FOX 2019 Upfront Party

Timothy Hutton (right) stars alongside Megalyn Ecikunwoke (from left), Brittany Snow and Emily Osment in “Almost Family,” airing at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Better living through science? A comedy of discomfort, Fox’s “Almost Family” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) is based on an Australian series and ripped from the headlines of the past several decades. As the pilot begins, esteemed fertility specialist Leon Bechley (Timothy Hutton) is poised to receive a lifetime achievement award. His daughter, Julia (Brittany Snow), acts as his assistant and all-around gofer and has the hardest time getting him to the podium.

Accolades are interrupted when news breaks that Bechley has used some of his own sperm (gently referred to here as “genetic material”) to facilitate some of his procedures. How many? The mind boggles. Suddenly, Julia no longer feels like an only child.

We quickly meet Edie Palmer (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a not-so-friendly family acquaintance of the Bechleys and hot-shot lawyer on the partner track. We also encounter thoroughly messed up former athlete and social media star Roxy Doyle (Emily Osment). It’s not giving too much away to reveal that they have certain “material” in common. Edie recoils at the idea of her new “father” and sister, but Roxy acts like she’s found the siblings she never had. And out in the wider world, a whole new “family” looms.

“Almost” certainly has potential for nervous laughs. But is it a series? Or better suited to a movie with a beginning, middle and end? When you kick off with something so fundamentally strange, where, exactly do you go? And what do you accomplish in each 43-minute episode? Is this a speculative fantasy a la “Black Mirror,” or a comedy about sisterhood fighting an exaggerated version of “the patriarchy?”

The two episodes made available for review already seem padded by Julia’s promiscuous use of dating apps, Edie’s sapphic flirtation with another attorney and Roxy’s frazzled dysfunction.

Hutton is well cast as an older male, a baby-boomer heavy disheveled, entitled and delusional, and not at all contrite about his “contributions” to the human family.

News stories about actual doctors using this “technique” have been around for several decades. A Utah doctor made headlines in 1992. As recently as this year, a Dutch doctor was accused of fathering 49 children in this manner. Before his arrest, disgrace and suicide, serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein spoke of a bizarre scheme to start a foundation and father more than 1,000 children with his DNA.

  • The new four-part series “24/7 College Football” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-PG) puts the spotlight on a different football organization each week. First up: The University of Florida prepares for its game with Towson.
  • Not every building project goes smoothly. “Engineering Catastrophes” (8 p.m., Science, TV-PG) examines spectacular structural failures and their often audacious solutions.

Other highlights

  • A long-shot life preserver on “Chicago Med” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
  • Shock value on “The Masked Singer” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).
  • Ryan Seacrest hosts “iHeartRadio Music Festival Night 1” (7 p.m., CW, TV-14).
  • An eager recruit raises eyebrows on “Chicago Fire” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
  • Undercover with a cartel on “Chicago P.D.” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
  • A wealthy client sends mixed signals on “Stumptown” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
  • Messy truths emerge on “American Horror Story: 1984” (9 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

Cult choice

An undercover FBI agent (Johnny Depp) gains the confidence of an older mobster (Al Pacino) in the 1997 drama “Donnie Brasco” (6:45 p.m., Showtime, TV-14).

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