Friday, September 30, 2011

Round Two: New Girl

New Girl: Season 1, Episode 2 “Kryptonite” (C+)

I’m trying hard to like this show since it seems to be one of the strongest performers of the fall so far, already earning a full-season pickup. I’m still not sold on it, however. The semi-awkward opening credits indicate that there are definitely good pieces of the show, but something about it just isn’t working perfectly. I think the characters might be okay on their own, but when they’re thrown together like this, it all comes off as a bit shrill and excessive. While Jess is a little overeager, she’s still cute, and Zooey Deschanel continues to fire on all cylinders. The other characters aren’t as pleasant or satisfactory at this point, and there’s not much substance to the episode. Coach’s departure brings a character who might be a bit subtler but doesn’t seem to have much to offer, in the form of Winston. Schmidt definitely possesses a whole lot of energy, and he does like to embarrass himself often. Nick doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this half-hour, and all that’s truly achieved is the solidifying of the four-way friendship between Jess and the guys, which, if defined in one word, would be eccentric. Spencer sticking around as part of the plotline won’t do the show any good, and the only positive to come out of the trip to his house was the somewhat strange sudden freak-out by Jess prompted by noticing that he hadn’t watered the plant. Episode one was fun but not funny, and this episode is just all over the place.

Take Three: Ringer

Ringer: Season 1, Episode 3 “If You Ever Want a French Lesson” (C+)

This show still hasn’t captured my attention too much, mainly because it’s continually far too easy for Bridget not to arouse any suspicion about her identity while she keeps learning new things about which she was completely unaware, like the fact that Siobhan had met with a divorce attorney. I’ll admit that calling Machado to meet publicly with him while she was being chased for the phone was somewhat smart, but it seemed so ill-advised for her to not even wait until he was out of earshot to threaten her pursuer. I’m most uncertain about why she’s still pretending to be pregnant, since Andrew is going to be devastated once he finds out. That could have easily been avoided back in episode one by clarifying, and of course I forgot that her non-pregnancy means that the real Siobhan is actually pregnant, which took a toll on her date in France, resulting in a different finish than the one I had thought would occur, in which Siobhan would have used him for some devilish reason. Henry’s finances are hardly an interesting topic to dwell on, and I could say the same for Malcolm, who is currently being tortured by forced drug injection. For this show to work and to last a decent amount of time, Bridget can’t be ousted for her new life style anytime soon, which means that Macawi can’t find anytime in the near future. It might be a good idea for the show to try focusing a bit more on Siobhan, since she’s arguably a much more intriguing character.

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 3, Episode 2 “I Am Unicorn” (C+)

This is an entertaining hour, but there are some serious storyline shortcuts that allow it to be as it is. Idina Menzel’s return allows for some great singing, but having Sugar Motta’s father contract her to be the coach of a rival glee club just so that she could be a member is a bit far-fetched, though it is in line with past actions taken by the very easily manipulated Figgins. Quinn’s entire plotline seems to have fizzled in less than two episodes, as she stars in Sue’s video and then almost immediately realizes that Shelby’s return means that she can actually spend some time with her child, prompting her to return to glee club and take dance lessons. Brittany’s decision to volunteer to be Kurt’s campaign manager, focused on him being a unicorn, is random as can be, and it’s no surprise that her dedication to him proved fickle when she opted to start her own campaign. His concern with not being perceived as manly enough is somewhat valid, though I’ve definitely seen very obviously gay Tonys in productions of “West Side Story” before. Giving Artie an unexpected leadership role and pairing him with Bieste and Emma creates a new and rather eccentric team, though I do take issue with their audible laughter during Kurt’s audition, something which seems both insensitive and unprofessional. Rachel delivered a great dance number, but there’s no comparing anyone to Blaine, who rocked his “Something’s Coming” solo, all but guaranteeing him the role of Tony, which is sure to upset Kurt and prompt some fighting, though there’s no debating that Blaine would be excellent in the part.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Big C (Season Finale)

The Big C: Season 2, Episode 13 “Crossing the Line” (A-)

If last week’s episode slanted more towards drama than comedy, this episode goes considerably further, containing almost no humor, aside from a few quips from Sean, and instead focusing on serious stuff involving Cathy and her family members. Mercedes was nowhere to be found since clearly Mick is out of her life and she’s relatively miserable, while Adam seems to have earned back the trust of the girl he really wanted, making Poppy entirely irrelevant. Ultimately, they’ll both be better off, and I’m sure they’ll have plenty of issues next season. Cathy’s decision to run the marathon under Lee’s name and in his honor was sweet, and having Todd return was a nice reminder that Cathy has had a profound effect on some people in her life. Finishing the marathon was a huge triumph, but what a haunting last scene. To discover that Paul collapsed and might in fact be dead was devastating, especially as Cathy realized it when Adam noted that he wasn’t there yet. That was a tremendous scene that he had at the insurance company office, and while it would be a stellar way to go out, losing him would be horrible for Cathy. Regardless of what happens, this has been a good season, and this was a great finale, bringing together the strongest story of the arcs of the season and sending the show on the course for a meaningful and fun third season without necessarily indicating exactly what will end up being its focal points.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Oliver Platt

What I’m Watching: Alphas (Season Premiere)

Alphas: Season 1, Episode 11 “Original Sin” (B+)

The end of last week’s episode had nothing to do with this week’s installment, but that didn’t make it any less superb or thrilling. The return of Dr. Rosen’s daughter, who has the ability to evoke great sadness in people, made for an interesting character analysis of Rosen, someone who always seems to have everyone’s best interests in mind but who clearly didn’t have the same skills with his own flesh and blood. Gary going to meet Anna made for a great scene, and it’s sad that she didn’t manage to survive the raid later on, which prompted such extreme anger and sadness from the often unemotional Gary. The revelation that Red Flag’s leader, Stanton Parrish, has been alive for centuries, is absolutely enticing, and it was even better that he came almost right away to visit Rosen and tell him exactly what it was that he had in mind for the future of Alphas. I’m eager to see more of John-Pyper Ferguson’s Parrish next season, as well as to learn about Danielle’s connection to him. This episode drew two “Star Wars” parallels for me, from Dr. Rosen’s “It’s a trap!” realization to the attempted takedown of all of the Alphas in one fell swoop, which is sort of like fighting an army of Jedis. What made this episode awesome, however, was the episode-ending speech by Dr. Rosen revealing the existence of Alphas, broadcast to the entire world thanks to the team. I can’t wait to see where next season takes us.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Ryan Cartwright as Gary

What I’m Watching: Weeds (Season Finale)

Weeds: Season 7, Episode 13 “Do Her/Don’t Do Her” (A-)

This is quite a finale, wrapping up a season that’s been good but not necessarily headed in any particular direction. Jill’s visit is perhaps what makes it so delightful, due to the spectacular chemistry between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mary-Louise Parker. Jill seems so excited to know that Nancy’s a drug dealer, but having her come along with Nancy as she encounters the various people in her professional life, starting with Heylia’s home invasion and hitting its peak with the visit to Demetri’s apartment where the three nerds with glasses were playing “do her” and “don’t do her.” Nancy and Jill’s spirited fight about switching lives on the subway was both poignant and entertaining, and I like that Andy is the one who comes up with a brilliant solution to solve everything. Charles’ artsy funeral was a nice sendoff for the briefly-seen character, and Maxine’s apparent pregnancy was almost inconsequential, though I do like to see Andy start thinking about his life. Jolene helping Doug to get the company back on track was fun, though of course he messed up by ignoring her, prompting him to run yet again from his problems. Ouellette’s disappointed speech to Shane was a much-needed reprimand, and of course it’s more about Shane feeling bad than it is about Shane getting in legal trouble, as evidenced by his enrollment in police academy. I liked the flash-forward to Connecticut, where the extended Botwin family, Stevie included, has found a wonderful utopia, only to have Nancy potentially shot by a sniper in the closing moments. I think it’s a far better finale than that of “The Sopranos” since she’s likely not dead, and we may not even ever know what happened since the show is not a certainty to return for an eighth season. I’d be happy if this was the way things ended though. It may not have been the most probable of trajectories, but it was still a fitting finish.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Mary-Louise Parker

Pilot Review: Hart of Dixie

Hart of Dixie (CW)
Premiered September 26 at 9pm

Something what you see is exactly what you get. After spending four years providing comic relief and general silliness in a supporting role on “The O.C.,” Rachel Bilson returns to TV full-time following brief but memorable gigs on “Chuck” and “How I Met Your Mother” to play…a budding cardio-thoracic surgeon. If the thought of Bilson playing an environmental hippie at Brown in the last season of “The O.C.” didn’t quite ring true, then the notion of Bilson as a doctor, especially a highly competitive and intelligent one, definitely won’t be believable. Having her accept a job from a man she met once in Alabama without realizing that she’ll be living in Alabama is beyond far-fetched, and that’s how the show starts. Once she’s down there, it’s exactly what you might expect from a fish-out-of-water story, with all the predictable twists and turns. Scott Porter is her all-too-perfect dream man, Jaime King is the town bitch who just happens to be engaged to him, and Cress Williams is the football star who happens to be the mayor of the town, creating an ensemble that’s peculiar and uneven at best. The show alternates between hokey and deeply scientific, which detracts from its credibility because, again, it’s hard to buy Bilson as a doctor. She’s charming enough, but her appeal here quickly becomes grating, and so does the show. It’s not as if this premise – or this star – could really have been expected to produce better, but it’s still a rather boring and unbearable hour.

