Perhaps you're familiar with our 4-Episode Test series, wherein the TV.com staff checks in on each season's new shows to see how they're doing after their first four episodes. Excellent pilots are few and far between, and lots of shows need some time to find their footing. But now that the 2011-2012 regular TV season has come to a close, where does its freshman class stand?
We've decided to take a look back at our 4-Episode Test verdicts for many of last season's new shows in a post-season context to create a mini retrospective and future forecast all rolled into one. Below, you'll find our progress report for most of next year's sophomore class (read: anything we kept watching that didn't get canceled), including where we think they're headed next.
AFTER 4 EPISODES: Even after putting aside the show's many eye-roll-inspiring elements (the laugh track, the one-note/sometimes-racist supporting characters, the "broke" girls living in a huge apartment), I was annoyed by Max's penchant meanness and the repetitive humor that seemed raunchy just for the sake of it.
AFTER SEASON 1: While 2 Broke Girls certainly didn't become my favorite new comedy, it's nowhere near my most-loathed. By the end of the first season, Max and Caroline had truly become friends, and even Oleg the Ukrainian line cook had developed into a more believable human being. Some of the jokes continued to feel forced, but some of them truly made me snort out loud. Plus I liked how the two-part finale saw all the characters rallying to help out Max and Caroline; beneath all the vagina jokes, the show has some real heart.
FUTURE FORECAST: We need more Kat Dennings types on TV, and Max has thankfully softened up a bit without losing her wry attitude. Beth Behrs is a rising star, and Caroline is hard to hate. 2 Broke Girls' stereotypical sitcom sins will probably always be there, but so will Max and Caroline's dysfunctional little diner family. The show isn't going anywhere anytime soon.—Jen Trolio
AFTER 4 EPISODES: After a dicey and occasionally baffling premiere, American Horror Story quickly snapped into place as one of TV's boldest, weirdest experiments. By Episode 4 it was already a winner.
AFTER SEASON 1: The show just kept getting better. Its roughly half-million characters gelled into a truly great ensemble and the overriding rules of the Murder House made for a frightening, poignant logic. The systematic deaths of its living characters and the slow reveals of its dead ones came together so compellingly that we questioned whether the show could keep its premise going much longer. Turns out it couldn't and AHS revealed its best twist yet: It'll be an anthology series!
FUTURE FORECAST: The very nature of an anthology series suggests that each season has to start fresh with new characters and stories—a risky ploy in an era of short attention spans. But as long as the storytelling remains fresh, shocking, and surprising, we expect (and hope!) that American Horror Story could go on indefinitely. —Price Peterson
AFTER 4 EPISODES: We didn't trust the B----, but we did have some trust in the P------ (program) thanks to its wacky humor and gutsy jokes. Still, we moved forward with cautious optimism.
AFTER SEASON 1: After Episode 4 there were only three episodes left in the season, so the show didn't have much room to play with. But it gained our trust and became one of the nicest surprises of the midseason! We had questioned June's viability as a strong character considering she was swimming with a lot of zany folk (James Van der B---, sexy rambunctious Chloe, the pervy wankin' neighbor), but she ended up being as memorable as the rest.
FUTURE FORECAST: Season 2 will be a big test, but this show has the potential to go on for a few seasons and fits nicely with ABC's other comedies. It won't be one of TV's top comedies, but it should be reliable. —Tim Surette
AFTER 4 EPISODES: We knew we were in the assured hands of a true auteur immediately after Mike White's HBO series debuted and that feeling continued on throughout the season.
AFTER SEASON 1: Like many HBO series, Enlightened's installments weren't so much episodes as chapters in a longer work, so it's appropriate to look at Season 1 as a whole: It was excellent. Its storytelling alternated between hilariously awkward and subtly depressing, but Enlightened's boldest move was to present Laura Dern's character as slightly awful yet ultimately sympathetic. Rather than treat her journey of self-discovery as the joke we'd assumed it would be, Enlightened made the case that she had the right idea all along. And that ending! Not only did it perfectly cap off a season of personal highs and lows, it set up what could be a suddenly higher-stakes Season 2.
