Unlike some previous years where new series became instant classics (I’m thinking of Lost and Desperate Housewives — 2004 was a banner year!), I find this season has some potential new hit drama series but they’ll probably need some time to come into their own.
Of new drama series, my favourite is (suprisingly) The Blacklist. I was not a huge fan of The Silence of the Lambs, and this series about a master criminal who turns himself in to the FBI in order to trade valuable information (but only to a certain newbie, female agent) seemed at first to be a TV version of that Oscar winning movie. Thankfully, unlike Hannibal, the TV series that is actually a Lambs prequel, The Blacklist trades in a few psychoses and mindgames for a bit more of the Alias-style action and plot twists. (It also rings a few X-Files bells, only without any creepy crawlies — so far.) James Spader is icy smooth as Raymond Reddington, a villain of villains who offers to trade his “black list” of other major criminals for the FBI’s unwitting help with a mysterious agenda. Cooperating only with Sp. Agent Elizabeth Keen (played by newcomer Megan Boone) they form a kind of odd relationship. So far it’s still a bit one-sided as Spader is chewing scenery in circles around the relatively stiff Boone, but hopefully this dynamic will blossom over time. Meanwhile, it’s just fun every week to see what Reddington is up to, and what other twists will develop in the overall storyline.
The most hype-worthy new drama of the season has been, unfortunately, on a bit of a slow burn — but it’s not for lack of action, explosions, and big budget effects. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD was definitely the one to beat going in. A spin-off from mega-blockbuster summer movie The Avengers, not only did they bring over a tragic hero from the movie (in lead character Agent Coulson — who supposedly died in the movie but miraculously continues to lead a special ops team). They also brought director Joss Whedon to put his creative fingerprints all over the new series. There is clever dialogue, a group of pretty young unknowns (none of which are very interesting), and plenty of hints that will likely lead to a season-long story arc. These are all beloved trademarks of a Whedon show. However, there are also the signs of a Marvel Entertainment production, which includes lots of explosive action, an un-subtle approach to conflict resolution, and effects-driven fictional pseudo-science. The Marvel stuff is as distracting from the Whedon stuff as if someone were waving their arms in the front row. It makes it a bit harder to enjoy the series’s full effect. Nevertheless, it took precisely six episodes for the last Whedon show, Dollhouse, to turn a corner into cool territory, so I’m going to give Agents of SHIELD at least that much leeway.
Sleepy Hollow is another show full of potential. Take Ichabod Crane (from the fictional story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and bring him into the present day along with the Headless Horseman (who it’s revealed is supposedly one of the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). Crane teams up with a young cop who also saw a demon in the woods as a child and is somehow connected to the Horsemen and their apocalyptic plans. The overall supernatural storyline and American backdrop has echoes of Supernatural the TV series, but with Crane and Abby pairing up, there’s also a bit of an X-Files vibe as well. Unfortunately, the series has lacked coherence and each episode seems disconnected from the last (even though they are clearly trying to connect them with an overall demonic plot). The plot is very jumbled and between Crane’s undead wife (who is trapped in a purgatory dimension), the centuries old conflict between good and bad witches, and the demon of the week (who is still somehow related to overall story arc), it’s very difficult to understand where this series is going. I’ll give it a few more chances, but it seems to be a poorly-planned show and I don’t have high hopes for it.
Sticking with the supernatural theme is the Lifetime series Witches of East End. Reminding me a lot of Charmed, a family of female witches discover their true identities and that they have magical powers — not a bad premise to me. Unfortunately, the dialogue and acting is pretty poor. Thankfully, like Charmed, it’s not gritty realism that we’re looking for but a distracting, magic-tinged, good time.
Finally, The Tomorrow People, which is derived from a 70s British sci-fi series, was so CW-ified that I quickly lost interest. Of course it’s full of pretty young actors, but it is also extremely cliche. When a kid develops superhuman powers, he finally understands that he’s not going insane. Nevertheless, he seeks and finds acceptance among newly discovered fellows of his kind — who are apparently a next level of evolution — who also have powers such as teleportation, telepathy and telekinesis. Being a CW show, this underground community is just a breeding ground for teen angst and overblown melodrama. Not that interesting to me, but maybe it’s going to be the perfect show for people who miss Smallville and enjoy Arrow for those very reasons.
Before I leave new shows altogether, I forgot to mention that I also gave many other shows a one or two episode chance (in some cases only part of an episode), but ended giving up. Dads was a terrible comedy about two men (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi deserve so much better) who end up with their fathers moving back in with them. The premiere episode was so full of racist and bigoted jokes that I almost longed for the worldly wisdom of 2 Broke Girls. The Michael J. Fox Show was OK-funny, but I didn’t really connect with the TV family, and I was a bit distracted by Fox’s Parkinson’s disease (which unfortunately made his dialogue sound very rehearsed). Trophy Wife was a bit too much of the blended-family stereotypes. Malin Ackerman plays Bradley Whitford’s third wife dealing with all the other family members, including a hard-ass first wife, a hippy-granola second wife, and all the stepkids. Despite the fact that it is definitely not my kind of show, I almost want to start watching it again for the adorable and clever, adopted, Chinese, stepson played by Albert Tsai. Super Fun Night should have been the star-making vehicle for the hilarious Rebel Wilson, but this show is just so unfunny. Let’s hope Wilson can still keep her movie career going. I want to see her in more stuff, but not this aweful show. I also started to watch the premiere of Ironside, with Blair Underwood as the wheelchair-bound title character detective. After he got out of his chair to shakedown a snitch in the backseat of a car, I knew this wasn’t going to be a good series (and the network agreed by cancelling the show). Also, I tried to watch the first episode of Hostages, about a surgeon (played by Toni Collette) whose family is held hostage so that she’ll murder the president during an operation. There was obviously lots of conspiracy and other stuff going on, but I decided to save my tension and nail-biting for another show. I gave The Originals a try too, but I don’t know why I thought that seeing these characters (who I did not enjoy on The Vampire Diaries) transplanted to a New Orleans context would have made me enjoy them any more. I did like oldest sibling Elijah slightly more than the others, but now he’s become a one-note character, going on and on about family and the baby (yes, hybrid werewolf-vampire Klaus is expecting a baby with a witch). Speaking of witches, I wanted to give American Horror Story: Coven a try, too, since this season was focusing its story line on witches. However, after the prologue scene featuring Kathy Bates as an antebellum matriarch with a penchant for chaining up slaves in a dungeon and using their blood as make-up, even the opening credits were too creepy and over-the-top for me. I ended up wimping-out on the show.
Despite the rather concentrated opening few weeks, there are still a number of shows to debut and return. Who knows? We may get some new classics after all.