How will it work as a series? Now that Bilson’s Zoe knows that the doctor who left her the practice was her father, she’s likely going to take it to heart (sorry) that this is something she should give a chance. That’s not going to make acclimating to life in Alabama any easier, so she’s sure to continue with her pratfalls and missteps in between amazing chance life-saving feats.
How long will it last? Not last. The ratings were low, but CW shows always are, and it was pretty much on par with “Gossip Girl,” so that’s good enough news. The CW may well cancel this show soon, but in the absence of other programming, I think they could give it a shot for the rest of the season.

Pilot grade: D

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pilot Review: Terra Nova

Terra Nova (FOX)
Premiered September 26 at 8pm

I’m a sucker for sci-fi, and so it’s almost guaranteed that I’d love a show like this. I’m ecstatic to report, however, that this show lives up to expectations in its first double-decker episode, setting the bar high for the future. I’ve heard this described as another “Lost,” but I think that’s selling it short. The future presented in the opening quarter of the premiere is clearly decaying, and necessitating a trip back into the past means that there’s no coming home, so they’re trapped there, prepared for whatever they can anticipate but sure to encounter some nasty surprises along the way. Terra Nova is an absolute beauty to behold, and I like how the dinosaurs are mesmerizing creatures during the day and absolutely terrifying monsters at night. Some of the dialogue and the family drama verge on soapiness, but overall, those faults can be overlooked for the greater excitement that the show provides, because when it delivers, it really delivers. It helps that the kids are pretty stupid and go beyond the fence on Josh’s very first day, and that just makes them getting attacked by violent dinosaurs all the more awesome. I like that there’s a splinter group hovering nearby, threatening to expose whatever it is that Commander Taylor is covering up, which may amount to changing history entirely, contradicting what everyone had been told about Terra Nova existing in a parallel dimension. I’m so intrigued to discover just what’s going on, and a whole lot of mystery that doesn’t get solved for a while will be fine with me. This is a great part for Jason O’Mara, whose convict Jim managed to make quite an impression on his first day. Stephen Lang is a fantastic choice to play Taylor, slightly calmer and less bloodthirsty than his “Avatar” character but still determined to do what it takes to get the job done. I like that both of the older children already have love interests, and I’m especially enjoying the adventurous tendencies of Allison Miller’s Skye. There’s a whole jungle of potential to be explored here, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

How will it work as a series? This show has a lot going for it, but it also needs to be very careful to avoid what tends to be the Achilles’ heel of genre shows, and that’s an over-emphasis on character drama while the sci-fi takes a backseat. This could go the route of “Falling Skies” and drag on, but I think the dinosaurs give it a definitive sharp edge.
How long will it last? I hope it’s going to last a while, but I also know that it’s very expensive and a huge gamble for FOX. The premiere numbers weren’t too high thanks to CBS comedies and “Dancing with the Stars,” so we’ll have to see if FOX things it’s worth it to keep this show around and get some return on their investment. Let’s hope they do – I’m already psyched for a second season and I’ve only seen two hours.

Pilot grade: A-

Round Two: 2 Broke Girls

2 Broke Girls: Season 1, Episode 2 “And the Break-Up Scene” (B+)

I’m delighted to report that this show’s second offering is just as pleasantly surprising and funny as its first, and stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs are working together marvelously. For every even semi-stupid thing anyone else says, Max has a retort ready, and for every sarcastic remark Max makes, Caroline has a sunny response sure to piss Max off even more. Max’s best line to Caroline was “When in doubt, I’m always mocking you,” though “You’re like a night light, you’re so blond.” The presence of the horse in the backyard is still a bit literal, but I’m impressed to note that it still produces entertaining scenes that are seriously hilarious. Max’s “Chanel number two” crack plus the lack of any water was terrific, and the show is even able to pull off the over-the-top rich character for whom Max babysits. Max’s ability to get drunk Caroline to sign an agreement was brilliant, and I think they’re going to end having a blast living together, or at least we audience members will. All of the diner humor isn’t getting old either, making both home and the workplace pleasant places to be. Robbie’s inability to comprehend that Max was serious about the breakup did one of the most productive things this show has in its cannon: insert dumb people into Max’s life so she can make fun of them. I’m happy that episode two didn’t disappoint, and so far this show ranks as my favorite new comedy of the fall.

Pilot Review: Pan Am

Pan Am (ABC)
Premiered September 25 at 10pm

I’m delighted to report that this season’s second series set in the 1960s is a whole lot better than the first. Whereas the pilot of “The Playboy Club” tried to be edgy and push the envelope whenever possible with extensive drama, “Pan Am” plays it simple, taking things back to a time when everything was simpler and more pleasant. More than anything else, the sense of excitement and wonder that comes along with flying and working for an airline is perfectly conveyed, reminiscent of the wonderful “Catch Me If You Can.” It’s soapy to be sure, but it works since it doesn’t take itself too seriously, happy to be campy and a little over-the-top. The characters do come with plenty of baggage, and there are a whole lot of secrets being kept. Most intriguing is Kate’s side job assisting some authorities in tracking passengers and passing information, which also connects with Bridget’s mysterious disappearance and her role in the operation. I’m pleased to see Kelli Garner following up last year’s fleeting flop “My Generation” with her role as Kate, and Margot Robbie is fresh-faced and sympathetic as her sister Laura. The real standout here appears to be Karine Vanasse as Colette, whose role in this hour is sweet and then heartbreaking. Michael Mosley has finally found a suitable role in cocky copilot Ted, in which he’s much more believable – and likeable – than he was on the final season of “Scrubs.” Christina Ricci didn’t do all that much in the pilot, so we’ll see how big a part she actually ends up playing. This show is no “Mad Men,” but that’s not what it’s trying to be. It’s light, appealing entertainment, and in that arena, it succeeds marvelously.

How will it work as a series? The novelty of the setting may not last for long, and so this will likely be based more on character backgrounds than specific flights, which should be interesting given the range of personalities working for Pan Am, so I’d imagine there’s plenty of material to work from here which should prove quite engaging.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot were great, beating out both lead-in “Desperate Housewives” and main scripted competition “CSI: Miami.” Time will tell if this show holds on to its audience and stays fresh, but I think this could well be one of the season’s first big hits.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 11 “Crawl Space” (A-)

After last week’s astounding episode, this installment follows up on that with another powerful hour. Mike’s livelihood is almost entirely cast aside while the doctors focus all of their attention on Gus, who quickly recovers and tells Jesse that he’s ready to run the lab by himself. Seeing Gus not dressed up was disarming, but he quickly returned to his usual self when he went to visit Hector and to rub his dead friends in his face. Walt purposely causing a car accident was even more shocking than Hank ask him to drive him to his lab, and it seems that he’s really done it, getting officially fired in the middle of the desert by Gus right before he threatens to kill his entire family, even his infant daughter, if he interferes with how he deals with Hank. Skyler was not happy at all about Ted’s nonchalance, and he’s much dumber than it initially seemed, unwilling to take her seriously and then somehow managing to trip himself to death when Saul sent people to intimidate him into sending the check to the IRS. After a tough and wearying hour, the revelation that the money Skyler sent to Ted has made it so that Walt doesn’t have enough to pay the disappearer was an enormous blow which made Walt freak out before he started cackling like a madman, scoring Skyler’s frantic phone call from Marie, making it known that Saul did do what Walt asked and let Hank know that his life is in danger. I can’t even imagine how crazy the final two episodes of the season will be.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire (Season Premiere)

Boardwalk Empire: Season 2, Episode 1 “21” (B+)

This HBO series returns for its second season with a strong opener, introduced by a montage to see where all of the characters are at now. Things have moved along considerably since last we left them, and a few important developments set the tone for what’s sure to be another intense and powerful year. The first post-montage moments were rather dark, as Chalky’s crew got attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and he managed to shoot the man who almost killed him. Seeing Nucky’s back-to-back parallel speeches to allay the fury felt by the black church and the Klan members was a perfect reminder of just how slippery and manipulative Nucky really is. Nucky and Jimmy catching up at the funeral was a great way to see just how much business has driven them apart, and Jimmy’s managed to start his own family, taking his son hunting and starting a power struggle between his wife and mother. Nelson taking his rather religious wife around town proved to be fascinating, and she’s clearly the right choice for him, asking if he was going to arrest the waiter and then getting visibly excited by the raid, something which would upset most wives when it occurred in the middle of their thirteen anniversary celebration dinner. Her departure was unfortunate, and Nelson clearly isn’t anywhere near as happy with the situation in which he’s found himself with Lucy. Teddy is proving to be an interesting child, prompting some surprisingly gentle parenting from Nucky and eliciting some emotion from Margaret. Nucky getting arrested for election fraud should have intriguing consequences, and I’m curious to see where things go next.

