’s character for “making the ‘Fresh Prince’ look like George Bush.”
What critics said: “Whether ‘Rhythm & Blues’ becomes a sort of reverse ‘All In The Family’ remains to be seen,” wrote the Los Angeles Times. It didn’t.
The premise: Before he became a superstar with Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show,” Dave Chappelle appeared in this sitcom about two longtime friends, one Black and one white, who together form a film and videotape production company. Richard Roundtree of “Shaft” fame played Chappelle’s disapproving father.
How it fared: After a well-received guest spot by Chappelle and Jim Breuer on “Home Improvement” as “Tool Time” audience members, somebody at ABC had the bright idea to give the real-life pals a show. Except Breuer was replaced early on by Christopher Gartin, which didn’t make Chappelle happy, according to Vulture’s account. The lackluster show filmed 13 episodes and was canceled after five.
What critics said: The New York Daily News slammed the comedy and blamed its placement after “Home Improvement” on the fact that it came from the producers of that hit: “In other words, this is a ‘deal’ show. But it’s definitely no big deal.”
Network: The CW
The premise: A reboot of the WB series that ran from 1998 to 2006, this update is set on a small college campus in Hilltowne, Michigan. Three sisters (played by Madeleine Mantock, Melonie Diaz and Sarah Jeffery) find out after their mom’s death that they are good witches with a mission to fight evil.
How it’s faring: “Charmed” 2.0 has done well with its new iteration of the magical siblings theme. Last year’s announcement that Mantock would be leaving the series evoked memories of Shannen Doherty’s departure from the original series (after which Rose McGowan stepped in to join Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano). When the series returned this month, Australian actress Lucy Barrett was introduced as a regular to fill the empty spot.
What critics said: Entertainment Weekly gave its blessing to the redo, writing, “Surely the new ‘Charmed’ — which speaks to younger viewers in a language they’ll appreciate while honoring the original’s themes of sisterhood and female empowerment — can coexist peacefully with the old ‘Charmed.'”
The premise: A large, loving family in Flint is led by a dad who puts in long hours at a steel mill and a mom who works part-time at a local diner. A drama with heart, it tried to present the economic and personal challenges of life in late-1970s America. The cast included teen heartthrob Jimmy McNichol (brother of “Family” star Kristy McNichol) as a Fitzgerald son and future Oscar winner Helen Hunt as a girl in their neighborhood.
How it fared: A warm family drama with life lessons embedded in its plots didn’t have a chance in a time slot opposite megahits “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley.”
What critics said: It was described as “a blue-collar update of ‘The Waltons'” by the Chicago Tribune, which mocked it in a separate story by writing that it had an “immediate problem — because there are lots of auto factories in Flint, but no steel mills.”
The premise: An ex-con (Stephanie Hodge), convicted of shooting her cheating husband in the (ahem) rear, returns to her family’s diner and motel in small-town Michigan after being paroled. But things are complicated, what with her daughter (Jennifer Aniston) being married to the same policeman who helped put her in prison and her no-good husband still sponging off the business.
How it fared: This sitcom will go down in history as the one that Aniston was on before “Friends,” which debuted the same year. According to Vulture, “Muddling Through” was so doomed to fail that NBC boss Warren Littlefield cast her as Rachel without fretting that it would be a conflict for Aniston. He was right. The last episode of “Muddling Through” aired roughly two weeks before “Friends” arrived.
What critics said: The family in the series is dysfunctional, noted the Los Angeles Times, “and despite the ear-splitting din of studio audience laughter that greets every one-liner, so is the comedy.”
Network: Animal Planet
The premise: Real-life cruelty investigators, doctors and staffers of the Michigan Humane Society deal with cases involving abandoned and abused animals in the city.
How it fared: Part of a group of shows under the “Animal Planet Heroes” umbrella, the Detroit version drew solid ratings and spawned spin-offs in several cities, including Houston and Philadelphia.
What critics said: Although TV reviewers largely ignored the reality show, there was no snobbishness among fans. In 2003, the Free Press reported that the Hungarian ambassador to the United States insisted on meeting the show’s four animal cruelty field agents during a visit to the city.
