How many episodes does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? We'll never know, because that is a nonsensical question. Ask us how many episodes it takes to determine whether a TV show is worth watching, however, and we'll tell you: It's four.
Yes, four episodes. Series pilots are often bogged-down by clunky exposition, cast members frequently need some time to gel, and storylines may require a few episodes to get off the ground—but once a show hits the four-week mark (assuming it lives that long), it's a bit easier to tell if it's going to be satisfying in the long run. As such, we tasked ourselves with watching the first four episodes of every single new fall show, for better or for worse. Here's what we're sticking with and what we're deleting from our DVRs.
Note: You may notice that a few new shows, including American Horror Story, Homeland, Enlightened, and Last Man Standing, are missing from this list. Since those shows (plus a few others) debuted later than most of the season's new offerings, we'll post a follow-up to this story in a couple weeks, after they've aired more episodes.
Analysis: I'm fairly confident that 2 Broke Girls is going to be a hit for CBS regardless of what I have to say about it, but here's why it's not making my must-see list: Max is kind of a jerk. After watching the pilot, I was only mildly annoyed by her constant gum-chewing and negative attitude; now I'm simply tired of her listening to her whine. Though 2 Broke Girls commits plenty of stereotypical sitcom sins (using a laugh track; filling out the set with offensive, one-note supporting characters like the Russian line cook; giving the titular "broke" girls a huge apartment; pulling that falling-in-horse-poop gag in Episode 2), its most egregious offense is that it concentrates more on making Max's jokes as dirty as network TV will allow than it does on Max and Caroline's relationship. Yes, they have their touching moments, but most of the show is devoted to Max bemoaning their financially challenged plight or insulting everyone around her; if you asked her whether she sees the proverbial glass as half full or half empty, she'd probably just sneer and tell you she couldn't afford the glass in the first place. It gets old. —Jen Trolio
Analysis: I really and truly hate Hart of Dixie. The acting and dialogue are uniformly terrible, the portrayal of a Southern small town borders on offensive, and the storytelling suggests that the writers were like, "People love crap, so let's just ring the dinner bell." The pilot was by far the worst of the first four episodes, but that is not to imply that the second and third episodes improved. The fourth episode scored extra points for clothing its cast in mostly in just underwear for much of the episode, but the trite characters and sub-Song of the South cartoonishness remain. Please kill this show. —Price Peterson
Analysis: New Girl's pilot was so breezy and entertaining it felt like it had a five-minute runtime. Zooey Deschanel's Jess Day is weird and childlike to an almost autistic extent, but she's a refreshingly welcome comedic presence in a woman-as-straight-man sitcom world. Episode 2, while just as strong as the pilot, suffered from a jarring actor replacement; Episode 3 rebounded with a wedding-theme that featured a touching and ridiculous final scene and a lot of great soundtrack choices. Episode 4 (which I watched via a press screener; it hasn't actually aired yet) wasn't as good, but still had enough funny and bizarre moments to prove New Girl is one of the most consistently good sitcoms on the air. —Price
Analysis: Pan Am's pilot was cute, but shallow: Laura's (Margot Robbie) wedding escape had little emotional consequence, and Colette (Karine Vanasse) was quick to bounce back after her "Oh shiz, I'm the other woman?" melodrama. Episode 2 was pretty "meh." The attempted assault on a stewardess and the mother-daughter/sister-sister "do you have favorites, Mommy?" thing made my eyes roll. But things got better in Episode 3: While the JFK storyline arguably happened too soon for the series, it allowed Colette's serious internal conflict to rise to the surface, which immediately made me like her more than any of the show's other characters. It also distracted me from Christina Ricci's bulging eyeballs as she chased after the president. Episode 4 stepped up its game even further, proving Pan Am is capable of holding a cultural conversation without clinging to a Kennedy-esque crutch. Ted's (Michael Mosley) clash with the "new age" pilot promotional system was a great start. Overall, the show's still only scratching the surface, but it holds promise for depth. —Killian