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives (Season Premiere)

Desperate Housewives: Season 8, Episode 1 “Secrets That I Never Want to Know” (B)

I debated tuning in for this premiere, thinking that, especially with a crowded Sunday night lineup, I’d be perfectly content dropping it from my list of weekly programs. But I ultimately decided that, after sticking with this show for seven years, six of which weren’t terrific, it’s worth my while to see it through to the end. There’s already a sense of coming full circle evident in this first installment, as things get much more dramatic than they’ve been and Bree receives a note identical to the one sent to Mary Alice which prompted her suicide in the pilot. The murder of Gaby’s stepfather seems to be taking its toll on all involved, comically only when it comes to Bree and her continually entertaining and superb boyfriend Chuck, played by the great Jonathan Cake. Bree’s excitement at being held up in the car was amusing, and I do hope that Chuck knows more than he’s letting on and is actually putting the pieces together. It’s a relief that, sad as it is, Tom and Lynette have decided to be serious about their divorce and go through with it, since their marriage has gone on long enough and they’d both be better suited elsewhere. Carlos’ guilt may prompt some interesting changes for him, and I’d like to see Susan get back on track sooner rather than later. I’m intrigued by the presence of Charles Mesure as the new, apparently quite attractive neighbor, and his immediate rejection of Renee doubles his worth as an interesting character. I’m hopeful that this season will find more drama and meaning than some of the past years, and I think I’m going to try to tune into the entire season.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife (Season Premiere)

The Good Wife: Season 3, Episode 1 “The New Day” (B+)

This show is back and determined to be just as edgy and entertaining as ever. We launch right in with an extremely hot-button topic that puts Alicia on the side of a Palestinian young man accused of murdering a Jewish student, with Omar Metwally guest-starring as a big-time Palestian donor to the firm. When Eli is the one questioning the moral standards of those involved, you know things have gotten to a low point. Fred Melamed was a strong choice to play the judge assigned to the case, and even if the nature of the plot veered a bit towards the political and controversial at times, it was ultimately engaging. The fact that it turned out to have nothing to do with Arab-Israeli relations or video games came as somewhat of a surprise, but this episode was very deft in the way it handled the denouement. I’m most excited by the presence of Kelli Giddish as Sophia, getting along swimmingly with Cary and then pairing up with great success with Kalinda. She’s so much better here than she ever was on “Past Life” and “Chase,” and I hope that she’s able to stick around with her new “Law & Order: SVU” gig. Peter and Alicia going head-to-head makes for great drama, and I like how Will is being purposely cold to Alicia to throw everyone off the scent, leaving Diane to question how she seems to be the only adult left. I’m not quite sure what to think of Grace’s new tutor, but I suppose it will give her something to do.

What I’m Watching: Nikita (Season Premiere)

Nikita: Season 2, Episode 1 “Game Change” (B-)

It’s strange to have this show back knowing that we won’t get that opening narration anymore since things have changed dramatically on all levels. It’s going to be tough to keep the structure of this show going as is, since everything is currently in shambles and not likely to return back to normal anytime soon. As is often the case with this show, there’s a decent balance of good and bad to create an overall uneven and somewhat less than entirely credible hour. Michael’s quip about only being to afford ammo or groceries this month is amusing, but the truth of the matter is that no one seems to be taking the current situation seriously enough. Seeing Birkhoff again and having Nikita hug him and refer to him as a lonely nerd who missed them is one such instance, and his foolhardy decision to pop his face up on screen to brag to his former colleagues that they’ll never catch him is another. Alex seems much more confident these days as she works directly for new boss Amanda and interrogates Percy since he’ll only talk to her. I’m glad Percy is still around, and having him trapped in a clear cell, kept alive for his great memory and life insurance plan, is a fantastic way to continue to keep him involved before he inevitably figures out a way to take control again. I’m not as impressed with Alex’s new in-house nemesis, and I take issue with the hierarchy of events that caused Alex to follow Nikita, Oversight to come in and get them, and the planes to shoot the Oversight agents, all at the behest of Birkhoff. What was much better, however, was Nikita’s reaction to the revelation that Alex was lying to her, prompting her to break her arm and shoot her in the leg, allegedly because she cares about her. I’m interested to see how this show does in season two after this decent start.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pilot Review: A Gifted Man

A Gifted Man (CBS)
Premiered September 23 at 8pm

For every new standard procedural show, it seems like there has to be one with a slight supernatural twist. That brings us to “A Gifted Man,” CBS’ latest effort to infuse some ghostly sainthood into one of its previously amoral lead characters. Patrick Wilson tackles his first TV role since his debut in “Angels in America” as renowned neurosurgeon Michael Holt, who has more than enough money and self-confidence but is short on friends and fulfillment. Michael is quickly established as someone who doesn’t see the point of social skills, responding to his secretary’s comment about her birthday with “Again?” Wilson is better when he plays more likeable characters, and this role doesn’t offer him much to work with, save the occasional opportunity to really freak out about the situation in which he finds himself. The show tends to have too much white space, where characters often seem like they’re merely pasted into a background, and the shots of nothing but a zoomed-in face are not quite effective. The scenes with Anna are just awkward, since she expresses a far too casual attitude designed to throw Michael off guard, and instead it just seems too unserious. Newly crowned Emmy winner Margo Martindale deserves better than having to wish herself her own happy birthday, and I’m astounded that Julie Benz found an even more annoying role than the one she had on “Dexter,” exemplified by her jubilant reaction to the notion of Anna being a ghost. Pablo Schreiber, seen recently on “Lights Out” and “Weeds” has a role far too hokey for this show’s own good, and the attempt to define and actually extract Anna’s presence is too literal an effort that weakens the effectiveness of her existence. It may just have been me who thought it was ironic that James McCaffrey was in this pilot after he played a character who was always a ghost on “Rescue Me.” Bill Irwin was a good guest star, and now that his Ron is gone, Michael is really alone and will no doubt have to start listening to the ex-wife he somehow forgot all about even though she clearly kept him close enough to her heart to use his name in her password. Therein lies the primary problem of this show, and let’s just hope time can help it develop.

How will it work as a series? It was clear what Anna needed from Michael in this first episode, and so the focus will now likely turn to what Michael needs from Anna as she helps to make him a better person, more committed to helping others and using his wealth and fame for good rather than selfish reasons. What she’ll still be doing around may be more of an unanswered mystery.
How long will it last? The pilot ratings were slightly improved over those of “Medium,” and this is definitely for the timeslot for this kind of fare, since “Ghost Whisperer” aired here for several years. I don’t think it has what it takes for a long life, but it shouldn’t have much trouble sticking around for the rest of the season.

Pilot grade: C

Pilot Review: Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect (NBC)
Premiered September 22 at 10pm

What we have here is another instance of two very popular TV tropes these days: a cop show with a distinctive and quirky character in the lead, and a remake of a British show. The original Helen Mirren series was split into seventeen miniseries that aired over the course of sixteen years, and now someone has seen fit to bring the concept back with Maria Bello, who got her debut on TV with “ER” before moving on to movies like “The Cooler” and “A History of Violence,” as Detective Jane Timoney. We’ve seen any countless number of shows about women trying to break the glass ceiling and achieve some sort of respect and rank within the police force or another organization, and that on its own doesn’t delegitimize this show since it is unfortunately a real issue. What doesn’t fly quite as well, however, is the fact that this show is just like every other tired cop show with a boys’ club and disgruntled police officers and detectives moaning about their jobs despite their professed affinity for the work they do. Surrounding Bello, who goes for hard-nosed and achieves it, almost seeming as if she’s trying hard not to be liked, is a cast of familiar players, including Kirk Acevedo, Aidan Quinn, Kenneth Johnson, and Brian F. O’Byrne. After seeing just how great O’Byrne was on “Brotherhood,” it pains me to see him trapped in another one-note role here as Jane’s number one nemesis, especially after he was marooned in a dull part on “Flash Forward” two years ago. There’s some good to be found on this show, when Jane’s steely side makes itself useful as she manages to convince Matt’s ex-wife to let his son come visit after chewing her out. Otherwise, however, this show doesn’t offer much, and it’s hardly a good reason to disband NBC’s three-hour comedy block after just one short year.

How will it work as a series? It’s 10pm on NBC, which means that they want to push the limit – though hopefully not as far as “Southland” did. Having Jane get beat up in the first hour means that this show is determined to be gritty, but it’s still a New York police procedural on broadcast television, so expectations should be clear, with some spirited fighting from Jane every now and then.
How long will it last? The ratings were not inspiring, touted as NBC’s lowest-rated Thursday fall series premiere ever, though it did markedly better than “The Apprentice” in the same time slot last year. I’d say this one probably doesn’t make it to a second season, but I see no reason why NBC would give up on it so quickly.

