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

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!

Comments (41)
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uhh...i wasnt confused after 4 eps of the Wire..
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I'm the same, Elly. I feel like I should love Smash but it just doesn't do anything for me. I love musicals and was wowed by the Broadway shows I saw, and I even like Glee in terms of flicking through and watching the songs that interest me, mainly when Lea Michele does a showtune. But I just don't care about any of the characters and they don't sing enough.
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you clearly don't understand broadway....
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Its a joke that the Tv.com Staff thinks Smash is that good. River and luck are just ok . Never seen Key and Peele .
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I usually do a four episode test for myself, and the only one I have continued to enjoy is Luck, It's amazing, and we all already know it's renewed for season 2!!! I have watched two episodes of Smash, and the rest are sitting in my DVR. It seems like it's a show I should like.... Not one I actually do.I enjoyed the first episode of Comic Book Men, but wont keep watching. Maybe a youtube clip every once in a while.
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Sorry, but The River seems to be evolving among the same route alot of series are taking these days..Like Alcatraz, which promised an interesting initial synopsis only to give us a "one episode - catch one guy" show at the end. In the same vain, "The River" gives us a one episode - different supernatural force. Do these writers just sit around a table and just spin a wheel and say "Yep, that's what we'll do..oh and of course we'll just give em another version of the same episode every week and they'll be happy" - ?

Even my favourite show Fringe has *some* filler episodes, but most of the time the writers are advancing the main story - even however wierder that story may be getting.
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I don't agree with your views on "Smash", I stopped watching it after the second episode because it was way to predictable!



I do like "Comic Book Men", the first different reality series in a long time.



"The River" is interesting, but I can't see it going into a second season, it'd work better as a one off.
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If a show is likely to be cancelled then why would you "watch it while you can" instead of just giving up on it since the continued investment in it would be pointless? Perhaps at the very least one could wait to see if it is indeed cancelled, and watch it marathon style if it isn't.
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I love Comic Book Men. Anyone whos a fan of Smith, his movies, or comics will enjoy it too.
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I really hope they don't cancel SMASH. I think it might be my TV soulmate....
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I've only seen the first episode of Luck, so far, and found it quite dull. I may eventually try other episodes, but there's no hurry, as I can watch it "on demand" for more than a year. I love Smash, although I totally do not understand her financing scheme with Nick. I'm confused and lost in trying to understand that. Anyone care to explain???
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He wanted to be on the show? It's ridic.
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I'm really digging Smash but I wonder what they'll do once the "Marilyn" production actually starts (if the show lasts that long). Glee is just some kids singing but these are real adults with real talent and when was the last time there was a good show about Broadway? The Nanny? haha
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The thing about The Wire was that even if I didn't entirely understand what was going on by the third episode, I knew that I was still interested. That isn't the case with Luck.



Love Key & Peele. Not a complete laugh riot, but I watch Saturday Night Live regularly, and anything consistently funnier than SNL is okay in my book. One gripe though: they always have one single sketch that just goes along for more minutes than it should.



The River is way too ridiculous. I gave up at the 3rd episode. The trailer had gotten me excited for it, and now I'm almost feeling second-hand embarrassment from the show.



Smash is great, but I'm not sure a 5 for every episode is accurate.
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I like the River and hope it continues as long as there is Magic out there!
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I guess I generally agree about Luck. The biggest drawback, easily, was that I had no interest in horse racing. Maybe I enjoy it from a distance and just seeing a race itself, but I don't know anything else about it and I have no real desire too, either. I do give it a lot of credit for the great acting and directing -- there was a moment or two in every episode where I felt really interested -- but the mostly uninteresting moments really takes me out of the show. I've stopped watching for now.



I had every intention of watching Comic Book Men, but when I realized it didn't feature Kevin Smith much, it didn't really interest me. I'm not a comic book nerd, so I figure I wouldn't enjoy the convos that Smith's friends have that much.



The River is in an odd boat. I see plenty of problems with it and there are only a few characters I like, but oddly, I do keep enjoying every episode. Maybe it's because the idea is pretty new to TV or because the premise of a magically haunted and scary river is, at the very least, interesting, but it's been pretty cool so far.
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theres more kevin smith in it than you may think. not to mention, walt has been in most all of his films.
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The River is one of the best new series. I loved it!
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There's no way NBC won't renew Smash, unless it totally falls flat. It's one of the highest rated shows on the network.
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I love the 4-episode tests that you guys do. It's always a good read and let's me know what I'm missing in my tv lineup. Thanks guys!
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I'm still watching The River. That's it out of these shows.
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Smash 5-5-5-5? seriously??

I'd say 5-2-2-3... still worth watching but not coping with expectations and with the standards set in the first episode.
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Smash is all I watch of these and I like it and will continue watching it.
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Haven't seen Luck, nothing about it appeals to me.



Comic Book Men is odd. It comes after TWD and there really isn't anything on at that time. It is watchable, but at some point you remind yourself that you are watching 30-40 yr old out of shape men getting obsessed over comics and movie paraphernalia. And in realizing that you lose something. As for Mewes the description of he being Bart Simpson that never grew up was probably pretty accurate. It is remarkable that Kevin Smith has kept him around just because he makes him chuckle.



