TV's Midseason Report Cards: Which Freshman Shows Are Making the Grade?
2 Broke Girls, CBS
WHAT’S WORKING | Maybe it’s because we still carry a torch for Laverne and Shirley, but it’s hard to go a week without checking in on snarky Max and her unlikely new bestie Caroline, thanks to the almost-too-good chemistry between Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs. Whether Max is begrudgingly trying not to tank a new romance or Caroline is not-so-quietly mourning her well-heeled life, their antics regularly read as fun, and the “savings account” update at the close of each ep is a nice touch. On the guest star front, Nick Zano was a good match for Dennings, and we can’t wait to see what improv queen Jennifer Coolidge does as the girls’ new neighbor.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | There’s no easy way to say it: Oleg the lecherous and unkempt cook whose every utterance is met — on both sides of the camera — with an uncomfortable cringe has got to go; Han and the bucket of racial stereotypes he’s been saddled with is not much fun either. Our dream is diner scenes featuring just the girls and customers ripe for cutting down.
OVERALL GRADE | B-
American Horror Story, FX
WHAT’S WORKING | Cocreators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk promised a haunting treatise on marriage and infidelity, and boy, were they literal. After all, the Harmon union has been waylaid by not only the persistent memory of Ben’s fling with a student, but also Vivien’s rape by a mad ghost boy in a rubber suit ┬– leaving her pregnant with twins, one of whom is likely a demon spawn. If you subscribe to the show’s “Throw as much at the viewer as you can” mandate and simply sit back to process what you are able, AHS has shown no signs of exhausting its supply of frights and freaks. Among the performances, Connie Britton makes the surreal feel real, Jessica Lange has us hanging on every twang, and Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters turned what could’ve been a “token” teen story into something truly tormented.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | For Season 2, it’d be nice to get a smidgen more context for the (presumably) new home and its (living) residents before the bat$#*! crazy starts hitting the fan.
OVERALL GRADE | B
A Gifted Man, CBS
WHAT’S WORKING | Fans of the pilot were skeptical when this series elected to pull back some of its more fantastical elements ┬– namely, the dead ex-wife looking to give her brilliant yet detached doctor sweetheart a kick in the pants ┬– but we thought it was just what the doctor ordered. Now, instead of being a supernatural series tinged with medical drama, it delivers the reverse, and is the better for it. So while Dr. Michael Holt’s ex was the catalyst for him juggling double duty at the tony Holt Nuero and a bare-bones clinica, that toggling between two vastly different worlds, each of which present their own medical mysteries and heart-tugging cases, is what’s helping to shape this gifted man into a great man.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | Save for an excellent Thanksgiving-time episode in which her character fretted over the fate of a son injured in a motorcycle accident, Margo Martindale understandably hasn’t enjoyed the level of material that guided her to an Emmy win on Justified. The ghost wife element is getting in the way of a flesh-and-blood romance that many viewers are hot to see, between Michael and Dr. Kate (played by Rachelle Lefevre). And like anything, the show could also use more Julie Benz.
OVERALL GRADE | C+
WHAT’S WORKING | It’s got the gory goodness of your favorite procedurals mixed with a freaky, otherworldly vibe reminiscent of The X-Files. As protagonist Nick Burkhardt, David Giuntoli does a fine job of balancing his character’s occasional bewilderment and discomfort with his role as one of the last beast-slaying Grimms with the steely determination required to be an up-and-coming police detective. What’s more, Giuntoli gets terrific support from Russell Hornsby (as his police-force counterpart) and scene-stealing Silas Weir Mitchell (as a friendly blutbad — or big, bad wolfman — reluctantly drawn into solving cases), both of whom are adept at bringing much-needed levity to the dark, creepy proceedings.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | While we appreciate that the show’s writers couldn’t reveal all of Nick’s family secrets in the first three episodes, it was nevertheless a bit infuriating watching him willingly accept only the most cryptic bits of intel from his dying aunt, played by Kate Burton. (Dude, why not keep vigil at the hospital and learn to ask some frakkin’ follow-up questions?) Also, the overarching arc — with Nick’s boss (Caprica‘s Sasha Roiz) a part of the creature conspiracy ┬– has not yet lived up to the chills and thrills of Nick’s weekly case work.
