Archive for the ‘CBS’ Category

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Supergirl (CBS)

Admittedly, I know very little about the comic-book cannon Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl. Absent that background knowledge, CBS’ tale of a Kryptonian on Earth feels like a lazy imitation of Kara’s better-known cousin. Just like Superman, Supergirl was sent to earth by her parents to escape the destruction of her home world, she was adopted by a couple of genteel midwest folk, moved to a big city to work in media and gets her first foray into superheroics by catching a crashing plane.

The show goes out of its way to remind you how feminist it is, having characters give monologues about how “girl” is *not* diminutive and how great it is for young women to have a role model to look up to. But like a bad comedy with a loud laugh track, if you have to try so hard to tell someone you’re funny, you’re probably not.

As Kara, Melissa Benoist is forced to adopt a bizarrely infantilized demeanor, like getting tongue-tied at the appearance of a hot new coworker. It makes for a weird blend of tones, like a Rom-com that occasionally tangents to have it’s protagonist light things on fire with her eye lasers.

Grade: B

Class: Kill and Bury

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Wicked City (ABC)

ABC’s Wicked City has a lot of interesting elements: 1980s period charm, serial killers, necrophilia. But any good intentions behind the show are buried under an avalanche of tropes, bad acting and lazy writing.

In a nutshell, you have the hardboiled cop who doesn’t play by the book, assigned to a new partner he doesn’t trust. Their chasing a serial killer who picks up women, kills them mid-fellacio and then copulates with their corpses.

If that sounds like some gritty, cable-tv-style drama, it’s not. The whole show is painted over with a waxy veneer in an attempt to hid it’s all-too-obvious shortcomings. Keep driving and leave this Wicked City in your rearview mirror.

Grade: C-

Class: Kill and Bury

tumblr_inline_nwz1vvL4zr1smw1z7_540Grimm (NBC)

Grimm made a lot of bold moves during its fourth season, and whether or not those decisions pay off the show is filled with new energy going into its fifth season.

Most of the show’s lingering villains were dealt with last year, including one who is now the mother of Nick’s son, leaving a path clear for an entirely new direction. We get that in the form of a shadowy organization that may or may not be connected to the U.S. Government and/or the Wesen resistance, seemingly working to stop a violent uprising.

It’s not the strongest premiere, mostly due to the staggering amount of clean up and exposition the writers are forced to chew through after last spring’s finale. And the impact of the new wesen threat is undercut by a laughably cheesy episode stinger that sees a clawed hand breaking the fourth wall to cut through the TV screen. You’re better than this Grimm.

As for the aforementioned child, we see the first seeds planted for what is likely to become a Nick/Adalind romance now that lady love Juliette is out of the picture. Or is she? The showrunners were fairly adamant during the hiatus that dead is dead is dead, but then who is the screaming female voice locked in Chavez’ cell? I’ve been championing this underdog show for years as escapist, fantasy fun and I look forward to finding out what’s next.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

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There weren’t any new series premieres on the big four last week and I was going to just skip a scorecard. But then I thought now might be a good time to catch up with our “Subscribes” and “Keep an Eye Ons” to see how things are faring.

As a rule, I watch at least 2 episodes of a positively-reviewed series before forming a final opinion. There’s only so many hours in a day and by then the closet lemons have started to stink, or conversely, a show with a shaky pilot starts to find its footing. An added bonus, the networks will often help you make the live or die decision by canceling a series or ordering a full season.

The “Kill and Bury” shows remain as such, but here’s how I’m feeling on the so-so new series a few weeks in.

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Limitless (CBS)

As expected, Limitless has chosen to walk the familiar road of case-of-the-week buddy-cop crime procedural (also known as the COTWBCCP), and its becoming apparent that the show’s writers aren’t quite up to the task of creating challenges that rise to the mental capacity of their protagonist. For a man who is made genius by taking a pill, he doesn’t seem all that more capable than your typical TV sleuth.

But, as was the case with the pilot, Limitless continues to make use of a confident sense of style and a je ne sais quoi that elevates that puts it a cut above the rest. It’s not great, but it’s better than many, and since I finally shed Castle from my TV roster I have a little bandwidth for a weekly whodunit.

Updated status: Still watching, but a few episodes behind.

Network action: Full season order

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The Muppets (ABC)

The pilot was rough, and the second episode wasn’t much better. But by episode 3 the show seemed to find its pacing and land some jokes. The cameos were used judiciously, and the ensemble dynamic buzzed. It’s not a safe bet at this point, but at least now we have an idea of what The Muppets could be if the writers can get it there.

Updated status: I’m not exactly optimistic, but I’m rotting for this show

Network action: Full season order (updated 10/29/15)

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Heroes Reborn (NBC)

Do you ever open a bag of chips, intending to have a quick snack before dinner, only to find yourself 30 minutes later holding an empty bag in your grease- and shame-covered fingers?