Streaming site: Netflix
The premise: The candid eight-part documentary series takes a look inside Flint’s police department from late 2015 to early 2017 as it deals with staff reductions, government wrangling over funding, citizens who don’t trust officials after enduring policies that poisoned their water and a national reckoning on police bias and brutality.
How it fared: Made by the filmmakers of “T-Rex,” the 2015 documentary about Olympic boxing champion Claressa (T-Rex) Shields of Flint, the series was praised for avoiding the flashy cliches of “Cops” and revealing the frustration, anger, commitment and occasionally divided opinions of the men and women of the force.
What critics said: “Not many TV shows can be as transporting as a well-made, long-form documentary series about a specific time and place. Flint Town is that kind of series,” wrote Vulture.
Network: The WB
The premise: Three siblings in their 20s — and their teenage sister — live together in Grand Rapids after their parents move to Arizona for the dad’s recuperation from heart surgery.
How it fared: The family comedy was inspired by the suburban Detroit childhood of series creator Betsy Thomas, who went on to produce sitcoms like “My Boys” and “Superior Donuts.” Its best-known cast member, former teen heartthrob Joey Lawrence of “Blossom” fame, was 27 at the time and billed here as Joseph Lawrence. Scheduled to run against a thriving “CSI” on CBS and the hip prime-time soap “The O.C.” on Fox, the series was canceled without fanfare.
What critics said: The Los Angeles Times considered it “a relatively painless half-hour — if not particularly funny, it is at least good-hearted.”
The premise: Lake Orion native Nicole Curtis leads this reality series that focused on renovating homes in and around Detroit, including the historic Ransom Gillis house in the city’s Brush Park neighborhood.
How it fared: Launched in 2010, the popular home network star’s series aired on HGTV and the former DIY network. Originally, it involved restoring homes in Minneapolis, but the location moved to southeast Michigan after four seasons. Curtis stepped away from the cameras in 2018 after devoting nearly a decade to her TV series. Now she is back with HGTV’s “Rehab Addict Rescue,” which launched in 2021 and aids metro Detroit families who are overwhelmed by their home restoration projects.
What critics said: In a 2017 profile of Curtis, the Metro Times said that “Rehab Addict” was different from most home renovation shows: “For one, there is no doofus, sledgehammer-wielding husband — Nicole Curtis can sledgehammer her own damn walls, thank you very much. And two, the show, especially its early seasons, is formulaic only in its unpredictability.”
More: HGTV’s Nicole Curtis wins dispute over Detroit home project
Network: Cartoon Network
The premise: Optimus Prime and his fellow Autobots protect the citizens of a futuristic Motor City from evil humans and nasty Decepticons.
How it fared: The cartoon series arrived the same year as director Michael Bay’s first “Transformers” movie, a franchise that shot portions of four out of five films in metro Detroit. Diehard fans quibbled about the animated version’s changes to the original story and design, but the concept was aimed at a new generation of viewers. An expected fourth season was canceled without much explanation.
What critics said: The video game and entertainment website IGN’s take: “If you’re willing to look beyond the original material and enjoy this as a show made for the younger set, you just might enjoy the ride.”
The premise: A blue-collar comedy about Detroit housepainter Joe Wabash, who is dedicated to his family, his job and the Detroit Lions (or at least that’s what NBC claimed).
How it fared: The soon-to-depart sitcom gave a lead role to a busy character actor, Ramon Bieri, who appeared on nearly every show in the 1970s (or it seemed that way) and cast post-“Brady Bunch” Christopher Knight as Joe’s oldest son. According to the Pittsburgh Press, critics hated the pilot so much that NBC put it “into the vault somewhere” and went with subsequent episodes for its first on-air sneak preview.
What critics said: The Pittsburgh Press described the scrapped first episode as portraying Joe Wabash as “an overbearing lord-and-master throwback to the dark ages.”
Network: Animal Planet
The premise: Dan McKernan leaves a six-figure tech job in Texas to return home to Chelsea, Michigan, and launch the Barn Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary at his family’s 140-year-old farm.