Pilot grade: C

Pilot Review: Whitney

Whitney (NBC)
Premiered September 22 at 9:30pm

Last year, the horrific and now fortunately dead "Outsourced" somehow made its way onto the NBC Thursday night comedy lineup once touted as "Must-See." This year, "Whitney" fills that same role, inexplicably deemed by someone at the Peacock as one of the fall's funniest offerings. If you're a resident of the great city of New York, you've been privy for the past month or two to see the many advertisements attempting to cast the show as something highly original and groundbreaking. As it turns out, it's anything but, with stand-up comic Whitney Cummings inhabiting the all-too-familiar part of the high-strung, marriage-phobic woman who seems to be able to make a fool out of herself in every possible social situation. Cummings may be skilled at comedy routines, but here she's just grating, sort of like an infinitely exaggerated Debra Messing in the final seasons of "Will & Grace." Cummings doesn't much like to share the spotlight, obnoxiously dominating the entirety of the half-hour with her antics and loud expressions of opinion. Chris D'Elia is trapped in what one might patently call the Hamish Linklater role (from "The New Adventures of Old Christine"), forced to play straight man to a crazy woman, almost always given mocking dialogue that is rarely germane to the rest of the show. Both Maulik Pancholy, of "Weeds" and "30 Rock" fame, and Jane Kaczmarek, from "Malcolm in the Middle," have also unfortunately found their way into this extremely unfunny, over-the-top mess. I'm a little worried that this one is going to remain on the air far longer that it should, and I'm not planning on making this a regular part of my weekly watch list.

How will it work as a series? This is your traditional sitcom, with an irritating laugh track built in to ensure that you realize that you're actually supposed to be laughing each episode, which will surely focus on Whitney and her incredible ability to embarrass herself when it seems so possible that she could just fly under the radar and not be noticed.
How long will it last? Far too long, I fear. It's disheartening to me that more people watched this than the season premiere of "Parks & Recreation." Heck, "Outsourced" even lasted a full season. I don't think that's the case for this terrible show, so I'd expect to be gone by midseason when "30 Rock" needs a place to live, if not before then.

Pilot grade: F

Round Two: The Secret Circle

The Secret Circle: Season 1, Episode 2 "Bound" (C)

After being more impressed with this show last week than I expected to, installment two proves that the series is rather generic and uninteresting. Much time is wasted with Cassie continually denying the reality of her situation and seeking to be uninvolved in this circle. I'm amused by the fact that Faye is establishing a tradition of having her powers get extremely out of control to the point of nearly killing people, and I wonder how long her track record will persist. There's definitely an unbalanced emphasis on certain members of the circle, and I'm wondering if Melissa and Nick will ever even have any lines. The arrival of Faye's grandfather proved short-lived as Dawn swiftly dealt with him, showing that the adult generation somehow regained their powers and she and Charles will stop at nothing to make sure that their endgame, whatever it may be, is achieved. Despite seeming like a deliciously over-the-top portrayal of one town and its wild members, it's clear now that this show is just as obsessed with the silly language of witchcraft and made-up rules as any of the subpar vampire and other supernatural shows currently on television now. As I noted before, I never expected to continue watching this show, and I do think that two episodes is more than enough to get a sense of what the show as a whole is going to be like. The ratings from week one dipped, which isn't much of a surprise, and it's still pretty much on par with "The Vampire Diaries," so I'd count on it sticking around for a while.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pilot Review: Person of Interest

Person of Interest (CBS)
Premiered September 22 at 9pm

One of this fall's most anticipated shows comes from the mind of J.J. Abrams, the man who created "Lost" and enthralled audiences for six years with an intricate web of mysteries, false positives, and red herrings. Abrams' last effort, "Undercovers," failed quickly despite being quite entertaining, and now he's back one year later with something that's considerably more like his former series like "Lost" and "Alias." In "Person of Interest," miscellaneous rich guy Finch, played by Michael Emerson, near and dear to the hearts of all "Lost" fans, recruits Jim Caviezel's Reese to help him track down names on a list and prevent crimes from occurring. It's much more "Wanted" than "Minority Report," and neither Finch nor Reese possess much in the way of social skills, making their interactions with each other and outsiders a challenge. Also along for the ride are two police officers, one a go-get-'em straight arrow played by Taraji P. Henson, and the other a crooked cop portrayed by Kevin Chapman from "Brotherhood," both destined to interface with Reese in different ways. The plot setup is murky enough to allow for considerable variation from week to week in terms of what Finch's technology can and can't do, and it's definitely dense enough to create confusion and frustration for fans along the way. The extensive camera frames are somewhat tiresome and unfocused, but I imagine their relevance will become greater as the show continues. Emerson can narrate the hell out of anything, so his screen presence is welcome. Caviezel could stand to be a bit more emotive, but there's no arguing that he's impressive in the fight scenes where he takes down multiple adversaries in a flat minute, displaying a pension for shooting people in the leg similar to that of the Terminator in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." The show could well work, but it's going to need a bit of tweaking to get specific soon and avoid the fate of AMC's quickly-axed "Rubicon."

How will it work as a series? All that's clear at this point is that Reese will be tasked with investigating a particular person each week after a name is given to him by Finch, with Henson's Detective Carter presumably coming closer to identifying him as time progresses. It's a standard procedural setup, in one sense, but also considerably more fantasy-oriented thanks to this computer-generated list of social security numbers, giving it an additional edge.
How long will it last? The pilot did well enough in its first airing, coming close to the ratings earned by former time slot occupier "CSI." It should do better than "Undercovers," but other mythology shows like "The Event" and "Flash Forward" have crashed and burned during their first seasons, so it's still too soon to tell, though I'd give this one a chance.

Pilot grade: B-

What I'm Watching: The Office (Season Premiere)

The Office: Season 8, Episode 1 "The List" (B+)

I'm happy to welcome this show back to my weekly lineup of series, and even more excited to report that, minus Michael, the show seems to actually do pretty well for itself. Robert California having talked Jo out of her own job may seem far-fetched, but he is quite a character, and having James Spader's odd, somewhat creepy stylings on board has thus far been an asset for the show. Having him lurking in the conference room making the rest of the employees nervous is an appropriate function, since most viewers are likely similarly uncertain about how the show will do without its fearless leader Michael Scott. Aside from Spader's humorous deadpan delivery of his lines, it turns out that Andy is actually a perfect boss for the time being. He's completely different from Michael in his management style, considerably more timid but still a little off. What really made him stick out in this episode was his determination to stand up for the so-called "losers" by working up the courage to list their attributes to Robert. That's exactly the right response to Robert's "Winners, prove me right; losers, prove me wrong" challenge. Everyone saying goodnight to Andy on their way out was an unusual show of quiet respect for the boss that we've so rarely seen on this show up until now. I'm thrilled to see both Pam and the newly married Angela pregnant, and I think this planking business took up just the right amount of time in the episode. Toby's realization that he was in the wrong group when he was placed with the winners was very funny, and I'm excited to see where this show goes next.

What I'm Watching: Parks & Recreation (Season Premiere)

Parks & Recreation: Season 4, Episode 1 "I'm Leslie Knope" (B)

There's no reason to panic just yet. The fact that the season premiere of my number one favorite show from last year wasn't entirely superb just means that it might have been a subpar episode, or that it's going to take a bit of time to ease back into things in Pawnee. The penguin marriage season two starter was the weakest of that entire season, so this is hardly cause for concern. This half-hour just wasn't all that funny, with a few scattered laughs and a few over-reaches in terms of plotlines. In the end, however, everything worked out great, and the final five to ten minutes of the episode were stellar. Ron encouraging Leslie to run was touching as always, and Andy becoming Leslie's new assistant makes a lot of sense even though, of course, it actually doesn't make much sense at all. Ann getting all those texts resulted in Joe from Sewage finally being fired and a rather unexpected and hilarious comment about the size of Jerry's penis. I'm not sure where Tom is headed this season, but I'm sure it will be somewhere entertaining. Ron being audited by his first wife should be plenty interesting, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing more of Patricia Clarkson's Tammy One. Nothing compares, however, to Ben's campaign button gift to Leslie. They're a marvelous couple, and I do hope that things work out in a way that won't mess up offically-declared candidate Leslie's political future. I'm glad to have this show back, and I have faith that next week will present a more even, solid, and humorous episode.

