Best And Worst New Fall Shows: Changing My Mind (Or Not)
Reviewing television isn't like reviewing any other form of entertainment: Every show on the air is a work in progress and can go from good to bad (and vice versa) in a matter of weeks.
Assessing debut episodes is especially tricky, given that they have so much to accomplish and not a lot of time for all that set-up. Still, earlier this year, I felt confident enough about what I'd seen to make lists of the season's most promising and least promising new shows.
Did those judgments hold up? Did those shows fall on their faces after promising debuts, or get a lot better after wobbly pilots? Both things happened, as you might have guessed. Here, I take a second look 'Grimm,' 'Ringer' and 'Once Upon a Time,' in addition to several other new shows, and I pay special attention to the ABC comedy 'Suburgatory,' the most improved program of fall's freshman class.
Before I get to my re-assessments of this fall's new shows, I should point out that before the season began, I expected a lot of my favorite newcomers to crash and burn. "Given that the networks are taking chances with some unusual concepts -- and thank goodness for that -- there are bound to be quite a few flameouts this season," I wrote in June in my Most Intriguing Pilots piece. "Looking at this list, I can point to at least half a dozen shows that may well be unable to sustain or develop their risky central concepts with grace, creativity and energy."
That sounds about right. Quite a few of fall's best pilots haven't fulfilled their potential, but one of the best parts of this job is watching shows take large (or moderate) leaps forward in quality and begin to capitalize on their key assets.
As I said, I want to especially direct your attention to my writeup of 'Suburgatory' below, which recently began to do just that. 'Suburgatory's' Thanksgiving outing was quite entertaining and is proof that even an iffy show can right itself within a few short weeks. Will the positive changes stick? I hope so, but we'll just have to see.
Without further ado, here are my revised takes on fall's new offerings.
Taking Another Look at My 10 Least Promising Pilots
'Charlie's Angels' (ABC)
Canceled. Not a minute too soon.
Has it gotten better? Somewhat. I still wonder what this supernatural detective drama would be like if the lead character, Nick Burkhardt, was played by an actor with presence, charisma and range; unfortunately, viewers are stuck with David Giuntoli's bland, wooden performance, which is almost comically superficial. Unfortunately Russell Hornsby, who plays Nick's partner, Hank, is not getting a lot to work with from his frequent scene partner, and thus the detectives don't demonstrate much rapport or chemistry, which is kind of key in a procedural like this. Still, the burgeoning mythology the show is laying out is mildly interesting, and though episodes could use a snappier pace and the plotting is sometimes contrived, the episodes themselves aren't a chore to watch.
Will I watch it regularly? Possibly, only because Silas Weir Mitchell and Sasha Roiz are quite entertaining as the only two interesting characters on the show. Mitchell plays a supernatural creature who masquerades as a regular guy and helps Burkhardt on cases, and the actor deploys the show's occasional flashes of sardonic humor perfectly. Roiz has an imposing and compelling presence as Burkhardt's boss, who just happens to be a big cheese in the world of otherworldly beings. Those two are a lot more interesting than the lead detective duo, and they (and good guest stars like Nana Visitor and Henri Lubatti) make 'Grimm' just about good enough for the occasional tune-in.
'Hart of Dixie' (CW)
Has it gotten better? Mildly, but the bar was not set high in the show's lackluster pilot.
Will I watch it regularly? Probably not, and I remain unconvinced that Rachel Bilson has the range to be the lead in an hourlong show. She does have her moments here and there, and her doctor character, Zoe Hart, is a little more likable, but the actress occasionally rushes through her lines as if she's late for an appointment, and she's not always good at nailing the interpersonal dynamics, which is crucial in a light but soapy show like this. The bigger problem here is that the rest of the townsfolk in this fish-out-of-water drama are pretty bland, and when Zoe and her hunky potential love interests are not on the screen, the show becomes a lot less watchable.
'How to Be a Gentleman' (CBS)
Canceled. America's males are thus deprived of their opportunity to become gentlemen.
'I Hate My Teenage Daughter' (Fox)
Has it gotten better? If I can bring myself to, I'll review this show next week (it premieres Nov. 30). But since I wrote my Least Promising Pilots piece, I've seen an additional episode of this "comedy" about two insecure, shrieky women and their spoiled offspring. Like the pilot for 'Daughter,' episode 2 also made my soul vomit.
Will I watch it regularly? I would rather be devoured by killer ants.
'Last Man Standing' (ABC)
Has it gotten better? A little, though the premise of the show is still the same: Tim Allen plays a cranky Everyman who just doesn't understand the womenfolk in his house, is frustrated by neighbors/work/life, etc.
Will I watch it regularly? No, but it's settled into the groove that I predicted it would find: It's basically a traditional sitcom that isn't very funny but plays to Allen's chief strength, which is his ability to play an irritated character who nevertheless seems unthreatening and even somewhat genial. The main crimes here, apart from the lack of funny, is that the supporting cast is given almost nothing of interest to do and you can see the punchlines coming from a mile away.
'Man Up!' (ABC)
Has it gotten better? No. This "comedy" about four male friends who are trying to figure out how to be real men in the modern age is still the same awkward, lumbering, embarrassingly unfunny creation it was when it debuted a couple months ago.
Will I watch it regularly? No. Much of a recent episode was set at a lesbian coffeehouse, where one of the guys was playing music gigs and hoping to pick up women -- because lesbians are just ladies who haven't found the perfect guy yet, right? Har har har. No part of that premise, or anything else, has induced even mild chuckling.
'The Playboy Club' (NBC)
Canceled. Not a minute too soon.
