The Upfronts 2016: CBS

cbsCBS is traditionally the home of the franchise procedurals, with the majority of the schedules filled with CSIs and NCISs. But the last CSI is officially dead leaving the network feeling a little like it’s lost its defining feature. NCIS powers ever onwards though, and with The Big Bang Theory still regularly topping the ratings, CBS shows no signs of faltering.

What’s cancelled
goodwifeThe Good Wife was a bit of an anomaly at CBS, not a huge ratings success but kept on the air because it was a critical and award hit, often one of the few network shows to appear amongst the offerings of HBO, Showtime, Netflix and Amazon. It’s amazing it lasted as long as it did, but maybe that’s not such a good thing given that the last couple of seasons showed a significant fall off in quality (I haven’t summoned the enthusiasm to get through season 7 yet). Person of Interest was another surprisingly long runner, cancelled after its 5th season. I never made it past the pilot. Mike & Molly was cancelled after its sixth season, again surprising that it lasted this long given Melissa McCarthy’s accelerating film career. The only thing surprising about CSI:Cyber’s cancellation was that it made it to a second season.

Only two freshmen shows were cancelled at CBS, Rush Hour, a generic buddy-cop procedural based on the film of the same name which lasted just 8 episodes; and Angel from Hell, the Jane Lynch comedy that was pulled after only 5 episodes.

Supergirl manages an odd trick of being both cancelled and back, it’s renewed for a second season but will move to The CW, which seems an infinitely better fit for it.

What’s back
NCISNCIS continues to occupy half the schedule and the tops of the ratings charts. Original Flavour is renewed for season 14 AND 15, Los Angeles goes into season 8 and New Orleans gets a third season. I still just about watch the LA variant, but only while ironing. Criminal Minds is renewed for a twelfth season (although I keep thinking they must run out of serial killer ideas eventually!) and has finally managed to get a spin-off to stick with Beyond Borders getting a second season and hopefully some budget either to actually travel to more locations or at least for better green-screening.

Continuing the action/procedural thread are Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods both going into seventh seasons, Elementary going into a fifth and Scorpion (which has somehow completely passed me by) getting a third. Madam Secretary is a slightly odd ball on the schedule as a political drama, but the rather over-dramatised cheese does sort of fit, and it’s now going into its third season.

The Big Bang TheoryCBS has a pretty solid comedy line up, driven by the phenomenally popular Big Bang Theory, which goes into a tenth season. 2 Broke Girls continues onwards into season 6 and Mom goes into season 4.

Freshman shows that are picked up for seconds – Code Black, an overblown but entertaining medical drama and Zoo which I understand to be a pretty hilariously dumb “wild animals attack the world” show. Comedies The Odd Couple and Life in Pieces get second seasons too.

New Shows

Bull – Dr Bull is a jury analyst, fighting cases through psychology and manipulation. The concept is at least a slightly different take on standard legal procedurals and reminded me a bit of Lie to Me which I liked a lot. But what really sells it is Michael Weatherly who may have stepped out of a going-nowhere role on NCIS to land a real winner.


The Great Indoors – holy crap, this is a terrible, terrible trailer. From the obvious script, stilted delivery, and wooden junior cast through to the cheap staging and horrific laugh track. The blurb actually uses the word “millennials”. Joe McHale (Community) should be in something so much better.


Kevin Can Wait – Kevin James retires from the police force and has to deal with his family. How sad for him and how sad for the audience.


Pure Genius – while Fox is showing what happens when a technical genius takes over a police force, ABC is looking at what they can do when they take over a hospital. It looks even more likely to fall into the same traps of magic and miracles, this time just with more emotional manipulation along the way.


Man with a Plan – Here in the 21st century, yet another comedy about a man who’s forced to actually parent his own children. This time starring Matt LeBlanc and yet another awful laughter track.


Training Day – Another one based on a film for no good reason. Dirty(ish) cop takes on good intentioned trainee. Shouting and shooting occur. Boring.

2014/15 Season

I’m getting worse and worse at actually writing stuff promptly. So my end of year wrap up comes after several of the 2015/16 shows have already started. Oh well, better late than never. I’m only talking about US shows here, I think I’m going to move the UK series so that I look at them at the end of the year. Frankly that’s pretty arbitrary but I watch so little UK television that adding it to the list just looked embarrassing. Also I’m focussing more on the returning shows as all the new things got their own little article last week.

