Friday, 28 October 2011

Checking Up on the New Season

At the beginning of the season, I posted about which new shows I was planning to tune into this season, so now that just about everything has had a few weeks to settle in, without further ado I give you my mid-season (read: pre-sweeps) report card of the newbies. (I apologize in advance for all of the passive voice you're about to read. I'm tired.)


Once Upon a Time: It's hardly fair to judge a show based on its pilot episode (I learned my lesson with the excellent pilots, but disappointing subsequent episodes of Life Unexpected and V), but for what it's worth, I LOVED this pilot. It had all the things I wanted and more: a compelling underlying mythology, creepy/cool visual effects (seriously, this show was made for the full HD treatment), and characters I already care about (not sure how much I care about Jennifer Morrison's Emma yet, but I'm optimistic). Most importantly, though, it is philosophical and beautiful. It's about faith, hope, and love defeating the curse of death. I'm sold! When this show fails to live up to expectations, I'll eat my words, but for now, the pilot gets an: A.

Pan Am: Last week's episode reached new heights of boring for me, even with the exciting edition of my former ER crush Goran Visnjic. I want to like this show. I really do! Thomas Schlamme's involvement is probably the only reason I'm still watching, but it has yet to suck me in. My biggest complaint is that the show doesn't seem to know what it wants to do yet. Is it about 1950s gender politics? Is it a Cold War espionage ride? Is it a dramedy about the silly things flight attendents can get into in Europe? Ugh, all I know is that if it doesn't figure it out soon, I'm out. This one gets a: C.

Homeland: YES!!! That is all. Read my post about the pilot if you want a fuller view of why I've taken to this show. I'm happy to report that four episodes in, it's still compelling. A!


Hart of Dixie: I like to pride myself on having patience with bad shows, but the first two episodes of this crapfest were painful. I loved Rachel Bilson on The OC and Scott Porter on FNL (obviously!), but life's too short, man. If the show gets legitimately better, reader, let me know 'cause I'm out. For now, that recycled fish-out-of-water, 1990s rom-com ridiculata is beyond my level of tolerance. Dixie gets a: D.

Two Broke Girls: I picked up this show at the urging of friendly recommendations, its early ratings success, and Kat Dennings' awesomeness on The Late Late Show, but after four episodes, it's on probation. My disconnect from the show can be pinned down to Vulture's criticism that it comes across a little too mean-spirited sometimes. Why can't Max just be a little nicer to her roommate? And do I need to even mention the near-Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's-levels of racism? Gross. As single-camera sitcoms have cornered the market on creativity these days, it's going to take a lot more than this to bring me back around to the multi-camera sitcom. It's still a wait and see show, so I'll give it a: C-.


Ringer: I HATED the pilot for this show, but have to admit that it's gotten exponentially better since the first 2-3 episodes. Seriously, if you gave up on it early, you should start watching again because it's become a really fun, soapy hidden identity drama, with a main character that's much more interesting than she was initially. I think it just needed a few weeks to find its footing, and to let its characters figure out who they are. Its stock is rising, so I'm giving it a solid: B.

New Girl: Am I the only who watches this show nervously, thinking it's not going to be funny? Thankfully it has been funny, and Zooey Deschanel's charm has not proven to be overstated. But that nagging feeling that the best jokes have already happened still irks me when I watch it. Of all the shows that FOX could have benched for the World Series, I can't help but feel this show in particular may be the most at risk to lose a little of its early momentum. Hopefully not. I'm still unsure about it, even though it's been pretty good thus far. The first three episodes get an above average: B+.


The X-Factor: Oy. So this one's a train wreck, yes? My sister argues that it takes all of the most annoying qualities from Idol, The Voice, and America's Got Talent (e.g., auditions in front of a packed studio; intrusive swelling soundtrack; over-wrought emotional manipulation for contestant packages; a lot of talk about one pursuing one's "dream"; hyperbolic critiques by "experts"; and on and on...), and combines them for maximum suckage. I couldn't agree more. I'm holding out hope that the finals will be less awful, but to this point, I'm not very invested. Although L.A. Reid is actually a brill addition to the long list of celebrities who can call themselves a "reality show judge", one can't help but feel his particular talents are wasted here. I'm still watching despite my better judgment, so this show gets a pessimistic: C+.

Up All Night: Yeah, this show could be better. Maya Rudolph is legitimately hilarious in the right context, but her character is too zany to be on the same show with the semi-realist (you know, for comedy shows) relationship between Christina Applegate's and Will Arnett's characters. The impulse to make Rudolph's character more prominent, particularly after the success of Bridesmaids, is a good impulse, but something's not quite gelling between the two worlds this show has created. In spite of its structural messiness, though, I've been enjoying this show from week to week, and unlike New Girl, I don't feel an anxiety about its ability to maintain its funny. I'm also glad NBC has found a mini-hit. Up All Night gets a solid, comedic: B+.

