The Fall pilot season is not over – it lingers on well into Winter – but our sustained coverage at Antenna ends here with 47 shows reviewed. Partly as a coda, partly to change things up and have one person weigh in on several shows, and partly because my own blog is currently hacked and/or dead, I thought I’d give a round up of what I consider to be the best and worst. These aren’t group picks, just the choices of my own addled brain.
(and a quick disclaimer: I’ve not yet seen Casual [don’t have Hulu] or Blood and Oil [didn’t record], so they’re not included in consideration)
Best New Sitcom
The Grinder – Rob Lowe is excellent in this, bringing the best of his Parks and Rec performance, with both a great knack for comedy and a deft ability to hit touching moments within and through that comedy. It’s outlandish and over-the-top, but quite gloriously so. And, to compare to the other alliteratively paired FOX new sitcom starring an ageless 80s icon, The Grinder is smart enough not to rely upon Lowe as much as Grandfathered relies upon John Stamos, as Fred Savage holds the show together in many ways. It’s lightweight and has little of note to say about anything, but it’s very funny.
The Muppets – This is fun. It’s not brilliant, but it’s done well, the script is at times very crisp, I’m not wailing “think of the children!” just because there’s some adult humor, and the sub-genre at least pulls something different out of a set of characters that I love. Perhaps I’ll turn off in a week or four, but for now I’m happy to continue with the ride. Besides, Gonzo always deserved more comic action, and here he gets it.
The Carmichael Show – Loretta Devine bugs me, as she does on Doc McStuffins, but otherwise it’s a passable sitcom. I’d never seen Carmichael prior to the show, yet he is all types of comfortable in the genre. I fully plan to check back in on this one, but with such a tiny first season, it hardly encouraged me to do so till later.
Worst New Sitcom
Benders – I was happy to see my old neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens feature on television as something other than the location of a key witness on Law and Order, but that’s almost all I liked. It’s trying to be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and yet doesn’t pull it off. Weak performances make it feel like a bad script reading not even the final product, weak and telegraphed humor tries to be edgy but is too unoriginal to manage it, a weak concept holds over it all, and there’s not even any ice hockey in a show about an ice hockey team.
Dr. Ken – The stinkiness of the writing here is quite stunning at times. Sitcom pilots regularly stink but this one has so far to go to get anywhere half-decent. The jokes are the worst sort of dad jokes, making Two and a Half Men and According to Jim look proficient and positively witty by comparison. A real pity, especially since Albert Tsai ruled Trophy Wife and can do so, so much more than half-baked mime jokes.
Moonbeam City – Take Archer, modify it slightly for the 80s (but only slightly: visual and comic styles should remain), add comically gifted actors, and it should be alright, yeah? Nope. Very unfunny.
Best New Procedural
The Player – This show is really stupid, and makes no or negative sense half the time. But it’s a lot of fun and it’s never trying to be more than it is. I’ll need to be in the right mood to watch it, but if that mood calls for mindless, silly, yet high-paced action, it fits the bill. NBC out CBS’d CBS. Plus, all those silly elements (people running the world who like to bet on whether some random dude in Vegas will stop a predicted kidnapping or robbery? Whuh?) are silly enough to allow for a touch of camp, like a higher budget A-Team.
Blindspot – A rather gripping pilot that did a good job announcing itself as The Blacklist 2. The Blacklist doesn’t do it for me, and nor will this one, but it’s well-acted, tightly scripted, and once the woman is out of the bag (not a metaphor), it sets a good pace and isn’t as icky as I thought it would be. Not for me on a regular basis, but a step above the “No Thanks” category.
Worst New Procedural
Limitless – Matt Sienkiewicz’s review is really smart and deserves reading, much more than the show deserves watching alas. For me, it just couldn’t get its tone right, jolting between camp, serious, goofy, cool, grave, and frequently with music that jolted a different way. Not horrible, just not worth more time.
Rosewood – Morris Chestnut is good in this, but it’s paint-by-numbers. Granted, some other things I like are paint-by-numbers, too, but I don’t especially care for these numbers. You know those B- papers you read that are okay but don’t really try to do or say anything about anything? This is that. It doesn’t fail, it’s not bad – it just put so little effort into being anything other than adequate.
Public Morals – Just so boring. I guess it’s okay, but I couldn’t get far enough into it. Ed Burns may be one of the more boring people alive, so this show fits him, but after rewinding twice to watch a scene that I’d zoned out of, I realized it wasn’t my fault. (note: maybe it’s not a procedural and belongs in the serial category, which is why I gave the nod to Limitless here, but I’d need to watch more to work that out, and I just can’t).
Best New Serialized Drama
Fargo – A brief history of me and this show: I thought it immensely stupid to try and make the film into a television show, and I avoided it. Then Myles McNutt told me I really should watch Season One, for my class, so I did, and I was blown away. When my fellow Peabody Board members and I awarded it a Peabody, I was excited and proud. It’s a truly amazing season. So where could one go from there? Season Two is off to a superb start, again visually and aurally experimental for television, yet in different ways from Season One, again getting amazing performances from its cast (I saw better acting from Kirsten Dunst in a scene than in her career to date. Even Kieran Culkin rocks his scenes), again delighting with an unpredictable plot, and again an artful mix of gravity and levity. If you choose to watch only one of the new shows, make it this one.
