The 4-Episode Test: Smash, Luck, The River, and More

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It's baaaack! A few more of the new midseason TV shows have reached the four-episode mark, which means it's time to pass judgement on whether or not they're worth your precious time and/or emotional investment. Read on to find out which of the following shows we're sticking with and which ones we're deleting from our DVRs, then tell us what YOU'RE still watching in the comments.



Luck

Sundays at 9pm on HBO


Luck Final verdict: Keep watching if you have the patience.

Analysis: Luck is an interesting beast. Sometimes, I have no idea what's going on. At others, I'm completely absorbed in the moment. Multiple viewings of the excellent pilot episode helped lift the fog of unique horse-racing lingo and clarify the blurry lines drawn between characters, but tuning into Episodes 2 and 3 felt like walking into the middle of the series even though I'd never missed a second. In a word, Luck is confusing, and it's going to run as fast as it wants to whether we're holding onto the reins or not. But Episode 4 was the best of the series by a few lengths because things came into focus, and it included one of the year's best scenes with (what else?) an incredible horse race that stopped time. This is either the best show on television or somewhere in the late Top 20, but the more time I spend with it, the more I'm thinking the former. Remember how confused you were through the first three episodes of The Wire? —Tim Surette



Comic Book Men

Sundays at 10pm on AMC


Comic Men Final Verdict: Keep watching.

Analysis: It's easy to buy a ticket to a superhero movie, but it takes a real love of comic books to 1) actually locate a comic book store, and 2) shop in the presence of a comic store's staff: They're like surly, intimidating bartenders who put you on edge and make you question what you're ordering. AMC's Comic Book Men attempts to wring an hour's worth of drama from the employees at Kevin Smith's comic store in Red Bank, New Jersey. Every episode features customers with prized possessions to sell, most of the time expecting to be paid in wheelbarrows of money, and typical nerdy conversations abound—in the store and during staff podcasts—about things like superpowers and the sexiest comic characters. While the reality show format seemed forced at first, by the second, third, and fourth episodes there were glimmers of chaos and sincerity that made for good TV, such as when Jason Mewes (a.k.a. Jay of "Jay and Silent Bob") dropped by to help himself to whatever he wanted at the store. Or when store manager Walt Flanagan was beside himself when a customer brought in original John Buscema Silver Surfer artwork to sell. I do wish the show would let us see more of what it's really like to run a comics store: We're four episodes in and still haven't seen a delivery of the week's comics, or a Wednesday rush for the new books. And it hasn't done much to address the state of comic publishing today. But then, the show's title is Comic Book Men, not Comic Book Business, so maybe those are questions better left to a CNBC news special. —Walter Morbeck



Smash

Mondays at 10pm on NBC


Smash Final Verdict: Watch it while you can.

Analysis: From the pilot, Smash has wowed audiences with a daring combination of Broadway spectacle and beautifully restrained real-world drama. The Broadway-show-within-a-TV-show structure examines the many practical and personal obstacles that the writers, directors, and the entire production face. Smash even made financing the musical interesting in "The Cost of Art," when Anjelica Houston's Eileen found a creative way to secure funding from Nick Jonas. "Mr Dimaggio" revealed that writer Julia (Debra Messing) once had an affair with the male lead, Michael. The initial tension—Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Karen (Katharine McPhee) competing for the same role of Marilyn Monroe—constantly simmers beneath the surface, with frequent reminders that "a lot can change" before the curtain lifts. This is top-tier Broadway talent, filmed in New York with the high production values of HBO, and it's one of the few shows that doesn't broadly paint heroes and villains but has real people as characters. I may not have liked Episode 5, but no matter: See Smash now, before NBC kills it off. —Lily Sparks



The River

Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC


The River Final Verdict: It's too ridiculous not to keep watching.

Analysis: The biggest compliment I can pay The River is that there's never been a TV show like it. Although it's extremely difficult to look past how mind-numbingly stupid its premise and style are, nobody can deny its ability to unleash nightmare imagery at will. The pilot did an okay job of setting up the storyline and (ludicrous) camera logic, but The River's finest hour continues to be its second one, an episode with at least six insane horror ideas all blended together into a concoction so riveting I momentarily forgot about why the cameras were filming in the middle of the night or were accidentally left on the jungle floor, pointed at open graves. It's too bad Episodes 3 and 4 pulled back on the scares (and originality), but at least Episode 4 was careful to flesh out a central character in a satisfying way. The River is a show I'll keep watching, but a big part of that comes from a near certainty that this thing won't be renewed for a Season 2. Might as well enjoy the TV oddity while we can! —Price Peterson



Key & Peele

Tuesdays at 10:30pm on Comedy Central


Key & Peele Final verdict: Just charming enough to keep watching.

Analysis: Four episodes in, my initial impression that Key & Peele is often just a watered-down Chappelle's Show still stands. From its format to its subject matter to its admittedly fearless humor, the comparison will always reflect poorly on this show. That being said, the first episode's bright spots grew even brighter by the second episode—a bit involving an excitable local news reporter on a turbulent helicopter makes me laugh just thinking about it. A sketch from Episode 3 involving slaves taking offense at not being sold hit that tricky area between uncomfortable and clever. But by the fourth episode, the surprises weren't as common (except for a decently funny Dungeons & Dragons sketch). If I'm being honest, as much as I'm not 100 percent blown away by what I've seen, this is still a solid enough sketch show that I'll continue to watch it. At the very least the two stars are extremely charming and I'm definitely down to see whether their comedic strengths and unique outlooks will set them apart from their obvious points of inspiration. —Price



Well, there you have it: It's a short list, but we're going to keep watching all of the new shows on it. 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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