(This is an extended preview of Sunday’s PopRox column in the Pocono Record. As per the usual, it doesn’t contain any commentary on HBO or Showtime shows, because I don’t get paid enough to subscribe to pay-TV. If you’re looking for thoughts on Homeland, you probably know where to find them by now.)
This is the first milepost of the TV season — November Sweeps.
So here are some assessments so far, and what we might be looking for over the rest of the season:
BEST NEW DRAMA
Or maybe this should be “THE ONLY NEW SHOW WORTH WATCHING” award. Arrow is so heads and tails ahead of every other new show premiered by network TV this year it’s insane. Last Resort is too far-fetched, Nashville is too country music-y, Vegas is too CBS, Revolution bored me to sleep twice in three weeks before I cut bait and it’s just not worth watching anything else. This looked like a somewhat promising year for new TV shows, but it’s turned into a pretty big dud. That shouldn’t take anything away from Arrow, it’s not winning this by default. This show would play in any year even if it looks and feels just like a TV version of Batman Begins.
BEST NEW COMEDY
Malibu Country. Just kidding. It’s Go On, Matthew Perry’s new NBC sitcom, but more than Arrow, it’s more of a product of the quality of the newcomers. It’s a funny show, and it’s getting funnier, but it’s nowhere near cracking the top 10 comedies on TV. Maybe they should just completely ditch the sports talk thing, because Perry is no good as a believable sports fan, which is weird since he actually is.
It’s not necessarily a turnaround because New Girl was very good last year, but the Fox comedy has risen to best on network TV status. And that’s despite Zooey Deschanel’s this has to get old sometime shtick. She’s another in the long line of hot women who are painted as dorky characters that can’t a boyfriend, even though in the real world, she’d snap her fingers and have a line 30 guys long just to get two of her seven phone number digits. But she’s fantastic in the show, and it’s been years since we’ve seen two sidekicks as good as Nick and Schmidt. When those two get their own spinoff, it will be the funniest show on TV. In a terribly crowded Tuesday night of eight very good comedies, New Girl is the best.
What the holy heck is going on with Sons of Anarchy this year? After a huge comeback fourth season, Sons has tanked this year into a convoluted three-way of confusion in which Jimmy Smits is the only weekly highlight. The same Jimmy Smits, that is, whose last two starring TV shows (Cane and Outlaw) have been canceled in less than a season.
Death. (LOTS OF SPOILER ALERTS COMING HERE IF YOU’RE WAITING FOR NETFLIX!!!) I must have missed the e-mail where TV shows are required to kill someone off each week. No one wanted Lori gone from The Walking Dead more than me, but I didn’t know half the cast had to go with her! Adam Levine is the first credit on American Horror Story, but he bit it within three episodes. At least we think so. Then there is poor Opie, the only true moral compass of Sons of Anarchy. His demise by bludgeon should have been a rallying cry for Jax to get himself out of the whole Sam Crow thing, but he’s only gotten deeper, thereby making Opie’s death patently meaningless, thereby making it completely frustrating. Even the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon on Disney XD killed off Black Panther, only to bring him back in the next episode. Let’s take a break from all the killing, cool? Cool.
The continued abandonment of the laugh track. Nine new sitcoms premiered this season, and only three of them have laugh tracks. Of the three, Guys with Kids and Partners look like failures, and the jury is out on Malibu Country, though it has to really, really tank to be a failure. Of the six single-camera shows, only Animal Practice was a complete dud. The other five — The Neighbors, Ben and Kate, The Mindy Project, Go On and The New Normal — all were picked up for the remainder of the season. Whether they all make it there is still questionable, but it’s at the very least safe to say the trend is to single-camera, non-laugh track sitcoms. Sure, Up All Night is starting to produce multi-camera episodes that will be taped in front of a live audience with all the laughing, but that’s clearly not the trend, rather an act of desperation.