TV.com's 4-Episode Test, Midseason 2012 Edition: How Are TV's Newest Shows Holding Up?
It's that time of year again: A majority of TV's new midseason shows have reached the four-episode mark, which means we think we've seen enough to pass judgement on whether or not they're worth your precious time and/or emotional investment. Read on to find out what we're sticking with and what we're deleting from our DVRs, then tell us what YOU'RE still watching in the comments.
Note: You may notice that a few new series—including Luck, Smash, The River, and Touch—are missing from this list. Those shows (plus a few others) debuted (or are debuting) later than most of the season's new offerings, so we'll post a follow-up to this story in a few weeks. Similarly, those listed with fewer than four episodes have yet to air their fourth, but we decided we'd seen enough to assess.
Mondays at 9pm on Fox
Final verdict: Stop torturing yourself.
Analysis: When it comes to serialized dramas trying to become the next big TV "event," a pattern is starting to emerge. The first episode is only okay, but has enough intrigue to suck us into a second episode. The second, third, and fourth episodes follow suit, and by the time we've spent four hours on the series with no answers or direction or character development in place, we're done with it. Alcatraz's fourth episode may have seen a slight uptick in quality, but it's not enough to convince me to stay. I won't be burned by another FlashForward or The Event just because one of characters doesn't age. Don't be fooled, people! —Tim Surette
Sundays at 10pm on HBO
Final verdict: Keep watching.
Analysis: Chris Lilley has a fertile and twisted mind, and Angry Boys is the playground in which he lets it run loose. Episode 1 gave us an overview of the world by way of the bedroom of Nathan and Daniel Sims, teenage twin brothers from Australia who've erected a Wall of Legends to their heroes. It also focused on Gran, the boys' mannish grandmother, who is a corrections officer at a juvenile detention center. Episode 2 centered mainly on one of the boys' heroes: S.mouse, a manufactured hip-hop star who lives sequestered in a Beverly Hills mansion, conjuring up ways to break free of his bubblegum image. (One involves the self-released song "Poo on You," and its accompanying video, in which he defecates on a police car.) By Episode 3, we'd met Blake Oakfield, a former pro surfer who spends his days picking fights with a rival surf team. But it wasn't until Episode 4 that we met perhaps the strangest, and most captivating, of Lilley's creations: Jen Okazaki, tiger mother to Tim Okazaki, a teen skateboarding sensation that she's molded in her image and marketed to within an inch of his life. (He was forced to tell the world he's gay to help push her GayStyle Enterprises brand.) The scenario was so wrong, but it was just so specific and so much thought had gone into it that it ended up feeling incredibly right. And that goes for much of the series: Angry Boys is jarring at first, and at times downright depressing. But if you can settle into Lilley's rhythms, there's much fun to be had. As always, the devil is in the details. —Seth Abramovitch
Wednesdays at 8:30pm on NBC
Final Verdict: We don't have enough DVR space.
Analysis: What could have been a perfect storm of awesome elements (Laura Prepon, progressive lady-humor, bar-centered action) is drowning in low production values and a determined sense of crassness. The roommate Deedee is adorably acted, Natasha Leggero was a hilarious villain when she appeared like a breath of fresh air in Episode 2, and there was a lactation sight-gag in Episode 3 that deserves applause, but the show's writers consistently privilege blue humor over the wit and warmth its actresses are so capable of, undermining the pro-lady premise by aggressively and cartoonishly limiting the characters' dimensions to either "virgin" or "whore." There's also a visual awkwardness, as Laura Prepon is 5'10" and surrounded by co-stars who are either literally little people or only a couple inches beyond little person status, making Chelsea appear as though she's barged into the middle of a very sexy elementary school play. —Lily Sparks
Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC
Final Verdict: Keep watching.
Analysis: This show's range makes each episode an emotional game of Russian Roulette. Will I see two charming families grow on each other and have a big adventure, like the Niecy Nash/Tina Yothers episode, or will dysfunction and abuse prevail in a series of psychological pyrotechnics that make me feel dirty for not looking away, as was the case with the Gary Busey/Ted Haggard episode? The unblinking schadenfreude and the smorgasbord of awkward will keep reality lovers and B-list actor groupies hooked (Tracey Gold does all her own chores! Dee Snider lives in a pearlescent super-mansion!). I'm already in for the long haul, but whether CWS is a snarky reality lover's heroin or the starting pistol for the downfall of the Western Civilization is still up for debate. —Lily
Thursdays at 9pm on Fox
Final Verdict: Keep watching if there's nothing else on.