Analysis: Person of Interest got off to an explosive start but suffered from a routine case of pilotitis. Still, I got hooked on watching John Reese's kick ass while the show hinted at his mysterious past, and subsequent episodes continued to deliver. Episode 2's case-of-the-week dragged the quality down a bit, but I don't think Person of Interest show is really about the cases; it's all about Reese and his partner, Mr. Finch. In Episodes 3 and 4 we delved deeper into who Reese is as a person, and wouldn't you know it? Things got better. So far, Person of Interest is consistent, and that's something television needs more of. —Tim Surette
Analysis: While certainly not the worst cop show on TV, Prime Suspect wavers between boring and competent. Sadly, it's never more than just okay, and for a series starring Maria Bello, that's a real shame. The first episode tried to introduce Bello's Detective Jane Timoney as a complex character, and did a shoddy job. Subsequent episodes have improved on the cases, but Jane isn't nearly compelling enough to keep an audience hooked. I'm checking out; Prime Suspect's mediocrity just isn't going to cut it. —Louis Peitzman
Analysis: Going into the pilot, I had some very high expectations. A girl returns to her hometown to destroy it? Amazing! The series opened with a murder that provided a great hook, but the plodding exposition (expected, for a pilot) coupled with the smoke-and-mirrors setting (the Hamptons are 100 percent green screen) made the first episode a bit of a chore. Luckily, the second episode ratcheted up the pace and established that just because Emily “ruins” someone does not mean that person is leaving the show, opening the field for multiple entanglements and conflicts. It also set up two love triangles and established the banter-filled relationship between Emily and Nolan, which is probably the most enjoyable part of the show. Episode 3 featured a knock-off iPad that got more face time than many of the show’s characters, and Emily's success began to feel repetitive: She brought down a senator with the same level of effort it takes to stomp on a pizza. In the fourth and best episode so far, a new opponent for Emily emerged, and seems to be successfully outmaneuvering her. The strong cast, unabashed soapiness, and the mounting conflicts that started to snowball in Episode 4 will easily keep me watching all season. —Lily Sparks
Analysis:Ringer got off to a rough start, and it continues to struggle in finding its legs. But while the series still has a long way to go, it's at least become consistently entertaining, which should be enough to sustain fans of Sarah Michelle Gellar and/or soapy goodness for a while. Plus, if the fourth episode's bloody murder scene is any indication, Ringer is on its way down an even darker, twistier road. Just cool it with the fake-outs, okay? —Louis
Analysis: The Secret Circle's first episode was a master class in supernatural teen drama pilots. It perfectly introduced the show's characters and concepts, setting, and tone without going too far into complicated mythology or future story arcs. Unfortunately, the second and third episodes stumbled in trying to establish those things (bad choices made clumsily), but the fourth episode's demonic-possession storyline absolutely nailed it by establishing a full-on horror tone and raising the storytelling stakes for the rest of the season. —Price
Analysis: Suburgatory is a lot better than it needs to be. The pilot made a huge impression, not just because of its genuinely funny cast, but also because of its highbrow direction and the beautiful look of the entire show. I immediately appreciated the effort and edge that went into the script; the writers took typical coming-of-age material to a higher level by daring to make unexpected, surprising jokes. The second episode proved the high-caliber cast would not be wasted by spotlighting Ana Gasteyer, Chris Parnell, and Alan Tydek. The third episode continued to take chances, throwing in delightful absurdist flair like a mom breaking down after a failed pole dance (during which she pantomimed flossing) at a PTA meeting. So why the 3's? After the shockingly entertaining pilot, the second and third episodes were dogged by my raised expectations. While the comedy level has remained high, there are a lot more chances the show could take outside of the familiar high school morality-play format it has chosen to run with. I know the goal of the average episodic television series is to constantly reset, but Suburgatory has the potential to be the next Glee if it lets its relationships develop more. —Lily
Analysis: The most-anticipated TV event of the year debuted with a "meh," but little did we know it would get worse. The premiere featured intriguing teases of mysterious etchings on rocks and a rival group known as the Sixers, but Episodes 2 and 3 were dumbed-down by prehistoric pigeons and memory-erasing viruses (ugh!). Episode 4 returned to the Sixers storyline and bounced back slightly, but not by much. Terra Nova is the biggest disappointment of the season, and I sincerely apologize for getting you excited about it. My bad. —Tim