That’s Heroes Reborn, a plate of useless, salty nonsense. You know there’s better things out there, but here you are and you can’t help yourself.

I have no doubt that when the miniseries ends, I’ll regret having spent so many hours with these baffling, 2-dimensional characters and their nonsensical plots. Yet here I am.

Updated status: Bumbling along

Network Action: Nothing beyond limited-run series

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The Player (NBC)

Veteran TV critic Ken Tucker recently described The Player as “the best of the worst new shows.” I completely agree.

Player is not a good show, but it’s also not a terrible way to check out and waste an hour.

Updated status: I have 3 episodes in my Hulu queue, and I intend to watch them

Network action: Episode order trimmed to 9

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Quantico (ABC)

Quantico is the perfect example of why it takes two episode to spot a dud. The pilot wasn’t great, but the next week was an exercise in rapidly escalating implausibility, replete with an ambiguous love polygon of intersecting romances.

Updated status: Step off the ride before it makes you sick

Network Action: Full season order

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Grandfathered/The Grinder (Fox)

The fox duo continue to be my picks of the season, with later episodes making good strides at rounding out their casts and solidifying their narratives. I’m still worried about their longevity, particularly in the case of Grandfathered, but both shows are impressively consistent, which is high praise in the modern era of broadcast television.

Updated Status: Mostly sunny skies

Network Action: Full season orders

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Code Black (CBS)

I lied, sometimes I don’t make it to episode 2. Try as I might, I have zero energy for another minute of this series. My apologies to Mr. Guzman.

Updated Status: Retroactive kill and bury

Network Action: Additional scripts ordered, not yet full season

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW)

It was unprecedented when I watched the premiere of CEG (a CW show? As if!) so I was in completely uncharted waters when I ventured out for the second episode. That risk was rewarded, as Rachel Bloom’s Frankenstein’s Monster of a show is still one of the most ineffably entertaining, maddeningly unique enigmas on television.

Updated Status: Crazy like a fox

Network Action: Additional scripts ordered

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Did you miss week 1, or need a refresher on what we’re doing? Then click here.

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Quantico (ABC)

Quantico kicks off with a bang, literally. We fade in on our heroine Alex Parrish lying in the rubble of the now-decimated Grand Central Terminal. But before you can get too comfortable, we zip back to 9 months earlier to when Alex and a diverse cadre of new recruits arrived at the FBI’s Quantico training academy.

There’s the Mormon and the Muslim, the beefcake and the blond, the gay guy (or is he?) and the hipster. All of them are harboring a secret and their first assignment to pair up and expose each other. This matters because one of them is a traitor who, in 9 months time, will evidently blow up GCT and pin it on Parrish.

It’s implied that the story will track along both timelines as the series continues, which raises some fairly obvious questions about what a future beyond season 1 would look like (it’s the Prison Break dilemma). There’s also a healthy layer of melodrama caked on top of the pilot, with every line seemingly read through pouty lipss and arched eyebrows.

However, it’s a relatively out-of-the box premise for broadcast television, allusions to 24 and Homeland notwithstanding. I’m willing to award it a few points for trying something different.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Blood and Oil (ABC)

ABC’s latest primetime soap opera is confused and chaotic. Ostensibly about the oil industry (or blood, I suppose), the pilot follows newlyweds Billy and Cody who set off to a North Dakota boomtown with the dream of owning a laundromat. That dream is derailed, however, after Billy runs their truck off the road and destroys their merchandise, landing them in a shanty town of sorts while Billy wheels and deals and ends up a millionaire by the end of the first episode.

Which is all well and good, I suppose, except for the clunky dialogue, nonsensical character decisions and plot points that are, quite simply, baffling. The show feels more like a made-for-tv movie, except those productions have the decency of ending after two hours. No such luck here.

Grade: C

Class: Kill and Bury

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Grandfathered/The Grinder (Fox)

Normally I wouldn’t review two shows at once, but Grandfathered and The Grinder make it hard not to. Besides the similar alphabetization of their titles, both series are half-hour comedies, airing back-to-back on Fox, starring Men Of A Certain Age as lovable yet juvenile man-children.

They’re also the most promising shows I saw this week.

In Grandfathered, we have John Stamos as Jimmy, a successful restaurant-owning playboy bachelor who learns abruptly that he has an adult son and an infant granddaughter. His world is shaken, obviously, but after some scolding from his staff he leans in to the challenge, embracing his new family as best he can.

Across the street we have The Grinder, about an imbecilic actor (Rob Lowe) who *played* a lawyer on a popular television show and who is inspired to become a real lawyer after visiting his attorney brother (Fred Savage) in Boise, Idaho.

Both shows provide some genuine laughs during their pilots, which is no easy feat. And they show promise in contradictory ways. Grandfathered has the more polished premiere, but is also more likely to run out of creative steam moving forward. On the other hand, The Grinder’s pilot is sloppy (a shot meant to establish the scene as Boise, Idaho is actually Park City, Utah) but it has the potential to be quirky fun once the rough edges are smoothed out.

