The Freshmen shows I’m Sticking with For Now

Yes this TV season is the least exciting in some time but there are a handful of shows that after 3 episodes (roughly) have made an impression on me and become part of my regular viewing (for now) :

TERRIERS – (5 episodes aired) – This is easily the most distinctive new show of the Fall. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James have transferred their real friendship to the small screen in a show essentially about a private eye team. But that really doesn’t convey what the show is. Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin have created a unique world that melds a procedural with more serial elements while at the same time fleshing out the characters and their backstories. Uniquely compelling, the tone and structure change from week to week. Definitely the best this Fall TV season has to offer.

BLUE BLOODS – My favorite new CBS drama and the only one that I returned to after the pilot. Admittedly, I am  not a fan of standard procedurals. Some of them are very well made, many on CBS are, in fact. They just don’t hold my interest. One of my favorite dramas of last year, THE GOOD WIFE, managed to transcend the usual CBS drama – it balanced the procedural with a more character driven story. This show seems to do the same. It balances a police procedural with a family drama. The family is made up of 3 generations of law enforcement officers with an all star cast led by Tom Selleck. In a weird way the family dinner scenes remind me a lot of BROTHERS & SISTERS first season where political issues would surface as a result of Kitty’s career. Here too, issues of law and ethics get discussed brought about through the case of the week. The Reagans are almost an East Coast, blue collar version of the Walkers. The cast is perfect, but the highlight for me is Donnie Wahlberg who has been doing stellar work for years and may have finally found the role that will give him steady employment for awhile. He deserves it.

MIKE & MOLLY – There are still kinks to work out here. Swoosie Kurtz is a fantastic actress, but her part here as Molly’s mother is poorly written IMHO. I don’t enjoy the sister role either. But the leading roles of MIKE & MOLLY, I think are great. Lots of people have talked about how this show is all fat jokes. To me, it’s a sweet love story about 2 regular people who bond over their weight issues but find they have lots more in common beyond that. What’s even more special is, the two leads, Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy have done such great supporting work for years and are now getting a chance to really shine. It’s a comedy but they both bring a sense of years of hurt and there is an undercurrent of poignancy in their coming together. They are both so believable as 40 plus, tenderhearted people who may have just made the connection they have both yearned for. I also quite enjoy Reno Wilson as Mike’s partner. So I love the leads and their story and one of the supporting players. I think that’s a great start. That the three I just mentioned seem so real makes Molly’s mom and sister seem even more like caricatures (and not funny ones) . I’d love to see them written better. That being said, this has been my favorite new comedy so far.

DETROIT 1-8-7 – As I have said before, the cast is great. I did enjoy the original pilot a bit more and after the 2nd episode it seemed the show would be more procedural than not. But this week’s 3rd episode was my favorite so far. There were still procedural elements but there were character reveals throughout. One of the cases didn’t wrap up tidily and makes me think there might be some big villain for Fitch to battle with over future episodes. The last sequence with Michael Imperoli’s Louis Fitch was so compelling and hinted at something very interesting with his backstory. This episode’s director Stephen Cragg did some really interesting camera work. I also love the way they are really making Detroit a part of the story on screen and in dialogue. The Motown classics add a nice element and I especially loved the closing shot of this episode scored with one of Stevie Wonder’s best, “Livin For The City”. I am actually really intrigued to see the next episode.

UPDATE: I have just seen this Tuesdays 4th episode (5th produced) that ABC made available. I am really liking this show. They are really adding a lot more personal/character touches to the procedural elements especially around Michael Imperiloi’s character, After 4 eps I can honestly say this is reminding me more and more of NYPD BLUE and that is a huge compliment. What I am also realizing is this is a really poor fit after DWTS ( and I wonder if that is part of what the big drop in ratings can be attributed to). In addition to being more male skewing, this show is dark (I think this week is the darkest so far), where DWTS is sunny and light. CASTLE fits perfectly out of DWTS – it’s female skewing, romantic,  and light. I wonder if ABC might honestly try to flip DWTS and NOF in a few weeks to give the night a better flow.

