Last night saw the debuts of the last series premieres on the major four networks this fall, Nashville and Chicago Fire (there are still a few upcoming on The CW, but we don’t count The CW, except for the show on this list). Three weeks into the new season, there’s already a lot of lost causes (“Guys with Kids,” “Partners,” “Animal Practice,” and the already cancelled “Made in Jersey”), some likely to succumb to cancellation regardless of their quality (“666 Park Avenue”), some bad shows with inexplicably high ratings (“Revolution” and “Elementary”) and others that still haven’t had time to figure themselves out, but display some potential.
Overall, now that the dust has mostly settled, there are only eight new shows that remain on my DVR: The five below, plus “Vegas” (decent, but it really feels like a stodgy CBS show targeted at grandparents); “The Mindy Project” (fun but wildly uneven, though ultimately, it’s the show I’m most likely to still be watching by the end of the season), and “Go On,” which I don’t even like that much (especially after this week’s weak episode) but I’m sticking with it out of some misguided loyalty to Matthew Perry.
In my opinion, these are the 5 strongest shows so far, although none of the five have displayed enough promise to ensure I’ll watch any of them all the way through May, if they even last that long.
5. Arrow (The CW) — This one was a flat-out surprise, as “Arrow” (about the superhero, Green Arrow) was a show I’d only planned to watch a few minutes of before completely dismissing it. Ultimately, it proved to be badly written, but cheesily entertaining and surprisingly violent. There are some nifty action sequences, a cool backstory (particularly for those unfamiliar with the superhero) with a number of moving elements, and a lead (Stephen Amell) who does an excellent job of mixing superhero with total toolbag. If it turns into a monster-of-the-week show and abandons the mythology, I don’t see myself sticking around for long, but the origins story, the action, and a surprisingly dark twist in the pilot has me captivated (and I’m not alone). For now.
4. The New Normal (NBC) — I’ve been up-and-down this show, and I’ve found a lot of the politics in the Ryan Murphy series to be heavy handed and overly self-righteous, even if I do ultimately agree with those politics. However, I can’t help myself. The damn show has grown on me. Ellen Barkin is hilarious in what is essentially a Tea-Party version of Jane Lynch in “Glee,” and the rest of the cast — save for the often unctuous Andrew Rannels, who plays Bryan — is so sweet that I’ve grown smitten with the gay wholesomeness of the series. It’s very much like the Cam and Mitch relationship in “Modern Family,” only Bryan and David have been given considerably more freedom to offend and a delicious antagonist.
3. Ben & Kate — Ben is painfully obnoxious, but like The New Normal, the show is too sweet to resist. Ben is this years’ Zooey Deschanel, and once the writers figure out a way to tone him down without destroying the essence of that character, the show will come into its own, particularly if they also do a better job of highlighting the talents of Lucy Punch. It may also be beneficial if they upped the stakes, as the episodes so far have revolved around a scavenger hunt and a visit to the principal’s office and given us little reason to invest heavily in the characters beyond the fact that they’re sweet and quirky.
2. Nashville — I’ll second Sarah’s assessment of “Nashville”: “The stakes are higher, and twangier, (than “Smash”) and while there is plenty of soap in this drama, there may be just enough heart, soul and talent to make it worth the investment.”
There were certainly some “Dallas”-like soapy elements in the pilot episode, but Connie Britton is magnificent, as always, and Hayden Panettiere is a sufficiently bratty foil whose relationship with her drug-addicted mother may earn her some sympathy (I found myself hoping that Connie Britton’s character would get over her dislike of Panettiere’s character and mother her, like Tami Taylor would do). Powers Boothe’s scheming father was a little overkill, but I suppose all good soaps need a Cruella with Larry Hagman eyebrows. At the very least, “Nashville” has earned the title of the most guiltily pleasurable of the fall, and the music — if you’re into pop country with a heavy dose of sentimentality — is surprisingly decent.
1. Last Resort — I’ve already rang this bell a number of times, and after two episodes, I’m still buying into the crackpot, edge-of-global-nuclear-destruction premise. Andre Braugher’s weighty performance goes a long way toward selling it, and I already feel invested enough in the characters that there’s tension in the high-stakes action sequences, even if Scott Speedman would suffocate trying to act his way out of a paper bag. Like with “The Unit,” I expect that Shawn Ryan will be able to continue creating clever, caper-like vignettes within the larger overall structure of the series. Moreover, at this point, I’m less concerned with Shawn Ryan’s ability to extend the life of the premise as I am with whether ABC will allow him to do so before canceling the series, which saw a steep ratings drop off from the pilot to the second episode.