Pilot Review: Charlie’s Angels

Charlie’s Angels (ABC)
Premiered September 22 at 8pm

In the endless sea of TV remakes, we have this reboot of the popular 1970s franchise that more recently produced two films starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu. Now, it’s been brought back once again, though there are some notable changes. Firstly, this is one of those new fall shows that works hard to boast the hippest music, incorporating Rihanna’s “S & M” in its opening minutes and later Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor.” Yet it doesn’t seem content with losing its dated, somewhat corny feel, attempting to pull the sort of hybrid tone that the new “Hawaii Five-0” does but failing. The first extended scene is energizing and fun, but it quickly goes downhill as soon as Gloria dies, as the acting and dialogue are equally horrendous. Minka Kelly’s Eve is only a notch better than costars Annie Ilonzeh and Rachael Taylor. I don’t like Ramon Rodriguez as Bosley, since it seems they’re just trying to make him younger and hipper rather than appropriate comic relief. The entire investigation of Gloria’s death feels quite hokey, with lines like “What’s she doing with a kitty litter box?” paining the eardrums. Additionally, there are far too many “Angels” puns, which I’m sure will be prevalent in nearly every episode. Seeing the Angels dressed all in red at the party and having Bosley come in to seduce Nadia were among the episode’s only high points. This show needs tremendous work, otherwise it’s going to become another forgettable and lamentable imitation. I will say that I like Victor Garber as the voice of Charlie, so at least there’s a slight silver lining!

How will it work as a series? Now that the Angels have closed the Gloria chapter, they’ll likely be investigating crimes and stopping bad guys on a weekly basis, with the occasional back story and romance thrown in every once in a while. It’s standard fun, and it’s only a question of whether the dialogue and the acting will be too awful to bear.
How long will it last? Well, the ratings were certainly far superior to those of the short-lived “My Generation” from last year, which is good, but they weren’t as high as those of “Grey’s Anatomy.” The reviews were not strong and I don’t imagine this one succeeding, but ABC will probably at least give it a chance to try and finish out the season.

Pilot grade: C-

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pilot Review: Revenge

Revenge (ABC)
Premiered September 21 at 10pm

Every once in a while, there comes along a show with an explicit premise that sets out to accomplish one very specific, if still sweeping, goal. Usually these shows tend not to last more than one season, and when they do (“Prison Break”), the results are often less than favorable. In the case of “Revenge,” a young woman returns to the Hamptons to exact justice on those who ruined her father’s life. A flash-forward at the beginning of the show presents a certain event that may or may not be the apex of the plot, and then we start back at her arrival, with frequent flashbacks filling in the gaps of her father’s downfall and the roles executed by her various new neighbors. Conveniently, no one remembers her, so she’s free to be as obvious as she wants about her actions because no one knows anything about her. The show is being billed as a modern-day “The Count of Monte Cristo,” but there’s so much soap and sex that it’s hard to recognize it. The ensemble cast includes Madeleine Stowe and Henry Czerny, recently seen on “Falling Skies,” but the characters thus far are dense and over-the-top at the same time. I’m especially sad to see Ashley Madekwe, who was so wonderful on “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” trapped in yet another undynamic role, following the awful, short-lived “The Beautiful Life.” Emily VanCamp, who has been on “Everwood” and “Brothers & Sisters” but is still most recognizable to me from her first regular TV series, the abysmal “Glory Days,” is a decent lead, but it’s a stretch to believe that she was a jailed punk with a strong desire to kill everyone she’s meeting. This is a show that might be better suited, if not perfectly suited, for the CW, and the fact that it’s on ABC makes me doubt its chances of success.

How will it work as a series? This is a show that needs to be watched week-to-week, and also runs the risk of decimating its cast at an alarming rate, though I imagine that the inverse will be true, which is to say that the level of suspense will be lower since the credited series regulars won’t actually be dying off all the time. It may still prove addictive, and definitely good for fans of primetime soaps.
How long will it last? The pilot opened strong, and even fared well opposite the newly-relocated “CSI.” That may get it through the season, but I can’t imagine this show has somewhere to go after a year. Right now I’ll give it the rest of the season but no more than that.

Pilot grade: C

Friday, September 23, 2011

What I’m Watching: Modern Family (Season Premiere)

Modern Family: Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2 “Dude Ranch” & “When Good Kids Go Bad” (B)

I’m somewhat torn on these episodes. I’m thrilled to have this show back, and I also have tremendous faith in it to continue being funny and smart for the foreseeable future. That said, it does seem to me that some of these storylines are trying a bit too hard, and things are becoming too obvious and forced at times. Fortunately, however, this cast is well-equipped to handle it and the show is still funny. In terms of what’s too explicit, I think Tim Blake Nelson’s Hank came on too strong for the show’s sake, as did Gloria’s case of ears not popping, and Claire being so obsessed with winning was too prominent, leading to the inevitable, almost groan-inducing revelation that Jay always needs to win. The new Lily is certainly an adjustment, and I’m hopeful that this phase of wanting to kill her soon-to-be-brother will pass. Dylan becoming a ranch hand felt somewhat random, but at least he and Haley didn’t get engaged. With all the iffy aspects out of the way, I’d like to take some time to praise what did work. Phil practicing his manly skills to impress an uncaring Jay and Mitchell being concerned with his clumsiness were funny storylines that rang true, and I was especially happy with Phil’s serious sentiment that he knows what it’s like to have a disapproving father-in-law. Alex’s vacation fling with the excessively Italian-American boy was funny, and I like how disturbed she was by the fact that she was attracted to him. In episode two, Gloria dealing with Manny’s theft of the locket was amusing, as was Haley and Alex’s efforts to trick Luke into moving into the attic, one thing about which Claire turned out to be right.

Round Two: Up All Night & Free Agents

Up All Night: Season 1, Episode 2 “Cool Neighbors” (C+)
Free Agents: Season 1, Episode 2 “What I Did for Work” (D+)

I felt that it would be economical and useful to review these two programs together since someone paired them up, and watching them back-to-back creates plenty of parallels between them for me. On top of that, I don’t have much to say, good or bad, about the two installments, but don’t want to abandon reviewing them just yet. The 8pm leader is a show I want to like, but it’s just not creating a compelling enough universe in which its characters can live. Applegate and Arnett aren’t the problem, but they’re also not the solution. Whereas other ensemble sitcoms accomplish so much in twenty short minutes, this show barely did anything and stuck to just one storyline, which is Reagan and Chris’ desire to be liked by their neighbors gone horribly wrong. That was predictable and not as amusing as it should have been, but what’s really grating is the entire character of Ava, who should be good but just comes on too strong. She’s not germane enough to the show, and to have her play such a domineering, distracting part isn’t good for the show. The latter series actually improved slightly in its second installment, if only because it managed to accomplish a decent amount in its half hour, handling two major plotlines while moving ahead the background story of Alex and Helen’s relationship. Seeing Fred Goss as a businessman felt strange because he usually plays loveable losers, and the show was actually doing okay until the women were revealed to be prostitutes. Azaria just doesn’t have the right charisma to play this part, and Hahn is trying her hardest but working with so little. I find Emma and her utterance of “Hi” to be unbearably grating, and she’s a notch above the male support. I don’t expect the latter show to improve, but I do hope that the former can find its footing.

Pilot Review: Unforgettable

Unforgettable (CBS)
Premiered September 20 at 10pm

CBS is known for its crime procedurals. Aside from the “CSI” franchise, each of its shows has some twist that distinguishes it from the rest. Enter “Unforgettable,” a series that rallies behind its main character, Carrie Wells, whose memory is impeccable and highly useful to those investigating crimes. While Carrie is no longer a police officer, a chance reunion with her ex Al, who is still a cop, should put her back into the field, even if she’s simply billed as a consultant. Carrie is hardly the first television law enforcement officer with some ability that enhances her crime-solving skills, meaning that this show is definitely not innovative in its concept. Its execution, however, is decent, and the framing of the crime in the pilot helps to keep it interesting all the way through. What’s not yet as interesting is the supporting cast, led by Dylan Walsh, who was just right for the role of Sean on “Nip/Tuck” but is unlikely to find a follow-up role that utilizes his talents as well. Michael Gaston, who always seems to play a grump, is also better served with a meatier role, like the one he had on “Jericho.” Poppy Montgomery is a fine lead, provided we’re supposed to pick up on her Australian heritage. “Without a Trace” fans will probably be most excited about Montgomery’s small-screen return, though I remember her from the abysmal 2002 WB series “Glory Days,” whose cast also includes two other series stars, Eddie Cahill on “CSI: NY” and Emily VanCamp on ABC’S new “Revenge.” Overall, this show is hardly fresh but that doesn’t automatically make it bad, just a little boring.

How will it work as a series? It’s a procedural. There’s going to be a different case every week, and, without fail, Carrie is probably going to be able to solve all of them in the end. The added dimension of her dead sister whose murder details she can’t seem to recall gives it another background focus that should help to propel the plot when it’s lagging.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot were good, and it doesn’t have much competition in “Parenthood” and “Body of Proof.” That said, it’s hardly guaranteed a long future, so at the moment I’ll call it an uncertainty, likely to receive no definitive news on its future until the end of the season.

