Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Revisiting Fall's New Series

As the fall season comes to a close and many series go on holiday hiatus, let's look back at how some of this season's new series are holding up creatively since I reviewed their pilots.

Ringer (Tuesdays at 9:00 on CW)

Despite some bumps along the way and some awkward storytelling (and that awful, blaring CW soundtrack), Ringer remains one of my top three favorite new shows. The storyline is getting increasingly out-of-control as more people discover Bridget's secrets, but it's entertaining, well-paced and well-acted.

Revenge (Wednesdays at 10:00 on ABC)

Another of my favorite new shows, Revenge has developed into a deliciously entertaining soap. And I don't mean a "soap" as in the conventional primetime soap genre; it's an unabashed, daytime-like soap. It has all the conventions of a crazy General Hospital type show: stolen identity, coma patients waking up with amnesia, secret relationships, murder plots, etc. But Revenge has the edge because it's extremely well-acted and written. It's also probably the most addictive new series, and the one I look most forward to watching each week.

Grimm (Fridays at 9:00 on NBC)

Despite how much I loved the pilot, none of the subsequent episodes have been as exciting, moody or interesting. The fairy-tale characters have gone into the realm of the obscure (The Queen Bee, Bluebeard) and the hokey (Goldilocks & The Three Bears), so the weekly procedural element has mostly fallen flat. The backstory and the season-long arc, however, are still decent and will keep me watching, especially since it now has a full-season pickup (the only new drama NBC debuted to get one). But I'm a bit disappointed in how it has played out so far.

Once Upon a Time (Sundays at 8:00 on ABC)

I run hot and cold with this one. I didn't like the pilot, loved the second episode, didn't like the third episode, and was iffy on the fourth. Sometimes I think the creative team really knows exactly what they're doing, and I just lose myself in the show and have a good time. But other times I just think they're trying too hard to differentiate themselves from the myriad other fairy tale shows/movies/books/etc. The acting and pacing are both uneven, and it's become totally schlocky and sappy. Right now, after the fifth episode, the story seems to be going nowhere fast. I'm giving it one more episode before I tune out for good.

The Secret Circle (Thursdays at 9:00 on the CW)

Back when I watched the pilot, I wrote that I had hoped The Secret Circle would eventually grow into as good of a show as The Vampire Diaries. Only ten episodes into its freshman season, and it has already surpassed the quality of its sister show's first episodes. It's dark and unafraid to be polarizing, and they're taking it in a direction that is both natural and unpredictable. The performances have improved all around, and it's definitely one of the strongest the CW has to offer.

A Gifted Man (Fridays at 8:00 on CBS)

Everything I feared would happen to this show has happened. Following a truly stunning pilot episode with some astounding direction and great performances, A Gifted Man has devolved into a typical medical procedural. Each week we are introduced to a new headcase (literally) with some extreme and unbelievably rare stigma that Dr. Holt must (and always does) cure. Time is split between patients at his upscale practice and his downtown free clinic, but they're all the same: tearjerkers and miracles. There has been no attempt to explore Michael's relationship to his dead wife, whose ghost still hangs around without reason or need, and there is very little of interest to explore in Michael's personal life since he spends all of his time with some patient or another. This was a huge disappointment after such a promising start.

Pan Am (Sundays at 10:00 on ABC)

Pan Am has had a rough go of it after its pilot episode. Most of the gloss and gleam of that episode has vanished, replaced by expected storylines and a lack of focus. The actresses are universally wonderful, and learning their quirks and backstories has been satisfying. But it's the continued focus on exotic locales, the unnecessary insertion of historical events (JFK in Berlin, for example), and the boring presentation of the male characters which keep this show from truly taking off. Kate's spy storyline and subsequent romance with one of her targets was affective, but he has already come and gone. It's not the "must-see" series I thought it would (could and should) be, but it's still pleasant enough due to the strength of its performances and its easy-going demeanor.

American Horror Story (Wednesdays at 10:00 on FX)

Despite having a misguided and overwhelming pilot, American Horror Story has grown into something a little more interesting. It's not at any level I'd call "great," but it's entertaining enough and unlike anything else currently on the air. There have been very few questions answered, and those that have been addressed have been rather unsatisfying. The show doesn't have much direction or focus, and it continues to break its own rules of convention (concerning the behavior of the ghosts within Murder House). But the introduction of Zachary Quinto as one of the house's former inhabitants was a stroke of genius as he turns in what is easily the series' best performance, alongside the utterly fabulous Jessica Lange, who continues to chew scenery and upstage her castmates. Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton are still boring and subdued though, so I can't even say the performances have grown as the material has gotten more interesting. But like I said, it's definitely entertaining and I never know what to expect, so I will stay with it until the finale next month and then make my decision about whether or not to commit to season two.

Whitney (Thursdays at 9:30 on NBC, moving to Wednesdays at 8:30 in January)

Of all this season's new comedies (and I sampled all of them, whether or not I reviewed them here), Whitney is the only one I returned to for a second episode. I know I'm in the minority, but I find it hilarious. Perhaps it's my history as a student of gender studies and feminism coming out, but I love the idea of an off-beat woman who doesn't believe in typical gender conventions taking center stage. I laugh out loud during every episode and have even come to like Whitney Cummings as the star. It's not high-brow or brilliant comedy, but it makes me laugh consistently and that's all I really care about.