Archive for the ‘Fall Television’ Category

This week’s scorecard is a little of the old and a little of the new. Plus, I did the unthinkable and watched the premiere of a show on the CW (!!!!) and you know what, it was kind of ok.

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Crazy Ex Girlfriend (The CW)

I typically ignore the CW, which for years was a network existing solely for content marketed toward teenage girls. But recently, more and more of my critic friends have been trumpeting the network as a haven for well-made DC superhero fare (Arrow, Flash) and quirky out-of-the-box comedies (Jane The Virgin).

So it was that with the Big 4 networks taking a bit of a break in their premiere schedules, I tuned in for the pilot of Crazy Ex Girlfriend which is astoundingly and enjoyably insane.

After a chance run-in with Josh, the guy she kind of dated at summer camp, Rebecca (co-creator and star Rachel Bloom) walks away from her job at a New York City law firm to move to West Covina, California, a small town two hours from the beach (four in traffic) where Josh *just happens* to live.

Yes, this is a show where the PROTAGONIST is the crazy ex girlfriend, and her ill-advised misadventures are punctuated by sporadic, surrealist musical numbers in which Rebecaa is lifted into the air by a giant pretzel or, in “Sexy Getting Ready Song” croons about hygiene while waxing her buttocks.

Shows like this don’t exist. They just don’t. And from the pilot alone I’m still not sure they *should* but fortune favors the bold.

Grade: A-

Class: Cautiously subscribe

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Truth Be Told (NBC)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a very charming actor with a hyphenated first name. FIRST name. I do not understand the circumstances that would lead to a hyphenated first name.

Why am I starting this review with an off-topic anecdote? Because nothing about this laugh-track-saturated is worth writing about. Ostensibly about a pair of best friend neighbors and their wives, Truth Be Told tries to shoehorn ISSUES into its lowbrow retread comedy, pausing between predictable sitcom shenanigans to chat about race, religion, the N-word, and ethnic ambiguity.

In the world of lame sitcoms (an expansive, heavily populated world) you could do a lot worse than MPG and Truth Be told. But as a standalone creation it’s trying to be so hard to be a comedy about capital-T Things that it forgets to have anything that resembles a point.

Grade: C+

Class: Kill and Bury

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The Walking Dead (AMC)

The living characters on The Walking Dead spent most of last season on the move (from Terminus, to Atlanta, to DC, etc) and it’s nice to see them relatively settled down for the time being. Obviously Alexandria won’t last, but in the meantime the plot point of a secure community largely untested in the post-apocalyptic world opens up a lot of narrative room to play with.

And that’s exactly what the show runners do in the premiere, setting up a veritable army of the undead at Alexandria’s doorstep. Rick hatches and elaborate scheme to draw them away, which goes about as well as it could. The real draw is what’s going to happen in episode 2, which is exactly what a premiere should be concerned with.

Grade: B+

Class: Keep an Eye On

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The Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers is a very good show that tries its hardest to get you to not watch it. Season 1 was almost intolerably grimm (and for many, no “almost”) and  while season 2 seems to be a more approachable affair in the long term, it starts with a premiere that seems intentionally designed to scare curious bystanders away.

After a lengthy cold open in which a prehistoric woman watches her people crushed by a landslide, gives birth, and then dies protecting her child, The Leftovers flashes forward to present day Miracle, Texas, a town in which no citizen was taken during the rapture-esque “great departure.” We spend about 30 minutes before our first glance at a familiar character while the show sets up a brand new family with its own brand of enigmatic quirks to rival the Garveys, who show up at the end of the episode at the world’s most awkward welcome-to-the-neighborhood barbecue.

The show burned through its source material in season 1, meaning all bets are off now. It’s a welcome removal from the original novel, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where the crazy machine that is Damon Lindelow (Lost) will take the story now that his hands are untied.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

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Readers, we’re in a bit of a dead zone for new series premieres so for this week’s Scorecard I’ll be reviewing some of my returning favorites. The same rules apply, and if you missed week 1or week 2 click on the links.