They also get bonus points for their supporting casts, namely Paget Brewster in GFd and The Waitress in TG (and before you make the jokes, “Grinder” is a common term for lawyers).

Grade: B (Grinder)/B+ (Grandfathered)

Class: Subscribe

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Code Black (CBS)

In hospital vernacular, a “Code Black” designates a critical medical emergency and in the context of Code Black on CBS, it means a point at which the show’s ER staff are effectively overrun with patients.

The drama, starring Marcia Gay Harden, is like a mix of Scrubs and ER, in that it focuses on a cohort of medical residents and their supervisors but is not, even remotely, funny. Also there’s Luis Guzman, who is awesome.

It’s a good cast, and effective narrative drama, but at the end of the day it’s just another hospital show where patients come and patients go and the doctors fight and/or sleep with each other. The main set is also burdensome in its claustrophobia, packing several trauma patients and their attending hospital staff in a space the size of a New York studio apartment.

If you like this type of thing, I suppose it’s better than most.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Dr. Ken (ABC)

Ken Jeong is a great supporting player, but he is not a leading man. After 6 seasons (and hopefully a movie) of Community, he’s landed at the center of his own show on ABC, where his strategy is apparently to waive his hands and overreact for 22 minutes.

Jeong plays Ken, a California doctor with a wife and two children. In the pilot, his daughter receives her driving license, sending Ken into a fit of over-protective anxiety that briefly lands him in lockup. But don’t worry, the omnipresent laugh tracks clues us in that everything will turn out ok.

It’s weird to me that these cheaply-made multicamera sitcoms still exist. I suppose we have The Big Bang Theory to blame. Were it not for TBBT’s untold millions of inexplicably loyal viewers, the whole format would have been sent to a farm upstate where it has room to run and play and never be sad ever again.

Grade: D

Class: Kill and Bury

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Every year it gets a little harder to review the fall premieres. The repetition is mind-numbing, like Sisyphus cursed to watch the same tired plotlines roll down the hill of broadcast television ad infinitum.

Just this week, we have the premieres of Blindspot, Minority Report, Limitless and Rosewood, all variations of the crime procedural that pairs a traditional cop with an unconventional partner to solve weekly mysteries.

And there’s a reboot as well, as if attaching the word “Reborn” to Heroes will suddenly make us all forget how terrible the original series became during its four-season run.

Suffice it to say, we’re one week into the season and I’m feeling confidently pessimistic. But we soldier on.

As always, I’ll be reviewing the pilot episodes of each new series on the major broadcast networks (that means NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox). Each episode will be given a letter grade based on its standalone quality, as well as a classification based on what it suggests for the upcoming season.

Together, we’ll make it through this. And if you get depressed just remember, we still have cable and Netflix.

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Minority Report (Fox)

Minority Report, the movie, is great. Minority Report, the television show, is not.

For the uninitiated, MR takes place in a not-too-distant future, where three psychic pre-cognitives or “Pre-Cogs” are used to catch and convict murderers before the crime of murder was actually committed.

The program is ultimately shut down (Spoiler alert for the movie), resulting in the release of the Pre-Cogs to normal civilian life. Enter the TV show, where Dash, Pre-Cog number 3, has returned to Washington, D.C. with an itch to fight crime.

He quickly teems up with an attractive detective, who waxes nostalgic for the pre-crime days, and together they go about checking off the case-of-the-week box while planting seeds from an ominous “Big Picture” looming on the horizon regarding Dash’s twin brother and Agatha, the remaining two Pre-Cogs.

The series’ makes a brave attempt at paying homage to its predecessor, but the cheap CG and prop gadgetry is no match for the dynamic future world that Steven Spielberg created for his film. It’s formulaic and tiresome, especially considering the novel concept and goodwill handed to them by an established franchise.

Grade: C

Grade: Kill and Bury

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Blindspot (NBC)

NBC clearly pumped a lot of money into its newest high-concept cops and robbers thriller, going so far as to shut down Times Square in March so that Jamie Alexander could crawl out of a duffel bag shivering and stark naked save for the freshly-inked tattoos covering her from head to toe. It’s a satisfactory cold open, using carefully placed arms and lens flares to obscure Alexander’s PTC-offending naughty bits, but any hope that Blindspot would be more than the soft-boiled amalgamation of Blacklist and Prison Break immediately evaporate after the credits roll.

The generic FBI agent called in to untangle the mystery is played by Sullivan Stapleton, aka Discount Gerard Butler from 300: Rise of an Empire. He glowers and broods in just the right tones, setting up the obvious romantic subplot with Alexander’s Jane Doe and demonstrating his devil-may-care machismo by tearing an explosive device apart with his bare hands.

