The 4-Episode Test, Fall 2012 Edition, Part 2: Arrow, Elementary, The Mindy Project, and More

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It's been a hell of a fall season so far, hasn't it? Typically by the time we get to this point (omg how is it November already?), half of the new fall shows have already been canceled. But somehow only two freshmen series out of 21 total have gotten the axe—so which ones do we think are going strong, and which ones would we've killed weeks ago? We started to answer that question just over a week ago with the first installment of our patented 4-Episode Test, and now we're back with round two.


Episode ratings are out of five stars.


Arrow

Episode 1: ★★★★ Episode 2: ★★ Episode 3: ★★★ Episode 4: ★★

Verdict: Keep watching.

While by no means the best new drama of the fall season (hi there, Last Resort!), Arrow offers fun, comic book-y fare plus Stephen Amell doing parkour and, oftentimes, not wearing a shirt. There are still kinks to work out (those expository voiceovers! Finding a balance between action and drama!), but there are also plenty of interesting mysteries surrounding the narrative (what's Moira up to? What happened on the island?), and the series features a strong dynamic between Amell's Oliver Queen and David Ramsey's John Diggle. Perhaps most interestingly, though, Arrow has shown early signs of wanting to think about class and racial tensions, making it something worth keeping an eye on as the TV season progresses. —Noel Kirkpatrick


Beauty and the Beast

Episode 1: ★ Episode 2: ★ Episode 3: ★★ Episode 4: ★

Verdict: Quit watching.

I did not care for the pilot of this show. In my opinion (which is by definition subjective, but in this case also 100 percent accurate), Beauty and the Beast is the worst new show of the fall season. However, I will allow that this show had the potential for becoming a watchable guilty pleasure if it ever embraced its own weirdness and became something much different than what we saw in the pilot. Over the course of four episodes that didn't happen, but Episode 3 did show signs of life when it cut to the chase and turned the two title characters into essentially flirtatious teenagers (seriously, a scene in which they exchanged phone numbers was downright charming). Unfortunately, the entire police procedural angle remains a disaster; it's the least plausible police station since Cop Rock and the actual cases of the week are deadly boring. The serialized storyline—mostly to do with a top-secret organization called Muirfield that once employed the lead character's mother and also CREATED the beast—is a step up, but still falls short of any other show with a shadowy conspiracy element. Beauty and the Beast has still not found a way to make the beast's constant stalking of the beauty anything less than disturbing. Actor Jay Ryan does what he can with the non-character he's being asked to play, but the world's worst haircut is doing him no favors. Finally, we're starting to get to see more of "the beast" in actual beast form and the prosthetic makeup is laughably terrible. Sorry, makeup artist, but if you were a contestant on Syfy's Face Off, you would've been berated by Glenn Hetrick and sent home for this. Anyway, yeah. Still terrible, still boring. —Price Peterson


Chicago Fire

Episode 1: ★ Episode 2: ★ Episode 3: ★★ Episode 4: ★★

Verdict: Quit watching.

Chicago Fire isn't a terrible show—but it isn't terribly interesting, either. The action sequences lack the kinetic quality you would expect from people walking into fire, the dialogue ranges from basic to intolerable, and the stories are rote at best. The biggest issue the series faces is its Superman problem: Station 51 is filled with white hats lacking character flaws. I respect firefighting as much as the next guy, but Chicago Fire's hero worship for those riding the big red truck is so overwhelming that it reduces the opportunities for anything compelling. In Episode 3, a villain (Detective Voight) is finally introduced to act against the whitest hat of them all (Casey) but his weapons so far have been a gravelly voice and minor vandalism. It's like he's taking revenge classes from Carrie Underwood. If this show isn't going to be a case-of-the-week kind of series, it's going to need to raise the stakes for its characters—and with the quickness. Otherwise, it's just an opportunity for hot actors to get topless. And that's what cable is for.
—Nick Campbell


Emily Owens, M.D.

Episode 1: ★★★★ Episode 2: ★★★ Episode 3: ★★★ Episode 4: N/A

Verdict: Test results inconclusive.

If we were doing half stars, I would have lowered each of these grades by half a star, but I was feeling generous and rounded up. This show is completely driven by the other-worldly adorableness of its star, Mamie Gummer. I don't mean that in a bad way; the episodes are tolerably written, the characters decently interesting, but Gummer lights up the screen. Still, I'm wondering how long it'll be before that glow wears off. In the pilot Emily gave Will, her buddy from med school, a very unfortunate speech about how she'd been crushing on him for years. I'd hoped his rejection of her would allow her character to move on to bigger and better things, but she keeps awkwardly orbiting the guy, trying all sorts of immature things to get over him. The show is also trying waaay too hard to be Grey's Anatomy: The Early Years. —Julia Bergen


Elementary

Episode 1: ★★★ Episode 2: ★★★ Episode 3: ★★★ Episode 4: ★★

Verdict: Keep watching in hopes the show solves its problems.

