I confess I’ve been a bit slow on the draw this year to talk about midseason TV. I guess I’ve been too caught up with my pre-Oscar movie-watching. However, I’ve still found the time to enjoy many of the series which have debuted or returned since the start of 2011. What’s more, many if them have aired around 5 or 6 episodes already, so I have a better sense of what they’re like.
Episodes (which for better or worse has already concluded its first 7-episode season) pokes fun at the Americanization of British shows. It features a married couple of writers with a successful show in England who get summoned to LA with the offer to make a pilot for an American version of their series. As you might expect, once they hit the Hollywood machine, things start to change and the character of the older, portly, urbane headmaster of a boys boarding school becomes a hockey coach played by Matt LeBlanc (who plays a scripted version of himself on the show). Some people complained that they didn’t find Episodes very funny. I think it’s a nice blend of British humour with some Hollywood satire, and I actually enjoyed following the characters. LeBlanc’s persona is kind of a spoiled, womanizing star, but there’s some humanizing touches that make him actually likeable as well. (4 out of 5)
Working Class features Melissa Peterman, one of the breakout stars of the sitcom Reba, kind of reprising her role but as a less-dumb single mom of three, who works in a grocery store to make ends meet. Her brother, a failed musician, also lives with them and (continuing the trend of casting past big-name sitcom stars in new cable-network sitcoms) Ed Asner plays her crotchety neighbour at home and at work. I always enjoy these classic, straightforward kinds of sitcoms and Peterman has a clownishness that is naturally funny. (3.5 out of 5)
Mad Love is a blatant How I Met Your Mother rip-off (complete with voiceover), but it won me over anyway. Formulaic as they come, Jason Biggs (from American Pie) and Sarah Chalke (from Roseanne, and the aforementioned HIMYM) play the main couple who meet-cute at the top of the Empire State Building (Don’t gag!). However, the humour so far has come from their two best friends, played by hilarious Tyler Labine (remember him as Sock from the short-lived series Reaper), and Judy Greer (eternal lady-sidekick from big and small screens aplenty; recently seen on Modern Family as Phil Dunphy’s old friend who wanted to get with him). Their smart-mouthed antagonism is what keeps the laughs coming (3.5 out of 5)
Hot in Cleveland is back for season two, with Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves, and Betty White still kicking it in Ohio. After Elka was arrested at the end of last season, they were able to quickly resolve that story line (and Joy’s deportation) though I can’t for the life of me recall how. Anyway, I love the zingers between Leeves and White, but I could do with a bit less of Malick’s diva antics. I hope that they shift the spotlight after this most recent two-parter featuring soap star Susan Lucci as a hilarious send-up of herself (4 out of 5).
I have really been enjoying Fairly Legal (more of a dramedy), which features the super-likeable Sarah Shahi in the lead as Kate Reid, a lawyer-turned-mediator whose father died, leaving behind a law firm to be run by her young, gorgeous ice-queen of a stepmother. However, it’s not really about the firm. Mostly it’s about how Kate handles her cases, helping people come together and resolve their disputes from a different angle. In a way, it reminds me of another series that I love, Drop Dead Diva, or even its predecessor, Ally McBeal. (4 out of 5)
While I’m predisposed to love virtually any David E. Kelley show (Bring on Wonder Woman!), Harry’s Law has some unevenness that needs to be worked out. Kathy Bates is excellent as the star, Harriet Korn, who leaves a successful patent law practice out of boredom to open a grass-roots law firm (and fine shoe store) in a working-class neighbourhood. The side characters include an earnest young attorney, an assistant who seems to be working that Legally Blonde, quasi-wisdom a bit, a drug-addict-turned-law student associate, and an actual gang-banger with a heart of bling as their neighbour-protector. For a show like this, it’s as much about the cases and speeches as it is about the characters. And while the speeches are going great, I think we need to see more of the characters in order for them to gain more depth. (3.5 out of 5)
I was kind of psyched for Being Human, the American adaptation of a British series about a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost sharing an apartment, even though I had stopped watching the original show (I found it too boring). I thought that the American version might be easier to connect with and more heartfelt. Sam Witwer (from Battlestar Galactica and Smallville) plays Aidan the vampire in the typical way — tormented by his attempts to flee from bloodlust. Sam Huntington does his best Ross Geller imitation as Josh, the werewolf, who left his whole life (and much of his self-confidence) behind when he was changed. Meaghan Rath plays Sally the ghost who is finding it hard to move on because of unsettled feelings about her fiance. The storylines follow the UK series (but I’m glad they got rid of the plot where Aidan was accused of being a pedophile) where each character meets others of their kind to “learn the ropes” or tempt them to join. The biggest problem I have with this series is that the monster-show seems to be fighting with the show about these three young characters. While I get that there’s supposed to be a dichotomy that they’re struggling with, the two sides really don’t jell, and it has become repetitive in only a few short episodes. (3 out of 5)
Finally, there was a pilot preview of Camelot, a series intended to take a more realistic look at the Arthurian legend. It’s a British/Canadian co-production, but will be airing on US cable network Starz, who aired the preview ahead of its April premiere. Joseph Fiennes stars as a younger, scarred Merlin, who seems to be maneuvering people and events (in a mostly non-magical way) to ensure that Arthur (a very young man, played by a slightly-wimpy Jamie Campbell Bower) rises to his throne against his half-sister Morgan (played by the formidable Eva Green — who I’ve loved ever since Casino Royale) and her lover/ally Lot (played by James Purefoy). The beautiful Claire Forlani (remember her from Meet Joe Black with Brad Pitt?) also appears as Arthur’s mother Igraine. Fiennes is always a bit melodramatic, so this is a good role for him. Similarly Green is able to unleash herself as Morgan. As expected from a Starz show, some bare breasts and raunchy love scenes have already appeared, but the series is supposedly based upon the classic Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. The production values are pretty cinema-ready, and there have been only a few restrained bit of magic so far, nothing cheesy. I just hope that this Arthur will live up to his legend. (3.5 out of 5)