OVERALL GRADE | B+
Hart of Dixie, The CW
WHAT’S WORKING | Two words: “Zoe” and “Wade.” The chemistry between these two should-be lovers (played by Rachel Bilson and Wilson Bethel) is palpable and took viewers — and you’d have to imagine producers — by complete surprise. After all, the premise when the show first premiered revolved around an unspoken connection between Zoe and Bluebell’s Golden Boy, George, and while that is still apparent, it’s become quite secondary. Overall, it’s Dixie‘s small town vibe and general sweetness — which it has more than stayed true to — that helps this charmer stand out amidst The CW’s more scandalous fare and makes it worth watching week-to-week.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | As much as we adore Jaime King, her uber-countrified Lemon Breeland is a tad too over-the-top. The moments she really shines are when she drops the bumpkin’ act and gets real, and boy we would enjoy a few more of those. Also — and this is something we are fully aware will never change — is anyone actually buying Bilson as a doctor?
OVERALL GRADE | B
WHAT’S WORKING | Almost everything. Boasting career-best performances from Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Morena Baccarin, the CIA thriller earns its twists and turns with smart, unpredictable storytelling and a heavy emphasis on character development. It’s also not afraid to show its heroes and heroines in an unflattering light (see Danes’ sex-crazed and drug-addled terrorist-hunter).
WHAT NEEDS WORK | Homeland is at its best when its thrills are of the psychological variety. It’s when the show veers into 24 territory that it’s at its most mundane.
OVERALL GRADE | A
New Girl, Fox
WHAT’S WORKING | Jess. Jess and Nick. Nick and Schmidt. Schmidt and Cece. Cece and Jess. Jess and Winston. Basically, any combination of two (or more!) works. The characters are clearly the driving force of this quirky comedy, and in its short span, each has been given the opportunity to shine opposite the others. The chemistry shared by Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson, as a someday-couple, is an unexpected treat, but the legit friendships between the unlikely roommates offer a nice constant. As guest stars go, Justin Long’s male version of Jess is — wait for it ┬– adorkably perfect, and we’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of Nick’s new gal pal (to be played by Party Down‘s Lizzy Caplan).
WHAT NEEDS WORK | A bit more storyline progression would be nice. At times it seems Jess is finally fitting in with the guys ┬… and then out of nowhere the gang seems to have reverted back to their overly judgmental ways. Those times are few and far between, yet noticeable.
OVERALL GRADE | A-
Once Upon a Time, ABC
WHAT’S WORKING | There’s something magical and wondrous about the storytelling ┬– and never more so than when focusing on the fairytale world. From inventive new takes on how familiar characters came to be ┬– Snow White was a kick-ass thief who stole from Prince Charming? Thumbs up! ┬– to smaller details, the Enchanted Forest is enchanting. Of the Storybrooke residents, no two have been more compelling than Mary Margaret (a luminous Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (the ridiculously charismatic Josh Dallas) in a timeless and wrenching love story. Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold also deserves credit for managing to be equally interesting in both worlds ┬– mysterious and menacing in ours and deliciously evil with a side of camp in the other.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | The fairytale world is so enchanting that Storybrooke doesn’t seem nearly as interesting in comparison, especially with intel on the curse, the big battle and Regina’s adoption of Henry coming at a glacial pace. Not helping matters is Jennifer Morrison’s steely Emma. Thus far she’s too hard, too desperate to tell the world, ┬"Look at me, I’m rough around the edges because I had a tough life.┬" And she refers to Henry as ┬"Kid┬" way too often. Give the girl some colors, and let her smile every once in a while!