After saving the day, the pilot ends with the predictable tease of restored memories for Jane Doe, and the more predictable reveal that she may not be who she seems (Gasp!). But the showrunners apparently spent so much time concocting the tattoo treasure map on Alexander’s objectified body that they forgot to provide us with a reason to care about what happens to her character, or any character for that matter.

Grade: C+
Class: Kill and Bury

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Life in Pieces (CBS)

Think of it as a version of Modern Family, only one that is told as four separate vignettes and isn’t even remotely funny.

The four-part structure is clearly designed to distance LiP from it’s ABC counterpart and it’s a terrible creative choice, giving the various narratives so little breathing time that it feels like a series of long setups to punchlines that don’t land. And without narrative cohesion – an awkward first date, a college visit, childbirth and a  mock funeral – each commercial break ushers in a jarring tonal shift and a change of character and scenery, like a showcase of one-act plays written by high school seniors for their required fine art credit.

And the cast is all over the map, with a rogues gallery of supporting actors from better series thrown into a bowl with an against-type James Brolin and a seemingly lost Collin Hanks. In time the family dynamic could provide some through-lines, but for now Life In Pieces plays like a craven attempt to put a fresh gimmick on old tropes.

Grade: C-
Class: Kill and Bury

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Limitless (CBS)

A funny thing happened while I was watching Limitless. I realized I was actually invested in the plot, so I pushed pause and poured myself a drink so I wouldn’t have to interrupt the flow later.

Unlike most pilots, which collapse under the gravitational pull to save the world in 44 minutes, Limitless was taking its sweet time setting up a story and it was doing so with an unexpected amount of showmanship for a CBS drama.

Like the movie of the same name, Limitless deals with a drug named NZT which grants to its consumers a quasi-superhuman level of brain function. Our protagonist is Bryan Finch, a stunted musician who stumbles upon the drug after reconnecting with an old bandmate while temping at said bandmate’s investment firm.

Limitless was a C+ movie elevated to a B by the star power of Bradley Cooper, he who is all that is man. And in a particular coup for CBS, Cooper drops into Limitless, the TV show, midway through to provide some connective tissue. The moment is handled well, classing up the joint without being too distracting and leaving the door open for future appearances.

All would be well, except the episode ends with an unfortunate suggestion of lesser things to come. Having sorted out most of the complications of the pilot, Bryan is appropriated by the FBI to serve as a super-powered consultant. That likely means a case of the week, in which our hero pops a pill and is gifted with the mental tools necessary to bring down whatever murderer/thief/kidnapper/etc is causing trouble. In other words, that likely means bad television.

Still, there’s enough pieces in place to do something interesting. Here’s hoping CBS doesn’t do what they do best and ruin it.

Grade: B+

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Scream Queens (Fox)

Scream Queens, the latest from the Ryan Murphy dream machine, is painfully bad. Centered around a college sorority targeted by a Devil-costumed serial killer, Murphy has created a world wholly populated with unlikable characters who simply can’t die quickly enough.

Jamie Lee Curtis seems to be having the most fun, and Abigail Breslin the least, but at some point the novelty of watching Ariana Grande get stabbed in the head while tweeting or Nick Jonas getting his throat slit just aren’t enough to prop up two hours – TWO HOURS! – of inexplicable character motivations and dated references.

Grade: D+

Class: Kill and Bury

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The Muppets (ABC)

ABC’s reboot of The Muppets had the slickest promotional campaign of the fall season, but the actual finished product is chock full of rough edges.

Constructed as a mockumentary, The Muppets sees our felt favorites relegated to backstage status as they grind out a late night talk show hosted by Miss Piggy. That means shoehorning in Sam The Eagle as the network censor and the Sweedish Chef as craft service, and a litany of sexual innuendo and dating subplots replacing the musical numbers we expect from Jim Henson’s creations.

There’s enough charm to earn a second viewing, but The Muppets needs to find its voice quickly if this gamble on an “adult” tone is going to pay off.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Rosewood (Fox)

Morris Chestnut is Beaumont Rosewood, a man who solves crimes because his extremely lucrative private pathology business isn’t fulfilling enough. Or something. I honestly don’t understand what this show is about. It’s like Bones, only male-centric and set in Miami.

Everything about Rosewood feels like it was created by committee, from the ambiguous legality of the title character’s legal consultations to the prominently displayed sexual orientation of his sister-slash-assistant. It’s “hip” and “fun” with a hidden darkness lurking in the past of our smiling sun-kissed protagonist.

Snore.

Grade: C-

Class: Kill and Bury

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Heroes Reborn (NBC)

Resurrecting a series is a tricky web filled with fan expectations and critical skepticism. And when you lost your fans years ago, as the original Heroes did, the job is even harder.

The latest incarnation sees a world in which the existence of super-powered humans, or “Evos,” is public knowledge, resulting in paranoia and fear. A few key faces from the original series return (notably Jack Coleman and his horn-rimmed glasses) but by and large this is the story of a new generation of Heroes.