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Modern Family (ABC)

Modern Family doesn’t really have seasons any more. Some stories are wrapped up in 22 minutes, others are teased out over a few weeks, and the larger dynamics ebb and flow in calm, predictable ways. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as MF is one of the most consistent shows on television, but it’s also starting to feel like nothing really happens anymore.

Back from summer break, we get a quick catch up on what happened over the summer. The marquee headline is that Andy the Manny and Hayley have not yet resolved their will-they-won’t-they romance. There’s plenty of fertile ground here, from Andy stress eating to the return of Dylan, but after 2 years of Moonlighting I, for one, am ready to move on from this particular plot point.

Still, good laughs from the ensemble. It’s starting to feel formulaic but they’re not phoning it in yet.

Grade: B

Class: Subscribe

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Black-ish (ABC)

Starting your second season with an episode about the N-word is a bold move, but Black-ish makes it work. After son Jack gets in trouble at school for rapping the unedited version of “Gold Digger” at a talent show, Dre does his usual thing by enlisting the opinion of everyone around him in determining what is and is not appropriate language for young black men.

It’s a low-key start to the second season, which is exactly the right move for a sophomore comedy. It also makes full use of its ensemble (the office scenes are particularly excellent) which has grown to be one of the best on broadcast television. Well done.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

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How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)

Lies. Death. Murder. FAMKE JANSSEN!

Remember how great season 1 of Revenge was? And how *not* great every other season was? I love a good primetime soap as much as the next guy, but I’m really worried about HTGAWM.

It’s not that the premiere was bad, it wasn’t. It delivers a satisfactory amount of twists, turns and reveals while setting up a new season-long flash forward mystery in the form of Viola Davis seemingly bleeding to death at the hand of protege/creepy surrogate son Wes. But obviously there’s more to it than that.

Still, this balloon will burst. You can only sustain an every-episode-is-bonkers level of tension for so long. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe HTGAWM will bury us all.

Grade: B

Class: Keep An Eye On

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

Season 1 of B99 ended with a huge cliffhanger…that was immediately resolved in episode 1 of Season 2. Wisely, the showrunners look like they’ll be sticking with last Season 2’s big cliff hanger for a little longer.

Captain Holt is gone from the 99, and Bill Hader is in as his replacement. His motto is “Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency” (and don’t tell him that redundancy is inefficient) and he forces the squad to carry ipads tracking their completion of one task every 55 minutes.

But who cares, because Jake and Amy kissed. They decide to keep things “light and breezy” and not tell anyone, which goes as well as you expect. Meanwhile Captain Holt is rotting in the purgatory that is the NYPD’s PR department, where his staff has spent 8 weeks trying to name a new pigeon mascot, which is by far the single funniest image of any premiere I’ve watched this year.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

blacklistThe Blacklist (NBC)

There are essentially two things that elevate The Blacklist above the mediocrity of its case-of-the-week brothers: a super-slick production quality and James Spader. Three seasons and I’d be hard pressed to explain the plot of the show to you with more detail than “Stuff happens. Spader is great.”

Well, stuff is still happening. And Spader is still great.

In the premiere, Agent Keen is on the lam after being falsely outed as a Russian sleeper agent and not-so-falsely accused of murdering the U.S. Attorney General. He had it coming. There’s a Blacklister thrown in for good measure, but the episode is truly concerned with getting Reddington and Keen to a place of relative safety in order to set the stage for the season, which also includes Dembe is a tight spot with The Cabal.

It’s enough to keep me tuning in, but much like last season I’ll probably be letting a few weeks pile up in the DVR at a time.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)

Season 2’s finale was a doozy, so you can forgive Agents of SHIELD for spending the bulk of its premiere picking up the pieces. Simmons is missing/presumed dead, Agent May is taking some R&&R and Daisy née “Skye” is now a full-fledged superhero, trying to recruit and protect new inhumans after the Terrigen Myst was released into the ecosystem (if that sentence made *any* sense to you, you’re already watching this show. Sorry.).

But there’s some interesting new developments. Constance Zimmer is in town as the leader of a secret task force that is also tracking down the inhumans, as is a giant blue monster thing with…stuff…coming out of his back. Beats me, but it’s fun.