Honorable mentions (though a big gap exists between the above and the below):
The Last Kingdom – Compelling television, this has been billed as BBC and BBC America’s attempt to do Game of Thrones with some historical stakes and referents. So it’s not the fantastical universe of GoT, but nor is it entirely trying to be the same thing. If anything, in fact, it’s BBC and BBC America trying to do The Vikings. And they’re doing it well for now. A decent mix of drama, action, and a tiny bit of history to make it feel like one is eating one’s cauliflower while watching men with unkempt beards bash swords and heads against each other.
Quantico – After the second episode, I already feel this one sliding down in my estimation, but it delivered a very impressive pilot, that packed about ten times as much in as its peers, and that balanced anti-terrorist intrigue and suspense with hot young people mating and dating. Grey’s Anatomy meets Homeland, we were told, but since both shows fell apart, I see the writing on the wall for this hybrid.
Worst New Serialized Drama
Bastard Executioner – I was bowled over by how bad the acting and writing were, such that twenty minutes in, I turned it off. It’s hard for me to comprehend that the same guy who wrote Sons of Anarchy penned this pile of medieval turd.
American Horror Story: Hotel – I don’t subscribe to the AHS Just Gets Worse script that so many others uphold, but this season just strikes me as a different type of horror altogether. I grew up reading and watching huge amounts of horror, but I simply can’t stomach torture porn, and this season is too gleefully going the way of AHS: Hostel. Its filming, editing, and cinematography are still beautiful and refreshingly inventive, but I just can’t watch. At least something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre built up to and earned its scenes of gore, whereas the pilot stumbles from death and bloodbath to death and bloodbath with only thirty seconds or so of setup each time.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Stalking is neither funny nor endearing, Hollywood. So I was overboard and swimming for dry land at the premise alone. Jenny Clark’s review made me consider turning around to swim back a little, but we only have so much time in our lives. Extra points docked for putting a “West Covina” earworm in my skull.
Best New Reality Show
I’ll Have What Phil’s Having – I really don’t like Exporting Raymond, seeing it as the Uncommon Grounds (see below) of documentaries about the media, and it led to me finding Phil Rosenthal as intensely annoying. But if we hit the mute button on Rosenthal, this is amazing food porn, filmed beautifully, and striking, for me, the right balance between travel show and food show. And Rosenthal’s not that bad – I appreciate how nothing grosses him out, and he’s not out to depict anywhere as a space of either mysterious exoticism or odd barbarism (so far?). I’ve watched two to date and enjoyed both quite a lot.
Suddenly Royal – my review is here. I expected nothing from it but was intrigued. Still, as much as I’ve meant to check back, I haven’t, and that probably says something. Passable, interesting, a cut above many others, and just such an interesting premise that makes it somewhat unique in a very paint-by-numbers genre, but ultimately nothing to write home about.
Worst New Reality Show
Uncommon Grounds – Todd Carmichael proves himself to be a jerk, but I thank him for providing me with a few clips to use next time I teach Othering, since his belittling commentary on Japan dominates a glorified informercial pilot. Many of the other shows that I disliked at least tried to do something and do it well for an audience that isn’t me, whereas this is lazy in every way, and the only people I could conceive of who’d want to watch this are in the “people who enjoy seeing other countries made fun of” demo, which may be large, but fuck them.
Bazillion Dollar Club – my review is here. When you find yourself rooting for everyone on a reality show, contestants and judges alike, to fail and fail abysmally, it’s kind of over, yeah?
Monica the Medium – my review is here. There’s just so much wrong with the person at the center of the show that I can’t stomach the idea of spending more time with her.
Best New Variety or Talk Show
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – my review is here. Noah’s still not done enough to suggest he’s up to the challenge of interviewing real political guests, which worries me, but with John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, South Park, and occasionally Bill Maher (when he’s not being a monumentally sexist, racist douchebag) doing some heavy-lifting on the satire front, The Daily Show doesn’t need to lead the pack any more, and there’s enough in it to amuse and impress me, so I can wait it out a bit longer.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – Sacrilege not to rate this higher? Look, it’s me – I just don’t like hour-long latenight talk shows that much: too much loud cheering, sketches that go on too long, a lot of guests that say the same thing. They all do it, and it’s great for some people (I don’t mean that to sound patronizing either: I’m just not one of them). Colbert’s better than many, and he’s using the new platform in some interesting and exciting ways, but I liked The Colbert Report better, so I’m still ambivalent about this one.
Worst New Variety or Talk Show
Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris – Blame me, since I’m not a fan of variety shows in general – or blame the show, as did Antenna’s reviewers. Either way, it’s clawing, contrived, and as much as I love NPH, that only made me want to conduct a rescue mission.
Fashionably Late with Rachel Zoe – I could be all kinds of snarky about this, and obviously I’m too old and fat to be part of its intended audience (which is why I take some mercy on it, and don’t let it win this category), but I haven’t seen another television host who is so clearly just reading cue cards. Heck, I’d settle for someone underlining the words Zoe could emphasize on those cue cards; Siri and xtranormal put more inflection into their speech than Zoe. It’s wooden, dry, slow, and lifeless.