I have a television problem. I’ll admit it, and thus the four weeks in the fall where old series return and all of the new ones premiere are like my own personal Christmas. I find myself irritated at the way many reviews are written – as though there is only one scale of what is “good” television. I like a lot of crap, and watch a lot of things that are “bad” TV, but well done. This is my attempt to tell you what I thought, and whether or not you would like it if you like what they are trying to achieve. So, Round One – New TV Dramas that have premiered so far!
Hostages – CBS – Drama – Mondays I think Toni Collette is a genius, and Dylan McDermott has done great work across American Horror Story and Dark Blue, so I was excited for this one, and I loved this premiere. McDermott is an FBI hostage negotiator, introduced as a bad boy who succeeds – killing a hostage taker based on the shoes he was wearing, so he’s a bad ass. Collette is a successful surgeon introduced at a press conference explaining the routine surgery she will be performing on the President. The pair collide almost immediately as McDermott proves to be the leader of a team that takes Collette’s family hostage and informs her she must kill the President during the surgery. Complications abound. Collette’s husband, played by Tate Donovan – hopefully in full Damages mode, is having an affair, their daughter is pregnant and their son is dealing drugs and owes a lot of money. Oh, and McDermott is being directed by no less than the Vice-President. Obviously it’s going to get weird, as Collette manages to delay the surgery for two weeks at the end of the pilot. The 15 episode limited series will undoubtedly show all of the madness that occurs during those two weeks. A smart start, an interesting premise and centered by two perfectly cast stars. Will I watch: No matter where it goes. Should You Watch: Conspiracies, subterfuge, action and intense stakes escalation, what’s more to want from action TV! It’s likely to feel like a slightly less real time 24.
Sleepy Hollow – Fox – Drama – Mondays Continuing to ride the train of all things supernatural, Sleepy Hollow plays like a companion piece to Grimm. The basic story of Crane and the Headless Horseman is well known, but here it is spun off into a completely different direction to bring it into the modern era courtesy of witchcraft. The narrative now includes two opposing covens of witches during the revolutionary war attempting to bring on or thwart the arrival of the apocalypse as the Horseman is actually one of the famous Four Horseman whose arrival signals the end of the world. Sleepy Hollow has apparently been a hot bed of unexplained activity. The heart of the show is the odd couple pairing of British history professor turned revolutionary spy Crane and the tough as nails African-American female lieutenant who decides he might not be completely crazy since she had her own formative experience with the unexplainable. The success of the show will likely depend on where the tone finally lands. Everyone reacts entirely too calmly to the Horseman in most cases and modernity in Crane’s, signaling a willingness to be cheeky and fun. It’s amusing horror at moments. I can only imagine the furor when some conservatives realize a coven of good witches is trying to stop the Apocalypse from coming – since doesn’t that also stop Jesus from returning as well? The two leads have good chemistry, though it seems it’s going to be rather “freak of the week” story telling with the Horseman returning only in sweeps weeks and important finales. Will I watch: Depending on what else shakes out on Mondays, yes. Should you watch: If Grimm Law and Order: Sleepy Hollow sounds like an appealing show.
The Blacklist – Drama – NBC – Monday This really could be called, watch James Spader be James Spader. The premise is actually kind of simple. Spader is an unscrupulous international criminal who turns himself into the FBI and offers to help ferret out the terrible people of the world in exchange for only interacting with a female FBI agent having her first day on the job as a profiler. All we really know at this point is nothing is as it seems. She’s married to a regular guy, or is she? She’s just a girl in the FBI with a sad boring past, or is she? Spader’s Reddington wants to help, or does he? It’s the kind of first episode that continuously forces you to reevaluate what you perceive the show to be. It’s quite exciting in the way that few shows have managed to achieve since Alias. If it manages to keep the B story each week full of advancing the epic story, as I’m sure the A story will be just be a weekly terrorist procedural story, it could follow Alias into fascinating viewing where you have lots of theories that force you to keep watching. If not, it will be a showcase for Spader to do verbose sociopath work that should be engaging if Megan Boone as Agent Keen can stay toe to toe with him. Will I watch: Yes, as long as the epic story stays vital to each episode. Should you watch: If you liked Alias – yes. If you like Spader – absolutely.