OVERALL GRADE | B
Pan AM, ABC
WHAT’S WORKING | Considering how much money ABC and Sony invested in the pilot, it’s no surprise that Pan Am looks gorgeous (and expensive). More importantly, the sets and clothes look authentic, and the actors come across a lot more convincing in the ’60s world than those on NBC’s late Playboy Club. All of the female regulars pop in some way, especially the heartfelt Karine Vanasse and the charming Kelli Garner, who shared some nice chemistry with guest star Goran Visnjic. It was only a three-episode arc, but you felt for the gal when she duped him right out of her life. However.┬…
WHAT NEEDS WORK | The male characters on the show are easily forgettable, and we’re not buying this forced romance between Dean and Colette. Some of the crews’ adventures on and off the plane have veered into dull moralizing about history. The show could benefit from focusing more on the personal and professional lives of its strongest assets ┬– the female crew ┬– and not so much the strangers-of-the-week they encounter. Also, lose the confusing time jumps.
OVERALL GRADE | B-
Person of Interest, CBS
WHAT’S WORKING | The concept is inherently techy-cool, and while some dismiss Jim Caviezel as too stoic in the role of Reese, we can’t imagine anyone we’d rather send into harm’s way to root out baddies. In our book, Michael Emerson can seldom do wrong, and slowly but surely this show is peeling Finch in a different direction than Lost‘s similarly enigmatic Ben Linus.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | A few of us on staff were just talking about this, and for some reason POI refuses to get splashy with its guest stars — which would surely help boost its decent numbers and buzz — and instead pulls largely from the admittedly terrific pool of New York City-based character actors. Still, we’d love to see a “name” show up one day as a POI. The series’ third lead, Taraji P. Henson, has only been properly utilized in the most recent episodes, namely any time her Detective Carter gets too close to her prey. Lastly, let’s delve deeper into the gents’ respective cloaked back stories sooner rather than later.
OVERALL GRADE | C
WHAT’S WORKING | Just about everything? Revenge is as addictive today as it was back when we first screened the pilot. It moves at just the right pace, maintaining mystery by ending on a mini-cliffhanger each week, but still answering enough questions to keep viewers satisfied. The producers also demonstrated a stroke of genius when, a few episodes in, they nixed the Takedown of the Week setup for a more cohesive, larger-arc format. Emily VanCamp, who shines as the drama’s vengeance-seeking Emily Thorne, and Madeline Stowe as the always-scheming matriarch, Victoria Grayson, are particularly strong players, while Gabriel Mann, as Em’s reluctant partner-in-crime, Nolan, is the show’s most notable scene-stealer.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | While we love a good sudser, Revenge has, on the very rare occasion, lost its deviously cool demeanor by delving into overly soapy territory. Things like Lydia surviving that fall (with basically no disfigurement) and Emily’s trusty BFF Ashley turning on her in the blink of an eye (all at the behest of her bi-curious — and cheating! ┬– boyfriend, Tyler) don’t always sit well.
OVERALL GRADE | A-
Ringer, The CW
WHAT’S WORKING | Suspense is the name of the game in this CW thriller, and thus far it’s done a good job of living up to it — particularly with its game-changing fall finale. Sarah Michelle Gellar shines brightest during her brief moments as the seemingly “evil” twin, Siobhan, while Kris Polaha has brought a surprising amount of depth to Henry, a character we’d originally pegged as a one-note philanderer. Ringer has also tapped into the guest star gold mine, thus far casting the likes of Buffyverse alum Amber Benson, soap vets Billy Miller, Michelle Stafford and Justin Bruening, and, still to come, Misha Collins (Supernatural), Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks) and Andrea Roth (Rescue Me).
WHAT NEEDS WORK | When you get a fan fave talent like Jason Dohring on your show, you make the most of it; unfortunately, Ringer has done no such thing. The series has instead thrown the beloved Veronica Mars alum into a cliche girl-falsely-cries-rape storyline. The show also takes itself a bit too seriously. Humor, even in the darkest of situations, is a good thing — plus, who doesn’t like to see SMG smile every once in awhile? And P.S. More Polaha, please.
