Every year, networks put out countless shows to the airwaves. Two weeks ago, I took a look at a few of the January beginners. There was the good (House of Lies, Touch), the bad (Are You There Chelsea?, The Firm) and the ugly (everything about Work It). Well, the networks aren't giving up, putting out new programming for viewers to watch and for me to review. Here's a look at five new shows, as well as my take on IFC's Portlandia.
What you need to know: The second of the season's programs from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia writer David Hornsby, Unsupervised is FX's second animated series on the air. It's also written by Scott Marder & Rob Rosell, It's Always Sunny... veterans. It involves two 15-year-old boys, without parental guidance, living their teenage lives with consists mostly of looking for chicks.
What I think: It's like a painfully unfunny version of Beavis & Butthead. The animation is as cheap as you can find, considering the network. The voice cast is a who's who of likable personalities, including Kristen Bell (this counts as her third show on television, along with House of Lies and her narration on Gossip Girl), Romany Malco, Fred Armisen and Alexa Vega. Unfortunately the show is written like teenage boys are behind it. Which can work as an asset, considering the subject matter, but it doesn't. The jokes are lame, the animation is lifeless and the comedy is missing entirely. It's some bizarre crossbreed between an adult comedy and a kids show.
What the future holds: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney are behind one of the funniest shows on television with FX's It's Always Sunny. So why have they attached their name to not one but two unfunny projects this year (the other being Hornsby's CBS failure, How To Be A Gentleman)? With so many viable options for FX's future, including Justified, American Horror Story, Louie and Sons of Anarchy, the network doesn't need Unsupervised on the schedule.
What you need to know: It's Glee for adults, as critics, audiences and producers of the show have hammered into our heads since its pickup last May.
Question: Can a series actually claim to be "introducing" someone on their show if the actress in question has been known to many for a few years? Katharine McPhee made her debut on American Idol in 2006, finishing 2nd. Even if we're talking acting debut, she has appeared in The House Bunny, CSI: NY and Shark Night 3D. We've been introduced.
What I think: The talent here is staggering, including the two leads, Katharine McPhee (in a terribly likable turn, contrary to her appearance as stand-offish on American Idol) and Megan Hilty, as well as Debra Messing (further proving she is one of the unsung actresses working today) and Anjelica Huston. The idea behind the show is fun: putting together a musical based on Marilyn Monroe, promising many musical moments. The pilot flows effortlessly, promising and delivering a Glee for adults. So why does it feel so boring? There's a certain heart that's missing in the pilot episode. I love watching McPhee, Messing and Hilty in their scenes. But if not for them, the pilot might feel like a complete waste. I can imagine the show will improve with time, but considering it aired after the timeslot debut of The Voice's second season, the pilot should've been a little tighter and perhaps less serious. I'm not talking about turning it into a self-parody, like Glee, but give it a little life.
What the future holds: Ratings are good for the premiere, but ratings will surely fall in the weeks to come. Can it stabilize in time for a second season? Barring any Pan Am-style crash and burn with the numbers, NBC will need to stick with the talked-about musical drama for a second season.
**The River: B-**
What you need to know: Executive producer Oren Peli is behind the Paranormal Activity franchise. Executive producer Steven Spielberg is relatively new to the business.
What I think: The idea of a missing Crocodile Hunter type (before Steve Irwin tragically died) being looked for by his family and colleagues is intriguing. The idea of it being filmed like a documentary is different. The idea that some sinister force is behind it all is reminiscent of Lost. And Lost was what I thought about when watching the first part of the pilot. There's an interesting mystery to the show that I feel is worthy of further viewing. Unfortunately, the actors involved don't sell it as well as I'd like. Take a look at HBO's Luck (reviewed shortly): the cast is chock-full of believable characters and actors portraying them, greatly selling what many would feel is a limited subject (horse racing). Here, the exact opposite happens: very interesting topic marred by mediocre actors. That's also what made Lost so great: the rich, layered characters. I'll tune in again for the mystery, but only half-heartedly. Which is exactly what this is: a half-hearted Lost.
What the future holds: Ratings were decent for the pilot, but don't expect a major resurgence. The 8-episode season will likely be it. I sure hope they wrap it up in those 8 episodes, but the jury is out on that one.
**Portlandia: C-** (I sampled the 4th episode of Season 2 of this talked-about IFC series)
What you need to know: The IFC channel has produced a number of original series, including The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman and Onion News Network. The sketch comedy set in Portland, Oregon, stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.
What I think: The episode I sampled is very hit and miss, something I've read about concerning the show. Nothing stands out to me as groundbreaking, but I don't think they're trying to be either. It has a "too cool for school" vibe but it's unwarranted. I never laughed heartily, only had a few chuckles here and there. I also never found Fred Armisen to be a standout on SNL. He does a few good sketches, most notably the Prince impersonation, but he's so far behind the likes of Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Andy Samberg. Both Armisen and Brownstein are adequate in each sketch, but again, I remember so little from the episode I viewed. It's not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
What the future holds: It's IFC. I don't know their standards for hits or failures, but the show is talked about enough among critics that I'm sure it'll stick around. I acknowledge the episode I viewed may have been less-than-stellar. I would be willing to try again.