Agents of SHIELD – Drama – ABC – Tuesdays It could easily have been a shameless empty attempt to turn the massive Marvel film franchise toward the small screen, but Agents of SHIELD absolutely delivered for me. Coming from Joss Whedon who managed to bring the disparate characters and stories together to make The Avengers charming and entertaining, the same tone pervades the small screen story of the “regular” people who make up SHIELD. None of them are superheros or have super powers beyond being the absolute best at what they do. It’s a risk to take the most milquetoast character in the movie story and make him the center of the series, but Clark Gregg’s calming and competent presence includes just enough twinkle in his eye to command attention. The other characters have plenty of room to prove three dimensional and enough questions are dropped that filling out the back stories should be fun. My standout was Chloe Bennet as hacker Skye, but the pair of Fitz and Simmons were amusing as well. It will likely be important that they introduce the epic bad guy story soon and ensure that the freak of the week stories aren’t too cheesy. The visuals are great, the production design is excellent, so it feels smaller than the films, but does not feel cheaper. This is a huge win and promising start. Will I Watch: Absolutely. Should You Watch: If you like superheroes and the world of The Avengers enough to survive not having Robert Downey, Jr. onscreen. (Yes, you should.)
Lucky 7 – ABC – Drama – Tuesdays A group of gas station workers who pool their funds for the lottery every week win $140 million. There’s the struggling single mom, the cheery heart-of-gold overweight wife whose husband ignores her, the strong centered black man manager who sees the best in everyone and two brothers – one the good guy with a wife and baby on the way trying to move out of his mother’s house and the other bad guy whose been to prison. There’s also the latino great father and husband who chose not to enter the pool every week and was left out. In the pilot, the night they win the lottery, the brothers have concocted a scenario to rob all off the lottery money out of the safe after closing so no one gets hurt and insurance covers the loss. Of course, someone gets hurt – the wise and kind manager ends up in the hospital. Then they win. And now we will watch the detective get closer and closer to the truth, watch how money changes or doesn’t change everyone and what their new world as millionaires looks like. The group is well filled out and it will likely succeed based on how believable the various reactions and changes the audience sees in this merry band of misfits are portrayed. Will I Watch: No, I’m not interested enough in watching them “struggle” to deal with their wealth, though I liked some of the performances. Should You Watch: If watching the fallout of finally having the ability to buy happiness appeals to you – dive in. It’s likely to get messy.
Ironside – NBC – Drama – Wednesdays Blair Underwood is an awesome badass cop walking (well, rolling) the line of legality – and doing it all in a wheelchair after being shot by his partner. He’s a badass and he can do anything you can do, and do it better, in his wheelchair. It’s Law and Order meets The Shield in a wheelchair and sanitized enough for network primetime. He has a crack team he’s assembled personally, each flawed in their own way, naturally. One is connected to the mob through her father, another was a whizkid at economics and I forget the other one. We are told the Ironside backstory in flashbacks in the pilot and we met the partner who shot him in shambles. It’s a cult of personality show as NBC tries once more to build a series for Blair Underwood. The further it goes toward The Shield and The Sopranos, the better it will do. Otherwise, it doesn’t have the humor that makes the other single star shows work – The Mentalist, House, anything on USA. Will I Watch: No. I might catch back up later if the response is good and the story isn’t just a procedural. Should You Watch: If those Law & Order reruns aren’t doing it for you and you like your procedurals with a healthy side of angst.
Betrayal – ABC – Drama – Sundays ABC clearly set out to find a soapy companion piece for Revenge, and this does not deliver the same visceral excitement to motivate the soap quality that Revenge does. We meet a gorgeous photographer unhappily married to an attorney with high political aspirations. She happens to meet a strange man while being neglected by her husband and sparks fly. The man is the family attorney and essentially adopted son of one of Chicago’s power brokers stuck in his own loveless marriage. The two star crossed lovers finally give in and a sudden murder leads us to the moment where we and she know that her husband and her new lover will meet face to face in a courtroom. It’s soapy, but it’s incredibly serious. Almost too serious. The performances are all fine, and possibly even understated to the point of being boring. The two adulterers are so tortured that the release is not even that much fun. Will I Watch: I’ll give it a second outing to see if the pace moves and the tone lightens enough to make it more fun. Should You Watch: If night time soaps are your thing, it should work for you. If you only like the best of them, this one may not make that list.