Has it gotten better? Yes. I was far from a fan of this show when it started, but I always liked Jane Levy as sullen teen Tessa, who was forced to move to the suburbs with her overprotective dad, George (Jeremy Sisto). I wasn't quite sure I could buy Sisto in a comedy, but generally speaking he, Levy and Alan Tudyk as George's best friend have been just fine (especially the delightful Tudyk, who's one of my favorite actors). The characters around them, however, were mostly unamusing cartoons and their stupidity was never really all that funny. That began to change around the time of Tessa's Sweet 16 birthday, which allowed us to get to know her friends better (Maestro Harrell and Allie Grant doing the Robot and Tessa's own spazzy birthday dance were the show's high points to date), and lately even snooty girl Dalia (Carly Chaiken) and her oblivious mother Dallas (the great Cheryl Hines) have gotten some enjoyable material. It's especially gratifying that the show has made better use of Hines, who has been able to give nuance and even sweetness to her goofy, clueless, overtanned character. 'Suburgatory's' burgeoning ability to knit together satire, deadpan humor and a little heart is much in evidence in Wednesday's very good episode, which also features guest stars Ana Gasteyer, Chris Parnell and Jay Mohr as frustrated suburbanites.
Will I watch it regularly? Definitely. It's too soon to say if 'Suburgatory' will become as consistently pleasing as ABC's new-ish comedy 'Happy Endings,' but the show appears to know that there's more comedy potential in George and Tessa establishing connections with the people around them and not simply mocking them.
Has it gotten better? It's hard to imagine that it would. It was so bad I refuse to return to the scene of the crime.
Will I watch it regularly? Never ever.
Taking Another Look at My 10 Most Promising Pilots
'A Gifted Man' (CBS)
Has it gotten worse? Yes, I'm sad to say. I'd hoped for the second coming of 'House,' but this show is trying to do so much and service so many characters that it has ended up being rather bland and predictable. A lot of critics (including me) weren't quite sure how the show would work past the pilot, and unfortunately, the answer is that it's settled for the least common denominator in too many arenas. It's not nearly as ambitious as 'The Good Wife' and much more like your average medical procedural.
Will I watch it regularly? No, I'm sad to say. I've given it a few tries and I still love the cast, but the evocative, bittersweet mood of the pilot is just not in evidence here, and the emotional lives of the characters are a lot less interesting (partly because there are too many of them). And the intrusive, super-obvious soundtrack's attempts to pull on my heartstrings just make me hate the soundtrack.
'Free Agents' (NBC)
Canceled. Oh well.
'Once Upon a Time' (ABC)
Has it gotten worse? Not really, but this fairy tale story still figuring out what it does well, and its characters and dual worlds are not fully realized yet. 'Once' portrays events in both a magical kingdom and a regular town in the real world, and it has so many plot points and characters to service that the stories sometimes end up being superficial and a little predictable.
Will I watch it regularly? Yes, for two big reasons: Jennifer Morrison is compelling as Emma, a woman who has come to live in the town of Storybrooke in order to free its inhabitants of a curse, and Robert Carlyle is having a high old time in both worlds as Rumplestiltskin and Mr. Gold. Problems remain, however: As I said, there's a certain blandness to both realms (especially the fairy-tale stories), and most of the characters, aside from Emma, lack specificity and heft (the evil witch who cursed the town is particularly narrow and one-note in both timelines). The stakes would be higher if the people on display had more layers and at least a little more ambiguity. Still, there's a lot of potential here, and if 'Once' can figure out how to add more suspense and complexity to its earnest narrative, it could be a keeper. I'm not quite as keen as critic Ian Grey, who wrote praised 'Once' here, but I'm a fan of the show's core sincerity and I'll certainly keep watching. (For an interview with the show's creators, look here.)
'Prime Suspect' (NBC)
Canceled. Well, NBC won't say it's been canceled, but it's not on the network's mid-season schedule and production has been shut down. It's a shame, because the show developed into a fine ensemble drama with a great lead performance at its center.
Has it gotten worse? Definitely. I had hoped that this drama, which stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as twin sisters in a world of trouble, would evolve into a soapy slice of escapism, but it has stubbornly refused to do so.
Will I watch it regularly? No, but I really tried with this one. I watched at least six episodes before giving up and realizing that the plot, such as it was, would continue to move at a glacial pace and that everyone on the screen would remain a one-dimensional type. Sorry, but my loyalty to 'Buffy' could only keep me tuning in so long. It's very clear by now that ABC's superior 'Revenge' is the juicy escapist trifle that everyone should be watching, not this tedious "thriller."
'2 Broke Girls' (CBS)
Has it gotten worse? Somewhat. The show hasn't recaptured the magic of its pilot and it has some ongoing problems, all of which I wrote about in depth here.
Will I watch it regularly? Yes, because I'm still hoping '2 Broke Girls' will fulfill its promise. There are some winning aspects to this show, if only it would stop sabotaging itself with crude stereotypes and clunky jokes.
I'll throw it to you now: What new show been your biggest disappointment? What new program has grown on you? Do tell in comments -- but remember, we're only talking about new fall shows.
Bonus apology: 'Homeland' should have been on my Most Promising Pilot list, it's clearly the best new show of the year. But in June, when I put that original "good pilots" roster together, I hadn't yet seen the first episode of the Showtime program.
Note: The mid-season shows 'Alcatraz,' 'Don't Trust he B**** in Apt. 23,' 'Awake' and 'Smash,' all of which were on my Most Intriguing Pilots list, haven't premiered yet and thus I haven't reassessed them. 'Smash' arrives Feb. 6 on NBC, and Fox's 'Alcatraz,' ABC's 'Apt. 23' and NBC's 'Awake' do not yet have premiere dates.
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