RAISING HOPE – I am not as in love with this as many of the critics are, but I like it. At times the show feels like it’s very much MY NAME IS EARL with different characters. But I love Martha Plimpton and she’s wonderful in this. Garret Dillahunt is also a lot of fun and in a very different role for him. Overall a funny and sweet show and after 3 episodes one that I can see growing into something special.

NIKITA – (5 episodes aired) – A very well made 3rd incarnation of LA FEMME NIKITA. Maggie Q is quite compelling as is the whole cast. On a certain level it feels very reminiscent of ALIAS (and many other shows) right down to the whole conceit of “I am gonna bring down the guys I was working for that I thought were the good guys”.  My main complaint is that if you’re gonna emulate ALIAS, don’t forget that it was also a fun show. This is very dark. The look is dark, the tone is dark, the storylines are DARK. It wouldn’t hurt if someone cracked a smile, or gasp, even laughed. A show like this could (and probably should) contain some lightness in addition to the seriousness. I think the show would benefit by doing that.

THE EVENT – Do I think this show is unique? No. Do I think it’s great? No. The biggest surprise in the second episode for me was that after aping LOST and 24 in the pilot, the producers decided to rip off V as well. My biggest complaint is there are no real characters here, just archetypes. This show is all questions and thus far there’s no real meat to the story. The positive: One thing this show does better than FLASH FORWARD is that they got a charismatic, compelling lead in Jason Ritter.  But on a certain level it honestly feels like someone said “hmm there’s no more big serial mystery shows on. Let’s do one and make it an amalgam of all the shows people love”. So why am I still watching it? Well it’s not boring and the 24 showrunners that have assumed control do know how to produce compelling drama (although, we know you’re ripping off 24 already, do you have to use the same font?)  Could I conceivably quit this show after next week? Yes. But my expectations are very low, so as long as it doesn’t bore me , I am in… for now.

NO ORDINARY FAMILY – It’s not really fair for me to include this as it has only aired 2 episodes. I liked the pilot a lot. I was kind of worried about what the second episode would bring because like FLASH FORWARD, THE NINE and other high concept shows that had great pilots, their 2nd episodes were a step down. This is precisely why I am including it here. The 2nd episode was terrific. It continued what was set up in the pilot perfectly. Sometimes on TV the pilot establishes a far fetched concept and the 2nd episode takes for granted that the audience bought it and speeds up elements. It can sometimes feel like we missed a bunch of steps in order for the creators to push through story. If a regular family all of sudden was given these special powers you wouldn’t expect them to have adapted to them in a week. The show took great pains to establish the insecurities and the fear that any person would feel (for a while) after being bestowed with these gifts. I also liked the way the show really concentrated on the interpersonal relationships, mostly with Jim and Stephanie but even with Jim and George. The sequence with Jim indirectly hurting George by reminding him he doesn’t have a family and then later when George came over to smooth it over and Jim told him he does have a family, “this one”, was sweet and seemed real. Once again, I just like these people. I also was impressed very much with some of the effects and there is feature film look to it. The final act was a compelling sequence that had a great cliffhanger. Some people have said they think the family stuff is the weakest part. I disagree, I think it’s what makes the show unique and when they do a dark, cliffhanger like they did this week, it helps make it stand out more. Oh and going back to what I said about NIKITA, the show is fun. The producers are doing a great job of balancing the family element with serious drama, comedy and fun scenes like Stephanie hiking all the way to Arizona in minutes to pick up a package and then having her consume a whole batch of muffins in order to replenish. I appreciated that attention to detail. Like I said, the show is just fun. Hope it continues.

*As a fan and student of the medium there are other shows I’m still watching like OUTSOURCED, UNDERCOVERS, SHIT MY DAD SAYS (although havent watched ep 3 yet) but I feel I’m watching them to just to stay in line with the biz and not because I am completely enjoying them, althought truthfully, OUTSOURCED, really isn’t that bad.

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