OVERALL GRADE | B-
The Secret Circle, The CW
WHAT’S WORKING | The show’s recent jump into the dark side of magic has given the series a much-needed jolt. The stakes are higher ┬– Nick died, grandma Jane’s mind is unraveling ┬– and there are new mysterious enemies adding intrigue. Not to mention, the introduction of bad boy Jake (new series regular Chris Zylka) has nicely shaken up the dynamics within the group, giving Cassie someone to play off instead of just constantly trying to stay away from Adam. Speaking of Adam, the series has handled his and Diana’s relationship and recent destruction thereof with a surprising amount of maturity despite the fact that they’re caught up in a love triangle square. We’re also still relishing Phoebe Tonkin’s bad-girl-with-heart performance.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | We fear that Secret Circle‘s adjacency to The Vampire Diaries (aka the perfect companion series) is actually hurting the show. After tuning in for the vampy thrill-a-minute ride, watching Cassie & Co. feels like coming down after a high. It’s time to pump up the volume on the characters and the drama. Nick’s shocking death and the fall finale’s reveal that there’s another Blackwell child were a step in the right direction, but the series need to be more consistent with its twists. Snappier dialogue also wouldn’t hurt.
OVERALL GRADE | B
WHAT’S WORKING | Tessa may hate the suburban nightmare she’s been forced into, but we’ve fallen hard for the charms of the ‘burbs and its kooky residents. Led by a top-notch cast ┬– there really isn’t a weak link in the bunch, from Allie Grant as put-upon Lisa to the pitch perfect Cheryl Hines ┬– the show delivers a hilarious concoction of absurdity and wit. (We’re still laughing at every scene featuring Dallas’ dog, Yakult, who’s named after her favorite probiotic drink.) Special attention must be paid to Jane Levy. In only her second acting gig ever, she brings Tessa’s wry, sarcastic voice to life in a way that makes us want to rewatch Mean Girls or something with Emma Stone ┬– a compliment of the highest order. This girl is one to watch.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | Yes, there’s a lot not to like about the suburbs after growing up in New York City, but it would be nice if Tessa could occasionally get past her dislike for Chatswin and its denizens; every episode can’t be a suburban horrorfest. Also, more than a few people in the blogosphere have noted a sometimes inappropriate “chemistry” between Tessa and her dad. Ew.
OVERALL GRADE | B+
Terra Nova, Fox
WHAT’S WORKING | Jason O’Mara is deftly juggling the dual roles of action hero, prehistoric P.I. and doting family man, Stephen Lang fittingly commands every scene he’s in, and of the younger set, Naomi Scott and Allison Miller stand out as middle child Maddie and the adventurous/traitorous Skye. The storytelling is best when dipping into the colony’s mythology/origin and class systems/Sixers rivalry. The special effects, for a weekly TV series, largely succeed.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | The Shannon son’s desperate bid to get his 2149 sweetheart sneaked through the portal comes off as over-the-top; dude, you’re a teenager and I assure you she has SO moved on. Guest stars tend to disappoint, though I “get” why they perhaps need to be “generic” and not “Hey, Megan Mullally has been living here the whole time!”
OVERALL GRADE | C+
Up All Night, NBC
WHAT’S WORKING | We dare you to tune in to this perfectly sweet series and not walk away with a smile from ear-to-ear. After a few bumps early on, this sitcom has carved out a place in NBC’s lineup as a happy, half-hour bubbling over with silly family hijinks. Christina Applegate has never been better, proving once and for all that she’s a force to be reckoned with in the world of comedy. And Will Arnett, beloved for many a role, is an absolute — and hilarious — delight as a doting stay-at-home dad. Together these two make parenting look like the most fun thing ever, which isn’t something you see very often on TV. The recent addition of Jason Lee as a love interest for Maya Rudolph’s Ava has also been a tremendous asset to the series, helping ground and more importantly humanize her out-there character.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | Other than two hilarious mini-meltdowns a few weeks back, Ava assistant Missy is the show’s weak link. Up All Night is a series grounded in reality and this cartoonish character tends to detract from down-to-earth moments at the workplace. Nick Cannon is (thankfully) underutilized to the point that few would crow if he altogether vanished.