There’s a big bang to set things in motion before the premiere skips through more characters and plot lines than I can count or keep track of (there’s a masked vigilante, a young teleporter, a guy with a suitcase full of pennies and an angry Zachary Levi). All-in-all its a slick episode promising plenty of disparate plot lines to slowly connect, but it can’t escape the creeping dread that we’ve been here before, with disastrous results.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye on

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The Player (NBC)

When the pilot opened with Wesley Snipes overlooking a dead body, then flashing to a foreign diplomat getting a security briefing I thought “Woah, is this a network procedural about a hit man?”

I would watch that show. The Player is not that show, but it is willing to take some unconventional risks, like showing a character death (or did they?) in the cold open that normally would be parceled out as pre-pilot flashbacks, hinting at our hero’s tortured soul.

One part The Fugitive one part Person of Interest and one part Las Vegas, The Player centers on Alex Kane, a former FBI agent turned private security consultant who gets looped into an organization that uses algorithms to predict (and bet on) crime.

The cat and mouse is fun, and the action scenes arrive quickly and frequently. But the pace is mired by occasional bouts of clunky dialogue and a premise that is, to put it mildly, unconventional. For now I’m intrigued, but I’m far from sold.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye on

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Brooklyn-Nine-Nine-Season-2-Premiere-PicturesBrooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

Fox’s freshman office/cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine ended its first season on a creatively intriguing note, with class clown Jake Peralta being falsely booted from the police force in order to go under cover with the mob for the FBI. It was a bold move for a new show, suggesting that already in season B99 would be shooting off in a new direction.

Nope. Instead of getting to see Don Peralta in action, we flash forward to the end of Jake’s undercover stint, when the NYPD detective returns for duty at the precinct. It’s a creatively disappointing decision that jettisons the intrigue left by season one’s cliff hanger, but in returning to the status quo the show retains its acerbic wit and office high jinx that made it a winner last year.

Grade: B-

Class: Subscribe

SEAMUS DEVER, JON HUERTAS, STANA KATICCastle (ABC)

I gotta hand it to Castle, as perturbed as I was by the last minute Diabolus Ex Machina that closed out season 6, I never could have guessed what the writers had cooking.

When Rick Castle’s car was found burning in a ditch by his soon-to-be-wife Kate Beckett, the smart money was on Big Bad Sen. Bracken, serial killer 3XK or another member of the Castle rogues gallery. I assumed we’d find Rick chained up in an empty warehouse, only to be saved one or two episodes later by Becket and the gang and establishing the new stakes for the season.

Instead, we find that Castle is part of an elaborate ruse concocted by an as-yet-unknown villain meant to give the impression that our ruggedly handsome mystery writer has gotten a case of cold feet and run away from his commitments. After months of searching, he literally washes up in a dingy with an overwhelming amount of evidence suggesting that he’s been laying low in a tent.

What happened remains unsolved, and while Castle is able to prove that he was, in fact, the victim of an abduction the damage done to his friends and, especially, fiance remain. All things considered, it’s a rather novel way to maintain conflict between the show’s will-they-or-won’t-they couple, allowing the show to go on with its formula while justifying yet another postponement of Castle and Beckett’s happy ever after.

Grade: B

Class: Subscribe

selfieSelfie (ABC)

A modern retelling of My Fair Lady is an interesting idea for broadcast TV, and much like how there may be a decent person underneath the superficial and attention-obsessed shell of Eliza Dooley there may proof to be a funny and interesting television show in Selfie, but not yet.

The chemistry between Karen Gillan and John Cho is winning, as is the surrealist humor offered by the supporting cast (a staff meeting about a nasal spray that *allegedly* causes demonic hallucinations is a high point in the pilot) but the show’s insistence on meme-ready #PopCulture references fall flat and a Bad Romance sing-a-long is physically painful to watch. Also, way too much vomit for a 22 minute sitcom.

Grade: C+

Class: Keep an Eye On

manhattanlovestoryManhattan Love Story (ABC)

The “gimmick” is a temperamental nut to crack. In a crowded TV marketplace, it’s easy to see why writers feel the need to separate their show from the flock. But as time goes on, the gimmick becomes the insatiable monster that devours a show’s creative resources at the expense of character, humor and plot.

In the case of Manhattan Love Story, the gimmick is that the audience is treated to the private thoughts of its two stars and it takes all of 5 minutes to wear out its welcome, reducing what could have been three-dimensional characters to a loose collection of shallow gender stereotypes. The man boasts of his ability to ogle his date’s breasts unnoticed while the woman’s steely resolve melts at the sight of lilies in a bouquet of flowers.

Not only is in an ineffective storytelling device, it also manages to make what would be a pair of bland characters utterly unlikeable.