What is ever, ever to be done about a procedural where you thoroughly love the main characters yet seriously detest their weekly adventures? Dogged by unflattering comparisons to BBC’s knockout Sherlock series, Elementary's concept of an NYC-based Sherlock Holmes struck me as well worth investigating, and for leads you’d be hard pressed to find actors easier on the eyes and more singularly fascinating than Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. However, the pilot's early promise has been continually eroded by ham-fisted, preposterous cases that depend more on the audience's suspension of disbelief than Holmes' deductive reasoning to make any kind of sense. A criminally stupid police department and crimes neither logistically possible nor emotionally probable weaken Elementary as a mystery series. Still, the settings, leads, and character development are all there—the day someone brings an Agatha Christie book into the writer’s room, this show could take off. —Lily Sparks


The Mindy Project

Episode 1: ★★ Episode 2: ★★★★ Episode 3: ★★★★ Episode 4: ★★★★

Verdict: Keep watching, it's getting weirder in a good way.

The Mindy Project’s pilot felt—like pilots are wont to do—overworked, over written, and sort of wooden. Thank goodness I was contractually obligated to watch the three episodes that followed it, or I might have missed out on the very original, odd comedy it became after it was greenlit. Since the addition of former felon/extremely charismatic Nurse Morgan (Ike Barinholtz, a.k.a. Ivan Dochenko from Eastbound and Down Season 3) in Episode 2, there’s been a sharp uptick in the level of comedy and surreality (Mindy was also revealed to have a chocolate fountain on her desk in that episode). Perfectly, the absurd humor is grounded in beautiful, glossy production values and solid story structure. My only complaint is the two dreamy doctors. They’re meant to provide a love triangle for Mindy, but both suffer from a total lack of chemistry. No chemistry with Mindy, with each other, or with the audience. As a pure comedy though, my hopes are high. —Lily


Nashville

Episode 1: ★★★★★ Episode 2: ★★★★ Episode 3: ★★★★ Episode 4: ★★★★

Verdict: Love it. Definitely keep watching.

Nothing about Nashville's premise looked like anything I'd choose to watch, but its cast and pedigree guaranteed I'd at least check it out. Boy am I glad I did. Nashville's pilot was one of my favorites of the season; it mixed soap elements with a plausible behind-the-scenes drama of famous people and their powerful svengalis without ever losing the organic character work of obvious forefather Friday Night Lights. The second, third, and fourth episodes continued the high-quality writing, but an obvious element of telenovela plotting began to set in (shoplifting! Affairs! Drug addiction!) that made Nashville seem sliiiiightly less grounded than it did in the pilot. Still though, no other show currently on TV is as good at summing up the characters' emotional states via musical performance (nope, not even Glee). A particularly charged duet between Connie Britton's character and her hunky longtime collaborator in the second episode was one of the most stirring and emotional moments I've seen on TV in a while. Also, even a plotline as hoary as Hayden Panettierre's character's shoplifting incident still bore higher-quality fruit than expected: Juliette's disastrous attitude about it in the press was surprising and hilarious. So while it's not clear whether Nashville can maintain its initial grace and realism or if it will lapse into cheap drama (a new subplot involving Rayna's husband's ex-girlfriend looks worrisome), for now Nashville is one of network TV's best series, bar none. —Price


Vegas

Episode 1: ★★★ Episode 2: ★★ Episode 3: ★★★ Episode 4: ★★

Verdict: Pretty even money.

CBS jumped into the period-piece game with Vegas, which boasts a great cast but also a bland premise: There's a new sheriff in town! The character of Ralph Lamb is old-school country and solves crimes the old-fashioned way, with old-fashioned detective techniques and good-old knuckle sandwiches. See how many times I used the word "old"? Vegas is a comforting procedural drama with costumes, and doesn't aspire to be much more than that. So far the cases appear to hover somewhere near the "tolerable" level, with slight swings in each direction, and the long-term season arcs have barely been tapped. Vegas could turn into something much more interesting, but for right now, it seems content to play with pennies instead of taking risks for big bucks. —Tim Surette



RELATED: The 4-Episode Test, Fall 2012 Edition, Part 1: Last Resort, Revolution, Go On, and More

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