What’s good in 2014?
In terms of series premieres, January is the new September. There are so many new shows this Winter season that it’s hard to know what to watch and what to avoid. I’ve done a little research to help you sort it out. Read on to see what I think about these new (and some old) shows.
Let’s start with the networks…
NBC is making quite a case for its new police drama and spin-off Chicago P.D. At first, I was skeptical about adding a spin-off to my list of regular shows, but once I got a look at the cast, I was sold. In the three episodes I watched, I became pretty invested in the characters and the show has built-in buy-in for the fans of the original Fire, but it doesn’t rely on the relationship too heavily, and I respect that. The cameos from Chicago Fire are obvious, but they don’t carry much significance to the storyline, so this show can, and will, exist in its own universe. The PD universe ups the ante on shocking scenes of violence and suspense. It might take some getting used to, seeing severed heads and exploding brains on network, primetime TV (and that was just in the pilot), but such is the world we live in, and PD has to compete with the likes of shows like Revolution and The Blacklist.
ABC debuted Killer Women last week to a tepid rating, but I think it shows promise. It’s not great in depth or gravitas, but it is a fun, sudsy, nighttime soap that features gorgeous folks, doing fun and exciting things. The camp is its strong suit, especially with lines like, “There’s a good chance we are gonna die in Mexico tonight.” Oy . If it could only relax and give into the the parody-as-premise, the audience could buy in even more — like its ancestor Desperate Housewives or the short-lived (and much underrated) GCB. The dynamic between the lead character, a female Texas Ranger, and the other, murderous women, is what Killer Women is getting right. This show is for women, produced by women (Sofia Vergara being among the executive producers) and allows them to enjoy it without being self-conscious about what it’s saying about women. I like that it’s not judging the female characters, and even allows Molly a sexual relationship with cutey Dan without any talk of commitment or baggage. Also, I think the treatment of the Latina character was done pretty well, and was respectful of the challenges of the culture and the region.
ABC has also scheduled Suburgatory as a midstart this season, and I hope it can find its niche here. This show is very well written, and the farce is immaculately balanced with a fair share of drama. It has not gotten the attention it deserves from viewers, although critics love it (This one included). It premiered last night as charming as ever; give it a chance. You can catch up on Netflix or Hulu. Do it, it’s worth it.
Fox has come out strong with the breakout star of the season: the workplace/military comedy Enlisted. This show is Private Benjamin meets the Bad News Bears meets Brooklyn 99 meets Modern Family. Enlisted is an updated comedy about three brothers, all serving in the United States Army, one of which is super-soldier, over-achiever Pete (played by Geoff Stults), while the other two brothers, Derrick and Randy (Chris Lowell and Parker Young, respectively) have their own *ahem* challenges.. While the premise sounds like it could venture into political commentary, or come off as disrespectful, it’s not condescending at all, nor does it make light of the circumstances that make this show a work-place comedy of sorts. Enlisted is more a show about its individual parts than it is about the whole.
Also debuting this season is the lawyer show, Rake, starring Greg Kinnear. Bordering on a procedural legal drama, Rake shows Kee taking on one hopeless case a week, becoming more and more bizarre and unwinnable as they go along (the pilot features a suicide/cannibal storyline that was far-fetched, to say the least). Each week we are meant to see Kee, an underappreciated, misunderstood underdog himself, represent the dregs of society and prove to the audience that no one is beyond redemption. It is a very thinly veiled metaphor for Kee’s personal life that is in such dysfunctional disarray that almost 80% of the show is cringe-inducing (imaging Kinnear playing a character that gets punched by a friendly bookie, develops an unhealthy crush on a prostitute, and receives free counseling from his ex-wife). It is hard to watch, and not always in a good way.
PBS is back with season four of Downton Abbey and the premiere was the highest rated show in the network’s history. Picking up a bleak six months after the saddest thing that has ever happened — referencing Matthew’s death, duh — not much has transpired Upstairs since we left the Granthams. That doesn’t mean the two hours didn’t entertain and offer some good, old-fashioned, restrained, English entertainment
And then there’s cable…
As if we even have to say it, HBO is the juggernaut this season. This week saw the premieres of Girls to much critical attention and the debut of crime drama True Detective starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConnaughey. It’s brilliant. The end. But seriously, this show is amazing… and I’ve only seen one episode. Number two is coming this week, and I am currently standing by the mailbox waiting. Executive produced by and starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConnaughey (who is having an INCREDIBLE year, by the way), this show is a murder mystery in which the investigation of a bizarre murder in 1995 is framed and interlaced with testimony from Detectives Martin Hart (Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (McConnaughey) in 2012, when the case has been reopened. While this may sound like every other new crime drama out this year, it’s not. True Detective has a methodical pacing that hypnotizes you like a metronome, yet some of its most critical and important plot points are evasive and cryptic as hell. It’s a remarkable combination that feels immaculate and organic all at once. The first episode, The Long Bright Dark, splits it time between 1995, when the original crime occurred, and 2012 in which the detectives are much older and reflective about their time on the case. The foreboding is palpable as both detectives are interviewed by detectives investigating a new crime, seemingly related to the case they worked seventeen years earlier.
TBS is evolving into a reliable source of good programming (if you’ll excuse the Cougartown slump, and watch it anyway, I think you’ll agree it’s still a good show). The workplace comedy Ground Floor was a funny and sharp addition to the lineup (you can and should catch up on episodes on tbs.com) and fits in nicely with its silly first cousin Men at Work. This show follows the lives of four single men with various neuroses and emotional baggage and makes us laugh at them every week. Its light fare and I enjoy the twenty minutes I spend with it every week – including the silly, yet endearing season premiere that aired last night.
If TV movies are your thing, you are in luck with Lifetime’s winter line up. There are three big ones on my radar that might be of interest. Don’t bother with Flowers in the Attic. While the premise is dark enough, the execution is cartoonish and ham-fisted. The actors act around each other like wooden robots, and all the emotion and humanity is just so obvious. There is very little psychology in the this once-psychological thriller, and what could have been a deeply disturbing, haunting reboot of a classic turned into Lifetime bludgeoning us over the head with the AWFULNESS of it. We get it: its gross and weird and terrible Stop telling us and SHOW US (also something I tell my students). The
characters are painted with such a broad brush that it seemed like it was the first time any of the actors were reading the script. I had to fight the urge to surf the internet while I watched because there was very little that was intriguing about this movie, except for Ellen Burstyn’s wig.
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, starring Christina Ricci is showing great promise. I’ll have to get back to you guys with the reviews for it; I haven’t quite seen it yet – stay tuned.
What did I miss? Tweet me @sroseholt with what I should be watching this winter (but since I have an incredibly unhealthy addiction to television, I probably already am watching it). I am always taking suggestions.