I rather arbitrarily describe the television year for US shows as starting in September (UK shows I cover separately). By my estimates on Wikipedia there were 51 ‘serious’ new drama shows this year (my list was a bit arbitrary as I excluded stuff on smaller channels or that were imported from outside US or that I’d never heard of in the slightest), and I’ve watched 26 pilots, so I’m pretty happy with a 50% hit rate. As this is about US shows, there were a lot that haven’t or won’t make it to UK broadcasters, which in some cases is a shame but in a lot of others is no loss whatsoever.
Of the 52 pilots I identified, 25 were renewed for a second season and a further 7 haven’t been confirmed either way (many of the summer premiers are still broadcasting after all) which seems to me like a pretty good rate of success. But that’s quite heavily skewed to cable channels like HBO etc. Of 29 drama premiers on the five major networks, only 9 of them were picked up for a second season.
I watched 29 pilots (including 3 comedies) and only made it through the whole season of 7 of them. Frankly, I don’t think it was a very good year, last year I watched 23 pilots and 8 whole seasons. There was just nothing outstanding, even the ones that I did stick with, only Fargo would I really describe as great; Almost Human, Penny Dreadful and Blacklist were thoroughly entertaining and SHIELD had some highs amidst the frustrations. But frankly that’s a pretty lacklustre summary. Where are the stars, the headline grabbers, the must-talkabout shows? The only new shows that have fallen into that category this year have been British, this lot are all just a bit mediocre.
Shows I stuck with
- Almost Human – a very ropey start killed this series before it realised the strength it had in it’s two central characters and actors. It was more ‘fun’ than ‘good’, many of the plots were mediocre retellings of standard tropes, but the bickering between the two cops was worth tuning in for.
- The Blacklist – this show is all about James Spader, he’s wonderfully charismatic and unpredictable to watch. The ongoing story and mystery is also fairly engaging, although the ‘criminal of the week’ is generally pretty disposable.
- Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – not nearly as good as it should be. It did get better as the series went on and the story got bigger, but certainly the early episodes were extremely amateur. It could desperately do with more involvement from Joss Whedon, but the building blocks are there, so hopefully season 2 will buck up.
- Fargo – it took me two attempts to get into the show, but that turned out to be a good thing, because by the time I came back to it, I could watch the whole thing in big blocks. The tone and setting and characters are all just the right level of quirky and contrast wonderfully with the bleak subject matter. Wrapping up the storyline makes for a very satisfying series, but it’s a shame we don’t get to spend more time with them.
- The Night Shift – I’m about half way through this one too, mostly watched in the last couple of days. It’s far from excellent (the medicine is particularly improbable to anyone who’s watched an episode of ER let alone been in one) but the characters are interesting and the whole thing trots along at the perfect level for background watching while doing other boring tasks.
- Extant – I’m about half way through this series on Amazon Instant Video and it’s passing the time. That’s pretty faint praise, but I can’t seem to get excited about it despite the interesting story and great actors that are involved.
- Penny Dreadful – entertaining, engaging and disposable, does exactly what it sets out to do and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Shows that I may watch/return to
- The 100 – More teenagers. It’s was nowhere near as painful as the Tomorrow People, but I was again somewhat unenthused by the genericness of it. I may give it another couple of episodes to see if it can do anything original.
- Sleepy Hollow – I watched about half this season before a recording failed and then I never quite got round to going back to it. I enjoyed each episode, but never really got fully engaged with the sprawling mythology. I may return to it in the future.
- Chicago PD – just like Chicago Fire, this does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s rather by-the-numbers, but those numbers work for a reason.
- Trophy Wife – I never actually reviewed it properly, because I watched it through somewhat dodgy methods, but this was actually a really charming and funny little sitcom. I’m biased because of my love of Bradley Whitford of course, but it’s a real shame that this series wasn’t better promoted and scheduled and got cancelled after its first season.
- Crisis – a nice idea and solidly delivered, the fact that it’s a contained story means that its cancellation doesn’t matter so much and effectively turns it into a mini-series which I may seek out at some point.
- Resurrection – the pilot set up some nice ideas and it was certainly more interesting than the French Les Revenants which has pretty much the same plot, I’ve got the series stacking up on my sky plus, but I’ve not actually had sufficient enthusiasm to watch it yet.
- Rake – playing up the charm and the humour makes this a pretty easy watch, but that may have got grating after a while.
- Halt and Catch Fire – I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but maybe it will grow on me. I’ll pick it up when it comes to the UK.
- Black Sails – Like Pirates of the Caribbean without the annoying Johnny Depp. I’m going to add it to my “things to watch while baking” list.
Shows that weren’t my thing
- Masters of Sex – I think it’s probably a superb series, but I didn’t like it. It’s an interesting idea, but I would have found it more interesting if they’d skipped the ‘obvious’ option of having the central characters get caught up in a relationship.
- Intelligence – Fine, but the chip implanted in someone’s brain was already being turned into a magical fix-all even in the first episode and I immediately felt the writers didn’t have the restraint or skill to establish or stick to any rules of how it could be used, rather than just a magic thing that powers plots and dramatic timing.
- True Detective – I didn’t get on with the style and found Matthew McConaughey’s character supremely irritating. I just decided that life was too short to force myself to sit through this no matter how Good it was.
- Looking – the male, gay equivalent of Girls. It was less hateful than that series, and I made it through a couple of episodes before the awkwardness of the characters just made me cringe too much.
Shows that just weren’t good enough
- Star-Crossed – bland and derivative.
- Ironside – generic, cliché and really, really boring.
- Dracula – it was bright and full of energy but it was also a mess, with characters jumping about, loads of questions and very uneven tone. The whole thing felt very cheap and C-list, but it was potentially entertaining if only as something to mock.
- Legends – nice idea, but some disappointing choices undermined it. Also, I wasn’t convinced Sean Bean could pull off the complexity of the different roles.
- Hostages – I didn’t like the story, I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t like the writing and I didn’t like the tone.
- Tomorrow People – again, just very generic characters partnered with pretty much every superhero power in the box. No spark, no self-awareness, just built by committee.
- Reign – completely unbalanced, lurching from silly frippery to pretty brutal historical issues, either one could have been fun, but combined it was just a mess.
- Believe – oops, I never wrote this one up. For a show about an adorable child, this wasn’t too bad, but fundamentally it was about a precocious child with super-powers and I’m not sure I can get past that.
- Silicon Valley – I didn’t even make it through the whole first episode before I had to switch it off. Stereotype characters in awkward situations, I just don’t get the attraction.
I edited this post on 8th September because I’d left Penny Dreadful off the list.