2013-14 – New Shows

2013_2014I 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_humanAlmost 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.
  • agentsfoshieldMarvel’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.
  • nightshiftThe 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.
  • chicagopdChicago 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.
  • crisisCrisis – 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.
  • rakeRake – 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.
  • truedetectiveTrue 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

  • starcrossedStar-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.
  • legendsLegends – 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.
  • reignReign – 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. 

The Upfronts – ABC

ABC network logoABC is the family network. Sorta. They’re owned by Disney and tend to specialise in soap opera-y stuff with melodrama and cheese in abundance. They also don’t seem to want to let non-US people watch their trailers, so the quality may be variable.

What’s out
Body of ProofPrivate Practice never quite managed to work as well as its older sibling Grey’s Anatomy and was gracefully retired after six seasons, Body of Proof lasted just three and hopefully its cancellation will free star Dana Delaney up for something better. Happy Endings had enough critical praise for its two seasons that it may yet get picked up by another channel.

It was a terrible year for ABC’s freshman series, of the 10 shows they brought to the upfronts last year, eight have been cancelled. That’s a pretty awful statistic and some pretty awful programmes. Comedies Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 and How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life both had names longer than their runs, while Family Tools was, well, full of tools. Of the dramas Last Resort was a great concept badly delivered, 666 Park Avenue was just a poor concept poorly delivered. Malibu Country, Zero Hour and Red Widow didn’t last long enough for me to actually see.

What’s returning
ABC’s schedule is built on foundations of ageing good performers (Castle, Grey’s Anatomy, The Middle and Modern Family) with a second tier of solidly performing sophomore shows (Once Upon a Time, Revenge, Suburgatory and Scandal) and topped off with the two successful new shows – the enjoyable Nashville and something called Neighbors which I’ve never heard of before!

What’s New
Back in the Game – Terry (Maggie Lawson, Psych) is a recently divorced single mum and she moves back in with her grouchy father (James Caan, The Godfather). She ends up coach to her son’s useless little league team. There was some charm to the trailer and I smiled a couple of times, but if those were the best bits, it’s not that great.

Betrayal – a couple begin an affair, but the guy is the defence attorney on a major case while the woman’s husband is the prosecutor. The plot as shown in the trailer seems pretty tenuous, and no one seemed particularly pleasant So it should fit in perfectly alongside Revenge which I felt the same way about.

The Goldbergs – set in the 80’s The Goldberg family shout at each other, don’t connect and the baby brother films everything on a giant video recorder. Most trailers are 2 or 3 minutes long, this one was 4 and every extra second felt like a lifetime.

Killer Women – Molly Parker (Tricia Helfer, Battlestar Galactica) is a tough as whatever Texas Ranger who lets nothing, not even her clothing get in between her and justice. I hate the blurb, I hate the trailer, I hate the costumer, I hate the director and I want the cast to be doing better things.

Lucky 7 – A seven gas station employees win the lottery. They’ve all got problems that the money could solve, but I’m guessing it’s not going to be that simple. The concept is solid, but I didn’t like the trailer much, none of the characters really connected with me and I was left feeling a bit uninspired.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Agent Coulson seems to have gotten better after being killed in The Avengers, and he’s establishing a team to investigate stuff. Yes, it’s a daft name, but its JOSS freakin’ WHEDON! I couldn’t be more excited about this if I tried.

Mind Games – Clark (Steve Zahn, Treme) is an expert of human behaviour and his brother Ross (Christian Slater, yes, that Christian Slater) is a con man, but Clark is bipolar and Ross is just out of jail. They set up an agency helping people to get what they want. It’s a bit Psych, a bit Leverage, and may get a bit repetitive, but I was rather charmed by the trailer.

Mixology – 10 single people in a bar trying to find people to be with. When the phrase “from the writers of The Hangover” appeared on the screen suddenly my dislike of the trailer made sense. It’s a shame because the idea of setting the whole season in just one night and one location is quite an interesting one.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland – Alice is in an insane asylum, finally convinced that Wonderland and the genie she fell in love with there are just a figment of her imagination. But then the Knave of Hearts and White Rabbit appear to take her back to rescue her love. It’s a spin off from Once Upon a Time although I didn’t spot the connection beyond the fairy tale reality, it’s also not got a cast with any real credits or power behind them and I was left unenthused.

Resurrection – 8 year old Jacob died. But 30 years later he seems to have returned from the dead, still 8 years old. It’s possibly the simplest description of any of the new shows, but the impact could be huge and fascinating. It’s going to have the same problem all ‘event’ programmes do which is how do you draw out the mystery without being irritating, but it’s an interesting set up.

Super Fun Night – Kimmie (Rebel Wilson, Bridesmaids) always stays in her with her two friends on Friday night, but she’s invited out by a colleague to a club and hilarity ensues. Except it doesn’t. I guess if you like Bridesmaids this might work for you, but I hated the film, so hated this.

Trophy Wife – a reformed party girl marries a father of three and has to deal with his kids and ex-wives. I was watching this with a resigned sense of horror that this is the kind of thing that gets made, when at around the 20 second mark I realised that Bradley Whitford was in it. I don’t care how much you need to pay the mortgage, have some self respect man, you were Josh Lyman!

Links: ABC doesn’t let non-US people see its trailers, don’t know whether that’s because it hates us or because it’s embarrassed. The press release and schedule summary are at the Futon Critic.