Pilot grade: B-

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 3, Episode 2 “Hey, If You’re Not Using That Baby…” (B+)

In this episode we have a bunch of new beginnings, some more productive from the start and less so later on, and others getting off on a shaky note and improving greatly by the end of the episode. Adam’s business partnership with Crosby is perhaps the most involving one, as he reams out Crosby for using his name and social security number to bolster his reputation. Seeing Crosby argue for the validity of the business and Adam chime in to praise the merits of the plan was great, and I’m excited to see what they’ll do together, even though it’s sure to have its ups and downs. Max’s first few days at school aren’t terrific, but I’m glad that he did finally make friends, in part thanks to Jabar. Mark and Sarah do make a good couple, and especially if Amber’s okay with it, I’m all for it, especially if it produces hilariously awkward scenes like Zeek walking in and asking a hidden Mark how he likes his coffee. Julia did a marvelous job of helping a clearly troubled Zoe with her apartment problem, and it’s a shame that Zoe so callously rejects her open and honest question about adopting her baby. Alex and Haddie’s relationship seems to be on the rocks now since she’s just discovered that he didn’t tell her about his criminal record, and I’m hopeful that this won’t be the end of them since they were just starting to really work well as a couple.

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 4, Episode 3 “Dorylus” (B+)

The club is starting to truly full apart as all of its members are pulled in different directions by what they think is right and other less noble motivators. Piney and Bobby are the two most opposed to working with the cartel and trafficking drugs, while both Jax and Opie are willing to have their minds opened for the right reasons, though Jax is going to run into some trouble down the road when he breaks the news to Opie that he’s not planning on sticking around. Clearly Tara is already planning her exit strategy, and it’s inevitable that Jax’s departure isn’t going to be anywhere near as clean or as easy as he might anticipate. Piney has barely been featured for a while now, and having Clay threaten to slit his throat for going to Gemma behind his back certainly brings him back in a major way. Roosevelt seems to have scared Juice good, and it’s very worrisome to think that Juice is now terrified of his fellow members finding out about his heritage and that he might even be dependent upon Roosevelt to keep him safe. Kozik seriously messed up by letting the neighboring teens steal the truck from right out under him, but SAMCRO responded speedily and furiously. I was particularly entertained by the guest appearance of Vivica, who, upon discovering that her sons actually had stolen the truck without telling her, was rather angry and called an immediate family meeting, finishing her business with SAMCRO by giving them some money for their troubles.

Pilot Review: New Girl

New Girl (FOX)
Premiered September 20 at 9pm

I’ve actually seen this pilot twice already, once by my lonesome via iTunes, and once with an audience at the Paley Center’s annual Fall TV Preview. My general reaction to it was the same both times: it’s a perfectly enjoyable and pleasant show, but it’s not quite there in terms of hilarity or true cleverness yet. There’s no denying, however, that Zooey Deschanel is positively charming, and immensely watchable in this role of the nerdy and loveable Jess. Some of those scenes – like the cartoon elastic glasses and the Smeagol reference – work only because she so effortlessly and amazingly pulls them off with a mixture of high energy and spot-on delivery. The rest of the cast, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as enticing. Damon Wayans Jr. is gone after this week because his other show, “Happy Endings,” got renewed rather surprisingly, so let’s skip over him. If only because of the way he speaks, Jake M. Johnson’s Nick often steals many of the scenes with his dry pronunciation of his lines, though not in the best way. Max Greenfield’s Schmidt also needs some developing, mainly because this show is focused on the “new girl” and doesn’t inject as much passion or depth into its three male protagonists. The emphasis on “Dirty Dancing” and that episode-ending horrendous a cappella rendition were a bit corny and silly, but, all in all, it works. This show isn’t at must-watch status yet, but it’s much better than most FOX comedies, and for that and for Deschanel, it deserves a shot.

How will it work as a series? It will mainly depend on how quickly Jess moves on with her life. We want to see her start trying to get back on the horse rather than moping around all the time, and I’m also hopeful that we’ll have the opportunity to see more of the lives of our token men, including Mary Elizabeth Ellis’ Caroline, since her potential re-romance with Nick is one of the strongest parts of this pilot.
How long will it last? Putting it together with “Raising Hope,” also known as FOX’s only truly successful half-hour comedy at the moment, gives this show great hope, and having Deschanel in the lead slot is also a big draw. The pilot got great numbers in terms of viewers, and unless it falters in the coming weeks, it may well be deemed one of the new fall season's first certifiable hits.

Pilot grade: B-

Round Two: Ringer

Ringer: Season 1, Episode 2 “She’s Ruining Everything” (C+)

The second installment of this show picks up only partially where the first one left, relegating the real Siobhan to the final moments and letting Bridget take the spotlight for the rest of the hour. It’s clear that Bridget’s going to have much more trouble than she thinks getting out of town to meet Malcolm, and he may also be in danger of being abducted by Macawi, which would have happened already had a do-gooder student not intervened and unknowingly saved the day. Bridget, however, is already at a point where she seems too paranoid and almost delusional, which isn’t to say that her behavior is not justified, due to the ringing cell phone in the chest and the disappeared body at the end of the episode. The introduction of Jaime Murray as Andrew’s business partner presents the first real intersection of someone both Siobhan and Bridget don’t like, and it’s unlikely that she’ll be an actual threat now that Andrew is starting to fall back in love with Siobhan. Helping Juliet with her drug addiction should give Bridget a sense of purpose, and I highly doubt that one-note Agent Machado, whose only activities seem to be peeing and eating, will get much closer to the truth anytime soon than where he currently stands. Bridget’s biggest problem is actually Siobhan, who was not at all happy to hear that her bank account had been closed and it appears may even be the one responsible for putting out the hit on her duplicitous sister.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What I’m Watching: Glee (Season Premiere)

Glee: Season 3, Episode 1 “The Purple Piano Project” (B)

This show starts off its third season with plenty of energy, and if you’ll pardon the expression, it seems determined to head in new directions. All this talk of college, delineating which glee club members are juniors and which are seniors, feels purposeful, to ensure that the show has a positive future. Rachel and Kurt’s desire to go to Julliard and now NYADA brings in a whole new crew of singers and dancers, creating enormous spinoff potential, and also helping to take down Kurt and Rachel a bit, which is necessary given their joined forces and inflated egos. Blaine transferring to McKinley is a good step, and of course he’d get his own solo for his introductory number. Prospective member Sugar Mada’s appearance falls rather flat, with her self-diagnosed Asperger’s and inability to sing. Quinn’s new hairstyle and social circle is definitely a change, and it’s about time Mercedes started dating someone outside of the glee club, even if this Sam relationship didn’t last long at all, mainly due to the semi-departure of Chord Overstreet. I’m very happy to see Will and Emma finally together and making lunch in the morning for each other, with Emma even getting a little more used to the passion. Sue protesting the arts in public schools is a weaker plotline (as is Will’s glitterbombing of Sue), and stealing Santana away to be co-captain of the Cheerios with Becky might be ill-advised. I will say that the song and dance numbers were extraordinarily strong this week, with the lunchroom performance of “We Got the Beat,” Blaine’s intro, and the closing “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from “Hairspray.”

What I’m Watching: The Big C

The Big C: Season 2, Episode 12 “The Darkest Day” (B+)

Sometimes this show doesn’t feel anything like a comedy, and this episode is the ultimate example of that. Cathy’s frustration with Dr. Sherman continuing to treat her like a number even after he had her over to his house is understandable, and she definitely gave those doctors a whole lot to digest, sticking up for herself and all other patients who feel ignored and pandered to by their physicians. Going to see Lee as he’s literally on his deathbed made for a powerful goodbye, and it’s unfortunate that Paul didn’t seem able to understand why that was important to her. I’m relieved that Sean in okay and was waiting for her upon her return, since that would have been too much for her to bear to lose two people in such a short time span. Paul has no such luck, being handed a random drug test that he’s not at all equipped to pass. There did seem to be something suspicious about Mick, but that didn’t make the revelation that he was an illegal alien any easier to hear, especially considering the cowardly way in which he lied to Andrea and then promptly hung up on her when she called to confront him. Andrea isn’t going to lay down and get hurt, though, calling immediately to turn Mick in to the authorities, and we can only hope that she’ll soon forgive Paul. Much as I like this show, I do think the Poppy plotline hasn’t played out particularly well, and the discovery that her father died two years earlier isn’t much of a shock, or of much interest to the show since she didn’t have an entirely relevant part in it.

