Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Fall 2010 New TV Series Capsule Reviews

As a lifelong TV junkie, I always feel an obligation to check out every fall television series. I skipped a few this year – Outlaw, because of its bad reviews and absurd premise (supreme court justice decides he can do more good in private practice), S#*! My Dad Says, because William Shatner is a joke and the commercials looked awful, and My Generation, which also looked painful from the commercials. But I saw at least part of an episode of everything else, and here’s what I thought.

Raising Hope

Premise: Young guy raises a baby.

Review: When I saw the commercials about a young doofusy guy raising a baby, I thought, there is a show I don’t need to see. Then I heard it had been created by the guy who created My Name is Earl, so I had to check it out after all. Like Earl, Raising Hope deals with poor people living in the margins who happen to all be really interesting, good-hearted characters. Also like Earl, the show is riotously funny.

Will I keep watching it? Absolutely

Follow-up: Still very funny. I showed an episode to my girlfriend and now she insists I keep the episodes for us to watch together on weekends.

Running Wilde

Premise: Spoiled millionaire woos do-gooder.

Review: Running Wilde was co-created by Michael Hurwitz, who made the brilliant Arrested Development, so of course I had to watch it even though the commercials were pretty dumb. Its opposite-attracts formula, in which a snarky millionaire still has a crush on a long-time love who is repelled by everything about him but still can’t resist him, is kept going by a lot of very clever humor, and while it’s not quite as good as Arrested Development, it’s definitely one of the better sitcoms this fall.

Will I keep watching it? Absolutely.

Follow-up: Still lots of fun.

The Event

Premise: Government conspiracy. Kidnappings. Aliens. That sort of thing.

Review: Interesting attempt at a Lost-style collection of mysteries each wrapped in their own enigma. Like Lost, The Event uses a lot of flashbacks, but they are shorter, hop around more in time and are used less to explain character and more to explain what is going on. So something will happen, and then you’ll have a flashback from a week earlier, and then that might go to a flashback a year ago, and eventually you wind up back in the present with a slightly better idea of what is going on. So far I’ve seen two episodes and while it’s not as good as Lost was in the beginning, it’s better than shows like FlashForward and The Nine that attempted the same sort of high-concept mystery but wound up creating more boredom than intrigue.

Will I keep watching it? Yes.

Follow-up: So far this has kept up my interest and left me curious and wanting more.

Mike & Molly

Premise: Ordinary people fall in love.

Review: This looked cute and funny from the commercials and turned out to be just that. It’s simply about two people beginning a relationship, and I’m going to assume they will just follow that straight through, with the two characters, who met at an OA meeting, getting to know each other, falling in love, getting in tiffs, and, if the show lasts long enough, getting married, having a baby and eventually (since the show is nice with a capital “N”) dying and going to heaven.

Will I keep watching it? Absolutely

Follow-up: This episode and the next one I saw were both quite funny. Then the two after that were unwatchable. Then I got around to watching the pilot episode, which was also terrible. It's a shame, because when it worked, it was good, but it's way too hit or miss, so I've stopped watching.

Chase

Premise: Lady chases down bad guys.

Review: Watched about 10 minutes of this, which mainly involved good guys running after bad guys. It didn’t grab me.

Will I keep watching it? Nope

Hawaii Five-O

Premise: Hawaiian cops or something.

Review: I’m old enough to remember the original Hawaii Five-O, and its success always puzzled me. It was just this square-jawed cops capturing generic bad guys sort of thing. I watched maybe 10 minutes of the first episode of this revival, which gives the main character a little macho back story but which looks to be similar in tone to the original, and then I turned it off.

Will I keep watching it? Of course not.

Hellcats (HS cheerleaders)

Premise: Girl who despises cheerleaders becomes one to win a scholarship.

Review: Hellcats is a real mixed bag. The actors are good and some of the dialogue is sharp and witty, but at other times the first episode was almost unbelievably moronic. For example, the protagonist tries out to be a cheerleader and completely screws up the choreography, instead just winging it. But the coach gets excited by her brilliant dancing and insists that all the cheerleaders start winging it. Seriously? I turned it off before the end; even the pretty girls in half-shirts weren’t doing it for me, as they all seemed oddly sexless. I could also do without the super-bitch who always has to be a part of these soapish shows.

Will I keep watching it? Nope.

Terriers

Premise: Slacker detectives.

Review: I watched a little of this. It looked like it was trying for a Big Lebowski vibe. Honestly, I’m one of the few people who didn’t love Lebowski, so this show would have had to be much better than it was to keep me watching.

Will I keep watching it? No.

Nikita

Premise: Ex-assassin/spy decides to destroy her former employer.

Review: This is an interesting way to revisit Nikita, the protagonist of two movies and a previous TV series, all of which involved her being forced to work as an assassin for a secret and often evil government organization. This time around, she has escaped the agency and is bent on ending its bloody career. The most interesting aspect of the pilot was the way she played cat and mouse with the agency. It was absurd but entertaining.

Will I keep watching it? After the first time I saw it I thought I would probably watch it again, but then when it came on a second time I just didn’t feel like it. For me it’s really borderline, so unless I hear really good things I probably will let it go its merry way without me.

Boardwalk Empire

Premise: Mobsters rule Atlantic City.

