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Monday, November 3, 2014

MAKIN' LIST MONDAYS: 2014-15 Network Television "First Look"

The 2014-15 network television is in full swing and I am completely blown away by how m any incredible shows are on the air this year.  There has been no better time in history to own a DVR (in the decade or so history of the DVR) as every single night of the week is overflowing with incredible programs.  Rather than waiting until mid-season to breakdown the best shows I’m watching, I thought I’d offer up a special “first look” Top 10 as we are now a handful of episodes into each show on the major networks.  Hit the jump to see what shows I think you should be watching!

Please note that this is for major network television shows only, not cable shows.  Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, etc are not included on this list, not because I’m a big dummy, but because they aren’t network shows that follow the regular scheduling format.  Only shows that appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and The CW were eligible, except Saturday Night Live, which is too unique to be judged in this manner.

Gotham (FOX)
Gotham has been a rollercoaster of a show thus far in its first season.  For every great bit of casting (Robin Lord Taylor, Donal Logue) or great twist, there Is Jada Pinkett Smith.  She ruins everything.  Much like last year’s Agents of SHIELD (more on that later), Gotham has a lot of potential, but is very uneven thus far.  As long as the showrunners accept that they do not need to make a Gotham that fits snugly into accepted Batman continuity and can convince viewers that is okay, this should could be great.
A to Z (NBC)
The only cancelled show on this list had great promise with a strong cast, but failed to find an audience.  Hopefully this won’t be le last we see of stars Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti, who showed a ton of potential here.
Bob’s Burgers (FOX)
It hurts to put Bob’s Burgers, my pick for the best show on television last season, on the Honorable Mentions list, but with only one episode having aired at the time I’m writing this, I can’t put it on the actual list.  When I do my mid-season report card, however, expect it to easily be a Top 5 show.
Selfie (ABC)
Of all the Honorable Mentions, the poorly-titled Selfie came the closest to cracking the Top 10.  The show falls on an easy premise as yet another take on Pygmalion, but shines thanks to the incredible chemistry between leads John Cho and Karen Gillan.  Aside from the title, the only downside has been its rather predictable plots, but the show keeps shining through its flaws.

For the first season and a half of The Mindy Project, I was not completely sold.  I liked it, but I didn’t feel that it was a “can’t miss” program.  I’d let a few episodes build up on the DVR without feeling compelled to catch-up.  But then they put Mindy and Danny together and the show kicked it into high gear.  Their relationship has been even more entertaining this season and has been nicely supplemented by a series of solid B-plots centering on the supporting cast.  Ike Barinholtz as Tookers is one of the best characters on television, while Ed Weeks has finally found his rhythm as Dr. Reed thanks to his new rivalry with the always hilarious Adam Pally’s Dr. Prentice.  For a show that I almost stopped watching at one point, it has finally found its voice and has become one of the most interesting comedies on television.

The first of five brand new shows on this “first look” Top 10 is CBS’s exciting comedy-drama Scorpion, which follows a team of eccentric super geniuses loosely based upon the life of Walter O’Brien (played by Elyes Gabel here).  The show balances action and character work nicely with Robert Patrick doing a great job as the straight man amongst a cast of bizarre personalities.  While the plots have been somewhat predictable, the interaction amongst the characters as they find the solutions to the complex problems is really interesting.  Think CSI-meets-Big Bang Theory, but slightly less cartoonish than both.  This one might get lost in the flurry of procedurals, but it is one certainly worth watching.

08. BROOKLYN 9-9 (FOX)
Lead by perhaps the best ensemble cast one television, Brooklyn 9-9 picked up right where it left off last season as one of the strongest comedies on network TV.  After struggling to find its footing early on (perhaps because it focused too much on Andy Samberg), the show is in full swing already after just a few episodes in its sophomore year.  Every single character has had a chance to shine so far this year, which says a lot given that there are nine main characters on the show.  Last year it turned a lot of heads by picking up two Golden Globes and this year it could easily do it again as it is already off to a tremendous start.

My favorite comedy of last year was The Goldbergs, a nostalgic family sitcom set in firmly in all of the 1980s (the show plays fast and loose with its actual time period, hitting upon cultural landmarks of the entire decade).  Wendi McLendon-Covey leads a truly fantastic cast as the matriacrch Beverly Goldberg, though it’s hard to pick out a standout performer.  Much like Brooklyn 9-9, every character has had a chance to shine already in this season.  What I really enjoy about The Goldbergs is that they haven’t relied too heavily on nostalgia as a gimmick—instead of carrying the show, its simply frames it in much the same way that the early seasons of That 70s Show (when it was funny) did, though I consider this show to be much, much better. 

Marry Me has perhaps the best components of any new comedy on television.  It was created by David Caspe, the genius behind the amazing Happy Endings a few years ago, and stars his wife Casey Wilson as the intensely likeable lead.  To this you can add veteran comedic genius Ken Marino, a standout from last year’s Broad City in John Gemberling, and a new star in the making with Sarah Wright Olson, not to mention a bevy of totally awesome guest stars including Tim Meadows, Nat Faxon, and Jessica St. Clair to name a few.  While “great on paper” shows don’t always translate (see last year’s Michael J. Fox Show disaster), everything has come together well with this series rather quickly.  The pilot was my favorite first episode of any new comedy this season, but its Halloween episode is what really caused it to jump higher up on the list.  This is perhaps the most likely to be cancelled show on the Top 10, so be sure to catch it before it’s gone.