Things I’ve watched

The Affair: S1
American Horror Story: Freak Show (S4)
The Americans: S3 (in progress)
Aquarius (in progress)
The Blacklist: S2 (half)
Criminal Minds: S10 (failed to review)
CSI: S15
Defiance: S3 (in progress)
Downton Abbey: S5
Forever: S1 (half)
Game of Thrones: S5 (half)
The Good Wife: S6
Grey’s Anatomy: S11
Jane the Virgin: S1 (review pending)
Justified: S6
Mad Men: S7 Part 2
Madam Secretary: S1 (half)
Marvel’s Agent Carter: S1
Marvel’s Agents of Shield: S2
NCIS: Los Angeles: S6 (failed to review)
The Newsroom: S3
Orange is the New Black: S3 (review pending)
Orphan Black: S3 (just starting)
Penny Dreadful: S2
Perception: S3 (failed to review)
Scandal: S4
Stalker: S1 (failed to review)
Transparent: S1
The Walking Dead: S5

So that’s 27 series, although four of them I only watched part of the season before giving up and four are still in progress. I think that’s probably about 340 episodes? It felt like I watched less television this year, but actually it’s up on last year’s count of 20 series. I think though that a lot of what I watched was just less memorable so it doesn’t feel like I’ve watched as much. 20 episodes each of Criminal Minds, NCIS LA, CSI and Scandal all add up pretty quickly, yet take up remarkably little space in my brain.

I watched six new shows to completion this year, an additional two I made it half way through and actually Orange is the New Black and Justified were both new series for me too which I binge watched from the start and then caught up to the current season. So 10 shows that appear on this year’s list but weren’t on last year’s. In the other direction there were 9 series that I watched last year which didn’t return. Five I chose not to pick up again: Castle (I just got bored with it), The Big Bang Theory (I just missed the start and never felt like catching up), The Following (just too ridiculous), Extant (I don’t think I even got through the whole first season) and The Lost Ship (couldn’t be bothered) . Two I haven’t got round to yet: House of Cards: S3 (it’s in my new Netflix queue) and The Night Shift: S2 (still no UK distributer). Almost Human was cancelled and Fargo didn’t broadcast any new episodes.

The more I think about the list of shows I’ve watched, the more underwhelmed I am with the year. Did I miss something? Have I watched so much TV that I’ve over-dosed and its lost its appeal? I just don’t think anything this year was outstanding. Even the shows that I list below for plaudits are mostly ongoing series that have just continued doing what they do, well. Where were the paradigm shifts? The big evolutions? The watercooler moments? It just feels like a very flat year.

Best Shows
Orange_Is_the_New_Black_Title_CardOrange is the New Black was a show that I’d wanted to watch from the get-go, but couldn’t justify the Netflix cost for. I finally caught up on the first season on dvd and then binged the second and third over a week or so when I finally gave in and signed up to Netflix. The lightness of the humour and the positivity of the relationships is starkly contrasted with the bleakness of the characters’ situations. The acting and writing is wonderful, the slow reveals of characters’ pasts through flashbacks is particularly clever and the whole thing is fresh, original and utterly compelling.

Justified_2010_IntertitleJustified was a great discovery for me, which I should thank Sky Boxsets for. I caught up with the first five seasons in just a few weeks and then got to watch the final season as it broadcast. I loved the whole series, but was particularly impressed that rather than fade away, the final season was actually one of the best. It focussed back on the main trio of characters and played out the uncertainty of “good”, “bad” and “somewehre in between” to the very end. A masterclass in how to close out a series.

americansThe Americans has been slow to reach the UK so I’m only about half way through, but it continues to be absolutely fascinating. The focus is alwasys on the emotional impact of the secrets and lies all the characters have to tell, which is good for me because I often struggle to remember the details of the various conspiracies and am far more interested in watching the phenomenal Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell acting. I feel a bit of a cheat putting something on here that’s only half way through, but it seems unlikely it will take a nosedive now!