Pilot Review: The Playboy Club

The Playboy Club (NBC)
Premiered September 19 at 10pm

This show got a whole lot of press before anyone even saw it, mainly due to its controversial content and the fact that some affiliates weren’t planning to air it. Now that the show is finally here, there’s plenty to criticize about it aside from its general subject. There have doubtless been plenty of unfavorable comparisons of this show to “Mad Men,” and that’s no accident. Eddie Cibrian’s Nick sounds just like Don Draper, as if he’s doing some sort of pale imitation, delivering far less compelling dialogue in a less impressive setting. The fact of the matter is that this isn’t cable, and regardless of how racy everything should be, and the show certainly tries, there are still network standards. Less than ten minutes in, we already have a dead body that’s sure to steer the ship on this show for a long time to come. There isn’t any chance to get acquainted with this world before such an immense and intense event occurs, changing the tone of the show considerably. The melodramatic soundtrack is not helping anything, and the period music selections are only a touch better. The conversation between the Bunnies is rather bland and simplistic, and the brutal, open honesty from the mob henchman trying to intimidate Nick is far too obvious and explicitly stated. Lines like “I can’t marry you and I can’t tell you why” are just dumb, and the big secret of the homosexual club feels forced, as does the front-and-center talk about Hugh Hefner’s progressive thoughts about segregation. Nick needing to kiss Maureen to help sell their cover story is garbage, and his overt ties to the mob are obnoxious. The closing narration actually seals the deal for me, in that it feels much more like the end of a film. That’s enough information for me; the story feels aptly concluded, with no reasons left for me to check back in, other than out of sheer curiosity to see if this show gets any worse.

How will it work as a series? I guess Maureen’s journey through the Playboy experience will be chronicled, and she’ll get closer with Nick as his political career is threatened by his mob connections and this little cover-up. Other than that, it’s not clear just what will be the focus since this show seems intent on making such a big statement with its first installment that there isn’t much else left to cover, other than the changing times which will likely change too fast for this show’s own good.
How long will it last? The controversy doesn’t seem to have translated into viewers, as the ratings were disappointing and well below those of “Chase” in the same position last year. The buzz on this show is almost entirely negative, and this isn’t the kind of fare that’s going to put NBC back on top, so I think it will probably be one of the first to go sometime this fall, unless it manages to limp through to the end of the season.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: Alphas

Alphas: Season 1, Episode 10 “The Unusual Suspects” (B+)

This somewhat conventional episode proved to be much more interesting than it could have been on other shows, as we got to see each of the team members unable to use their abilities as they tried to determine which one of them might be a traitor. Binghamton definitely does not seem like a friendly place, and it’s good that they’ve managed to escape and won’t have to worry about going back there anytime soon. Nathan being prepared to deflect the powers of those he was interrogating was interesting, as were the diverse reactions of each of his suspects. The team discussing whether putting people in a room actually works was very intriguing, and I like how they engineered an escape plan. Once they were in hiding, I knew something was up after Dr. Rosen started telling Cameron he knew he couldn’t trust him, but I thought that he was simply trying to get them to start fighting to achieve some realization, and therefore I didn’t see him being a shape-shifting impostor coming. The escape action scene was great, but this episode’s best moment was the fight between Bill and Cameron, where they both went head to head with their abilities as Nina and Rachel got upset and Gary started seriously freaking out. Gary’s continued correspondence with Anna and Rachel’s potential relationship with potential new team member Eric are both good threads to leave open for next season, and now we have a mysteriously collapsed Bill to take us into next week’s season finale.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I’m Watching: Weeds

Weeds: Season 7, Episode 12 “Qualitative Spatial Reasoning” (B+)

Though we’ve been privy over the years to the lengths both Botwin mother and son will go to when faced with a threat, but there’s still something terribly startling about the way things play out in this episode. Silas bonding with Emma over their shared hatred of Nancy is almost the least of the problems, though the fact that Emma goes to Ouellette and tells him flat-out that Nancy is her competition is certainly alarming. I’m most concerned about what Silas is going to do with Jill and how that phone call to Nancy about Stevie being close to being hers again is going to end up being something very bad. Seeing Heylia and Dean get held up by a bunch of Sarah Palins was downright frightening, mainly because Heylia so aggressively fired out her window only to be cornered and have to surrender her weapon. What’s worst about all of this is that this marks the second time that a man infatuated with Nancy has interfered in a way she didn’t want to help take down the competition, and Demetri is much more dangerous than Conrad ever was. Nancy clearly realizes that things have gone too far, and her apologetic voicemail to Silas is going to be too little, too late. Andy feeling undervalued makes sense, and I like the fact that his funeral announcement phone call motivates him to walk out and do something productive with his life. Shane bringing Ouellette’s son to him and threatening him to make sure he’s nice is entertaining, and I suppose that Doug’s new relationship with Jolene gives him something positive to be doing, though it’s an odd arc to start one week before the season finale.

Pilot Review: 2 Broke Girls

2 Broke Girls (CBS)
Premiered September 19 at 8:30pm

CBS is one of the only networks still in the business of traditional laugh track-accompanied sitcoms, some of which are actually funny. This latest effort pairs Kat Dennings of “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “Thor” with relative unknown Beth Behrs as two disgruntled waitresses at a diner in Brooklyn. It makes sense that this show is on CBS, as it fits in perfectly with some of their other shows, with characters frequently making retorts to nearly everything that anyone else utters and plenty of double entendres that come close to crossing the line of what’s acceptable before 10pm on network television. Dennings in particular is fiercely committed to being witty and sardonic as Max every moment she appears on screen, and putting her with Behrs, whose newly broke and homeless rich girl Caroline is much more fun and three-dimensional than that character could have been. Separately, they are completely different people, but together, they represent the same kind of person: someone who would never be where she was if she had any other viable option, just trying to make it through each way as sarcastically as possible. I’ll admit that the horse scene goes a little far, but I like Caroline’s optimistic spirit, which plays well off of Max’s negative energy. This pilot features some funny moments, and I think that this show has great potential to become a reliable weekly sitcom, but it needs to make sure to let its characters grow and not always hold them back to the same stereotypes they are right now.

How will it work as a series? Setting the show in a diner makes it possible for a whole slew of colorful characters to happen in and make the lives of our two protagonists all the more entertaining. Their dynamic is also going to be the heart and soul of the show, and as it develops, they’ll become closer but equally at adds with each other, which should prove plenty enjoyable.
How long will it last? CBS tends to make long-running comedies, and launching this in their Monday night block means that they want it to succeed. Its tremendously successful first airing bodes well for its future, and it pairs well with "Two and a Half Men," which should give it what it takes to make it to a second season.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 10 “Salud” (A-)

On a show where the word “intense” doesn’t really mean anything useful at this point, it’s fair to say that this episode is considerably more intense than those building to it, mainly due to three rather shocking encounters between different characters on this show, all three of them completely apart from the others, with the characters living in entirely different worlds for the time being. The first and most unprecedented is Walter Jr.’s conversation with Walt, which results from Walter Jr. finding Walt all beat up and out of it, so out of control as to call Walter Jr. Jesse by mistake. Walt’s story about his one real memory of his father was chilling enough, but Walter Jr. one-upped him by telling him that even that would be better than what it’s been like for the last year. Skyler having Saul make up a deceased relative to leave Ted money was relatively surprising, and seeing just how uneasy Saul was about it was alarming enough. Ted’s impulsive decision to lease a brand new car, however, set Skyler off, and telling him that she was the one that gave him the money was both bold and stupid, and may present problems in the near future. Jesse’s trip to Mexico was rocky at the start, with a rather condescending reception from the chemist played by Carlo Rota, Morris O’Brian from “24.”Gus poisoning all of the cartel members was an enormously brave and well-executed move, and there’s nothing quite like driving as fast as you possibly can out of Mexico with two men on the verge of death in your backseat. With that finale, next week is sure to be even more gripping.

Pilot Review: The Secret Circle

The Secret Circle (CW)
Premiered September 15 at 9pm

There have been many shows about witches – teen and adult alike – in recent years. This is hardly new territory, but, truth be told, this is right up the CW’s alley, and honestly, the network has done a pretty good job with it. That’s not to say I have any desire to watch the show, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself relatively enthralled throughout as Cassie made her way to her grandmother’s home and gradually met the members of the now-complete witch’s circle. Britt Robertson managed to bounce back right away from the cancellation of “Life Unexpected,” securing herself another lead role where she has a complicated history with her parents, though in this case they’re both alive rather than reunited with her during her formative years. That’s another element that this show has done well, turning most of the adults, with the exception of Adam’s father and Cassie’s grandmother, into villains deliberately manipulating their children into achieving some endgame, and in the case of Diana’s father, explicitly murdering other members of his generation. The kids are a fun bunch, particularly Phoebe Tonkin as Faye. Despite her inability to hide her Australian accent, Tonkin is terrifically entertaining as the would-be nemesis for Cassie who probably won’t even turn out to be nearly as much of a problem for her as the jealous Diana will be. The boys are plenty awkward, especially Thomas Dekker’s Adam, whose infatuation with Cassie after they “did magic together” is a smidge too obvious. Gale Harold makes for a great villain as the Diana’s father Charles, and the rest of the adults do just fine too. Much of the drama is supposed to be digested comically, and I think that this show doesn’t try to take itself too too seriously (it does a bit) and appropriately injects humor where it’s most effective. I can’t say I plan to watch this show, but I’d be willing to give it a few weeks since the pilot was far better than I expected.

