My annual TV roundup is a little late this year – I’d intended to do this as a Preview, but Premiere week has come and gone and I got slammed with work, so it’s here now. The good news is, that allowed me to see a good number of the shows that I didn’t have screeners for.
Screeners? Yes, this year I was actually able to get hold of a few early versions of pilots for NBC and CBS, so I’ll indicate which pilots I saw that way. I’ll also note when I saw them, since the earlier I saw them, the greater the chances that there have been significant changes made since I saw them. I’ll also note which shows I’ve been watching since they premiered.
Anything with an asterisk is something I would recommend based on whatever version of the pilot I saw. I’ll probably be watching a couple more shows than that, but those are the ones that really stood out. Anything not listed here, I haven’t actually watched and thus do not feel qualified to give an opinion on other than “that looked stupid enough that even I wouldn’t watch it.”
After the jump, the full list.
Let’s start with all the stuff I saw on screeners:
*Up All Night (saw on screener in late May, have been watching) – Definitely the best of NBC’s comedy batch. Christina Applegate and Will Arnett are great as harried new parents, and it strikes just the right balance between humor and sentimentality. The change to a talk show instead of a PR agency for the work environment and making Maya Rudolph’s character about 20-30% less cartoonish were both improvements on the original pilot, but they’re still trying to figure out just the right balance of work stuff vs. home stuff. Very, very promising.
Whitney (saw on screener, late May, did not watch final version) – I got through eight minutes of this, had a technical issue, and decided it was not worth watching the rest. Punishingly awful laugh track, and what I did see seemed to be trying to do for casual sexism what Outsourced did for casual racism. There’s talent behind this, so maybe they can find a way to rework it to be less atrocious, but I suspect they may need to do so by just doing a different show.
Free Agents (saw on screener, late May, did not watch final version) – Yet another will-they-or-won’t they workplace sitcom, with the twist that he’s just gotten divorced and she’s getting over the death of her fiance. Anthony Stewart Head is clearly having fun reprising his role as the asshole boss of a PR company from the British original, but Hank Azaria just comes off as bland and kind of whiny. Again – good talent behind this (lots of folks from Party Down, and there’s a great shout-out to one of that show’s best episodes), but the whole thing was pretty blah considering the pedigree.
Bent (Airing midesason; saw on screener, late May, may watch if reviews indicate it’s improved) – This was moderately charming, if suffering from a serious case of exposition-itis. Characters who don’t know each other spitting out background information about their conversation partner they really couldn’t possibly know, just to communicate this info to the audience. The cast seemed to gel pretty nicely, though, so this is one where some carefully considered changes could make this a lot better.
Prime Suspect (saw on screener, late May, have been watching) – Shot a little more in a Law & Order style than I would have expected, but I like Maria Bello in this. I’ve never seen the British original, but it seems some of its vintage sexism made it into the pilot – though allegedly that’s changing in the series as it moves on (I haven’t watched last night’s episode yet). Replacing the husband character in the final version did wonders – the original guy was terrible. Seems pretty good as a cop show, but some of the attempts at making Bello a bad-ass were a little over the top (what cop slaps her gun THEN her badge up against the back window of a cab?).
The Playboy Club (saw on screener, early June, have not watched) – It’s the Eddie Cibrian show! Seriously, for a show about Playboy Bunnies, this show puts an awful lot of weight on the buff shoulders of Cibrian. I’ve got some residual affection for him since he’s very funny in one of my favorite movies, but he is just not a good enough actor to carry this show. I’ve heard this actually got substantially worse since the original pilot, which is saying something, because the original pilot was pretty blah. Also, the fact that the producers here were so lazy that they decided for their black Bunny they should cast the black Bunny from Mad Men speaks volumes about exactly how much thought goes into this show.
Grimm (saw on screener, early June, will not watch) – I’ll qualify this by noting that this sort of fantasy isn’t really my genre, and I will say that the effects were pretty impressive for having been whipped together on a pilot timeline. However, I wasn’t terribly impressed. The lead is likeable enough, but the whole thing just comes off as super-silly to me. Silas Weir Mitchell is a really undervalued actor, but his character here comes off just a shade too far on the wacky side to be effective. The music, which will hopefully be improved for the final version, was massively overbearing and drove into the ground why I don’t like this sort of thing most of the time.
Two Broke Girls (saw on screener, late May, have been watching) – Look, I really like Kat Dennings, I think she’s damn funny. But she can’t save this on her own. CBS doesn’t do shows without a laugh track, and while they’re better at gauging what level of canned laughter is acceptable than most of the other networks, it doesn’t mean it’s not still awfully grating. The pilot was tweaked until it seemed considerably funnier than the first version I saw, but the second episode was a serious dud, and I think I may need to check back in when this has found more of its voice.