OVERALL GRADE | B+
WHAT’S WORKING | As comforting and uncomplicated as a bag of potato chips, Unforgettable follows the standard-operating procedure favored by most CBS procedurals — with a single nifty twist: Smokin’ hot detective Carrie Wells (a compelling Poppy Montgomery) has a rare condition that allows her to remember every detail of every conversation, crime scene and face she encounters during an investigation. Perhaps because Carrie’s supermemory, while a real thing, comes with its own suspension of disbelief, the writers generally spare viewers from absurd/stupid plot twists of the CSI: Miami variety. (In other words, Carrie hasn’t traveled to Brazil to gun down bad guys under the Christ the Redeemer statue. Not yet, anyway.) This is perfectly adequate 10pm fare for those days you want to grab an adult beverage and hit CTRL+ALT+DEL on your brain.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | Thus far, most of the supporting players in Carrie’s squad room feel like cardboard cutouts who could trade their lines of dialogue without anyone being the wiser. (The sole exception to this rule is Daya Vaidya’s Det. Inara, who’s shown glimpses of a wry, flinty persona.) Even worse, the sets and direction make the action feel like it’s occurring in a hermetically sealed soundstage. Maybe Unforgettable could pick up some of the superior Prime Suspect‘s behind-the-scenes players — and, seriously, a couple of jackets to put over Carrie’s flimsy tank tops — if/when its NBC rival officially goes kaput?
OVERALL GRADE | C+
The X Factor, Fox
WHAT’S WORKING | In a nutshell, a deep and varied talent pool. Simon’s Top 8 Girls contained a fascinating mixture of jaw-dropping talent and pop-princess sass, while the Boys and Over 30s pools both featured top-notch vocalists who never even made it to the live shows. And unlike American Idol — which too often plays like a Golden Oldies competition than a showcase for a modern-music superstar — X Factor has managed to mix current and classic hits with surprising ease.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | For starters, there’s way too much emphasis on contrived and wholly uninteresting bickering among the judges, which takes away time from watching how the artists and mentors cook up their weekly performances. What’s more, once the singers do take the stage, too many of the acts wind up getting upstaged by alarmingly aggressive lighting, dancers, arrangements, and backup singers. It’s like Idol on Steroids, and the end result is a bulky, bulging monster of a telecast. Humorless robot host Steve Jones isn’t helping matters, and neither is painfully self-absorbed mentor Nicole Scherzinger, whose critiques make Randy Jackson sound like the Bard.
OVERALL GRADE | B-
WHAT’S WORKING | It’s easy to take critical swings at one of this fall season’s biggest pi├▒atas, yet there’s no discounting the work that Chris D’Elia is doing as the fictional Whitney’s live-in beau, Alex ┬– his reaction shots probably sell 90 percent of the jokes that stick the landing. Among the supporting cast, Rhea Seehorn is probably the one we’ve warmed up to most, now that her kinda-scary, basso-voiced take on the bitter, boozy divorcee from the pilot has softened some.
WHAT NEEDS WORK | It still boggles the mind that NBC got in bed (figuratively) with Cummings and gave her an eponymous comedy only to water down her sometimes-caustic stand-up act; instead of outrageous, the TV Whitney is merely and barely snarky. We were excited to see Maulik Pancholy land a legit co-starring role on a new show, yet thus far Neal is as muted comically as 30 Rock‘s Jonathan was in screen time. Guest stars have been a mixed bag of industry BFFs such as Chelsea Handler to fun gets like Peter Gallagher, who put his uptight Covert Affairs persona far, far behind him as Whitney’s oily dad.