FUTURE FORECAST: Again, like most HBO shows, Enlightened might have a short lifespan. Putting aside the issue of its miniscule ratings, this series airs on a network where creators frequently self-cancel after feeling pretty satisfied with what they've done. It's anybody's guess whether Mike White has more than two seasons in him, so it's a very real possibility that Season 2 could be it for this show. We hope not, but still. —Price
AFTER 4 EPISODES: When I initially started watching, I was intrigued by the fairy-tale premise, but concerned by Grimm's early onset of repetitive exposition in an attempt to familiarize us with its characters.
AFTER SEASON 1: Fun but uneven, Grimm definitely improved as it dove into the intricacies and politics of the Wesen world and Nick's personal life. With some outstanding characters stealing the show (looking at you, Monroe!) Grimm has developed into a modest cult hit, succeeding among dedicated fans thanks to its interesting mythology and potential to be more than just another fairy-tale drama. Like a weekly B movie, despite bad special effects and often cheesy or poorly paced stories Grimm is undeniably entertaining—the definition of a guilty pleasure if ever there was one.
FUTURE FORECAST: If Grimm can stay away from its shakier monster-of-the-week plots and focus on its mythology, Season 2 will see the show transform from guilty pleasure to one of the most solid supernatural dramas on TV—and if not, it’ll still be pretty entertaining. —Josie Campbell
AFTER 4 EPISODES: Before it started we were all like, "Okay fine, I'll watch this Homeland show." But then we were like, "Oh my gosh I can't stop watching Homeland!!!" It was that good after four episodes.
AFTER SEASON 1: As good as those first four episodes were, the season got better and better and BETTER. Homeland went in a direction that no one could have predicted, and maintained an addictive pace that helped us kick our heroin habits (metaphorically speaking). I have a lot of questions going into Season 2 (What's up with Carrie's "treatment"? What's Brody's next step?) that seem like they'll be difficult to smoothly answer, but I thought that same thing a lot during Season 1. Can't wait for Season 2.
FUTURE FORECAST: I think this show has a limited run in it; three or four seasons sounds like a good stretch, anything more would be pulling the domestic terrorist thing along a little long. But I have no doubt that the limited run will be thrilling. —Tim
AFTER 4 EPISODES: At this point we were STILL discussing whether or not Zooey Deschanel's performance was too suffocatingly quirky to base a show around. But there were already signs that New Girl had loftier, more emotional ambitions, not to mention an increasingly prominent supporting cast.
AFTER SEASON 1: Those trends held to the end: Jess got less manic and her friends stepped up to become just as essential to the story as she was. Schmidt and Cece in particular became the heart and soul of the show while Jess's romantic life was as meaningful and complex as it was awkward. New Girl certainly lived up to its potential and the more time we spent with its characters the more real they seem. I can't wait to see where they'll go.
FUTURE FORECAST: New Girl has at least one or two more solid seasons of resetting to the same premise (single people living together) before it starts going the Friends route of pairing everyone off and exploring the marriage issue. It's anyone's guess as to how long it can keep up the same breezy tone, but as long as the jokes and surprising insights are there, I think we can expect five or more seasons of engaging television. —Price
AFTER 4 EPISODES: From the very first episode, Once Upon A Time’s ambitious premise and Disney references made it connect weirdly at a primal, childhood-association level, like the taste of McDonald’s fries or the tune of a nursery rhyme. I found myself immediately invested in the oddly familiar fairy-tale characters of Storybrooke and their contemporary heroine, Emma.
AFTER SEASON 1: The spell is definitely broken: This series is Lost dressed up for the Ren Faire. It appears dense with meaning and intricate plotwork on the surface, yet at its heart seems to have a complete disregard for internal logic. Brilliant actors are able to suffuse the often embarrassing dialogue, but the series as a whole seems to base its premise on raising the audience’s expectations and thwarting them, much like its desert-island predecessor. Still, given how wildly imaginative the episodes can be, it’s worth enduring the heartbreak for the lovely visuals and original interpretations in the strong episodes that arbitrarily dotted the first season.
FUTURE FORECAST: The Season 1 finale essentially resolved the premise of the show and then ushered in a new threat in the last ten minutes. Where Season 2 will go is anyone’s guess, and we must satisfy our curiosity even at the cost of our need for consistency. However as long as OUaT is helmed by Kitsis & Horowitz, it will be doing their signature waltz of one step forward, two steps back. —Lily Sparks
AFTER 4 EPISODES: When we first took POI into the labs, the things that stuck out were the show's consistency, action sequences, and budding mysteries.