How To Be A Gentleman (saw on screener, late May, did not watch final version) – Probably the least offensive of fall the shows trying to re-embrace hypermasculinity, since at least this one says men have neutered themselves rather than saying they’ve allowed their women to castrate them. There’s a really great cast here (Rickety Cricket from It’s Always Sunny…, Mary-Lynn Rajskub, the manager from Flight of the Conchords, and, uh, Kevin Dillon), but I have a feeling you could turn the camera on their conversations between takes and have a much funnier show than the mediocre comedy this actually winds up being.
*Person of Interest (saw on screener, late May, have been watching) – My favorite description of this is “Jesus and Ben Linus solving crimes.” Jim Cavaziel and Michael Emerson are both playing variations on characters they’ve played before, but the marriage of the JJ Abrams Bizarro Technological Mystery style and the CBS House Brand Criminal Procedural style works significantly better than I would have thought. There’s a lot of babble to justify the fairly strange premise of the show, but it’s well-written babble. This is one I’m going to keep an eye on.
Unforgettable (saw on screener, late May, did not watch final version) – CBS basically takes a really fascinating 60 Minutes story (and you should really watch the video at that link, it’s one of the better pieces they’ve done in years) and turns it into…a criminal procedural! What a surprise! Poppy Montgomery is okay in the lead role, but the mechanism they use to show her perfect memory is a little cheesy. It’s also clear that the memory part was much more important than the cop part to the writer, since the cop part is pretty stupidly plotted. Will definitely appeal to CBS’s core audience, but I wasn’t sufficiently impressed to add it to my rotation.
A Gifted Man (saw on screener, late may, did not watch final version) – Desperate attempt to marry a medical procedural and The Ghost Whisperer. I couldn’t stand this, and I actually laughed out loud when the main character, who is a neurosurgeon, decides to address the hallucinations he’s having by…Googling “hallucinations.” I mean, really, people, please tell me that did not make it into the final version. The saddest part of all this is that it utterly wastes Margo Martindale as the main character’s long-suffering assistant, when she proved she was capable of SO much more in this last season of Justified.
The following shows I have watched as they’ve premiered. I didn’t see earlier versions of any of them.
*New Girl – Basically, this show is a referendum on how you feel about Zooey Deschanel. I think she’s delightful, so I really enjoy this show. If you don’t, you will hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. It’s pretty cartoonish and a little twee, but she’s just so damn likeable that I can put up with a lot of goofiness I’d otherwise find over the top. One unfortunate thing is that Damon Wayans Jr.’s other show (Happy Endings) unexpectedly got picked up, and he made a far better impression in the pilot than the guy they got to replace him going forward. Hopefully that character will get rounded out as the season goes on.
Terra Nova – Dinosaurs! Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Some of the CGI on this looks pretty pretty great, and some of it still looks half-baked. Which is kind of amazing, considering that this has been in the works for well over a year and a half. The pilot was a little thin on character development and heavy on laying out the plot – there were definitely a couple of ham-fisted HERE IS THE HOOK FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON moments – but I’m going to hang on for at least another episode to see how it does, mostly because I really like Jason O’Mara. Who, full disclosure, was in the pilot of the last series I worked on and was ridiculously nice despite basically not having slept for a week by the time he got to our set for reshoots because he was also starring in a totally different series which shot on the opposite side of the country.
*Suburgatory – Great companion piece for criminally underrated The Middle and powerhouse Modern Family, with a nicely sarcastic bite and well-written characters. The actors also do a great job of quickly locking in on the characters’ personalities, and it just gels immediately. To a certain extent, it’s Desperate Housewives from the point of view of a sane father and daughter that moved to the block, but it’s much, much funnier than that description implies. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Pan Am – It’s got style by the barrel, but substance is a little harder to gauge after the pilot episode. There was a lot of work setting up back stories for four stewardesses and a pilot (This pilot/pilot thing is going to drive me nuts). The one storyline that stood out as the most potentially interesting was the one where one of the stews is actually working for the CIA, but the other stories were just a little too thin in one episode to make a judgement about how interesting they’ll be as it goes on. If you want to look at a very pretty recreation of the early Sixties with some hilariously square-jawed men and wee tiny gorgeous women, you’ll definitely enjoy the eye candy.
Whew! And yet I still managed to get an app approved and leave the house repeatedly this week. Amazing!
Finally, I’m looking forward to the following two upcoming shows:
– Showtime’s Homeland, with two actors I really like in Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, and what I’ve heard is a much more interesting take on the War on Terror than the producers’ previous delightful let’s-blow-shit-up-athon, 24.
-FX’s American Horror Story, which I’ve heard is 32 flavors of bonkers. Wildly divisive among all the TV critics I follow on Twitter, but they all seem to agree that it’s very, very ambitious. And frankly, I’d rather watch an ambitious failure than a boring one.