The 4-Episode Test: Judging the New Fall Shows

We're as guilty as the next guy of judging a new TV show based on its pilot, actors, or even opening credits. But deep down, we know that the individual elements of a show shouldn't stand alone. That's why we decided to test out the first four episodes of several freshman shows that struck us as terrible, awesome, or confusing on first look.

We think that a show should be able to find its groove—and that viewers should be able to decide if they like it or not—after four episodes. The month-ish long span allows for a bad episode, but still gives the show room to build its momentum upward. Read on as we rate the first four episodes of 10 new fall shows on a five-point scale. Trust us—there's a method to the numerical madness.


Why Jen Trolio watched in the first place: Outsourced and I got off on the wrong foot when it pushed my beloved Parks and Recreation to midseason. But I'm pretty loyal to NBC's Thursday-night comedies, and somebody from had to watch it.

Pilot (Rating = 2): A newly relocated Todd Dempsey met his new staff... and wondered aloud whether an employee named Manmeet has trouble chatting online.
Episode 2 (Rating = 2): Todd was told to fire his lowest-performing employee, Manmeet, who was too busy flirting with all the female callers. Manmeet, you sex-crazed scamp! Todd made Manmeet break up with all of them, and he ended up selling them tons of novelties, thus no one gets fired! Also, Asha explained the Indian "head bobble" to Todd, and he used it as a running joke throughout the episode.
Episode 3 (Rating = 2): Todd attempted to "liberate" a female employee from her (obviously brainwashed) choice to participate in an arranged marriage.
Episode 4 (Rating = 2): Todd repeated the joke from Episode 1 and got quite a chuckle out of meeting a guy named Harsheet. (Not to mention the show tried to reverse the ol' "Indian people have weird accents" joke by having Indian actors say things like "Talk to the hand" and "Drop some science on this fool!" with, uh, American-accented "attitude.") I continue to record it, but only to make sure I can catch the last few minutes of The Office if my DVR cuts it off.

Boardwalk Empire

Why Tim Surette watched it in the first place: "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." (That's a Goodfellas quote, see?) And I always wanted to watch gangster movies and TV shows.

Pilot (Rating = 5): This had Scorsese all over it and I LOVED it; you know what else it had? A bajillion dollar budget... this was one of TV's finer moments.
Episode 2 (Rating = 3): This did not have Scorsese all over it and in setting everything up for the long haul lost some of the punch of the pilot; also, who are all these characters?
Episode 3 (Rating = 4): Now things are heating up and we've got two clear sides: our beloved gangsters and a new resident badass in Agent Nelson Van Alden.
Episode 4 (Rating = 5): This show went from good to great after getting over some very necessary growing pains; I'm in for the long haul!

No Ordinary Family

Why Louis Peitzman watched it in the first place: Superheroes are fun, but they can often be a little too serious business. I love the idea of blending awesome powers with a more traditional family dramedy.

Pilot (Rating = 3): Flawed but fun. An intriguing ending implies that this series has actual potential.
Episode 2 (Rating = 3): Not much of an improvement from the pilot. It's also a bummer that a character who could prove to be an interesting adversary gets prematurely offed.
Episode 3 (Rating = 3): Again, it's just OK. There's a good show here, but it's buried under a lot of not-so-compelling nonsense.
Episode 4 (Rating = 2): Things take a turn for the truly ridiculous, with JJ using his super intelligence to ... play football? Besides that faulty logic, the story just doesn't seem to be moving forward. I'm losing patience.

$#*! My Dad Says

Why Emily Gordon watched it in the first place: I'm a longtime Shatner fan, and I was curious how on Earth they were going to construct an entire TV show out of a Twitter feed.

Pilot (Rating = 1): $#*! is nearly unwatchable from the get-go. Shatner…er, Ed seems to be in a different show than everyone else, just spouting unlikeable monologues (the Tweets) that don't seem connected to anything else that's happening. His son Henry has a hard time acting against Ed, and a hard time chewing on the forced dialogue.
Episode 2 (Rating = 1): We get to see more of Ed's other son, Vince, and his wife Bonnie. They both appear to be in a play, where they out-ham each other at every line. Their plot revolves around a rash that Bonnie has on her breasts that looks like spaghetti and meatballs. Seriously.
Episode 3 (Rating = 1): For a second I felt bad for Henry for having such a closed-off relationship with his father, like when they get into a fight and Henry yells at Ed for breaking up the family. But then I realized that the show wasn't going to treat the relationship as anything more than a hanger to hang jokes on.
Episode 4 (Rating = 1.5): Ed and Henry go on a double date! For once they break out of the forced "let's talk about our fractured relationship" stuff that leaves a bad taste in my mouth and they just let them do weird stuff together. The double date is still quite unfunny, but at least it's not trying to be touching.

The Event

Why Price Peterson watched it in the first place: The title and premise are too maddeningly vague for me to be instantly hooked, but I decided to check it out due mainly to its terrific cast and expensive ambitions. Plus, now that Lost and Battlestar Galactica are over, I could use compelling, serialized adventure in my life.