Honourable mention: Defiance got off to a surprisingly brutal but very interesting start. There’s so little science fiction on television outside the super-hero genre that it’s a huge relief that this one doesn’t suck.

Favourite Shows
greys anatomyGrey’s Anatomy – only 4 of the original cast are left by the end of season 11. Each time someone leaves I think the show will struggle without them, that their gap will be unfillable, but each time the characters and relationships mature and evolve, not to replace the missing person, but to grow around the gap and evolve the show into something new. I love how the characters have grown, how the relationships mature and how nothing in the past is forgotten, but all makes a part of the present. Yes, it’s a daft soap opera with unbelievable stuff happening, but if you accept that key premise, everything else makes perfect sense. It’s like a comfortable blanket at the end of the day.

Agent_Carter_Series_LogoMarvel’s Agent Carter – while Agents of SHIELD did improve this year it’s still got a lot of problems and the pressure of being a headline show for both ABC and Marvel isn’t helping it. Agent Carter however didn’t have any of the pressure or any of the problems and quietly came along with a phenomenal central cahracter and hugely entertaining story.

Honourable mention: Jane the Virgin was a breath of fresh, if extremely cheesy, air.

Same old, same old (in a mostly good way)
The Walking DeadThe Walking Dead – The relentless pace of The Walking Dead never stops (ironic, given the increasingly shambling nature of the zombies). In the space of twenty odd episodes an incredible amount happened and it’s only through the efficiency of the writing and the talent of the actors that all the characters manage to develop and every nuance is clear. I do wish that we could catch our breath a little, and that the characters could actually find some brief respite and happiness, but I guess that wouldn’t be The Walking Dead.

pennydreadfulPenny Dreadful continues to be an under-watched and under-appreciated gem. The period detail is stunning and the interweaving of various literary characters is fascinating. It’s definitely a show that benefits from watching in chunks though as it is quite easy to lose track of the many different threads.

Mostly honourable mention: Orphan Black has got off to a strong start to season 3 (I’m about 3 episodes in) but its storyline is becoming more convoluted and I hope it’s not going to get lost.

Same old, same old (in a middling way)
CriminalMindsCriminal Minds – I didn’t even bother to review Criminal Minds this year because I honestly have nothing to say and very little recollection of what happened. I mean, I guess it’s safe and familiar (as much as that’s weird to say about a graphically brutal series about serial killers) and it’s not that I want it to be cancelled or dramatically changed, but 10 seasons later it needs some energy.

csiCSI – the final season trundled along much as the last half dozen or so had gone. Unremarkable stories, increasingly losing touch with the actual science and credibility that the show was founded on. Mind you (spoiler alert) having just yesterday watched the final feature length episode, the last season comparatively the creative highpoint of the show.

Middlingly honourable mention: NCIS: Los Angeles continues to have fun with its characters but struggle when it comes to memorable and engaging plots.

Same old, same old (in a bad way)
scandalScandal – oh good lord. It just keeps getting stupider and stupider. The core relationships are all stunningly unhealthy and I endlessly wonder why any of them (friends, colleagues or lovers) stay together when they’re clearly all phenomenally bad for each other and in fact the rest of humanity. I think I might be done.

Game of ThronesGame of Thrones – I’ve finally given up. There’s way too many characters that I really don’t care about, too many drawn out plots that aren’t going anywhere and a complete absence of any real fantasy. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Dishonourable mention: not even James Spader was enough to make me stick with The Blacklist as its convoluted mess of a story left me completely confused and utterly uninterested in who was trustworthy or not.

What happened there?! (in a very bad way)
goodwifeThe Good Wife – I hate seeing The Good Wife down in this section, but the more I think about it, the more frustrated I was by this season. I’d been really looking forward to seeing what would happen with Cary and Alicia’s firm, particularly with Diane joining them… and I was cheated out of it by a ‘too fast’ change of direction that saw Alicia running for State’s Attorney. The ongoing ridiculous arguments with the old firm was just pantomime and Cary’s legal problems were just contrived and frustrating. There’s still a lot of good about the show, but all the major storylines were miss-steps.

CSI: Season 15

csiThe final season of CSI as it turns out. All over bar a concluding tv movie. And the final series was… unremarkable.

