Posts Tagged ‘Fox’

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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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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We’ve finally reached the end of the broadcast TV premiere season (sorry Katherine Heigl, but I’m not waiting around for State of Affairs), which means we can all go back to watching cable where the quality content is.

I wrote 7 weeks ago that broadcast TV becomes a little less relevant each year and 2014 did little to change that. I only gave a “Subscribe” to one new drama (Gotham) and one new comedy (Marry Me) this year, and of all the Keep An Eye On shows the only two that I’m actually keeping an eye on is How To Get Away With Murder and A to Z, which was recently cancelled do to anemic ratings.

Here’s the final two premieres and my one-stop breakdown of this year’s new shows.

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The McCarthy’s (CBS)

I hold CBS comedies to a lower bar than other networks and as grating as the laugh track-a-thon style of The McCarthys is, it never quite reaches the aggressive discomfort of sibling sitcoms 2 Broke Girls or Two and a Half Men.

The McCarthys focuses on Ronnie, the The Good Wife-watching, black sheep, gay son of an otherwise blue collar Celtics-obsessed family of Irish Catholic Bostonians.

In the premiere episode, Ronnie is considering a move to Providence Rhode Island (“That’s not a real state”) where he looks forward to a more vibrant gay community (“Aren’t all gay communities vibrant?”). But his plans are sidelined when his father asks him help out as an assistant basketball coach in order to secure a star player whose parents are looking for an inclusive and tolerant team.

It’s a lot of politics for a sitcom pilot and at first I worried things were going to turn ugly, but The McCarthy’s manages to skate on top of the ice by keeping things light. If anything the show suffers from being too light, relying on call back gags and an omnipresent laugh track to hammer in the funny.

It’s not great, but it’s not particularly terrible.

Grade: C+

Class: Keep an Eye on

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Elementary (CBS)

Hey, did you know I write about Elementary for the Entertainment Weekly Community? It’s a new gig, but you can read my full recap of the premiere episode here.

The short version is that Season 3’s premiere sees the return of Sherlock to NYC with a new partner in tow. But it’s going to take some time before Holmes’ friends and former partner fully welcome him back.

Elementary is one of the better crime procedurals on Broadcast, benefiting largely from the quirky and fully-committed performance of Jonny Lee Miller and his chemistry with Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson.

If you haven’t been watching, you might want to pick it up. And remember to keep an eye out for my weekly posts on ew.com.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Marry Me - Season Pilot

2014 new series rundown

Gotham: Subscribe

Marry Me: Subscribe

How to Get Away With Murder: Keep an Eye On (*Upgraded to ‘Subscribe’)

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A to Z: Keep An Eye On *Cancelled

Red Band Society: Keep An Eye On

Scorpion: Keep An Eye On

Black-ish: Keep An Eye On

Selfie: Keep An Eye On

Gracepoint: Keep An Eye On

Constantine: Keep An Eye On

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Mulaney: Kill and Bury

Cristela: Kill and Bury

Mysteries of Laura: Kill and Bury

Madam Secretary: Kill and Bury

Forever: Kill and Bury

Manhattan Love: Kill and Bury *Cancelled

Stalker: Kill and Bury

Bad judge: Kill and Bury *Cancelled

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Oopsie! Looks like I forgot to review The Blacklist when it premiered. We’ll rectify that mistake first.

The Blacklist - Season 2

The Blacklist (NBC)

The best thing about The Blacklist has been and always will be James Spader, who slips into the role of criminal mastermind Raymond “Red” Reddington with such ease that he looks more like he’s on vacation than acting. His pleasure in cracking wise and chewing through one-liners is addictive, lifting the entire series from what could otherwise become a rote caricature of heady crime thrillers.

Last season ended with the 2-part introduction of Reddington’s nemesis Berlin, played with the typical Peter Stormare-iness of Peter Stormare. In Season 2, we catch back up with our bruised but not broken friends at the FBI and dive back into the action, chasing a blacklister known for locating individuals who’d rather not be located.