How it fared: The reality series featured stories of the cows, piglets, goats, roosters and more who found a home at the Barn Sanctuary after being abused or neglected. In August 2020, the sanctuary’s Facebook page posted: “It’s with mixed emotions that I let everyone know that there will not be a season 2 of ‘Saved by the Barn’ on Animal Planet,” citing “a lot of factors” but expressing excitement about what was ahead for the Barn Sanctuary.
What critics said: Reality fare sometimes draws few reviews, but a TV highlight in the Cincinnati Enquirer practically begged viewers to tune in when it described the debut episode’s opening of a new pasture after a tough winter, “which is good news for goats Steve, Martin and Chevy, also known as ‘the Three Amigos.'”
Network: DC Universe
The premise: Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), aka Robin, has moved away from Gotham and become a Detroit police detective in an effort to distance himself from mentor Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. Meanwhile in Traverse City, high school student Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft) comes home to find her mom being held at gunpoint and then murdered. Rachel, who has unexplained powers, escapes to the Motor City, where she finds a protector in Grayson. That’s how the adventure begins in the first season of “Titans,” whose stars fight evil in the debut season in several locales — with Detroit as a key location.
How it’s faring: Based on the Teen Titans characters from DC Comics, the TV adaptation is a dark series peppered with troubled young characters. The surprise use of Detroit as an important setting for the first season is pegged by some to the fact that DC bigwig Geoff Johns, a co-creator of the show, grew up in metro Detroit. In October, HBO Max (which became the show’s home in the third season) announced “Titans” was being renewed for a fourth season.
What critics said: The New York Times’ first season take: “The superhero Sturm und Drang and personal melodrama that ‘Titans’ offers is attractively packaged and reasonably entertaining in the early episodes.”
Network: Canada’s CTV
The premise: Cyborg-revived Lt. Alex Murphy, aka RoboCop (Richard Eden), tones down the ultra-violence as he partners with police officer Lisa Madigan (Yvette Nipar) to protect shiny new Delta City and dangerous Old Detroit from threats like Dr. Mallardo (Cliff de Young), who’s using human brains to craft a new computer. One of Robo’s new pals is Diana, a former secretary who winds up
How it fared: Funnier than the movie version, this “RoboCop” — a syndicated offering in the United States — featured a CEO of Omni Consumer Products who was more naive than evil. The pilot was written by original “RoboCop” scribes Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. The stories were pretty wacky at times, featuring radical feminists and televangelists — not exactly your usual shoot ’em ups.
What critics said: “The series has a good chance of succeeding because, on the basis of the opener, it’s brave enough to amuse instead of intimidate. There’s a lesson there,” wrote Variety.
Network: Canada’s Citytv
The premise: Ben Ford, an investigator for insurance cases who works the international border between Windsor and Detroit, turns 30 on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. That same day, his girlfriend disappears while flying back from Dallas. Forty years later, the discovery of her body makes the mystery urgent again.
How it fared: Jumping between 1963 and the present, the miniseries was deemed complex but compelling. Filming was done in Windsor and other cities in Ontario and in Detroit. It earned seven nominations for the Gemini Awards, sort of the Canadian version of the Emmys.
What critics said: A Canwest News Service review called it “ambitious and often absorbing, if a little hard to follow at times.
Streaming site: Netflix
The premise: Seven years after she vanished, a young woman named Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) comes home to her adoptive parents in Michigan. Blind when she disappeared, she now can see. But what the press nicknames “the Michigan miracle” is just the tip of this mysterious iceberg. Prairie, aka the OA (for Original Angel), won’t divulge what happened to the authorities, but does spill some hard-to-believe details to four high school students and one teacher from her hometown suburb. What the heck happened here? Can they help her save others who are missing?
How it fared: A blend of sci-fi and supernatural ingredients, “The OA” hooked a cult following for two seasons, but was overshadowed by another creepy-cool Netflix hit, “Stranger Things.” Co-creator Marling has said that she wanted to wrap up the show’s loose ends. Instead, it concluded with a cliff-hanger.
What critics said: The New York Times concluded, “This wonder box is gorgeously gift-wrapped, but the time you’ll invest in it is nonreturnable.”
Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at [email protected]