TV junkies and casual viewers we are six weeks into the television season and the results are mixed. First cancelled casualties are in and many new shows are floundering or treading water. However, if I were to pick a theme for the season thus far it would be "all that's old is new again" because the strongest episodic television we are seeing comes from shows that have been on the air for more than two years. Let's get to grading:
HEAD OF THE CLASS
No show started or came back stronger. Season 5 opened with a framework to set the show on a path that was completely fresh and new. The first five episodes created a slow build placing all the primary characters into position for last Sunday's game changing episode. The Good Wife's greatest strengths have always been casting and dialogue. Last week put both on display in what can only be characterized as a master of class of television. It was 42 minutes of relentless, at times hilarious pacing that shifted every character we've come to know into a new position creating alliances of convenience, blurred lines of loyalty climaxing in a final scene that pits two characters on opposing sides in a way no one who watched season 1 would have ever imagined. All told, five seasons in The Good Wife is primed to be better than ever and earns it my top grade for the young season.
What Castle has managed to do in its opening six episodes is seamlessly transition our lead couple from the pivotal acceptance of a marriage proposal to a confidant, stable relationship that is woven into the story without dominating it. In doing so Andrew Marlowe has managed to move the show into a new storytelling space while retaining all the aspects of the show that made us fall in love with it in the first place. Interesting murder cases juxtaposed with the unforeseen challenges resulting from the engagement. The dialogue has been both intimate and charming between our leads while the supporting cast has been pivoted into new realities which are unfolding for better or for worse. It is clear that this season is going to bring us a shift in our protagonist that we've only seen glimpses of until now. The shallow Rick Castle of the series pilot has evolved in many ways, but the conflict set up between he and Alexis has opened up an entire avenue of emotional storytelling I don't think any of the viewers saw coming. Yes Pi is problematic, but he's written to be that way. At a time when the stories and characters could sit back and rely on the chemistry of the leads Castle continues to evolve and find interesting ways to make us care. This quiet moment that closed episode 5 shows just how much.
The only freshman show to make this category, The Blacklist came out strong with James Spader blending clever and convincing acting into an intriguing hour of television. But as strong as Spader is Megan Boone's performance as Liz falls flat or overwrought depending on what she's doing. That imbalance between the leads has been distracting, but not enough to derail the show. Here's why. The overarching subplots are extremely interesting, in particular the mystery surrounding Liz's husband. While extremely entertaining, my chief concern remains. Spader's Red can't win every time and more importantly the 'good guys' need to win of their own volition otherwise they merely become puppets in the lead character's game. It was the failure of The Following last season and I hope Blacklist avoids the trap.
All hail the decision to take the characters who are at the heart of the show and set them on a course for Neverland. It was perhaps the savviest decision I've seen a show make, although not entirely surprising given the fact that these are the creators of LOST. As a result season 3 has offered stories within a story in the quest to save Henry from a re-imagined sinister and deftly cast Peter Pan. Our more cynical characters have returned to form and depth has been given to Hook and Charming making both so much more interesting to watch. The show has always required a deep suspension of disbelief and the jury is out as to what will come of the storytelling when they eventually leave Neverland, especially given that as a viewer I haven't given Storybrooke a second thought this season and the weakest aspect of the show was getting Neal out of Fairyland. Even with that looming doubt there is no denying the show has shredded itself of what didn't work last year and has replaced it with strong potential around what comes next, making it the most improved show from season end to season start in 2013. This exchange between Peter Pan and Hook emphasizes all that is going well with this rejuvenated show.
BROOKLYN NINE NINE: GRADE B
This is the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the season. A rarity, Brooklyn Nine Nine has actually gotten stronger with each episode. Sandberg comes across as charming and self-effacing in his delivery and the push-pull between him and Andre Braugher is simply fun. The real gem of the show has been its ensemble which is developing into a supporting cast that could potentially rival that of classic shows like Fraiser. The show is very reminiscent of Night Court which makes it this year's most accessible comedy.
THE MILLERS: GRADE B-
I had extremely low expectations for this show which has served it well. It isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but Margo Martindale is and the supporting cast is solid. Will The choice to make Will Arnett the straight man works in the shows favor. Still the writing is inconsistent and not particularly clever but all the elements are there and I am hopeful it will find its way into being a solid watch.
SLEEPY HOLLOW: GRADE CThe actors, in particular the two leads give me hope that all is not lost. However, the convoluted nature week to week of the story has this one sitting on my DVR longer than a new show should sit. I tape on Mondays and I often don't watch until Fridays, not a good sign for being a lasting presence on the DVR.
GREY'S ANATOMY: GRADE C- After a very protracted and unnecessary two hour season opener this series is truly showing its age. Everything about this season feels stale. The conflict between Meredith and Christina feels forced because it is shoehorned between other plots that don't matter. Including all of the younger interns, Alex's daddy issues, the never ending anger/angst of Callie and Arizona and the continued destruction of Bailey's once great character. Shondra Rhimes is obviously being pulled to Scandal and Grey's has suffered the consequences.
FAILING MARKSMOM: GRADE D+
I adore Allison Janney, I like Anna Faris and I wanted to love this show but I just don't. And that is because the shows underpinnings are simply sad. Two recovering addicts and a teen pregnancy isn't funny. The show shows moments of funny but so far it has been so erratic in tone I don't know that they can recover. It's a shame, because if there were more moments like , the show would be terrific.
HOMELAND: GRADE D
The bait and switch twist with Carrie notwithstanding, this season of Homeland has been painstakingly slow and the focus on Brody's daughter has been cringe worthy. It's obvious that the makers of Homeland learned none of the lessons of 24 and what not to do with teenaged daughters. I am all for methodical storytelling. But the show has become mired in the aftermath of Brody being exposed as a terrorist. Had they done a better job of establishing our concern and investment in Brody's family perhaps it would work as a plot line. But they didn't so it doesn't and as a result I am done for now.
SCANDAL: GRADE D-
I repeat, damn you Lisa Kudrow and your dramatic multiple episode arch! I remain in the minority when it comes to this show and will take it one step further in stating that I don't understand the fascination with Kerry Washington. Save for Kudrow's storyline which has piqued my interest everything I found frustrating about this show remains for season 3.
DIDN'T MAKE THE GRADE
AGENTS OF S.H.E.I.L.D Until and unless they make some drastic changes I am sadly gone. I recommend reading Screen Rant's piece . They succinctly illustrate everything I believe to be true about this show and what needs to happen. If 2 of 4 occur I will tune back in.
GLEE I returned for the tribute which was handled well given all that it needed to do. It offered one of the singular most heart wrenching scenes exquisitely played by the actors playing. But it is evident this is a show whose storytelling is past its prime.
HOSTAGES Tony Collette and Dylan McDermott couldn't make this work and that was evident 25 minutes into the pilot. Worse than the Following, this show was both implausible and unlikable but its worst offense, it lacked suspense.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND When I was predicting the fall season I wrote "If I had a most likely to drop off my DVR first, this would be it." And I was correct, I watched half of the first episode and bailed. It did little in that time to make me believe it was anything more than a poor retread of the series it is born from.
TROPHY WIFE It is almost criminal to waste Bradley Whitford in a comedy. It is even worse to do it as a cheap, uninspired knock off of Modern Family. I wanted to like it, but it is just not possible.
REVENGE This show fell off a cliff last year and with a packed Sunday of television, I saw no reason to return.