Pilot (Rating = 4): The choppy timeline takes some getting used to, but I'm never bored and the wormhole ending is pretty killer.
Episode 2 (Rating = 2): The plane crash and extraterrestrial reveal are a great start, but then we get stuck with the much, much less compelling abduction plotline.
Episode 3 (Rating = 4): And we're back. We get to learn more about Sophia and her "people," plus it ends with a hundred corpses coming back to life. This show really knows how to create some WTF-moments.
Episode 4 (Rating = 2): Uh oh. It's becoming clear that The Event is divided between two plots: aliens and a kidnapped girlfriend. Guess which one is more interesting? Unfortunately, this episode highlighted the other one. And it was ridiculous.

Running Wilde

Why Stefanie Lee watched it in the first place: The combination of actor-producer Will Arnett and producer Mutch Hurwitz is too magnetic for any Arrested Development fan to resist.

Pilot (Rating = 2): Who is this rich, semi-unlikable guy, and why does he look so much like Gob? Why is Felicity there? Why isn't there more Peter Serafinowicz?
Episode 2 (Rating = 5): Ah, that's better. More David Cross means more time to reminisce about Arrested Development and throw in an occasional "Come on!"
Episode 3 (Rating = 4): The show is losing steam—and not just because Fa'ad was shoved in a freezer for the whole episode. Arnett claims the show is not Arrested Development—so why is Steven dressing up in so many $5,000 suits?
Episode 4 (Rating = 3): The flashback episode was a good idea in theory, but mediocre in practice. I can't decide if I should root for Steve and Emmy or just turn the TV off and resume my Arrested Development marathon. I love you, Will Arnett, but things are not looking good.

Hawaii Five-0

Why Matt Jaffe watched it in the first place: I love the original, and I’ve always been surprised that it had never been revived or turned into a movie. Just getting to hear a snippet of the theme song again was enough to give it a shot and see what the “rebooted” McGarrett and Danno were up to.

Pilot (Rating = 3.5): Okay, I hedged a bit on that rating. The opening sequence was so big and dramatic (helicopter missile attacks, McGarrett’s dad getting whacked) that I worried that the entire series was going to be like the original on steroids. It was all a bit goofy but we did get a “Book em Danno.”
Episode 2 (Rating = 3): I struggled a bit with this one. Nothing horrible but an hour later I couldn’t really remember what happened. But they’re establishing the dynamic between McGarrett and Danny and building the 5-0 team. Still way too early to write it off.
Episode 3 (Rating = 5): I’m not even sure this episode was that much better than what came before. But I realized that I don’t need this series to be groundbreaking television to really enjoy it. The show’s Hawaii setting just plain looks great and Scott Caan has his Danno rap down. If I want metaphors, and allegories, I’ll read a book.
Episode 4 (Rating = 4): Although this episode brought me back down to Earth a bit, I’m sticking with the show. Caan’s knee injury hobbled things. The McGarrett sister subplot barely got going and the tourist family in peril seemed pretty standard. But I get the sense the show’s creators know what they have and the series will continue to grow and get better.


Why Louis Peitzman watched it in the first place: I like sexy spy series, especially if they're heavy on the action and light on the heavy. Nikita's an intriguing character with incredible legs—there's satisfaction in watching her punch and kick things.

Pilot (Rating = 4): Sharp, flashy start to the series with a fun twist at the end.
Episode 2 (Rating = 2): The action scenes are still fun, but Alex's backstory is icky and, frankly, not that interesting.
Episode 3 (Rating = 3): It's just not up there with the solid pilot. Points for the Tarantino reference, though.
Episode 4 (Rating = 4): And Nikita begins its climb back to—well, not greatness, but at least enjoyability. More twists and moral ambiguity, please.


Why Ilana Diamond watched it in the first place: I wanted to see if it would keep up with the rest of FX's roster of stand-out shows.

Pilot (Rating = 4): The chemistry between Hank (Donal Logue) and Britt (Michael Raymond James) is such a pleasure to watch, and it's only enhanced by director Craig Brewer's choice to keep it breezy and very real. Terriers is like Sideways meets Bored to Death meets Starsky and Hutch.
Episode 2 (Rating = 3): The whodunnit premise in this episode was a continuation of the case presented in the pilot. I was less interested in the crime they were solving than the totally believable relationships between Hank and his ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn), and Britt and his girlfriend Katie (Laura Allen).
Episode 3 (Rating = 4): A premise so dark, twisted, and sexy, doesn't come along that much on TV. In this kinky episode reminiscent of Secretary, the client asks Hank and Britt to solve a convoluted and very noir crime. The episode wins major points for casting the always entrancing Olivia Williams.
Episode 4 (Rating = 5): The introduction of Hank's sister, the mentally disturbed and inappropriately blunt Steph (played by Donal's real-life sister Karina Logue), only makes me love this show more.


Why Tim Surette watched it in the first place: A new show from J.J. Abrams? Umm, yes please.

Pilot (Rating = 2): I'm not sure if this show knows whether it wants to be a light-hearted drama or an intricate spy comedy; instead it's just a semi-dramatic romantic spy-medy.
Episode 2 (Rating = 2): Hmmmm... is J.J. Abrams actually involved in this show at all? I came for some cool spy stuff and the writers are just brushing over it all.
Episode 3 (Rating = 1): This show is trying way too hard to be cutesy and fun when it's actually just a chore to pay attention.
Episode 4 (Rating = 1): Snooze alert. This is officially off my Season Pass list.

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