Author’s note: This list would have been in earlier and been more comprehensive if not for an illness and a computer breakdown. Please accept the slightly shorter list.
Spring 2010 marked something of an oasis’ end for me, TV-wise. “Flashforward” fizzled, then was canceled. “V’s” acting, writing and production values all steadily declined. “Lost” was canceled (perhaps mercifully, after its terrible final season), and “Archer” and “Parks and Recreation,” two of the season’s funniest shows, have been relegated to mid-season debuts.
What was I left with coming into this fall? Well, I had the fabulous “30 Rock,” as well as a rotation of shows that I watched semi-frequently due to their declining quality, chief among them “The Office” and “Family Guy.” I decided it was time to go show hunting.
What you see here is a compendium of the shows I watched over the first week of the network fall TV season. Some are old, most are new. Some are good, and others are bad. I picked them based on how much they interested me or how much I expected to hate them. How many will I continue to watch? That remains to be seen.
Please note: minor pilot spoilers will follow. All times are EDT.
Time slot: 9 to 10 on Mondays
Genre: Sci-fi thriller
“The Event” was scheduled to be one of the bigger debuts this year, as it benefited from a vague, “Flashforward”-like marketing campaign over the summer. It centers around an out-of-his-element young man (Jason Ritter) whose girlfriend has been kidnapped for reasons unknown. Much of the action takes place onboard a plane piloted by the girlfriend’s dad. He appears to try to crash the plane into a building where the U.S. President is located, also for reasons unknown.
Just before he does, what appears to be the titular “event” happens.
This show looks to be promising, with its relatively-likable cast, non-linear storytelling and tight pacing. However, I’m not sure if I’m ready to embrace the mystical and/or sci-fi events of the pilot’s final moments. Audiences have just finished six long years of “Lost.” I’m not sure we’re ready for another one.
Best part: Blair Underwood acts well as President Elias Martinez.
Worst part: They’ll have to be cautious to avoid looking too “Lost”-ish going forward.
Time slot: 10 to 11 on Mondays
The premise of “Chase” is as simple as its title: U.S. Marshals chase down wanted criminals. Unfortunately, the title and the premise aren’t the only things that are simplistic.
The dialogue sounds as if it was written by a bitter reject from “The Fugitive,” and the acting is also nothing to write home about. Nor was the case the marshals work on anything unique. I don’t think this one’s gonna make it.
Best part: Not a lot of highlights here.
Worst part: Bad acting and writing sink this show.
Time slot: 10 to 11 on Mondays
Genre: Cop show… in Hawaii!
“Hawaii Five-0” was one of the week’s biggest surprises for me. While lead Alex O’Loughlin was a little wooden in the series premiere of the 70’s remake, Scott Caan more than picked up the slack as the witty sidekick Danno. There was plenty of action in the first episode, and the writers surprisingly mixed in an ample dose of humor, too.
I am curious to see where the show will go, however. The first episode makes it look like there will be an ongoing storyline, but the impetus for the stars to form their special police squad is dead by the end of the 40 minutes. Will there be more counterterrorism cases, or will the team simply continue to exist as the harsher side of the law?
Best part: Scott Caan and a likable ensemble, including “Lost’s” Daniel Dae Kim.
Worst part: O’Loughlin needs to pick up the pace. With a show like this, the main character can’t be completely serious.
Time slot: 9 to 9:30 on Tuesdays
There are a few times when “Raising Hope’s” jokes hit. It’s not generally a very clever show, and it’s not one with the greatest performances, but there were a few times where I caught myself chuckling.
One problem with this show is that I don’t see it getting any more interesting than its premise: a guy in his late teens or early 20s who fathers a girl in a one-night stand is suddenly forced to care for the child after the mother is executed for being a serial killer. I mean, where do you go from there?
Best part: The writing, while not always funny, is very quick, so something different is always happening.
Worst part: While most of the characterizations leave something to be desired, the senile grandmother who forgets to wear a shirt is definitely the worst.
Time slot: 9:30 to 10 on Tuesdays
Genre: “Arrested Development’s” Mitch Hurwitz’s latest attempt to re-catch lightning in a bottle
That rather snide description notwithstanding, I quite liked “Running Wilde.” Sure, Will Arnett is basically playing a slightly more grounded Gob in this comedy about the romantic pairing of a poor goody two-shoes and a rich spoiled brat, but I don’t really care. I like Gob, and Arnett is good at playing him.
Let’s face it. This show, and probably every other show until the end of TV (except maybe “30 Rock”), will never be as funny or as clever as “Arrested Development,” the involvement of Arnett, Hurwitz and David “Tobias” Cross notwithstanding. Still, it is suitably quirky and fast paced, and Arnett is certainly in his element. I’ll keep watching.
Best part: “And that’s when dad bought me my first speedboat!”
Worst part: Mitch, take a clue from your terrible “Sit Down, Shut Up”: you can’t go making “AD” jokes again until your show is legitimately hailed as good.
Time slot: 8 to 9 on Wednesdays
Genre: A family spy actioner with ample doses of humor. Think a cross between “Alias” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”
I had mixed feelings about how I wanted to feel about this show. On the one hand, creator J.J. Abrams was responsible for “Alias,” one of my favorite TV shows. On the other hand, trailers for this show, about a married couple of former spies coming out of retirement, made it look almost exactly like “Alias: Five Years Later,” if such a show had ever existed.
Watching the entire episode does little to shake the feeling, but I ended up relatively enjoying it anyway. The action is taut, and Ben Schwartz’s turn as an adoring agent who has studied the husband’s moves is quite funny. I’m not sure if it has the legs to keep me interested, however.
Best part: Schwartz’s highly unprofessional agent is very good.