Two and a Half Men (Ashton Kutcher edition)Mondays at 9pm on CBS
Analysis: Well, Charlie Harper is dead. We suspected it would happen as we watched Charlie Sheen melt down in public; now we know it's official, because Season 9 began with Harper's funeral, one of Two and a Half’s best scenes ever. Perfectly played by the show's underrated supporting cast, Charlie was laid to rest at a memorial attended by everyone who ever loved him and/or leached off him. He met his demise at the hands of Rose, perfect and utterly believable within the show’s continuity. So far, the funeral and the subsequent Malibu open house have been the season's funniest bits. What's Two and a Half Men without Charlie? An ensemble family comedy with a gaping hole that new characters are struggling to fill. Ashton Kutcher plays Charlie's internet-billionaire replacement, Walden Schmidt, but four weeks in, it's still unclear whether he'll be able to gel with the rest of the cast. He's already bought the house and allowed Alan and Jake to keep living there, so it feels like the old show is still kicking, but Walden (and his ex-wife Bridget) are trying a little too hard to muscle in. The laughs are milder and more forced, and it's difficult not to notice Charlie's absence. It's going to take a little longer to see whether new and old can really come together, or whether Two and a Half Men should be allowed to gracefully bow out. —Walter Morbeck
Analysis: The irony of this show being named Unforgettable isn't lost on me. It's a perfectly serviceable crime procedural that didn't use its hook—a woman with a condition that allows her to remember everything—in any distinguishable fashion until the fourth episode, when she was the lone witness at a crime scene that exploded after she got a peek. That gives me hope for the future of the series, but it's still a mediocre cops-and-robbers show at best. At least star Poppy Montgomery is consistently hot. She earns 5's all across the board. —Tim
Analysis: Up All Night's heavily re-shot pilot suffered from disjointed editing and unfortunate broad-stroke rewrites, but Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph were all engaging enough to keep things entertaining. The second and third episodes improved by shifting the show's premise from "shaky new parents" to "the misguided pursuit of cool," to much more hilarious effect. Episode 4 stumbled a bit with some implausible storytelling and less of the observational humor that made the previous episodes special, but a mere stumble in what is otherwise one of the most engaging, entertaining new comedies on TV is easy to forgive. —Price
Analysis: I really tried to give this show a chance, even though it didn't seem like my type; after all, if the jokes are funny, why does it matter if there's a "live studio audience"? But I just can't get past the way it seems like Whitney herself is still performing a standup routine, just on a sitcom set. Or the way the show is billed as "a hilarious look at modern-day love" about a "happily unmarried couple," but so far nearly every episode has pitted Whitney and Alex against each other. While Episodes 2 and 3 improved on the particularly stale-feeling pilot, they revolved around Whitney kicking Alex out of the house for not playing along during an invented "first date," and then very seriously giving him the silent treatment for refusing to admit he checked out a hot girl. Really? Real couples who have been dating for three years and also live together do not behave this way! There is enough humor to be found in "modern-day love" that Whitney doesn't need to rely on stupid dating-games storylines; that's why Episode 4 killed me with Whitney and Alex's awkward "let's prove who's more romantic" competition. Barf. While I do think Chris D'Elia is great as Alex, he's not enough to keep me from breaking up with this show. —Jen
Analysis: As tent cities proliferate to protest the economic disparities of a country that fetishizes wealth, yet can barely feed its own, is there any show more out of step with the times than The X Factor? This sad and trashy show is an embodiment of Simon Cowell's grotesque super-ego as much as it is a platform for his terrible taste in music. The first four episodes felt stale, desperate, and disorganized right out of the gate. And in ensuing weeks, that's how it's continued to feel. Things got marginally better as the crowd of hopefuls was winnowed down and put through a "boot camp." But by the time finalists were made to sing on the sprawling lawns owned by the show's four judges (why? To give them a taste of what success looks like, of course!), it was right back in the TV toilet bowl. —Seth Abramovitch
Well, there you have it: We're going to keep watching just over half of the new shows on this list. But now it's YOUR turn to reveal what you're sticking with and what you're giving up on. Let us know why in the comments!