I know I watched all the episodes, but I can’t really think of much to say about it. It was fine? The seasonal serial killer worked pretty well and rippled through enough episodes that the season felt like it bonded things together, but the rest of the episodes were the usual mix of stupid and forgettable.

Each season of CSI has felt like it tried to concentrate it’s CSI-ness and simultaneously moved away from what actually made CSI original in the first place. It didn’t quite become a self-parody, but it was heading in that direction. The original cgi graphics of microscope views and freeze frames and things from the early series now just feel like they’re filling time to accompany some tie in deal with a new song. The science wasn’t about being accurate and educational, but focused on gadgets and technobabble.

The CSIs that started out as scientists turned into gun toting detectives, shouting at suspects and delivering punch lines. On the plus side the camaraderie never really went away, even if it did seem that each new person was treated like they’d always been there. A little bit of tension wouldn’t have gone amiss (in fact I think that was where Brass was most missed this year).

It does feel bad to say goodbye to such an institution that was so influential. But no one can claim that 335 episodes wasn’t a good innings and that it wasn’t time to retire.

The Upfronts 2015: CBS

cbsCBS continues to have an impressively stable, although increasingly aged line up, not leaving much space for new shows. They do seem to be trying to go in a different direction with their new series, but they feel very out of place when surrounded by so many established procedurals.

Cancelled or finished
csiAfter 15 series, 335 episodes, CSI is finally being put out to pasture. The mothership that spawned dozens of wannabes and spent 10 years in the top 10 watched shows has seen its ratings decline steadily in the last few years and now it can’t compete with its own descendants. I’ve been a loyal watcher throughout and while it’s rarely been a favourite show, it’s always been a reassuring presence and I will actually miss it. There’ll be a final two hour TV movie, featuring the return of Grissom and Catherine.

mentalistI stuck with Stalker the whole season and I’m not entirely sure why, the setup wasn’t exactly ground-breaking, the stories weren’t particularly original and the characters weren’t that charismatic. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t outstanding. I’m not sure I’d’ve bothered with season 2 even if it had been picked up and I’m not really mourning its passing. Likewise I’m not that disappointed The Mentalist wound up after seven seasons. I made it through the first two seasons but found it frustratingly inconsistent in tone. Two and a Half Men finally completely and utterly died after 12 seasons. I’m guessing Jon Cryer mourned that and wished his cast mates hadn’t screwed everything up for him.
Also cancelled: Battle Creek and The McCarthys were new series, The Millers was cancelled after its second season. None of which I have any memory of hearing about.

NCISCBS remains the home of the procedurals and even without Grand-pa CSI there’s a bevy of relations: CSI: Navy (NCIS – Season 13), CSI: Navy + Sunshine (NCIS: Los Angeles – season 7), CSI: Navy + Jazz (NCIS: New Orleans – season 2), CSI: Surfs Up (Hawaii Five-O – season 6), CSI: Serial Killers (Criminal Minds – season 11), CSI: Sherlock (Elementary – season 4), CSI: Pre-Crime (Person of Interest – season 5), CSI: Online (Scorpion – season 2) oh and CSI: Cyber (an actual proper CSI spin off going into season 2). Blue Bloods is more NYPD Blue 2010 than a CSI spin off and Tom Selleck’s moustache only held my attention for 3 seasons, but apparently other people have more commitment to it because it will be back for season 6 next year.

goodwifeOther dramas that are renewed are the critically acclaimed but ratings challenged The Good Wife, although season 6 hasn’t been as good as previously. Madam Secretary has some potential, but is disappointingly light when I was hoping for something more politically hefty. I watched a few episodes of Extant but got bored with the conspiracy stuff, I thought it was a one off so am a bit surprised to see it renewed for season 2. Under the Dome returns for season 3 but lost me with the utterly ridiculous bisected cow in the first episode.

The Big Bang TheoryThe unlikely juggernaut that is The Big Bang Theory continues with huge ratings and last year was given a three-year renewal which carries it through to next season. Mike and Molly and 2 Broke Girls return for seasons 6 and 5 respectively, Mom will be back for season 3 and Matthew Perry has finally broken his curse of first season cancellations as his remake of The Odd Couple is renewed!