Grade: C-

Class: Kill and Bury

cbs-stalker-pilot-dylan-mcdermott-maggie-qStalker (CBS)

Much has been said about the offensive nature of Kevin Williamson’s (The Following) new show Stalker, which follows Dylan McDermott (or is he Dermot Mulroney?) and Maggie Q as a pair of mis-matched investigators who specialize in stalking cases. The Stalking Resource Center, a division of the National Center for Victims of Crime went so far as to write a scathing rebuke of the show to CBS President Les Moonves, asking if the network would “air a show called ‘Rapist’ and justify it as a way to raise awareness about sexual violence?”

I’ll leave the questions of gender and criminal politics to wiser men and women, but suffice it to say that independent of whether Stalker is morally misguided, it’s also bad television. The pilot is underwritten, the characters underdeveloped and the constant subtext of misogyny and violence is off-putting. It’s as if you took all the weakest episodes of Law and Order: SVU, compressed them down to the basic elements and reconstructed a haphazard story with a glossy network sheen. It may be cinematic, but it’s nonsense masquerading as drama.

Grade: D

Class: Kill and Bury

bad-judge-series-premiereBad Judge (NBC)

NBC’s Bad Judge defies description. It is truly one of the most bizarre pilots I have ever seen.

Kate Walsh stars as a booze-swilling, irresponsible, philandering, unkempt judge who staggers her way from one mess of her own making to another. After donning her robes over a pair of cut-off short shorts, she cracks wise from the bench, hands off a pregnancy test to her bailiff (the one redeeming character of the show) has a quickie in her chambers with an expert witness, inserts herself into a disciplinary action at a local elementary school and comes around full circle to pronounce a sentencing in a case by requiring a bigamist to attend a class on feminism while adorned in a t-shirt boasting of his crimes.

At some point during those proceedings I suppose we were supposed to care about Walsh’s character, but instead I found myself anxiously waiting for the gavel.

Grade: D-

Class: Kill and Bury

gracepointFEATGracepoint (Fox)

America has been ripping off Britain’s hits for a long time (see: The Office, House of Cards, Inspector Spacetime) it seems especially crass to cast the original star in a remake, asking him to turn in an exact replica of his performance only with a yankee accent this time around.

Such is the case in Gracepoint, in which once and future Doctor David Tennant stars as a detective on the hunt for a child’s killer.

The “event miniseries” is an obvious attempt to cash in on the popularity of short-run serials like True Detective, but in crafting Gracepoint Fox has found itself with a whodunit that is heavy on substance but has no style to speak of. The pilot is exceptionally boring and visually uninteresting, as a series of unmemorable characters (with the exception of the always underrated Michael Pena) hem and haw about justice and grief in a series of washed out monochromatic settings.

Also there’s NIck Nolte, who, I’m sorry to say it, has gotten to a point where his guttural voice is physically uncomfortable to listen to.

I love a good thriller as much as the next guy, and a brief moment involving Anna Gunn’s son deleting his text message history suggests that there are a few tricks up the show’s heretofore nondescript sleeves. But I can’t say I’ll be around long enough to find out if the show ever gains its sea legs.

Grade: C+

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Gotham (Fox)

For the second year in a row, the most anticipated release of the Fall is an ambitious comic-book based serial. Except where ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of Shield landed with a somewhat muted thud and took months to become interesting, Gotham arrives with what appears to be a fully-realized aesthetic and a world populated with an expansive cast of interesting characters just begging to be explored further.

The Batman show without Batman centers on Ben McKenzie’s Det. Jim Gordon and it’s great to see McKenzie back on a mainstream series after a critically lauded but largely unseen stint on Southland. He’s an optimistic boy scout hoping to remain a decent man in an indecent time, aided/hindered by his morally ambiguous partner Harvey Bulloch (Donal Logue). Logue does a little scenery chewing in the pilot but in the pseudo-noir Gotham it fits, rather than distracts, from the subtly stylized vibe of the show.

Cracks begin to show in the form of Gordon’s seemingly plastic fiance, who looks like she stepped step off the set of Michael Bay’s latest Carl’s Jr. Commercial, and the casting of both a young bruce wayne and his surrogate father Alfred Pennyworth have me thinking that the less time spent at Wayne Manor the better.

No worry though, with Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman and even Poison Ivy waiting in the wings, the show shouldn’t get bored anytime soon.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

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Madam Secretary (CBS)

Madam Secretary, which finds Tea Leoni as an overtly Clintonian Secretary of State is the perfect Exhibit A in a discussion about the failures of broadcast television. You can practically see the money that CBS dumped into this show, from the enormous cast peppered with veteran screen actors to the setting of governmental Washington, D.C.