Suburgatory: Ah, see? Now here's a comedy that knows which way is up. This has fit right into ABC's excellent Wednesday night schedule, delivering a silly, but not quite over the top suburban parody (I mean that in the best way). And do I even need to mention Alan Tudyk? This show deserves at least an Asian F: A-.

Revenge: Revenge is the new Desperate Housewives: an over the top nighttime soap on ABC that's full of scheming, fashion, and WASPs. Thus far, in spite of the procedural quality of the first 3-4 episodes, it's turned into one of my favorite new shows of the season. I very much like watching shows where I feel like the protagonist is in control, which is the reason only the first season of Prison Break was epic. In this case, Emily Thorne seems to be in control. It's fun watching puppetmasters. For style, ambiance, and some old fashioned suds, Revenge gets an: A-.

American Horror Story: My problem with AHS is the way it's trivializing horror. Horror for horror's sake isn't as scary, entertaining, or, dare I say it, meaningful as horror with a purpose. Here's what I mean: AHS seems pleased with itself every time it pays homage to another 1970s horror trope, but unlike many of the really great horror films and TV shows it's looking up to, like The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, or even Twin Peaks, in AHS, there is no inherent purpose behind its violent and psychologically twisted world. It's just trying to scare you with cheap thrills and characters that aren't recognizable as people. I'm not sure where this show is going, but my problem is that I don't think it does, either. I also made the mistake of reading Mo Ryan's scathing review after I watched the pilot, and now I can't get it out of my head when I watch. AHS gets points for trying, but in spite of my attraction to the genre, I feel it may not be my cup of tea, so it gets a: B-.


Charlie's Angels: Real bad. Which is why it has been cancelled. Fail: F.

The Secret Circle: I know I'm going to get even more crap from my friends and family for watching this show than I do about The Vampire Diaries (well, maybe), but I'm powerless against it. It has all the things that make a teen show great: relatable female lead, love triangle, high school shenanigans, absent/clueless parents, and, my new favorite teen show quality (thanks to the last ten years), an unrealistic, yet high stakes supernatural element. YES! I wasn't optimistic going into the season, but I should learn to trust Kevin Williamson more, because like the recent (AWESOME) Scream 4 for which he was responsible, the dude knows what his audience wants. Yeah, I love this show. Well done, Britt Robertson! You get an: A.

Prime Suspect: Thursday has turned out to bring out the very best and very worst in new shows. Fortunately, Prime Suspect falls into the former category. The pilot was good, but a little silly in places. Would a contemporary police department ever tolerate that much sexism? I think not. Subsequent episodes have toned down the silly misogyny, though, and have allowed Maria Bello to just be awesome -- controversal fedora and all. As crime procedurals go, it's not doing anything revolutionary. It has, however, found a way to play to its strengths. I hope NBC is able to stick with it because I'm giving it a solid: A-.

That covers all the new ones I'm watching this season. Grimm looks kind of fun, but I haven't had time to watch the pilot yet, and I've been all but chided by my parents for not watching Person of Interest. I would definitely watch that one if I wasn't facing the biggest traffic jam of the week on Thursdays at 9/8c, I swear! Maybe I'll catch up with it over Christmas or something. Happy TV watching, everyone! Let me know what you dis/agree with in the comments section below!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

And the Best Pilot of the Season is...

Showtime's Homeland! After reading this post, this post, and this post about the show before it aired, it was wonderful to find that it exceeded expectations, and that people watched it.

The marvelous thing about the pilot is that along with believably presenting a world of the highest stakes (like 24 did in its less nutso seasons), we find ourselves treated to multiple character studies by some really amazing actors. Damian Lewis is better than I've ever seen him in this character, to the point that I can't really imagine another actor playing this role. I'll write more on him in a few episodes. In the best way possible, I can't quite get my head wrapped around him. I also think Morena Baccarin shows here that same dynamism we were treated to in V for two seasons.

Claire Danes is revelatory. She has that same watchable intuitiveness here that she's always had, and she draws you in by passionately leading you to believe that every word she's speaking is true, even though empirical evidence may tell you otherwise. Not to beat the dead horse that everyone's beating, but this quality is what makes My So-Called Life so perpetually terrific: you care about Angela Chase, and Danes pulls you into Angela's emotional world, but you recognize that Angela is an unreliable narrator, a teenage girl figuring it out as she goes.** In Homeland, Danes and the writers bring this to Carrie Matheson, who is damaged, unstable, even paranoid. I love the shades of gray here. I love the jarring wrongness of Carrie trying to seduce Saul in a moment of desperation. I love that Carrie is a little awkward with people, and that she takes anti-psychotics. Most of all, though, I love that she actually could be wrong about this whole thing. Yessss.

I'm beyond impressed with this show's first hour, and I look forward to seeing if it can build on its excellent pilot. I do find myself a bit concerned about long-term potential, and whether the central mystery is enough to sustain it through the whole season, but the strength of the pilot makes me prone to trusting its makers from steering it into another The Killing-level disaster. Watch it if you haven't!

**As a special treat, check out this Vulture article comparing Danes's new character with Angela Chase. 15 shades of awesome. Boom.