The case of the weak is slight compared to past baddies, but the chance to finally get a look at Berlin is nice, as is the addition of Mary-Louise Parker as Red’s former wife. The premiere doesn’t suggest any grand evolution to a new chapter, but it also doesn’t show any signs (yet) of straining.

Grade: B

Class: Subscribe

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Mulaney (Fox)

John Mulaney is funny. His eponymous television show, however, is not.

But lots of shows aren’t funny. Lot’s of shows don’t even try to be. But Mulaney is trying, and not only is it unfunny but it’s also unpleasant.

From the pronouncement that the show is filmed before a live studio audience to the blatantly obvious multi-camera (the characters never face each other when speaking) Mulaney is, from minute one, a bizarre homage to 1990s broadcast television. But what was likely intended as a piece of retro nostalgia is instead aggressively out of date, capturing few of the positives and most of the negatives of a bygone era while reminding us all how much better we have it now in the age of Mad Men and Breaking Bad than we did during the early days of Must See TV Thursdays and TGIF.

Comparisons to Seinfield are obvious, and I’ve already heard some critics suggest that the stiff awkwardness with which Mulaney reads his lines is intended as some sort of meta-commentary on television. Some will also remind you how Seinfield, himself, got off to a rocky start.

Mulaney’s start was not rocky. It was bad. Terribly. Horribly. Unforgivably bad.

Grade: F

Class: Kill it with fire.

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American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)

We’re four seasons in to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s singularly bizarre anthology series, American Horror Story, and the creative duo are far from phoning it in.

The actors may remain (largely) the same, but each year has brought a new setting and more notably a new tone, which is no less true with Freak Show. Shirking of the monochromatic minimalism of last year’s Coven, Freak Show is a pastiche of bright colors and electric visuals, suggesting that we have entered the most visually appealing Horror Story to date.

The mood is also light, continuing last year’s trend after the excellent but uncomfortably dreary Asylum. “Light,” in this context, referring to a premiere episode that sees the violent death of at least five people, several of which at the hands of a genuinely creepy clown who, if I’m not mistaken, wears the scalp of another man as a hat.

The action this year is set at the titular freak show, where Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars has gathered a family of misfit toys including the Siamese twins Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson), bearded lady Ethel (Kathy Bates) and her son Jimmy (Evan Peters) a man with fuzed fingers.

Struggling to make ends meet, Elsa turns to the sisters to save the show, but they bring with them a little bit of legal heat from the local police. Oh yeah, and there’s the murdering clown to deal with.

The computer effects on Paulson’s two-headed body are impressive for a television show, but not perfect. And Lange’s pseudo-German accent is certainly going to take some getting used to. But the period call backs (Lucky Strikes!) and a chance to actually see sunlight for a change suggest this year’s horror story may be the most fun of all.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

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Cristela

The Morning After used to do a bit about how the NBC *comedy* “Whitney” was actually a tragic drama when you removed the laugh track.

It was a funny bit and it came to mind while I was watching Cristela, in which *jokes* about spousal abuse, racism, body image, poverty and gender politics are drowned by a rogue wave of “HARDY-HAR-HAR-HAR” from some unseen collection of sad souls.

Cristela is centered around a Latina woman struggling to make it out from under a pile of student debt and general societal circumstance. She lives with her sister’s family (including a brother in law who jokes about poisoning Cristela if he was ever forced to marry her) and her mother, who can’t go 30 seconds without referencing her family’s third world roots and how lucky her ungrateful daughter are to have what they do.

It’s a show engineered to capture diverse audiences, much like NBC’s black-ish, except Cristela is too undercooked and narrowly-written for mass appeal and, at best, seems poised to capture the According to Jim role of being on television for years without anyone really noticing.

Grade: C+

Class: Kill and Bury

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