And yet all you get is a poor-poor man’s House Of Cards, a glaring truth underscored by the presence of several HOC veterans. But where Frank Underwood is a dramatically fascinating character who solves his problems by throwing women in front of train, Leoni’s Secretary McCord is a bureaucrat who saves the day by making phone calls to men who do the dirty work off screen and then gets a makeover. Seriously that’s her Ace in the whole, a new dress and highlights. Compelling stuff. 

With neither the wisdom of West Wing, the comedy of Veep or the intrigue of Cards, Madam Secretary is the political drama with seemingly nothing to say.

Grade: C

Class: Kill and Bury

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Marvel’s Agents of Shield (ABC)

Interesting how now that are heroes are on the run and their organization in crumbles, this show seem to have more room to breathe than ever. No longer confined to their fancy airplane, the team has a secret base, a seemingly endless supply of Patton Oswalt clones (thank you very much) and a slew of new faces.

The show picks up after a brief time jump since the finale, when the Clairvoyant was defeated and the seedy Agent Ward was taken into custody. Skye is now in full-Jedi mode thanks to the training of Agent May and Fitz is back to work, albeit with a few lingering side effects from his near drowning.

Best of all, this season waists no time getting to its new big bad via flashback to the Captain America 1 days with Agent Carter and the Howling Comandoes storming a Hydra operation and taking possession of a deadly obelisk, the original 084. It makes a reappearance, as does our villain, and in the interim the team is tasked with a mission that reintroduces Adrian Pasdar’s Col. Talbot, who will hopefully be a more regular presence on the show and who will hopefully shave that awful mustache.

All in all, the show seems to still be capitalizing on its creative resurgence in the back half of season 1. Hopefully the writers keep the cylinders sliding but there’s always the possibility that longevity will slide the show back into bad habits.

Grade: B

Class: Subscribe (cautiously)

PILOTScorpion (CBS)

I was prepared to absolutely despite Scorpion, which perhaps explains why I was pleasantly surprised. Centered on Elyes Gabel’s Walter O’Brien (how this character has an Irish surname is beyond me), Scorpion is about a rag-tag group of misfit geniuses who are called up by Uncle Sam to help solve crises of national security (watch for the laughably bad “young version” of Robert Patrick’s Cabe Gallo in the opening minutes).

Walter has a complicated history with the U.S. Government, which we learn piecemeal throughout the pilot, but he is compelled to put that aside when the air traffic control software at LAX go haywire threatning  thousands of airplane passengers with a grisly and fiery death. Luckily his team happens to have the necessary expertise — computer programming, statistical calculations, psychoanalysis and mechanical engineering — to save the day, oh and they rope in Katherine McPhee, whose ability is that she’s pretty and has a smart kid or something.

The pilot reaches levels of laughable implausibility, particularly in the climax which sees our heroes driving on a runway beneath an airliner, and the just-in-the-nick-of-time shenanigans are going to get old quick. But the show also has a certain charm that I imagine pairs well with the soft sell thrills of CBS’ NCIS-loving audience. It’s a very adequate show, which sadly puts it ahead of much of the fold on today’s networks.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

800x533Modern Family (ABC)

At this point what can really be said about Modern Family. In its 6th season, the powerhouse sitcom is so firmly comfortable in its ways of expertly polished 22-minute comedy that the viewer can arrive, confident of experiencing a few genuine belly laughs with little surprise, before turning in for the night.

The premiere is a strong episode for the series, particularly the Dunphy storyline which sees Phil, Claire, Luke and Haley enjoying an ebullient summer while the more pessimistic Alex is away on some humanitarian endeavor. Elsewhere, Gloria and Jay play a game of sartorial chicken and Mitch and Cameron spat (once again) over their differing levels of romantic energy.

Nothing particularly daring, but still a great way to spend half and hour.

Grade: B+

Class: Whatever you do with Modern Family, keep doing it.

MARSAI MARTIN, MARCUS SCRIBNER, YARA SHAHIDI, ANTHONY ANDERSON, MILES BROWN, TRACEE ELLIS ROSSBlack-ish (ABC)

Black-ish has been marketed and scheduled as a companion to Modern Family but the show, in tone and subject matter, is truly a modern update on The Cosby Show. Centered by Anthony Anderson, the series revolves around a black family in white suburbia and particularly Anderson’s challenge as patriarch to “Keep It Real.”

It’s a good-looking show, shot in cinematic single-camera with no laugh track and popping with bright colors. But the dialogue is a little stilted and tries to hard to make a point about race in 21st century middle class America.

I think the show would benefit by dialing down the politics and focusing on its characters, but either way its a pleasant addition to the sit-com lineup (albeit one that makes me worried about Lawrence Fishbourne’s continued involvement in the best-show-you’re-not-watching Hannibal).

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

how_to_get_away_with_murderHow To Get Away With Murder (ABC)

Confession: I’ve never watched a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal. My awareness of Shonda Rhimes is limited only to what I hear of her work and the reasonable understanding that I am not part of her target audience.