New this autumn

Angel From Hell: Jane Lynch is either a stalker or a guardian angel. Jane Lynch is kind of fantastic and with a slightly more subtle character and better writing (in the trailer at least) than she got lumbered with on Glee, this could be great.

Code Black: It’s ER moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. I’m a sucker for this stuff and this looked pretty well done.

Life in Pieces: Hey, dating is tricky, precocious children are hilarious, parenting is hard and old people are whacky but look how uplifting it can all be when we come together as a family. Sod off. Colin Hanks deserves better.

Limitless: Based on the film, one pill makes you super smart and effectively a superhero. It inevitably gets complicated. The film was ok and I guess it’s a good set up but the supreme close up of Bradley Cooper asking if I can remember what it’s like to be in my mother’s womb is the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen.

Supergirl: Basically… Superman’s cousin. The trailer is pretty much the whole pilot boiled down so you may want to skip it. It doesn’t look bad, but it’s an extremely strange choice for CBS. This would infinitely more at home on The CW and I think it’s going to struggle to get the ratings that CBS want.

New later in the year
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders – another attempt to land a Criminal Minds spin off, this time starring Gary Sinise and taking the show on an international tour. The planted pilot wasn’t bad (although Anna Gunn has apparently departed the series) and the added complexity of dealing with international law has some potential. Sinise needs to make sure he’s not just recreating his character from CSI New York though.

Rush Hour – Buddy Cop drama based on the films.

CSI: Season 13

csiThirteen seasons. 295 episodes. That’s at least 295 different crimes, different victims, different perpetrators, different red herrings, different motives, different methods… or of course, not so different.

This season has passed prety much without making any kind of impact on my brain. In fact I was so surprised at the end of the season I had to rewind to check that I really had heard the voice-over lady tell me that the cliff-hanger wouldn’t conclude until next year; I could easily have believed we still had half a season to go. The easy to watch/easy to forget model works in terms of making the show uncomplicated to tune in to each week, but makes it rather harder to write any kind of in depth analysis at the end of the season.

Funnily enough, the few things I do remember are the incidental character moments, that almost seem to sneak into episodes by the back door. “Lets do a school reunion story, lots of red herring potential looking at motives of the kids they used to be and the adults they are now. Oh! It could be Dr David’s high school reunion!”. The long slow burn of relationships between Hodges, Morgan and their parents was nicely played out too, and it was nice to see Nick in a relationship, even if it was just with a retired police dog.

I still struggle a bit with Finlay, I just don’t feel she has much depth to her. Every time Sara appeared I was reminded of what a better character she was and how Finlay felt like a cheap alternative. Finn just doesn’t seem to have integrated with the group, she has a relationship with DB, but no one else. Everyone else (even equally new Morgan) have built interesting and varied relationships, Sara and Nick looking after and picking on Greg like a little brother, everyone but Morgan endlessly frustrated with Hodges, Doc Robbins being peer and friend to DB but more fatherly towards Greg and David. They form an extended family, and even if that is kind of unlikely in a professional environment, it’s what I want to watch. Finlay seems to drift around all over the place, too unstable for the role of mother left empty by Catherine’s departure, too patronising for ‘cool aunt’ and too standoffish for potential relationships.

This felt like a year when nothing happened, which is better than having a contrived serial killer, but also leaves the season a bit of a blank without some kind of common theme to pull it all together. I’d like to see the team have some kind of issue to deal with as a group across the season that wasn’t life or death but was important – I dunno, something as mundane as a budget crisis, or a class of trainees. After all, the show is pretty old now, wouldn’t want to do anything too dramatic, it could break a hip or something.

CSI: Season 12

It’s been a tumultuous couple of seasons for CSI with major cast changes leaving the line-up almost unrecognisable. I’m broadly in favour of that, new characters bring new life to the show which would otherwise surely be pretty stale by now. Unfortunately there’s also been some wild variation in the quality of the writing and storylines. While I praised season 10 and the introduction of Laurence Fishburne to the cast, I was critical of season 11 because the destroyed his character by giving him some kind of hammy arch-nemesis like a melodramatic comic book. So he’s out for season 12, Catherine is demoted and Ted Danson is brought in to lead the ship.

