New series, some returning, & what’s officially On Notice.
Promising New Series.
Exploring the gritty history of Gotham City, years before the Dark Knight would embark on a caped crusade to save its soul, Gotham focuses on rookie Detective Jim Gordon (The OC and Southland‘s Benjamin McKenzie) as he goes up against the mob, crooked cops, and a burgeoning rogue’s gallery of criminals. Bruno Heller (The Mentalist) heads up DC’s latest effort to re-assert its relevance in the Age of Marvel — as they continue to expand their TV presence with Arrow and The Flash (both on the CW), Constantine (NBC) and TNT’s recently announced Dick Grayson series Titans. While the initial previews focus on a 10-year-old Catwoman, a not-yet-Riddling E. Nigma, and a young thug with the unfortunately moniker Penguin, Heller has re-assured outlets that once these introductions are made in the pilot (at the demands of Fox Marketing), the series will spend most of its time in Gordon’s morally grey world filled with bad and worse choices, and how his impossible effort to clean up the streets starts to chip away at the man he’s sworn to be. Tune in to see whether Gotham delivers on Heller’s promise to showcase a thoroughly complex world, perverse and grim enough to justify the eventual arrival of The Batman.
How to Get Away with Murder.
Shonda Rhimes’ follow up to Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder centres on first-year law students taking Viola Davis’ provocative class and manipulating her teachings to cover up a murder committed in the pilot. Sounds good. But knowing how insanely Rhimes has plotted Scandal, don’t be surprised if Murder‘s already wild premise is just the starting point for a far bigger, crazier, unpredictable series. Watch for an electric performance by star Viola Davis, returning to her television roots after recent feature film success and two Oscar nominations (for Doubt and The Help).
Gracepoint is the odd remake (albeit with a new ending) of the smash-hit BBC series Broadchurch, which tracked the investigation into an ugly death in a small town and all the skeletons that get brought to light. Odd to remake something that’s barely a year old and that the majority of NBC’s target audience has likely already seen. Odder still to cast the same lead actor (David Tennant) in the same lead role, only this time asking him to talk with a questionable American accent. Yet, regardless of its oddities, Gracepoint is essential viewing — whether to see if they can actually pull it off and deliver a moody, compelling, character-driven mystery, whether to catch Anna Gunn’s first lead role since her Emmy-winning, powerhouse performance in the final season of Breaking Bad, or whether to simply see if NBC falls flat on its face… Whatever reason you tune in, be sure you do.
Showtime has assembled a fantastic cast for its latest drama, The Affair — including Dominic West (The Wire), Maura Tierney (The Good Wife, ER), Joshua Jackson (Fringe), and Ruth Wilson (Luther) — which all starts with West’s Noah having an (you guessed it) affair with Wilson’s small-town waitress, Allison. Tierney and Jackson play their respective spouses. The main sell from Showtime is that Noah and Allison’s tangled web of deceit gets darker and more sinister (and more fatal) from there. It’s very unlikely that Showtime would green-light a straight drama about marital woes and infidelity, so rest assured we can expect some delicious twists and turns playing out in The Affair‘s first season.
BONUS: Death Comes to Pemberley.
Jane Austen fans’ favourite couple Mr. & Mrs. Darcy (played here by The American‘s phenomenal Matthew Rhys and Philomena‘s Anna Maxwell-Martin) have waived goodbye to their pride and prejudice and been happily married for years — that is, until death comes to Pemberley… (cue ominous thunderclap). Not much more to say about this buzz-worthy BBC mystery — take some of literature’s most beloved characters, house them in the beautiful English countryside, and give them a fresh new story filled with murder most foul — seems like a recipe for classic scandal, thrills, and romance. Matthew Goode (pictured) joins the rich ensemble as Austen’s ever detestable, yet devilishly handsome Mr. Wickham. Assemble in the drawing room…
Returning Series to Catch.
The fourth season of Boardwalk Empire, a series once heralded as HBO’s next flagship drama, finally delivered on all its promise — maturing into the complex, confident masterpiece it had always claimed to be. As we head into its fifth and final season, the hope is that Terence Winter & Co., who last year strung together a number of great episodes into a quiet, vicious, unsettling whole, have hit their stride and can draw things to their conclusion with swagger. Last year finally struck the perfect balance between all the supporting characters — giving them each enough time to marinate in great character beats while weaving their plot threads together for an incredibly satisfying pay-off. And yet, it was Chalky White and Eli Thompson — each stepping out of Nucky’s shadow — who delivering the most compelling lead narratives. The music, always a strength of the series, found another gear as the Onyx club gave a soulful, bluesy feel to the whole world, while the gorgeous production design was revitalized by the new, highly stylized cinematography. Season Five jumps seven years ahead to 1931 and the end of Prohibition — arguably whether a creative decision or HBO finally pulling the plug on the under-performing series. Building towards a strong finale will be the season’s sole focus. Hopefully it goes down smooth.