Spinning out of last year’s #1 show on my list, Arrow, the Grant Gustin led adaptation of The Flash has exceeded all expectations.  While being firmly planted in the same universe as its darker counterpart, The Flash is a much lighter show, while still maintaining a serious focus.  Much like Arrow, the show is greatly enhanced by a strong supporting cast and great world-building.  After just a few episodes, the show has already set the seeds for some very exciting things to come (hints at so many great characters from the comics) and established two great mysteries (the identity of Barry’s mom’s killer and the truth about Harrison Wells) without abandoning its done-in-one story format that makes it very accessible for new viewers.  Gustin’s take on Barry Allen is ridiculously charming and deserves all of the praise that the internet has been heaping upon it (and is a nice foil to his great run as a villain in Glee before that show totally fell apart).  Perhaps my favorite part about The Flash and what sets its apart from so many other superhero TV shows is that it is not afraid to let its geek flag fly—the show is willing to go to the weirder limits of comic book storytelling and treats the source material respect.  That is awesome.

04. ARROW (CW)
The second half of The CW’s superhero one-two-punch is my favorite show from last season Arrow, which off to a great start in its third season.  Arrow really hit the ground running this year, throwing some unexpected twists at viewers immediately, including the death of a major character, rather than going for the slow burn like last season.  Everything that made the previous seasons great is here again this season—solid action, strong performances, and great dialogue—make Arrow a can’t miss show each week.  It serves as a nice counterpart to the might lighter Flash by embracing the grit.  Every episode feels like a mini-movie both in terms of plot and production.  While I can’t say that I recommend coming into this season cold, I can tell you that the third season of Arrow is off to such a great start that it is well worth your time to take a few weeks catching up with the first two seasons on Netflix.  It is one show you should not be missing  and will reward you for your efforts.

I want to preface my praise for Gracepoint by saying that I did not see all of Broadchurch, the original BBC series that this show is remaking.  I made it a few episodes in before missing one and being unable to continue on.  So, if it isn’t as good as the original, I’m sorry, but on its own merit, it is the most compelling drama on television so far this year.  But it is most certainly a show that you have to start from the beginning.  Fox has wisely billed it as a “miniseries event” because of this.  Starring Doctor Who’s David Tennant (in the same role he played in the original) and Breaking Bad’s Anna Gun, this dark series follows the investigation of a young boy’s murder in a sleepy idyllic northern California town.  The show requires a huge cast as Gunn and Tennant investigate the murder and every single actor the show has delivered.   It’s a haunting series that will leave you guessing as details behind the murder are slowly uncovered and you become more embroiled within the lives of the townsfolk.  It is definitely my favorite drama on television this year and is perfect for binge-watching.  We are at the half point of the series now and I can say with some certainty that it will be a major contender for my favorite show overall this season.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Anthony Anderson, but if you had told me that he would be headlining my favorite comedy on television, I’d call you crazy.  And yet, here it is.  Black-ish is a ridiculously funny and incredibly charming addition to ABC’s lineup of family sitcoms and its very strong ratings are actually a great indication of just how good the show is.  So far this season it hasn’t missed a single step.  Anderson is putting in the performance of his career and is flanked by an incredible cast, including Lawrence Fishburn brushing off his comedy chops in a recurring role.  The show reminds me a lot of the “hey-day” of 1990s family sitcoms, but with a great modern edge.  Thus far in its premiere season, the show has tackled some pretty weighty issues from cultural identity to bullying to “the talk” and done so without a heavy-hand, presenting everything in a hilarious light while still bringing in a lot of heart.  This year has been a strong one for sitcoms thus far, but Black-ish has blown them all away to be my hands-down favorite and was a strong contender for the top spot on this list.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD began the season last year in a terrible position.  Riding high off the success of the blockbuster Avengers film and starring perennial favorite character Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), expectations were ridiculously high for the series and  yet no one seemed to have any idea of what to expect from the show itself.  It was forced to forge an identity with expectations already in place and because of that, the first half of the season failed on a lot of levels.  Sadly, a lot of viewers then jumped ship, but for those that stuck it out, something incredible happen.  Around mid-season the show found its voice as a cloak-and-dagger spy series focusing on great characters, which then used the major plot twist of Captain America: Winter Soldier as a springboard to produce the best final episodes of the season last year.  Going into this season, Agents of SHIELD finally had a direction and was finally firmly part of the world from which it initially sprang (let’s be honest, those first few episodes really had nothing to do with the larger Marvel Universe).  I had high hopes for what season two would bring and yet I was still floored by what we have seen so far this year.  Every single character in the large cast has their own personal storyline and none of them have been shortchanged while the overarching story of the show moves forward.  In the macro sense, you get the awesome SHIELD vs HYDRA vs the US Government storyline that Captain America 2 promised,  but on the smaller level you get fantastic personal stories for every character, including a slew of new additions to the show.  Each episode of Agents of SHIELD have brought us further down the rabbit hole while giving us more than enough to hang onto.  I’ve said this in the past until I was blue in the face and will continue to do so—if you skipped out on the early episodes of Agents of SHIELD last season, you missed out on some really great stuff towards the end of the first season.  But this year, however, you are missing out on the best show on network television thus far.

Last Season’s Final Rankings (for your reference)

06. BROOKLYN 9-9 (FOX)
01. ARROW (CW)

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