I found it interesting that Fishbourne despite being the top billed actor, and the oldest character he was a relatively junior CSI, but I’m not sure it really worked long term, too quickly the other more experienced characters deferred to him. Danson however can lead both the cast and the characters and just fits in more naturally to the structure. His quirkiness never overwhelmed his competence and he was a nice balance of new and commanding, while respectful and supporting. Being a laid back family guy made a really nice change to the mostly career obsessed, highly strung characters. I was dubious at first, but I actually liked him a lot and he felt like a better replacement for Grissom.

His character however didn’t leave much space for Catherine, and it wasn’t long before she started the drawn out process of leaving. I’ve never particularly warmed to Catherine as a character, I found her too quick with emotional reactions and too hypocritically critical of others. So I can’t say I was particularly fussed about her leaving, or really missed her after she was gone. Morgan on the other hand made a nice addition to the cast, bringing a bit of youthful enthusiasm back that has been missing since Greg became a boring grown up. Being the estranged daughter of Ecklie also brought that character more into the fold after a dozen seasons loitering on the periphery. She even managed to humanise the otherwise stunningly irritating Hodges a little bit. I’m still on the fence about the other new character – Finlay, thus far she’s just come across as a bit of a thoughtless loose cannon, but again, she at least brings some new energy to the series.

After the disastrous drawn out storyline of Nate Haskell from the last two seasons it was rather a relief that there was no ongoing storyline this year. With all the character changes that was enough to tie the season together. The cases were the usual collection of unremarkable murders interspersed with looks into unusual communities or lifestyles, nothing particularly remarkable, but generally entertaining.

I said about season 10 that it felt like everything was coming together, but then it all fell apart in season 11. That leaves me pretty nervous about saying that season 12 felt pretty good and seemed to be setting up the new generation of the series. Thanks to the cast changes the series doesn’t feel old at all (comparing for something like NCIS which has barely changed the main cast at all and so feels ancient and repetitive at ‘just’ 9 seasons). CSI continues to be a show that’s reliable entertainment, but is unlikely to ever clamber back to the top of either the ratings or anyone’s favourite shows list. Still, as NCIS proved by contrast, even just being ‘reliable entertainment’ is nothing to be sniffed at.

CSI: Season 11

I was really impressed at season ten of CSI; having been through a rocky transition it all seemed to be working beautifully – fun and interesting stories, engaging characters and nicely written relationships. It was confident and relaxed, underplaying storylines and allowing things to develop smoothly and gradually. While it wasn’t exactly appointment television, there were some real gems of episodes, and it was rarely disappointing.

Unfortunately ‘disappointing’ is one of the key words I’d use to describe season eleven, all I really remember of it were the attempts for the BIG storylines, over-egged character stories and utterly hammy villains. It all felt forced, as if someone had told the writers that everything had to be dialled up to 11.

Annoying super-villain Nate Haskell returned to monologue and slime his way through another season, taunting Langston and getting under his skin in a way that could only happen in television land. Maybe if Catherine had just had an Essex Friday night style “leave it Ray, he ain’t worth it!” screaming fit in episode one, or Brass had done a manly “just get over it” intervention we would have been saved a lot of ridiculous trials, escapes and inevitable violent confrontations. It’s bad enough when CSIs get overly involved in the case-of-the-week and no one pulls them away, but this went on and on all bloody season.

Meanwhile there were… other cases. None of which I can remember. Oh Justin Bieber turned up at one point, except if (like me) you have no idea what a Bieber is it just came across as a couple of unremarkable episodes with weird lingering shots of a guest star. And there was some supposedly famous burlesque dancer. I expect that kind of ratings grabbing from CSI:NY, just like I expect the over-the-topness from CSI: Miami, but I kind of thought the original series was better than that.

Overall I think there was way too much emphasis this season screaming for attention, as if they were worried that no one would care about their eleventh season if they didn’t do something spectacular. Sadly they missed the point – getting to an eleventh season is the spectacular thing, have some confidence and self-respect, there’s no need for a mid-life crisis, you were doing just fine. Hopefully the writers have got it all out of their system and season twelve can just settle down again.