Inspired by Louis’ recap and takedown of Two Broke Girls, which affirmed my decision not to watch it despite also having general positive feelings about Ms. Dennings’ talents both acting-related and otherwise, here are my initial thoughts on new Fall TV shows I’ve had the pleasure, displeasure, and ambivalence to experience so far.
The New Girl: I didn’t have high hopes for this show but decided to give it a shot based on some personal recommendations from friends who had seen advance episodes. It was what I expected: painfully predictable with non-jokes that failed to land. It is well-cast and the performances are strong, so the fault here lies entirely with the writing, which smacks of writers in their 40s writing how they think 20-somethings talk, as well as a weird slap-dash editing job in the pilot that was distracting and ruined what little timing and pacing there was. I’m surprised by its initial success (it already has a full season pick-up), so I’ll give it a few more episodes before I give up on it.
Pan-Am: This is the one show that I’ve seen so far that was better than I expected, largely because I had little hope for either of the networks’ four-years-too-late Mad Men ripoffs. There is the slightest hint of an edge to Pan-Am, the performances are solid and the pilot sets up character relationships withe some hope for intrigue. Delving into the social and political issues of the 1960s, something only hinted at in the pilot, will be its true test as network television hasn’t been politically provocative since the Quantum Leap where Sam was a lab chimp.
Up All Night: Clearly I’m getting older, since this has been my favorite sitcom so far this year. Will Arnett and Christina Applegate are both excellent as new parents and Will Forte’s appearance in the most recent episode as Arnett’s “cool” stay-at-home dad friend was hilarious. The episode premises are still pure sitcom cliche, but how those premises are portrayed are inspired, with hints of Arrested Development absurdity. I still don’t know what to make of Maya Rudolph’s Oprah-esque character who Applegate works for–it was apparently a late development in the show to capitalize on the success of Bridesmaids–but it has led to some great comic moments. I’m in for the season.
Free Agents: I really want to like this show. The cast, with the exception of Mo Mandel, is full of actors I like very much and John Enbom from Party Down is the showrunner who was responsible for adapting this British sitcom for NBC. It has its moments since Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn have good chemistry, Joe Lo Truglio is always hilarious and it’s set in Portland which could theoretically be promising; however, like The New Girl, it suffers from awkward characters and non-jokes with obvious set-ups. It’s also garishly lit and oddly costumed, full of horrible plaids and slut-dresses that Kathryn Hahn looks uncomfortable wearing. There has been an inspired weirdness at moments that gives me hope and the second episode was better than the pilot, also encouraging. If Free Agents can build its character interrelationships, use its talented supporting cast better, and get the Englishman who runs the PR firm to stop using painfully stereotypical Britishisms like “right-o” and “tosser,” there is a glimmer that a show with this talent could find a spot somewhere on NBC.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. This isn’t a new show, but the last remaining L&O franchise underwent a substantial and (some would say) abrupt overhaul. The cast, which had remained essentially the same since the second season, has opened its 13th season with two new faces and without Christopher Meloni’s Detective Stabler who had anchored the show with his crazy eyes since 1999. Also out, apparently, is B.D. Wong who jumped ship for the upcoming midseason drama Awake. The two new cast members, Kelli Giddish as a detective who appears to have stumbled out of Law & Order: Designing Women, and Danny Pino as an ersatz-Jeremy Sisto, are fine–as fine as any actor on any Law & Order ever is. This is a show that has turned Ice-T and Richard Belzer into dramatic legends, after all. What’s more interesting is the abrupt stylistic change. The pilot was directed by Michael Slovis, Breaking Bad’s Emmy-winning cinematographer, and featured significant hand-held camera work. Both episodes of this season have been shot and lit much more naturalistically, eschewing the stark lighting contrast and pomp-laden slow tracking shots of previous seasons. Does it work for a show that has depended on being over-the-top and stylized? Hard to say. But seeing Kevin Arnold’s dad playing an NBA-superstar molesting basketball coach coupled with the return of not one but TWO of New York’s legendary disgraced ADA’s (Diane Neal and Stephanie March) suggests their still is a little Dick Wolf magic left.
The only other show I’m curious about is Suburgatory, starring a non ersatz-Jeremy Sisto. Unfortunately there’s a DVR conflict that I can’t overcome, so maybe I’ll check it out on other channels. Is it on Hulu? Other new Fall shows I should check out?