Smash aside from McPhee never really appealed to me. It lost me after the second episode. It is just way too trite. Too many stereotypes doing exactly what their stereotypes would do. Every single time. So it can't go fast enough. And is only a stark reminder as is The Firm and even Awake that Prime Suspect was 10x better. NBC doesn't know what it is doing. They thought they could win with a gimic such as this. But it just fails.



Haven't seen The River.



Key And Peele. At this point it is a love/ meh relationship. It isn't The Chappelle Show, it just isn't. It can't be. Three completely different comedians and admittedly both Key and Peele didn't live that life that would have garnered them the same type of experience to do so. But saying that it is equal parts good skits and bad skits. When the laughs hit they hit. When they don't they often all flat. It makes me long for Mad Tv. And with their success I hope they bring more of the writers from that show and even some guest stars into it. It can be great. But it will never be Chappelle.
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"See Smash now, before NBC kills it off."



That's an odd thing to say considering Smash is getting some of the BEST ratings on the network. Tvbythenumbers has given it a "certain for renewal" prospect already. So, unless you're suggesting that this show will decrease significantly in ratings (although the rise in viewers says otherwise), I think that's a poor statement to make.



Evidence: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2012/03/06/nbc-smash-now-certain-to-be-renewed-let-the-retentionistas-howl/123024/
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I saw tvbythenumbers, too and thought the same thing. I'd say, given that NBC has very little, that the show will definitely be renewed.
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Perfect score for every episode of Smash? Officially done caring about these 4 episode tests.
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Amen to that.
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I actually think The River is pretty good, reminds me of Lost and though not every ep has been amazing, when it's at its best (like ep 2) it is totally creeping me out. Sadly most people hate it so I'm not hoping for a second season.

Smash is good but not great, I love the whole set up and the cast but some characters and storylines are more than clich so I'm not jumping up and down over it yet.

The rest I haven't tried cause they are so not my thing!
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I love Smash and like The River, but even as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in comic book stores I find Comic Book Men unwatchably dull. Why in the would would I want to watch them film a podcast? If I'm interested enough to listen to the podcast then I've already heard this discussion, if I'm not interested then giving me visual shots of nerds sitting around a table is not going to change that fact. MAYBE if, as the article above suggests, they did give me an insider look into the running of the store it would be more interesting, but right now it's a snore.
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I love Luck and I absolutely agree with Tim - when you're not confused anymore and already settled in the "horse-talk" you got a highly addictive show unmatched by ANYTHING other on TV right now. The comparison to "the Wire" is not exaggerated, it is that good. It's like any other show(but BB,GoT and Justified) is for 4-10 year olds and this is for adults.
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Smash has definitely caught me by surprise. I can't stand the length of the musical numbers but everything around it is very intriguing. It's quickly becoming a highlight of my week (mostly b/c other shows are on hiatus)
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I love the river. Ridiculous-yes. Entertaining-Definitely.



I hate Key and Peele. Every time it comes on i want to punch them both in the face. Its just 2 dudes running around and be obnoxiously not funny
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Smash is a great show if you can bear the musical elements. We should see more seasons....



The River is a disaster and I could not finish the second ep - I can't see it staying on for more than a season if that....



Luck looks great but it's a bore - perhaps it is the new Treme....

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I really enjoy Comic Book, but I have been listening to their Podcast for a while, so it's nice to get to know the people behind the voices. I thought Key and Peele was terrible TV, but hey if people watch it, so be it. I also lasted about 15 minutes into the pilot of Luck. Just too slow and complicated to hold my attention. Either way to each, their own. Comic Book is the only show on the list I would endorse and I'd rate it much higher than you did.
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River is cool, Luck is dragging( keep in mind Surette says Justified has the best dialogue in ALL of TV!)

Smash is cool even for Broadway!!! Sorry, still can't get South park out of my mind when it comes to Broadway shows!!!! Oh, how could you forget!!!!!



The rest just are a no show!
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HAHAHA
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I love Key and Peele and am really enjoying Comic Book Men the more I watch it. Smash really surprised me, "not my usual but nice." Luck kind of reminds me of soccer, lots of build up so when it's exciting I'm on the edge of my seat. It's solid; a show I'm glad I watched but at the same time one I'm never in the mood to watch. I like the variety in these new shows. Overall it's a solid new group.
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Luck I found supremely confusing/boring, for however beautiful the cinematography is, I couldn't make it to the end of episode 2.

Smash is my favourite new show this year and I'll be watching for as long as they keep airing it.
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I completely agree with you on Luck, I didn't make it to the end of the pilot...

The only one I've seen from this list other than Luck is Smash, and I like it. The rest I am not gonna bother with, there so many other shows I'd rather waste my time on ;)
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Smash is fantastic, it's really the best show I've seen for years.

If you haven't watched it yet, WATCH IT!
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