AFTER SEASON 1: Holy crikey! A show that actually lived up to its potential and then some! Person of Interest was a success because of fantastic pacing that stretched the mythology but never let it get dull, and fascinating new characters who dug up the cheesy, fun dialogue of old action heroes. And with the cliffhangers and developments of the end of Season 1, I'll be first in line for Season 2.
FUTURE FORECAST: Only a few shows come out of each season looking like they're keepers, and I get the feeling we'll be watching Person of Interest well into Mitt Romney's second term. (It's a conspiracy!) —Tim
AFTER 4 EPISODES: Long before Revenge was a national phenomenon, I was cheering hard for the low-budget soap cast with mostly unknown actors because of its fast pace, endearingly ambitious setting, and unabashedly dramatic dialogue.
AFTER SEASON 1: Revenge caught fire, becoming ABC’s highest-rated show in its time slot since Lost. What were hints of ambitious cinematography and wry humor blossomed into movie-like montages and some of the best dialogue we’ve heard in years. Revenge earned its cult following because creator Mike Kelley believes TV should be intensely entertaining and instantly gratifying. The story, the characters—every scene works with the singular purpose of sweeping viewers off their feet and the show always achieves that goal. These days you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who describes Revenge as one of their favorite shows, and if you missed the finale I feel bad for you. All four of you.
FUTURE FORECAST: Revenge’s fast pace and larger-than-life characters are propelled by what seem like an endless amount of crazy ideas, and considering what the writers were able to come up with on a weekly basis, I can’t wait to see what a couple months of brainstorming brings forth in Season 2. —Lily
AFTER 4 EPISODES: Procedurals? Politics? I feared Scandal would be way over my head and not in a fun way, like college. However it quickly turned into a dramatic romance that swept me off my feet (kind of like college) and the quick, razor-sharp dialogue and powerful performances of Kerry Washington and her Pope-ettes made this the unpredicted highlight of our Thursday viewing schedule.
AFTER SEASON 1: Let’s be real, the first season didn’t go much longer than four episodes as Scandal started midseason. However it ended with a true cliffhanger and ratcheted up the heartbreak in the finale and I'm giddy for the start of Season 2.
FUTURE FORECAST: Shonda Rhimes has proved she’s a marathon show runner with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Fingers crossed we have several more seasons to watch the graceful Olivia Pope work under pressure and enjoy the chemistry between this Judy Smith homage and her dapper commander-in-Chief. (Because their chemistry is UNSTOPPABLE!) —Lily
AFTER 4 EPISODES: From the beginning, Smash was expensive and specific, neither of which are network-friendly concepts. We marveled at its dimensional storytelling and layered melodies while fretting that at any moment the curtain would drop on the big-budget Broadway baby.
AFTER SEASON 1: Smash caught on without sacrificing brains or heart (or expense) and used Uma Thurman’s star power to draw fans, both in the world of “Bombshell” and in the actual series, into a wonderfully meta plotline. Star cameos (Joe Jonas! Bernadette Peters!) and never straying from its foundational tension (Ivy or Karen? Who will be THE STAR?!) won Smash enough of a following to warrant a second season.
FUTURE FORECAST: Smash smartly ended its finale when the curtain dropping on Karen’s debut. The ramifications of Karen’s success onstage on her personal life, on Ivy’s psyche, and on their director’s penchant for falling in love with his leading lady are all intriguing elements that have me fantasizing about Season 2. And it’s still a long way to Broadway from previews, so there’s plenty of obstacles left to overcome for our beloved cast and crew. —Lily
AFTER 4 EPISODES: Was there ever a comedy series that won us over so hard, so fast, as Suburgatory? Rife with candy-colored absurdism, the weirdly original series managed to stay sympathetic to its characters even while skewering them, saving its dour heroine Tessa with her occasional moment of empathy or dependence on surrogate mom Dallas (Cheryl Hines). The sparkling performances, incredible dialogue, and courage of the series in going a step over the line at least twice per episode made us eagerly welcome Suburgatory to the neighborhood.