**Key & Peele: A-**
What you need to know: Stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele were cast members on the now-defunct MADtv on FOX.
What I think: With so little expectations for the show, I was honestly surprised by how funny these two are on their own show. Like Portlandia, if you don't like a sketch, wait a few minutes and a new one will start. Unlike Portlandia, I wasn't waiting for the sketches to end. I laughed a number of times, especially during Jordan Peele's spot-on impressions of Barack Obama and Lil Wayne. I've seen a number of people try to do Obama, including Portlandia's Armisen on SNL, but Peele nails it. The only downside might be that we're likely to see Obama every week. He already appears again in Episode 2.
What the future holds: A lot has been said about Comedy Central looking for and finding a new Chappelle's Show in Key & Peele. It's possible, but I do know for certain that Key & Peele is the best thing to happen to the sketch comedy in a long time, far surpassing the uneven SNL and unfunny Portlandia.
What you need to know: David Milch nas never found big success following NYPD Blue: Brooklyn South, Total Security, Big Apple and John from Cincinnati lasted one season, while Deadwood never really caught on, lasting only three of its intended four seasons. This love letter to the world of horse racing covers everything, "from the clubhose and the grandstand to the backside of the track, where the training is done", as Milch himself puts it.
What I think: The pilot episode, not meant for everyone, is terribly hypnotic. Directed by Michael Mann, the one hour episode covers each and every character on the show, from a kingpin in organized crime and gambling (Hoffman) to the ne'er-do-well gamblers (Jason Gedrick, Kevin Dunn, Ian Hart, Richie Coster) to a stuttering jockey's agent (Richard Kind) to the grizzled trainer (Nick Nolte). It is literally teeming with colorful, quirky characters, each more of a degenerate than the next it would seem. It's one of those rare shows where introductions aren't even necessary. You're given a chance to look at and listen to these characters for a brief period of time and you feel like you've known them your entire life. Through a very succinct combination of stellar acting, intriguing characters, rich, layered dialogue and an ominous underscore to every scene, Luck is one to watch. It's just not for everyone's taste.
What the future holds: Admittedly, I can understand why some would be bored by the show. I'm not saying I feel superior for understanding it, just that I instantly became invested in the whole story created by Milch. A second season has been ordered, but it came before the pilot even aired. Bryan Cranson has his work cut out for him at this year's Emmys against Dustin Hoffman, but don't rule out Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina and Richard Kind in supporting.
-FOX announced the end of House after eight seasons. The medical drama will end this May. Fans of the show are likely shocked. Fans of the show that stopped watching two years ago aren't that shocked. Look out for a column devoted to House closer to its series finale.
-NBC will ship The Firm off to Saturday nights to burn off the remaining episodes. Where else will I find my boring courtroom drama fix? Oh yeah, Harry's Law.
-AMC's The Walking Dead returns tonight with the first of six all new episodes. For a show about zombies, I need to see some flesh-eating to avoid disappointment.
-Starting March 6th, FOX's Tuesday lineup will change to Raising Hope at 8, I Hate My Teenage Daughter at 8:30, New Girl at 9 and Breaking In at 9:30. 2-1 odds Jaime Pressly and Christian Slater are unemployed by May. Nice try, FOX. In order to establish a comedy night, you have to have more than one hit show for it to work properly and not implode on itself. Might as well nickname the night "I Hate My Comedy Schedule".
-On Thursday, The Office pulled in 5.16 million viewers and a 2.5 18-49 demo rating, its lowest numbers in years. That sound you hear? NBC too busy celebrating The Voice's ratings to realize how screwed they are elsewhere.
-ABC's two-hour premiere of The River got off to a modest start at 9 with 8.2 million viewers and a 2.5 demo rating, while the 10pm airing fell to 6.82 million and a 2.2 demo. Enjoy the trip down The River while you can before it's all dried up.
-NBC rejoiced on Monday when The Voice's 9pm airing pulled in 19.3 million viewers and a 7.3 demo rating, far surpassing American Idol's recent numbers. Unfortunately, the 10pm premiere of Smash fell to 11.5 million and a 3.8 demo. On its own, great numbers. After The Voice and all the hype, a little disappointing.
That's it for this week. I'll ask again for any feedback pertaining to my TV column. Are there any suggestions you guys have on how to improve it? Anything I do discuss that you want to see less of? Want me to discuss something different in television? Let me know.
Next week I will take a second look at a few of the pilots from last October that I felt were deserving of another viewing down the road to better gauge any improvements (or, hopefully not, any decline in quality). Those shows include Up All Night, Whitney, Hart of Dixie and Suburgatory.
Until then, stay tuned.
RIP Whitney Houston. You will be missed.