The 4-Episode Test, Fall 2013 Edition, Part 1: Dads, Sleepy Hollow, The Michael J. Fox Show, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine

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#RealTalk: TV pilots are often terrible. Sure, every once a while, a real gem comes along and blows us away, but duh that's the exception, not the rule. Series openers tend to be weighed down with clunky exposition and crammed full of too many storylines—all the "better" to introduce TV executives (and viewers, if the show gets picked up to series) to the premise and characters at hand. But we've all heard the stories about how some of our most-favorite shows started out with stinky pilots. And generally, once a series hits the four-episode mark, it's a bit easier to tell whether it's going to be satisfying in the long run. So we here at have vowed to always stick with new shows for at least four episodes—no matter the quality of their pilots—in what we like to call the 4-Episode Test™. Now that we're starting to reach that point with this season's freshmen series, here's the first round of what we're sticking with and what we're deleting from our DVRs. Check back next week for Part 2!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

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

Verdict: Keep watching (or at least DVR it if you're busy)!

Though Andy Samberg could stand to tone down his mischievous smirk and punch up his comedic delivery, Fox has one of the season's better new comedies on its hands in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.* (That asterisk = not saying a whole lot.) The series is still working out some kinks—figuring out how to maximize the characters' cop jobs for comedy, how to use Terry Crews at all—but it's still in much better shape than its competition, thanks to a solid cast and framework. Since the very funny pilot, the series has played both good cop and bad cop, hitting a high (Jake's increasingly bad luck) and a low (Terry building a dollhouse) in Episode 3, while Episodes 2 and 4 reached for greatness but got goodness. I'm not worried about the show going corrupt, though. I can watch Chelsea Perretti for hours, and series creators Dan Goor and Mike Schur have earned our trust via Parks and Recreation. One request: Can Fred Armisen's weirdo from the pilot make a return visit? —Tim Surette


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

Verdict: Continue not watching because c'mon, we know you're not watching.

The Seth-MacFarlane-produced Dads started the season with a baaaaad reputation. Early reviews called it foul, offensive, and unfunny, and they were right. However, the show didn't usher in the end of humanity as some prophesized, and after the horrifying racism of the pilot (sorry, Asians), Episodes 2-4 were merely "not good." Either that, or I was just desensitized to the "shock" of flat and fratty jokes like, "Love is where you find it." [laugh track] "Even if it's on top of Brokeback Mountain." [uproarious laugh track] At least the show waited until Episode 2 to get its titular dads stoned. Dads isn't anything more than a show about two guys trying to get laid and having to listen to their dads talk about their shits, but it also isn't trying to be anything more than that. Add an actually pleasant opening-credits sequence, and you've got something that's just a tad better than the worst thing in the world. —Tim

The Michael J. Fox Show

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

Verdict: Totally watchable if you need more comedy in your life, but not an absolute must-see.

I didn't expect much from Alex P. Keaton's return to primetime TV, but dammit, I was moved by The Michael J. Fox Show's earnest and funny pilot. After that, though, the show struggled to recapture the magic and fell into standard sitcom fare. Episode 2 was particularly troublesome; why would Mike cockblock his friend when Mike's already married? For comedy, that's why. But that's not a good-enough excuse, and it made Mike look like a real jerk, both to his buddy Harris and his wife Annie. The following pair of episodes were fine, and watching Eve run was great, but right now this is just a passable family comedy with a good cast anchored by Fox, Betsy Brandt, Katie Finneran, and the great Wendell Pierce. Now if it can just find a better partner on the schedule than the atrocious Sean Saves the World. —Tim

Sleepy Hollow

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

Verdict: Keep watching.

There's really no easy way to say this: Sleepy Hollow is completely f*cking insane. Seriously, it's like the equivalent of dropping lots of acid and then binge-watching a bunch of different supernatural TV series from the last 20 years until they all blend together in the best way. The reason Sleepy Hollow works is that it knows it's ridiculous—and embraces it. The show doesn't take itself too seriously, constantly finding ways to incorporate jokes into a genre series that's ultimately about stopping the apocalypse. Stopping the apocalypse! Add in the secret history of the United States—where the Boston Tea Party was concocted as a diversion to steal an ancient supernatural artifact that held the keys to a portal to hell—and the easy chemistry between stars Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, and it's just flat-out enjoyable. While Episodes 2 and Episode 3 weren't as strong the pilot—I thought they were a little too procedural-y—Episode 4 jumped back onboard the overarching mythology train, upping the excitement level once again. But lest you think the show sounds too convoluted to follow, rest assured that it doesn't require a lot of deep thought... and that's aways a win. —Kaitlin Thomas

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