AFTER SEASON 1: Suburgatory toyed with becoming a little morality-play series (kind of like a conventional Strangers with Candy), then went a little soapy before finishing dark. The show subtly sewed in the thread of Tessa’s undeniable mother issues, then brought it to bear when George invited detestable girlfriend Eden to move in. The speed with which this series moved from upbeat absurdity to gritty reality in the last few episodes was almost disturbing. Ultimately the heights of comedy Suburgatory achieved got mired in what has always been the weak spot of the show: Tessa. Yes she’s the heroine, and Jane Levy is great, but she’s no match for the rest of the insanely talented ensemble (Carly Chaikin, as Tessa's nemesis Dahlia, is the single best thing that’s happened to teens on TV in 2012) who we always want to see more of.
FUTURE FORECAST: I’d hate to see the bright, fantastically funny show lose its way in Tessa's dreary, self-obsessed introspection. Best-case scenario? She moves in with mom and we see spend Season 2 watching Suburgatory operate in her absence. —Lily
AFTER 4 EPISODES: Returning faces from the pilot started to reappear—letting us know there was more to Jake’s story than an endless sequence of random encounters. However, Episode 4 marked the point where everything started to slow down. Slow and steady might win the race, but it typically doesn’t make for a very exciting race.
AFTER SEASON 1: The season suffered from poor pacing and bordered on downright boring for a disappointing midseason stretch. But OH MY GOD, that finale. The finale made the waiting worth it. The excitement was back. The bigger picture was back. Jake and Martin were on the run from the evil AsterCorp, diving below the radar and teaming up with Lucy, mother to the mysterious (and currently missing) Amelia. You know this means lots of awesome adventures, right?
FUTURE FORECAST: Exiled to the Friday night Slot o’ Death, the future looks bleak. The finale was a sorely needed injection of adrenaline and I'm excited about where the second season will take us, but unfortunately, it may have come too little, too late for most viewers. —MaryAnn Sleasman
AFTER 4 EPISODES: Up All Night's pilot and three ensuing episodes cemented its status as a quick and fun, if not laugh-out-loud, half-hour.
AFTER SEASON 1: By the end of the season, Up All Night was showing the strain of its mixed premise. Was it a show about the makings of a talk show, or the trials and tribulations of wealthy Los Angeles parents? I'm not sure either premise has been maximized, and too frequently Reagan and Chris came off as jerks. It didn't help that every episode seemed to have an easy or coincidental solution for its (occasionally serious) conflicts and things never quite felt grounded enough to get invested in. It's a bad sign when we can't even really remember how the season ended and haven't thought about it much since.
FUTURE FORECAST: Tons of funny people are involved in Up All Night and it's a well-made, breezy enterprise, but I think the show will need to come on really strong in Season 2 if it wants to stick around much longer. —Price
AFTER 4 EPISODES: I said I'd quit and there was no reason not to; aside from the very tolerable and even sometimes likeable character of Alex, Whitney's boyfriend, almost everything about the show was awful.
AFTER SEASON 1: I honestly don't know why I stuck with Whitney all season—maybe it's my completist nature, maybe it's that I wanted to see Whitney prove its naysayers wrong, maybe it's that the show debuted as part of NBC's Thursday comedy block and I just never turned off the TV after The Office (which, yes, I'm also still watching). But I kept checking in even after Whitney made the move to Wednesdays... and now I'm here to tell you it ultimately wasn't worth it. The show did make a few positive strides; though Whitney Cummings' acting never improved (seriously it's so, so bad), the supporting characters eventually grew to be (slightly) more than human props. And there was a surprisingly well-done Very Important Episode and ensuing arc in which Neal explored the possibility that he's bisexual. But overall, Whitney kept disappointing me with its mostly elementary relationship humor (Alex likes the way Whitney looks when she wears a push-up bra? You're kidding!).
FUTURE FORECAST: Between its upcoming move to Friday nights and the fact that there are so many other, better comedies on TV, I don't see Whitney living much longer. Hell, I never thought it would get renewed in the first place. I barely remember what happened in the Season 1 finale—not that I particularly care—and I won't be tuning in for Season 2 (for real this time). —Jen
Which new shows from the 2011-2012 season will you be sticking with for Season 2?