How will it work as a series? It’s based on a book series, so there’s plenty of material to be drawn from, but even as an independent show, there are many storylines that can be explored, and this show shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out how to keep its audience hooked in and captivated.
How long will it last? The ratings for the premiere were great, coming close to last year’s “Nikita” debut and retaining most of the audience from “The Vampire Diaries” in the 8pm timeslot. This seems like a great fit for the CW, and I’d imagine they’ll want to keep it around, especially since they have so few new shows and this may be their best shot.

Pilot grade: B-

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pilot Review: Free Agents

Free Agents (NBC)
Premiered September 14 at 10:30pm

I’ll start off by saying that this show didn’t look good. I try not to judge anything based on its promotional material, but sometimes it’s hard not to do that when it’s so blatantly thrown at for months. This friends-with-benefits theme has been done to death recently with two theatrical releases in the past year and NBC even airing its own show titled “Friends with Benefits” through last week. This show could have distinguished itself by building off its name and having its characters be secret agents, but alas, that’s also an overdone subject. So here we have the umpteenth NBC remake of a British show, something the network has failed at far more times than it has succeeded. This one is more notable because it stars Hank Azaria, who I will say is capable of carrying a show, as evidenced by his Emmy-nominated turn on Showtime’s “Huff.” That was a far more complex, layered, and dramatic role, whereas there’s absolutely no substance in this part. The fact that he breaks down crying within minutes – almost seconds – of the episode is not a good sign, and things only get worse from there. Kathryn Hahn has proven herself to be a talented scene-stealer on “Hung” and in “How Do You Know” and “Our Idiot Brother,” and, honestly, she’s not so bad on this show. But her part doesn’t have much depth either, and the combination of Alex and Helen is just boring. It’s not that they don’t have chemistry, but rather that the way their relationship plays out is simply uninteresting. It could get better, sure, but all of the supporting characters are annoying and there isn’t much hope.

How will it work as a series? Not well. The premise is paper-thin, and if they’re already sleeping together, where is there to go from here? The only real intrigue is going to be keeping their affair secret from their co-workers, and that’s sure to bubble over sooner rather than later. I can’t imagine what the scripts for subsequent episodes look like since this show doesn’t have much of a direction.
How long will it last? This show lost an alarming portion of its lead-in’s audience, though the true test will be once it moves to its 8:30 timeslot this coming week. I’m pretty sure, however, that it doesn’t have a chance, and it’s easily going to be this year’s “Hank,” a show with a (decently) big star that wasn’t ever really going to succeed but still managed to fail so tremendously and quickly. I’ll be very surprised if this one is still on the air in November.

Pilot grade: D

Pilot Review: Up All Night

Up All Night (NBC)
Premiered September 14 at 10pm

Christina Applegate and Will Arnett are two stars who have both have Emmy-nominated parts on relatively short-lived recent shows that still managed to live a bit longer than many might have expected. In Applegate’s case, she was the lead on “Samantha Who?” while Arnett was a supporting standout on “Arrested Development.” Now, they’ve found a vehicle that essentially allows them to play the archetypal characters they’ve become accustomed to playing. Applegate is the fast-talking, shrill and sarcastic wife and new mother, while Arnett is the whispering-under-breath, extremely sardonic dad. They’re great parts, and it’s hard to find fault with either actor’s portrayal. What’s not as clear is the potential of this show. It fits the “Modern Family” bill of showcasing life as it actually is in a certain sense, which is to say that its depiction of parenting may be realistic even if the zaniness of its characters amplifies its entertainment considerably. That’s not to suggest that this show doesn’t have what it takes to become a sitcom deserving of weekly viewing, only that this pilot doesn’t cover much ground. Their constant swearing and Maya Rudolph’s character don’t fit in as well. I do like Rudolph, but having not seen her much on “Saturday Night Live,” I got to know her as a result of more dramatic, or at the very least, less showy, roles in “Away We Go” and “Bridesmaids,” and I think I prefer the more toned-down version of her. Having her character as a series regular brings out the crazy – read, cleanse – that this should would be better off without since it definitely takes it outside the reality of already amusing situations by trying to make everything much more enticingly over-the-top. I’m definitely not ready to give up just yet, but this show didn’t excite me as it should have.

How will it work as a series? Applegate and Arnett are experienced in the art of weekly comedies, having both starred on other shows prior to and after the ones I mentioned above. They’re definitely capable of helming this series, and it’s just a matter of sticking to their frantic lives as new parents and not focusing on how nutty Ava is. This could definitely be appealing entertainment.
How long will it last? The show performed extremely well in its initial, and this coming week’s move to the 8pm timeslot is going to be the real tell of whether this show can survive. Many have also suggested that it should join NBC’s Thursday night comedy lineup, where “Whitney” may soon provide some space. I think this one is going to stick around for a bit and will likely make it to a second season.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Damages (Season Finale)

Damages: Season 4, Episode 10 “Failure is Lonely” (B+)

Well, this finale was just about as intense as I would have expected, if not more. I’m most impressed by the way that the teases of the future that we’ve seen all season have become more intelligent as time has gone on, particularly with the boy and the blood, which proved not to be Sanchez’s, though Ellen sure seemed convinced. Patty moving forward with her case thanks to some help from Owen contrasted nicely with Ellen’s efforts to give in to save Chris, made much more difficult both by Patty and by Jerry’s decision to come along to sneak into the compound. The revelation that Jerry killed the three men in Chris’ unit isn’t much of a surprise, but the way it played out here, coupled with Jerry’s pledge that he would do it again, nicely wrapped up Jerry’s arc with a direct shot to the head from an extremely furious Chris. I like that AC gets a bit of vindication because he decides to believe and then help Chris, while Howard is hardly as innocent, forcing Chris to watch his Christmas sermon before his planned execution. That look in Howard’s eyes when he gets told it’s time by the FBI says it all. Ellen managed to get angrier than she ever has at Patty (partially due to the language allowed now), and it makes sense that she would be the one to testify against Patty’s character for Michael. Their meeting at the water is a season-ending tradition, yet somehow this one feels much worse than before, with plenty of insults hurled by both women. The biggest mystery is what’s in store for season five, which was commissioned last year when DirecTV acquired the show. Could it possibly be that they’re on opposite sides of a case? I’m definitely intrigued, since this was by far the best season this show has produced yet.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: John Goodman & Dylan Baker

Emmy Awards: The Morning After

The Emmys aired last night, and I have to say that I found this telecast even less interesting than in the past. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but there wasn’t all that much in the way of enticing content. I only missed the first five minutes – much of the pre-filmed Jane Lynch introductory segment, but by the end, I was hardly enthralled anymore. There were only a few truly memorable moments, but I will say one thing: regardless of whether they deserved it, every winner seemed genuinely honored and humbled by their wins. Even Jon Stewart and his crew, taking this award for the ninth time in a row, didn’t brag and were thankful for their being rewarded once again. Predictions-wise, I scored a dismal 8/25 for the televised awards, but a far better though still relatively embarrassing 9/18 for the main series categories, including the guest acting bids handed out a week earlier. For the second year in a row, I correctly predicted both Best Drama Series and Best Comedy Series, though that wasn’t hard, given that they were the same honorees. Last night was an interesting mix of past and new winners, with “Modern Family” sweeping the comedy honors but rewarding for the first time Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen, both of whom truly deserved to win. With the exception of a Best Directing win for Martin Scorsese, “Boardwalk Empire” goes home empty-handed, and even Betty White didn’t win. I’m most thrilled about Margo Martindale’s win for “Justified,” and she clearly was so awestruck by finally winning a major award. I can also sympathize with Kyle Chandler’s victory, as well as the win for writing for “Friday Night Lights,” since most shows, like “The Wire,” don’t get that fantastic moment of winning after being ignored for so many years. What’s unfortunate about a win for Chandler is that it means that all the other nominees, most notably Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, and Hugh Laurie, are still Emmy-less. And worst of all, Steve Carell doesn’t get his swan song reward. Jim Parsons is great, sure, but there’s no reason that this category has to have so many repeats that Tony Shalhoub, Alec Baldwin, and Parsons, no matter how good they all are, have all won twice while Carell never won. I was less than excited about the win for Melissa McCarthy, who, out of that entire line of women who paraded up on stage for the Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series award, didn’t realize deserve it. It was supposed to be a contest between Laura Linney and Amy Poehler, and to have both of them lose is a shame. I’m glad that the writing jokes for the variety series nominees are still fresh and fun, and I did enjoy the lengthy nominee clips and the montages, even if it was a bit strange that there were some non-nominated shows in there, and that “Justified” showed up three separate times with its title listed in the bottom left-hand corner. Anyway, I can’t think of anything else too memorable from the ceremony, including any of Jane Lynch’s bits. I did hardly enjoy the new faces at "The Office" bit, but that's about it. The show was a bit of a disappointment, and I’m already to move on to other awards topics. What are your thoughts?