Archive for the ‘NBC’ Category

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.

ELL128BTS_650812_640x360

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

the-muppets-are-getting-their-own-tv-show-on-abc--heres-the-hilarious-trailer

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)

HeroesReborn.0.0

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

THE PLAYER --

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

abc-qauntico-priyanka-chopra-2

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

grandfathered-the-grinder-tv-review-fox

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

la-et-st-tca-code-black-20150810-001

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

CXG-BeenThere-30-trlg-V2-122816_a74b9be9_CWtv_720x400

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

Read Full Post »

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.

4f9aa2fd_edit_img_facebook_post_image_file_2387502_1443048959ntDffR.fbshare

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

fall-preview-blackish

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

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER -

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

brooklyn-nine-nine-bill-hader-new-captain_article_story_large

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

Agents-of-SHIELD-S02E19-Skye

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

Read Full Post »

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

Quanticio-Pilot-First-Impressions

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

1000x670

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

28-grandfathered-grinder.w529.h352

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

CBS_CODE_BLACK_CUTDOWN_master_559134_640x360

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

DK_Pilot-20150415-DF_0113_RT_fnl

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

Read Full Post »

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.

lead_960

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

BLINDSPOT --

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

life-in-pieces-1280jpg-9b279f_1280w-720x405

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

106267-1267B

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

150922_TV_ScreamQueens.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2
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

KERMIT THE FROG, GONZO THE GREAT

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

rosewood-fox

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

f20ozzazf1e3cm3k4yhc

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

150508_2864909_The_Player_Official_Trailer

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Gotham_GTH101_2500_1280x720_332174403806

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

madam-secretary-teaser-cbs

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

541382deb65c3

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

1200.2x1

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

Read Full Post »

Every year the fall TV season becomes slightly less important, as summer series, cable programming and online services chip away at the once-Herculean dynasty that is broadcast television.

If you’re like me, you’ve been too busy watching Married, You’re the Worst and The Strain to be overly concerned with the new slate of Big Four shows that will, in large number, not survive long enough to see the calendar turn on 2015. But alas, here we are, networks at the door, advertisers in the wings, ready to fall in love and hate all over again.

As a refresher, we at Wood’s Stock (read: me) will be watching all the new shows and our (my) returning favorites and each week we will issue a letter grade based on the quality of the premiere and a rating of either “Subscribe,” “Keep an Eye On,” or “Kill and Bury” based on the outlook for the new season.

Let’s begin.

140509_2781044_A_to_Z_Official_Trailer

A to Z (NBC)

Technically A to Z hasn’t premiered yet but the pilot has been available online for more than a month and I’ll take every chance I get to stay ahead of the unyielding tide of new premieres.

Andrew works at a highly successful online dating website and believes in love and destiny. He meets the more cynical Zelda and is immediately smitten, asking her out to drinks only to blow it by suggesting they were fated to meet each other after a chance passing at a concert years earlier. Zelda is overwhelmed by this, states emphatically that it was not she at the concert and then after a brief separation the pair are reunited by the end of the episode to establish the premise of the show, in which we see the evolution of their relationship from beginning to end, ominously predicted to arrive sometime at the end of the 1st season by voice over narration (the inevitable fact that the “end” won’t be an “end” makes the framing device all the more obnoxious).

If the archetypes sounds similar to (500) Days of Summer it’s because they are, as are many of the other elements of the show to the general tone, in which a whimsical narrator coos about opposites attracting while dulcet tones play.

It’s a little thin, but not without potential. The shows stars, Mad Men’s Ben Feldman and HIMYM’s Cristin Milioti, are likable in spades and if the writers can begin loosening the reigns on structure and let the funny come in there’s a chance A to Z could turn out to be one of the season’s pleasant surprises.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

red-band-society-review_article_story_largeRed Band Society (Fox)

That Fox is teeing up RBS as its next Glee is apparent, even while great pains have gone into crafting an original and interesting show. Set in a children’s ward of an implausibly beautiful hospital, Red Band Society focuses on a group of children suffering from a range of physical ailments. It’s a grimm subtext, made all the more apparent by the omniscient and potentially supernatural narrator, but it’s also awash in bright cinematic colors to keep things from getting overly dreary.

The adult cast is superb (particularly Octavia Spencer), and used well throughout the pilot, but the children who make up the show’s core range from cloying saccharine caricatures to aggressively off-putting annoyances. The production quality is highly cinematic, making it one of the best looking pilots I’ve seen in years, but the final product is a tonal quagmire with a vague target audience.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

lauraThe Mysteries of Laura (NBC)

Where to begin. Mysteries of Laura is what happens when you take a sitcom about an exhausted single mother and fuse it with the rotted carcass of whatever hour-long police drama that failed during last year’s TV season. It stars Debra Messing as what is intended to be a charmingly sloppy New York Detective who plays by her own rules, taking down bad guys before running home to extinguish the likely literal fires lit by her two hyperactive spawn.

Problem is, it fails as a crime procedural, fails as a family comedy, fails as a workplace comedy and just fails, fails, fails.

The tonal shifts in the pilot alone are enough to give you whiplash, playing blood-drenched walls as a sight gag and cracking wise about death and murder before halting the plot for a heart to heart about love and parenting with the ex, Josh Lucas, who is shoehorned into the plot in a groan-inducing 11th hour twist in order to maintain relevance for the character. Also, the native advertising for Target hasn’t been this egregious since that Christmas episode of Modern Family.

Everyone in this show, as well as the audience, deserves better.

Grade: C-

Class: Kill and Bury

tumblr_nbpgf8k3jQ1skp2wno1_500

New Girl (Fox)

New Girl took a bit of a stumble during its 3rd season. I was never particularly interested in seeing Nick and Jess as a couple and it became pretty clear after a few episodes, and maybe during that initial horror of a premiere in season 3 when the pair ran off to Mexico, that the writers had run out of ideas for the relationship, instead electing to kick it to an early death by the time the final episode aired.

What makes the fourth season’s premiere so brilliant is that it is not trying to be a grand arrival but instead accepts the show as being several years into a sitcom about a group of misfit friends. It ships our characters off to a wedding where they can stumble into comedic pratfalls and shenanigans that are cozily wrapped up in 22 minutes. If you didn’t know any better, the episode could have been the 1st, 5th, 15th or even last of the season.

And that’s ok. It’s more than ok, it was pretty great. Also, “hooves.”

Grade: A-

Class: Keep an Eye On

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »