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The 5 Best and Worst New TV Shows of the Fall Season

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | October 31, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | October 31, 2011 |

Most of the new fall shows have officially premiered on the networks (with the exception of “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” which doesn’t debut until the end of November on Fox), so it’s time to take a moment and review our findings. If you missed any of our reviews, this is essentially what you need to know.

5 Best Shows of the Fall

5. American Horror Story<: I know, I hated the pilot for Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” referring to it as “a cocked-up, senseless, shitty wet-dream nightmare of camp and stomach-pit revulsion.” I still stand by that, but “American Horror Story” infected me. Like a horrible, brain-rotting disease. It’s catchier than syphilis, and perhaps twice as itchy. But I can’t quit, for the reasons enumerated by Joanna: “I came for Tami Taylor but I’m staying for the hackneyed mystery, the completely unnecessary lewdness, and, most importantly, for Jessica Lange’s bitchface. She is giving a masterclass in contempt and connive. I can’t miss a second of it.” It’s irresistible. Will it last? I can’t imagine so, but for now, it’s impossible to turn away from, and more often than not, I don’t want to, at least until that gimp has had its way with Dylan McDermot, too.

4. Suburgatory: “Suburgatory” is still good, but not as great as the pilot portended, as I wrote in my review: “‘Suburgatory’ is a fish-out-of-water sitcom, but Kapner is not interested in simply mining the comedy inherent to that situation. She wants to humanize the suburban robots watering their lawns in unison, dig into their psyches and pull out the miseries they’ve been hiding under the bleached hair and fake tits. The Mean Girls piece provides ample comedic opportunities for humiliations and insulting one-liners, and the Burton-esque suburban set pieces could provide seasons of humor, but Kapner’s approach is more multi-dimensional. She wants to use George and Tessa to incrementally flesh out the personalities beneath the suburban stereotypes, find the hearts beneath the tin women. There’s something novel in that, and combined with sharp writing, great actressin’, Sisto in the most likable role of his career, and ‘Suburgatory’ is” one of the best comedies of the season.

3. Up All Night: Only Maya Rudolph’s character is holding this back from the two spot: “It’s definitely a comedy that displays a lot of potential. Applegate has bounced around since “Married with … Children” as the sole strength in a series of mediocre to bad sitcoms, and “Up All Night” is easily the best television role she’s had since Kelly Bundy. Save for a recurring role on “30 Rock,” Arnett has been television poison since “Arrested Development” ended its run, but in “Up All Night” he finally gets to play a character with whom we can identify and relate instead of an obnoxious loudmouth. Maya Rudolph is likewise a brilliant actress too often misused. If Spivey can do for her character they did with Amy Poehler’s in “Parks and Recreation” — make her someone to root for instead of someone to laugh at — then it’s very possible that “Up All Night” will settle into one of the stronger sitcoms on network television.

2. Revenge: Both Sarah, in her full review, and Joanna — in her write up — argue the guilty pleasures of “Revenge” and they are not wrong. “Madeline Stowe, her sneer, and the rest of the gang are trashing up ABC on Wednesday nights, and it’s glorious. Don’t miss it. Watch it while it’s still good,” Joanna wrote, and Sarah adds that, those who have seen it, are “guilty of not being able to look away.”

1b. Homeland: Seth had the honors on this one: “The premise of ‘Homeland’ is a simple one — a Marine sniper, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who was assumed killed-in-action in the early days of of the war in Iraq, has actually been a POW, and thanks to some good CIA’ing, he’s been rescued and gets to come home a war hero. Only thing is, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has it on inside dirt from a now-dead Iraqi informant that Sgt. Brody might have been turned bad in all his time in captivity. And so we’re presented with a very simple, on its face, cat-and-mouse game. But it’s not as simple as it seems because the show hasn’t made either character black-and-white. From what we learn in the pilot, Nicholas has definitely come home with some baggage and doesn’t appear to be telling the truth about some of his in-country captivity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a sleeper agent with plans to do Bad Business. But it looks like we’re going, over the season, to get quite a bit of understanding about where his head’s at, be it broken vet, patriot turned terrorist, or something else entirely. Carrie, meanwhile, may be more than one card short of a full deck — she’s unhealthily thin, takes mood fixer-upper drugs and, based on one piece of questionable evidence, immediately dives into her self-appointed mission against Brody with a questionable amount of determination and an illegal amount of activity. Late in the first episode, Carrie is having a moment with her CIA mentor and confidant, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and she tries to win the argument in a way that, in the moment, is wholly inappropriate and just wrong. Saul is appalled (as is the viewer), and while she recognizes Saul’s disdain, she doesn’t seem to really grasp how close to the edge she is.