Analysis: The most immediately noticeable thing about The Finder is how weird it is. It's incredibly creative when it comes to visuals, and its quirky, slightly campy, sense of humor made me double-check to make sure it wasn't a SyFy series. It centers around hunky weirdo Walter (Geoff Stults), who is a literally brain-damaged Iraq war vet prone to dream sequences straight out of Pushing Daisies. Unfortunately The Finder's biggest problem recalls Unforgettable's fatal flaw: It's just not super riveting watching a guy solve a mystery by thinking really hard. Furthermore, the main characters' relationships to each other remain vaguely forced. Walter's loose-knit circle includes a lawyer, a sexy U.S. Marshal who hangs around for the nookie, plus some gypsy girl? I didn't really understand their relationships, and I mostly didn't care. Of the first four episodes (not including the Bones backdoor pilot), the best one delved into the lawyer's (Michael Duncan Clarke) sad backstory and included a very strange female serial killer plot line. While the other episodes were funny enough and not boring, they also weren't terribly compelling. I'll probably drop in again at some point in the future, but this just doesn't feel very must-see right now. —Price Peterson
Saturdays at 9pm on NBC
Final Verdict: Keep watching if there's nothing else on.
Analysis: We all know The Firm has already boarded the Cancellation Train, so now it's a question of why? This 10-years-later sequel/adaptation of the John Grisham novel is a handsome production with a terrific cast, but it just never really clicks into must-watch mode. For one thing, it's a procedural-serial hybrid, and surprisingly it's the serialized aspect that fails. The case-of-the-week stories (including one involving a schoolyard stabbing and another involving a serial killer) have been more interesting and nuanced than the corrupt law firm storyline. Worse, the serialization has a terrible format: bookended flash-forward chase scenes that give no information, just false excitement. Okay, we know the lawyer will be running for his life in the future. Great. That's not suspense, though. While none of the first four episodes were outright terrible, they did suffer from lack of energy and forward thrust (although that might just be my Vampire Diaries-spoiled brain talking). The real shame is that, buried within this concept, there are a handful of shows I'd totally be into. I'd watch a show about the Tricia Helfer villain, and even a show about the Juliette Lewis secretary character, or even the Callum Keith Rennie private eye (sidenote: Yay, Battlestar alumni!). I just never once cared about Josh Lucas's heroic lawyer or his schoolteacher wife. Turns out America didn't, either. —Price
Sundays at 10pm on Showtime
Final Verdict: Drop in on occasion.
Analysis: Showtime's fast-talking new comedy is supposed to be about conning "the man" and milking corporations for as much cash as the central group of frauds possibly can. But it's really a schlong-wagging contest between three guys who make occasional passes at the hot girl on the team. The performances by Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, and the rest of the cast are great, but House of Lies is so conscious of being on Showtime that it crushes itself under the weight of frattish sex talk, nudity for the sake of nudity, and more cursing than you'd hear out of George Carlin after he stubbed his toe. Instead of giving us endless guy talk about porking conquests, House of Lies should spend more time showing us why these guys are smart enough to hoodwink CEOs. We get it, this is a cable show. Now work on being a good show. —Tim
Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC Family
Final Verdict: Keep watching... if you're 12.
Analysis: Cross Pretty In Pink with Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and throw in The Devil Wears Prada and you have Jane By Design. Appealing, right? Now imagine any kind of realism those movies had, cut it out, and shoot it into space. Jane by Design's plucky heroine is supposedly a poverty-stricken dork, yet continually wears couture, has a bad-boy best friend, and has the hottest guy in school pining for her (Episode 2, "Runway," was a hamfisted romance). She commutes from her charming New England town to NYC by car in about five minutes on a daily basis and manages to win the day in every episode by accident, as exemplified in scenarios like that of Episode 4, in which she charmed a client by naively drinking from a finger bowl. (So much for agency!) If you've ever worked as an assistant or been to high school, you will understand that this show is missing its brain, but if you're 12, enjoy! It's glossy pre-teen wish fulfillment. —Lily
Sundays at 8:30pm on Fox
Final Verdict: If you've never seen the movie and think Fox's Animation Domination block can do no wrong, keep watching.