Worst part: It’s too familiar, and plus, it’s a J.J. Abrams show! Where was Greg Grunberg?
The Whole Truth
Time slot: 10 to 11 on Wednesdays
Genre: Law drama with a twist
“The Whole Truth” is your typical lawyer show: you’ve got the new guys, the high-flying legal aces, the grounded ones, etc. The show wouldn’t stand out a bit if not for its (very effective) gimmick: it flips back and forth between the perspectives of the lawyers on the defense and the prosecution.
This is interesting for two reasons: one, it makes it so you’re not sure who will emerge victorious in a given case, and two, it makes both lawyers seem less concerned about who’s right and more concerned about who wins. Sure, it’s cynical, but it’s an often accurate view on professional life: it’s all about how you play the game.
Best part: Besides the premise, the flamboyant defense attorney played by Rob Morrow is fun to see in action.
Worst part: For all of its good, “The Whole Truth” remains a lawyer show. Haven’t there been enough of these?
$#*! My Dad Says
Time slot: 8:30 to 9 on Thursdays
Genre: The world’s first Twitter-based sitcom
I didn’t expect this to be good, but I had to watch anyway. After all, William Shatner plays the lead, and it was based on a Twitter account. There are exactly zero other shows on TV that can make anything even remotely close to that boast.
That said, my expectations were met. Dismally. Shatner has his moments but the other three characters (his sons and a daughter-in-law) who appear are sappy and horribly-acted. ‘Nuff said.
Best part: “Why can’t anyone do a good impression of me?”
Worst part: Jonathan Sadowski’s Henry is bad, bad, baaad.
Time slot: 8:30 to 9 on Thursdays
Genre: Reflexive satire of TV shows
Season Five of what is currently the best show on TV didn’t start out as swimmingly as the show’s best moments, but there were still good times to be had. As usual, the bulk of the show’s best humor was provided by the snappy dialogue between Alec Baldwin’s Jack and show creator Tina Fey’s Liz. Hearing those two snap at each other is like listening to beautiful, bitter music.
Matt Damon continues his Season Four finale cameo into this episode, entitled “The Fabian Strategy,” and while he’s not as funny as he was last season, he’s still pretty good. I’m curious to see where this season will lead, as it has more continuing storylines than any other so far.
Best part: All of the wonderful Liz/Jack exchanges, among them: “A middle-aged woman saying ‘Dude stuff.’ Is that on my sadness scavenger hunt?”
Worst part: The Pete/Jenna storyline was a bit boring at times.
Time slot: 9 to 9:30 on Thursdays
I liked “Nepotism,” this season’s premiere episode of “The Office,” a lot more than I thought I would. Though the show has had its moments over the last three years, I’m of the mind that the show’s first three seasons were the only ones in which the show’s brilliance approached anything close to consistency.
Like all of “The Office’s” best episodes, this one focuses on the dim-witted Michael, still played well by Steve Carell into Season Seven. While this story of Michael hiring his nephew is not one of the show’s greatest achievements, it’s been a long time since I laughed harder at “The Office” than I did at “30 Rock.”
Best part: “There are many different schools of thought on capital punishment.”
Worst part: The show remains, as it has since Season Four, too in love with itself.
Time slot: 9:30 to 10 on Thursdays
Genre: Outsourcing sendup
“Outsourced” competes only with “Bleep My Dad Says” for the worst show I watched this week. The cast is nothing special, the premise (Haha! Cultural confusion) is both overused and underutilized, and the Indian stereotypes! Let’s not forget about the Indian stereotypes!
The show is about an American who travels to an American-owned call center in India to teach the employees the ways of American novelties. The show itself is about as funny as most novelties the call center sells: in other words, it’s not. Dump on a healthy dose of fly-over state hate and a surprising “aw, aint Indians dumb and naive” slant, and you have a show that will hopefully get canceled soon and replaced by “Parks and Recreation.”
Best part: Um…
Worst part: Besides the Indian-bashing, shouldn’t the show take place at night?
The Cleveland Show
Time slot: 8:30 to 9 on Sundays
Genre: Animated comedy
I was a little surprised that this lackluster “Family Guy” spin-off made it to Season Two. I watched it as kind of an afterthought, but I’m glad I did. It was actually pretty clever.
The story of this episode revolved around Cleveland trying to get local rapper Kenny West (voiced by Kanye West) to settle down and lead a normal life. While it wasn’t anything approaching high comedy, I was amused, particularly by the shots taken both at West and (oddly enough) Barack Obama (until the end, when Barry himself shows up to lay down some smackdowns).
Best part: Cleveland’s weird rivalry with former classmate Obama, culminating in his Kanye-inspired dig at the president on live TV.
Worst part: The show still hasn’t managed to produce a half hour even remotely as funny as “Family Guy’s” best.
Time slot: 9 to 9:30 on Sundays
Genre: Animated comedy
Last year was one of the worst for Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy,” but the most off-color man on network TV started to make up for his Season eight missteps with this year’s opener, “And Then There Were Fewer.”
One of MacFarlane’s best comedy weapons is his familiarity with and accurate portrayal of genre tropes, and that talent is out in full force with this murder mystery. The special hour-long episode is a little lacking in the jokes, but the meta-joke of the setting almost makes up for it. I’ll continue watching for now, especially since next week’s episode features voice work by Rush Limbaugh. Nice!
Best part: Peter’s awe at Derek’s Hollywood-sign-lifting prowess was pretty great.
Worst part: Not enough jokes. Also, is this canon? Because a lot of recurring characters end up dead or incarcerated.
That’s all I got, folks. What about you? What did you watch last week, and what did you think?
Photo Credits – www.collider.com, www.leadcastingcall.com, www.tvworthwatching.com, tvbythenumbers.com, www.csmonitor.com