1a. Boss: “Boss” is an ugly show in the best kind of way, a dark and thematically rich series that will finally put Starz on the cable map (it’s too bad it came too late to save “Party Down”). It’s a high-quality riveting drama, textured, hard-boiled and effing relentless. Kelsey Grammer — echoing decades of Shakespearean stage performances — brings to life an unflinching character that will stand with Don Draper and Walter White as the best on television right now, the kind of character that lingers in your headspace for days. It’s a goddamned beast of a show, the best new drama of the fall season.

5 Worst Shows of the Fall

5. Terra Nova: Steven Lloyd Wilson was forgiving of the pilot, but after four episodes, reversed course: “I was perhaps overly patient with my review of “Terra Nova,” surprising since I had become convinced that it would abysmally suck before the first minute. But then again, it did have about forty minutes of solid pilot in there, when it wasn’t just focusing on moron teenagers being menaced by dinosaurs. My conclusion was that if the show runners stuck with what worked in the coming episodes, moving the ABC Family junk to the background and keeping the Sixers, and various other mysteries in the foreground, then they just might end up with an interesting science fiction story. Yeah, so that didn’t happen. By all appearances, they figured out what didn’t work in the pilot and then made the entire damned show about those elements. Focus on the interesting elements of the pilot? I can see why so many producers and writers quit or got fired since the three episodes following the pilot have pushed anything compelling about the pilot so far into the background that those elements are somewhere in the jungle backdrop behind a badly CGI’ed fictional dinosaur.

4.The Playboy Club (Cancelled): As Sarah wrote in her pan of “The Playboy Club,” and less so, “Pan Am,”: “Bunnies aren’t Playmates; that’s an important distinction. But is their life really glamorous? They made good tips but only by appearing as part of the Playboy brand. Most of the characters are Bunnies only to make enough money to find a better life and better opportunities, and that seems true to life. Alice’s story is interesting, but it deserves a better outlet. I can’t judge a woman’s decision for becoming a Bunny or anything else because I don’t know her life. But I can judge “The Playboy Club’s” writers and creators for presenting the Bunny life in a manner as if it were fabulous, an amazing opportunity that more women should have taken back in the day. If only they’d had the guts!”

3. Charlie’s Angels (Cancelled): This “Charlie Angels” feels very much like a Skinimax film with high-production values and no sex, no sex appeal, and no titillation. It’s pizza-delivery boy territory, but it’s on at 8 p.m. (the family hour), so obviously, there’s very little the show can reveal. The pizza-delivery boy just stands at the door jiggling his change and leaves, frustrated, and without a tip. And since there’s no longer any groundbreaking justification for the new “Charlie’s Angels,” the only allure left for a show like this is the sex appeal, and yet episodes of “Burn Notice” are practically R-rated by comparison. At the very least, the men behind “Charlie’s Angels” — Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (“Smallville”) — should’ve taken a cue from Yvonne Strahovski’s character in”Chuck” instead of stealing the show’s tone from a big dirt hole in the ground.

2. Last Man Standing: There’s a lot wrong with ABC’s new Tim Allen comedy, “Last Man Standing,” not least of which is that it’s a generic, laugh-track sitcom steeped in lame 80’s humor. It’s essentially a remake of “Home Improvement,” only the television show is exchanged for YouTube videos, and the sons are exchanged for daughters so that Tim Allen’s Mike Baxter can better play on gender stereotypes. He’s an unfunny Al Bundy crossed with a Tea Party activist, a “man’s man,” which means: A little racist, a little homophobic. Still, it’d be one thing if Mike Baxter was the butt of his own jokes, an asshole Archie Bunker who managed to expand his worldview thanks to the perspective of three daughters and a boozy wife. But in “Last Man Standing,” his worldview is proven correct by the plotlines: It is sissy to baby-proof your house, and liberal day-care providers will turn your baby into a Nancy. Ranting and raving online about the demise of machismo validates Mike Baxter’s conservative worldview by making him a viral success.

1. Whitney: The fact that “Whitney” has been picked up for a full season has mystified all of us, including Sarah, who wrote in her review: “That’s all I could think about as I trudged through “Whitney,” NBC’s latest attempt at filling one of the holes “Friends” left on Thursday nights when it finished (a couple seasons after it should have, to be fair) in 2004. The network has found some gems in “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Community” and “Parks and Recreation.” But there’s always that other spot to fill, the one that seems cursed by the many multi-camera comedies that once ruled the night for NBC, from “Seinfeld” to “Frasier” to “Will & Grace.” Recent inductees into the network’s comedy graveyard include “Perfect Couples” and “Outsourced,” as well as others I’ve thankfully forgotten. Hopefully, “Whitney,” a bland, unfunny, wannabe “Friends,” joins them. Soon.”

Unfortunately, it will not. At least not until 2012.