Analysis: It's not that this show is bad, it's just that it's consistently not great. Essentially, Napoleon Dynamite: The TV Series is Napoleon Dynamite: The Movie, but on crack. It's quippier and more slap-stick, thanks to its two-dimensional nature: It's a lot easier for Napoleon to burp-sneeze himself into a miniature atomic bomb blast as an animated character, than it would have been for the live-action character we met eight years ago. On TV, he's already interacted with a pack of Ligers, perfected his martial arts expertise with help from to his anger-inducing acne cream, and fallen in love with a Samurai maven.
Of course, Napoleon's inability to fully realize his imagination in the movie was essential to its charm. Now that he's able to actualize whatever he dreams up, he's not as fun to root for. I don't think it's inherently wrong that this show is based on a movie we all quoted to death almost a decade ago, but when a show neglects to incorporate any of the subtext that made the movie so pitifully funny in the first place, it makes it look like the animators missed the point. If you're going to turn the movie into a cartoon, at least shoot for something outside the box. A Napoleon Dynamite cartoon with an Adventure Time spin? Now that's something I'd tune in for. —Killian
Thursdays at 8:30pm on CBS
Final Verdict: Quit watching.
Analysis: Usually when comedic actors star in sitcoms named after them there's an implied autobiographical element: Seinfeld centered on a comedian; Roseanne was about a blue collar mom; Ellen was about a handsome woman who didn't have a lot of boyfriends. So while it's interesting that Rob Schneider plays a surprisingly upscale and OCD landscape architect (as opposed to the flatulent vagrants that are typical of his film work) it's a wonder this thing's named after him at all. A better title would be Bickering Mexicans, because each of the first four episodes revolved around the squabbles of Rob's in-laws. I actually kind of dug the pilot, which mined awkward humor as Rob made a terrible impression on the huge Mexican family he'd shotgun-married into. Unfortunately there were some truly unforgivable racial misunderstandings (had Rob seriously never met a Mexican person before?), and the wife character is just a comedy void. Would it really have been so hard to cast an inappropriately hot lady with a personality? Episodes got worse after that: Rob and his new wife fought over a throw pillow; Rob accidentally revealed a secret about his in-laws' sex life; Rob couldn't decide whether to have a second wedding or not. Ultimately the show wastes a perfectly funny Rob Schneider (yeah I said it) and Cheech Marin with a bunch of duuuuuumb sitcom contrivances and lazy ethnic humor. Four episodes and I'm done. —Price
Thursdays at 10:30pm on FX
Final Verdict: Just watch Archer instead.
Analysis: At first glance, Unsupervised is a modern-day Beavis and Butt-head with even more sophomoric chatter about boys' junk and girls' boobs. And after glances five, seven, and thirty-three, it's the same. But around look thirty-four, something strange happens. The series' two central characters, hyper teens Gary and Joel, start to grow on you. Their unfailing positive outlook is infectious and unheard of in this day and age of teens so spoiled they curdle. Unfortunately, Unsupervised still has the major problem of forgetting to be funny. But Episodes 2 and 3 were much better efforts than the terrible pilot. Still, it's probably not going to reward us, no matter how long we wait for it to get better. —Tim
Final Verdict: Watch the only two existing episodes just to see how bad TV can get.
Analysis: ABC's Work It only lasted two episodes, which is a crime because it made the rest of television look so much better by comparison. To say Work It was an affront to humanity is a compliment. Contrary to popular belief, the premise—two man-dudes dress up as women to get jobs—wasn't the problem. Done well with a subversive nod to gender equality, Work It could have been amazing. Instead, the program didn't even try to be smart, and relied on the comedy of dudes trying to tuck their packages into thongs. Episode 2 only earned a score of 2 because it almost hinted at being smart. But then it wasn't. Good riddance. —Tim
Well, there you have it: We're going to keep watching fewer than half of the new shows on this list. But now it's YOUR turn to reveal what you're sticking with and what you're giving up on. Let us know what you're still watching and why in the comments!
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