So my viewing of HTGAWM was my first visit to Shondaland and it was not unpleasant. Viola Davis plays a law professor/defense attorney who runs her classroom like a tournament of champions and who keeps a few skeletons in her closet.

Her students, including Harry Potter’s Alfred Enoch and OITNB’s Matt McGory, are willing to cut throats to succeed, perhaps literally, as the opening scene finds them plotting to bury a dead body? Whose, you ask? Well you’ll find out by the end of the episode but it will only the answer to one of several questions teased out by the pilot.

Grade: B+

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Forever (ABC)

ABC Executive no. 1: “Man, Sherlock Holmes is sure having a good year right now. Too bad we missed the boat on that won.”

Executive no. 2: “Yeah, CBS bagged Elementary. We can’t do another modern New York City-based Holmes story.”

Executive no. 1: “Well what if we named him something else, and had him be a medical examiner in stead of a detective?”

No. 2: “Would he still use deductive reasoning and notice minute details about people?”

No. 1: “Of course.”

No. 2: “Still seems too close.”

ABC Executive no. 3, listening but so far offering nothing: “What if he was immortal?”

No. 1: “Sorry?”

No. 3: “He’s immortal. He’s lived for centuries. Every time he dies he washes up naked in the East River.”

No. 2: “Brilliant. We get a hot actor and it sells itself.”

No. 1: “A hot British actor, way hotter than that Cumberbatch guy. What happened to the stretchy dude from those Fantastic Four movies?”

No. 2: “Ioan Gruffudd? He’s been dark for years. Book it. This is it boys, we’re going to print money.”

Nope

Grade: C+

Class: Who cares

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Last Forever Part One

I would issue a spoiler alert, but something has to be of value in order to spoil. Instead, we have the final episode of How I Met Your Mother, in which everything the show has been building to is tossed aside with callous abandon and the only characters to get out unscathed are Marshmallow and Lilypad.

Truly, I’m more upset right now than I was after watching the Red Wedding. Senseless violence sounds like a warm blanket after what now feels like a nine-year emotional manipulation.

Sorry, I’ll try and get it together. Let’s begin.

On May 16, 2011, the How I Met Your Mother season 6 finale aired on CBS. In that episode, fans learned that the predestined wedding where Ted Mosby would meet the future mother of his children was actually that of his best friend/wingman Barney Stinson.

In the three years that followed (THREE YEARS!) audiences watched the evolution of Barney Stinson from a philandering cad to a more mature and loving adult who was ready to commit and marry Robin Cherbowsky. Their wedding took place last week, in a very touching episode that was hopeful and nostalgic for fans of the show.

In 15 minutes, Monday’s series finale laid waste to that relationship, showing us a future in which Barney and Robin enjoy three tumultuous years before calling it quits, allowing Barney to revert entirely back to his philandering ways and rendering the progression of the last three years moot in the process. Those feels you feeled during the wedding episode? Pointless.

But that was nothing, because the minute the couple’s eventual divorce was made known, the proverbial writing was on the wall for our protagonist and the titular mother. We were already teased that her life would be cut short by disease a few weeks ago, and with Robin and Barney’s union dissolved it was readily apparent how the show would end.

In 15 minutes the writers of How I Met Your Mother undid three years of character development for Mr. and Mrs. Stinson, and cheapened a nine-year search for Mrs. Mosby.

Sure, Ted gave a lovely monologue about how much his time with Tracy (*scoff*, Tracy) had meant to him and how he valued every moment with her. It’s a nice sentiment and not hard to believe that in the reality of the show is true. But as a viewer, forced to consume a loving couple’s entire 10-year relationship over the space of an hour through a rapid-fire series of vignettes, it felt like lip service.

The Mother was not the end of Ted’s story, but another diversion on a circular road that led him right back to where we began, blue french horn in hand, looking up into Robin’s window. The final statement of HIMYM is that Ted’s journey leads to Robin, and in another life they may have arrived there 20 years earlier without the necessity of killing off a very pretty brunette bass player.

The foundation of hope that supported the run of HIMYM, knowing that no matter how many times Ted fails he will eventually find the love of his life, crumbles. In fact, it’s a lie.

Ted wasn’t searching for the love of his life, he was merely looking for a fertile vessel to sire his children. The love of his life was there the whole time, and those of us who spent 9 years of Monday nights following along were dupes to expect otherwise.

It’s especially crushing when last week’s penultimate episode offered the perfect series sign-off. We watch the Stinson nuptials, we pass through the updates on our secondary characters, we see Mr. and Mrs. Mosby sharing their perfect “sometimes you just find things” exchange under the yellow umbrella, and that kids, is how I met your mother.

Beyond the flash-forwards the viewers had already seen (Marshall’s judgeship, the first date, Barney and Robin waking up from a hangover in someone else’s hotel room) the future would exist in the minds of the viewer, free to individually create the story they saw fit. Hopeful. Legendary.

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