Review: Created by Martin Scorcese and starring Steve Buscemi, there is no way I was not going to check out Boardwalk Empire. The first episode was very good. I didn’t feel it was quite great, but it could easily become great. It’s certainly very interesting.

Will I keep watching it? Yes, unless my girlfriend cancels her subscription to HBO.

Follow-up: This one keeps getting better and better.

Detroit 1-8-7

Premise: Cop show

Review: I saw the first episode, and I liked it. I remember thinking it was a solid, entertaining show that had just enough originality in it to make it worth watching some more. But outside of that, I can’t remember a damn thing about it. Nothing.

(While watching another episode, I suddenly remembered something from the first episode, a scene in which a cop interrogates a suspect by simply staring at him blankly. The suspect gets nervous, starts talking, keeps talking, and hours later is telling the guy his entire life story and breaking down in tears. That's the sort of thing that makes this seem appealing.)

Will I keep watching it? I will, at least for now.

Follow-up: The more episodes I watched, the more generic this show seemed, with the interesting, quirky moments getting less frequent and less interesting. I stopped watching.

Better With You

Premise: Three couples, all related, get in situations and tell jokes

Review: Like Detroit 1-8-7, I can't for the life of me remember anything from this show unless I'm watching it. Part of that is just the painfully generic title. The show involves a couple who have been married 35 years and their daughters, one who has been with her boyfriend for 9 years and the other who has just got engaged to a guy she's known a couple of months, and it contrasts these relationships, which fall broadly into the categories blissful lust, deep understanding and loathing. It's generally funny, but by tomorrow I'll have forgotten what it's about again.

Will I keep watching it? Sure, why not.

Follow-up: In spite of being best described as generically funny, this one has been pretty consistently funny. It's pretty much the reaction I had to Friends when I first saw it, and like Friends, it grows on you.

The Whole Truth

Premise: Lawyers duke it out, then at the end of the show the truth of the case is revealed.

Review: Generic lawyer show aims for a Law & Order feel but doesn't really get it. The show goes back and forth between the prosecutors and defense, showing how they deal with evidence and investigate. Through the verdict you don't, in theory, know whether the person on trail is guilty. Unfortunately, in the first episode it seemed pretty obvious, making the final reveal anticlimactic. The first episode also wound up with justice being served, and it all seemed pretty gutless for a premiere that should have shown the audience why this show was a good idea.

Will I keep watching it? Pass

Follow-up: Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has been canceled already.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret

Premise: Guy gets a job he’s not qualified for and just gets in deeper and deeper.

Review: Weird, twisted show starring David Cross as a schlub who accidentally gets a high pressured job in England and has already started melting down in the first episode. Each episode, I have heard, takes place the day after the previous episode, and the show is working towards a moment seen at the beginning of the first episode in which Cross is apparently being tried for a crime.

Will I keep watching it? Wouldn’t miss any of this for the world.

Follow-up: Still awesome

Outsourced

Premise: American runs a call center in India.

Review: Apparently some Indians are a bit irked about this show’s reliance on hackneyed Indian themes like sacred cows and spicy food. I can understand how annoying that would be if you’re Indian, but if you’re not it’s more likely to bother you simply because it’s such lazy comedy. But in spite of that, I kind of liked the show. Half of it is pretty dumb, but there are moments, like a girl who speaks in an inaudible whisper acting out a scene from a movie (it’s unclear which movie, but my guess is Taxi Driver) then proudly waiting for applause or an Indian who has studied America suddenly switching to a perfect southern accent that are actually pretty funny.

Will I keep watching it? For now.

Follow-up: This show has proven to be very likable. Yes, you could have a drinking game involving taking a drink every time some India stereotype is tossed out, but it's funny and well meant.

Blue Bloods

Premise: Family of cops.

Review: This glossy series about New York cops was somewhat rousing when it started off with Sinatra singing “New York New York” but lost steam once the actors started speaking (in what sounded to me like a Boston accent, but was perhaps a Queens or Staten Island accent, for all I know). First off, the show is very, very generic; I dare you to find anything in it you haven’t seen in 30 other cop shows. The series opener also had a rather murky and tedious approach to morality. One of the main characters tortures a criminal in one of those “ticking bomb” scenarios television is so fond of. Later the whole family sits around and debates whether it was the right thing to do, while carefully avoiding coming to any conclusions. This debating is admittedly less generic than the rest of the show, but not any more interesting.

Will I keep watching it? Hell no.

No Ordinary Family

Premise: Dysfunctional family develops superhuman abilities.

Review: Family almost dies but become superheroes instead. The show is a mix of superhero stuff and family stuff. The family is mildly dysfunctional (like most families) but everyone acts like it’s a huge crisis. The parents are a bit bored of each other. Will being superheroes fix the family? I don’t really care, but it’s fun to watch them run fast or read minds. If the dysfunctional-family theme doesn’t push the superhero theme out the window this show could be pretty cute.

Will I keep watching it? For now, yes.

Follow-up: I watched this for a few weeks, but as I feared, the family stuff overshadowed the superhero stuff, making the whole thing more of a soap opera than an action series. Which would be fine if the family drama were actually interesting and the characters weren't like those from a million other shows.

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