Grade: B+

Class: Keep an Eye On

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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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Constantine (NBC)

Between Supernatural, Grimm, Flash, Arrow and SHIELD you could (quite convincingly) make the case that both the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night and the comic book adaptation worlds are both adequately covered by broadcast television.

But despite or, or perhaps because of, those already existing shows, NBC offers us Constantine, it’s adaptation of the DC comic series that is both a superhero serial and a freak of the week procedural.

Last seen as the brooding Keanu Reeves in 2005, Matt Ryan’s Constantine is a more source-appropriate blonde and British take on the exorcist, demonologist and master of the dark arts fighting against the forces of evil in an attempt to win enough heavenly brownie points to save his damned soul.

The premiere saves the backstory for later, instead dropping us cold into a psychiatric facility where our hero is, wasting time? It’s hard to say, as the clunky plot device is quickly tossed out to relocate to Atlanta, Georgia where John is working to protect the daughter of an old friend from an unseen baddie.

Like it’s spiritual predecessor Dracula, Constantine is very cinematic and flush with impressive visuals. But the pacing and plot is jerky, hopping back and forth and doling out exposition awkwardly while failing to adequately explain most of everything that occurs.

It’s an interesting effort, that could grow into something interesting, but for now the show is a little too focused on mood that it forgot to give us a reason to keep watching. Also, I can’t shake the suspicion that most episodes will just end with Matt Ryan holding out his hand and muttering in Latin.

*Honorable mention for this line:

“Where did you come from John?”

“The sordid passions of my parents.”

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye on

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Grimm (NBC)

No one does “To Be Continued” quite like Grimm, in which the writers take a particular glee in leaving fans wanting more (they started adding “Sorry” to the ends of a few two-part episodes last year).

Season 4 picks up right where last season ended, with Captain Renard bleeding out from several gunshot wounds to the torso, Nic having lost his Grimm-ness and a trail of broken hearts and literally severed heads (of an FBI agent) leading back to Nic and Juliette’s home.

The show has weaseled its way out of a number of jams through the years and while the clean up in the premiere doesn’t rely on the *most* implausible coincidences it’s still stretches the limits of credibility.

But as always, it doesn’t really matter because Grimm its just too darned fun to get mad at and with the latest crisis avoided we can get back to the matter of taking down the Royals, getting revenge on Adalind and figuring out where those keys lead to.

Grade: B

Class: Subscribe.

 

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The Walking Dead (AMC)

Last season of The Walking Dead was interesting. On the one hand, the decision to bust up the core group at the season’s mid point for a series of focused character episodes was great. On the other hand, everything that led up to that catalyst was clean up from the disaster of a finale that ended the prior season. (It’s going to be WAR!…well not yet, but soon).

But season 5 of TWD doesn’t have that baggage. After ending on a dramatically intriguing note last spring, season 5 wastes absolutely no time in diving back into the action and delivering one of the most brain smashing episodes since Rick and his peeps first took the prison in season 3.

It’s a great set up that leaves lots to explore, plus a last minute reveal that re-introduces a favorite character from the past. Five years in and I’m still hungry for more.

Grade: A

Class: Subscribe

Marry Me - Season Pilot

Marry Me

Let’s get something out of the way. You likely didn’t watch David Caspe’s last show, the incredible “Happy Endings” on ABC. I know this because almost no one did, hence its too-early cancellation after three gloriously underrated seasons.

It’s not entirely your fault. ABC used and abused the show, airing it out of order in a series of disparate time slots and never quite figuring out how to market its razor sharp voice with the rest of the white bread content on the network lineup.

But you can now make amends, because Caspe has returned with Marry Me, a slightly more mainstream offering that preserves the million-jokes-a-minute speed of Happy Endings and reunites the showrunner with his comedy muse/wife Casey Wilson.

The show centers on Jake and Annie (the great Dan Marino and Wilson), who return from a dream vacation only to experience a series of the most cringe-worthy marriage proposals in the history of love. It’s great stuff, filled with a raft of supplementary characters and bizarre flashbacks that serve as a nice set up for the series, which will follow the couple moving forward post-engagement.

It’s the best comedy premiere I’ve seen this year. Watch it.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

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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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