Dec 15, 2011

TV Review: Let's Talk New Shows

It’s that time of year again. Stockings are being hung by the chimney with care, Menorahs are being attractively displayed in windows, and I begin the holiday tradition known as the Network Television Holiday Break. Every year, shows abandon me, sometimes for over a month, and I, in turn, evaluate the new programs I have started watching and decide – who will I stay with in 2012?

Amy, Trying Too Hard
Enlightened (HBO)

Awkward, depressing, lonely. Enlightened is obviously one of the best new shows on TV this year. The show, created by Mike White and Laura Dern (and starring Dern), is about Amy Jellicoe, an ‘enlightened,’ self-centered anti-hero. After an emotional breakdown and Hawaiian therapy, Amy returns to her old company with a fresh outlook on life, only to realize that making her way in her new job is rife with conflict (mostly self-imposed, though that becomes tricky as the show goes on). The performances are top-notch. Dern and Diane
Ladd (as Amy’s mother – and Dern’s mother in real life) are amazing, but more surprising is Luke Wilson as Amy’s drugged-out ex-husband, who gives his least laidback performance in years. Also, my current comedy crush Michaela Watkins is in it, so props. It ended its first season on Monday, and, even with dismal ratings, I’m still hoping it returns for another amazing season next year. Fingers crossed.

Verdict: Keep Watching

Homeland (Showtime)

So. Freaking. Amazing. Homeland is about terrorism and terrorists and suspected terrorists, and suspecting terrorists of terrorism. Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin provide the backbone of the series as Carrie Mathison (brilliant and insane) and her mentor Saul Berenson, and Danes in particular is acting her heart out.  Through the many weaving, twisty twists and intriguing intrigue, what stays clear is that Homeland is a compelling drama that can surprise even the most astute and TV-savvy viewers. Terrorism!

Verdict: Keep Watching. Can’t Stop!

New Girl (Fox)

Jess floats in on a Balloon of Quirks
 After a shaky start and a disastrous pilot (only saved by a douchebag jar), New Girl has developed into a cute, quirky little show. Zooey Deschanel, as the titular new girl in an apartment full of bro-hams, is consistently funny (or incredibly grating, depending on what people thought about her before the show began). She’s a bit of a goofball, which pairs up well with self-centered and misunderstood Schmidt, normal guy Nick, and uber-competitive Winston. Schmidt, played by Max Greenfield (of Veronica Mars fame), is the best thing about the show.The plots aren't particularly new or interesting, but it’s fun to see how these characters interact within very conventional story lines. Also, in the new tradition of characters actually liking each other (thank you, Parks and Recreation), this show is overwhelmingly nice. Come for a quirky, adorkable hipsteress, stay for the heart. Also, Michaela Watkins (I sense a theme)

Verdict: Keep Watching, but not obsessively or anything

Revenge (NBC)

I have already written extensively on this show, and everything still remains true. It’s not for everyone, but if you like soapy drama then this is perfect for you. I’m still watching.

Verdict: Keep Watching

Whitney (NBC)

Is Whitney the festering wound on the ass of the television landscape (as(s) seen to the right)? Probably not. While not as inventive or funny as any of the other comedies on NBC, it’s certainly not the worst thing ever. That is not, however, any sort of endorsement. Almost completely lacking any likable characters, the show’s main weakness is that it keeps trying to make us care. I would embrace the show if it more fully embraced the douche-dom of the leads. Instead, the show tries to tie up each episode in a touchy-feely bow, and it always feels false. Maybe this is why half of all marriages end in sweatpants.

Verdict: The show is moving to a new night, and everyone should just move on. You heard me.

2 Broke Girls (CBS)

Why do people keep watching this show? I love Kat Dennings as much as the next person, but this show is pretty bad. Stop it.

Verdict: Stop It.

Up All Night (NBC)

This show is about new parents dealing with a baby and the mother’s crazy boss. The success of the show hinges on how you feel about Maya Rudolph and her zany blend of over-the-top acting and occasional singing, because Christina Applegate is beyond reproach (she and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are at the highest level of comedic television actresses, for sure).  If you can stomach Rudolph (I love her, so obviously I can), then the show is still a strange, somewhat disconnected mess. But still...

Verdict: Keep Watching, Tell No One

Once Upon a Time (ABC)

This is a totally normal thing to do.
A few weeks ago, I was still totally with this show.  Sure, the dialogue was terrible, the characters were so broadly drawn, and the lead was the least likeable actress in TV (fans of HIMYM will agree). But even with all its faults, and perhaps because of them, the show was incredibly interesting to watch. Sure, it was hokey, but it was also fascinatingly terrible. Unfortunately for the show, it has now become terrible and dull, due in no small part to Mayor Regina / Evil Queen, played by Lana Parilla. She’s so one-dimensional, so ridiculously hammy that she’s pulling the rest of the show down with her into total Dullsville. Maybe it’s the actress, maybe it’s the lines she’s given, but even Ginnifer Goodwin’s adorable tears won’t steer me back to this show.

Verdict: Just pretend they live happily ever after, never watch again.

This year has been a surprisingly solid one in terms of new shows, and returning shows (Happy Endings) just keep getting better. I’ve had to lose a few mainstays in order to make room (Goodbye, Glee), and who know what I’ll do when 30 Rock and Cougar Town come back. At least I know there’s a 90% chance the new midseason shows are not going to hold my interest. I’m talking to you, Work It and Rob.
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