The Mindy Project.
After an uneven first season, The Mindy Project fully embraced creator/star Kaling’s affinity for (read: obsession with) Romantic Comedies and proved all the better for it. The series evolved into the most inventive, endearing, surprisingly gut-bursting comedy last year. Its supporting cast rounded into form — with particularly strong turns by Ike Barinholtz (as Morgan) and Xosha Roquemore (as Tamra), as well as the inspired addition of Adam Pally (quickly finding work after the lamentable cancellation of ABC’s Happy Endings). What a delight to have a series focused on a lovelorn female lead, surrounded by male friends, as she serial dates through every man in NYC before eventually finding a fit (for now) with her sparring work-husband Danny Castellano (the perfect Chris Messina). While that pairing is the beating heart of the series, it’s Mindy as Sam Malone, as Frasier Crane, the wonderful inversion of the sitcom gender trope that has for years seen a man comically dating his way through interchangeable women, that makes The Mindy Project a revelation. She takes the tired sitcom trope and makes it fresh. Mindy’s unconventional, self-obsessed Romantic hero possesses the free rein to be an active chooser of men — a maninizer. And it’s fantastic. Bridget Jones: the series. Pair all that with a riotous supporting cast, a spectacular run of guest stars, and a bouncy RomCom feature soundtrack… everything about The Mindy Project just keeps getting better and better.
The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead, seemingly always battling to reset itself the latest showrunner exit, is set-up for a direct continuation from its surprisingly strong fourth season. Scott M. Gimple (who took over from Glen Mazarra, who took over from Frank Darabont) was responsible for last year’s thrilling, character-driven episodes — pretty much giving each member of the ensemble a self-contained short story to shine a light on their humanity (or loss thereof) without ever sacrificing the urgency of its zombie apocalypse premise. That’s not to say that the masses had really been displeased with the series throughout it’s uneven run — the show is an unprecedented juggernaut in the ratings, garnering more viewers than anything on cable or network TV (save only the NFL). But what Gimple has done is refine the successful format and shade it with the gravitas and the quality for which it had always reached. Season Five picks up with the Grimes Gang reunited at railway depot Terminus — prisoners of creepy, potential cannibalistic sadists. Keep Walking.
Aaron Sorkin’s much maligned HBO effort The Newsroom has found plenty of vocal critics — for its arguably problematic portrayal of women or its overbearing earnestness — but will have six final episodes to make its closing arguments. I’ve found the series to be a brilliant evisceration of the current state of journalism, as well as an engaging critique of corporate sponsored news and the decay of the American political system. While its female characters are written as professionally capable but socially stunted individuals — oscillating at times between unwarranted hysteria and steeled heroism — I haven’t seen their treatment as that different from Sorkin’s treatment of his male leads, who are equally flawed, temperamental, and socially obtuse. Sorkin’s has arguably created flawed, obsessive people who devote themselves so thoroughly to their work, that it comes at the expense of living healthy, balanced lives. While the first season focused on how an ideal news team would respond to real-life crises from the previous year, and the second jettisoned the format in favour of the build up and aftermath of a scathing in-depth report, it’s yet to be seen what Sorkin has in store for The Newsroom‘s final run. If the heartbeat of the final episodes is the Quixotic work of the embattled news team and not their personal lives, Sorkin may very well sign-off with a compelling final story.
Person of Interest.
Aside from everyone’s favourites The Good Wife and Scandal, Person of Interest is another thrilling stand-out from the bland formula of network procedurals. Created by Jonathan Nolan (brother to Christopher and co-writer on all of his older brother’s hit features), Person of Interest is essentially the most grounded take on a modern day superhero tale — who would the Dark Knight be today in our world, without his cape and cowl. Though the series started out as a case-of-the-week procedural with a twist, the series has since evolved into a long-form, serialized thriller about the blurred lines between privacy and security in a technologically dependent society, as well as offering thought-provoking commentary on the advent of AI. All of this while still delivering dynamic lead performances from Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, and Amy Acker, action-heavy set pieces unlike anything else on broadcast television, and a rare balance of gravitas and wry humour. Person of Interest is the (super)hero of network TV, working silently in the shadows, fighting the good fight without fanfare or reward.
Returning Series On Notice.
It was fun while it lasted. As much as everyone on the planet wanted Nick and Jess to get together, we can all agree that New Girl will be better off heading into its fourth season with the couple permanently split. Recognizing how much their relationship stifled the comedy of the show, the series is pitching hard this year a return to the zany, weird group of friends — all single and all ready to mingle. Here’s hoping the supporting characters start strong out of the gate: Winston continuing to shine in his utter absurdity, Schmidt making regular donations to the Douchebag Jar, and Coach bailing on his tired alpha male schtick in favour of the hilarious masculine/feminine duality Damon Wayans Jr. perfected on Happy Endings. Everyone, including Jess and Nick, just need to get back to their first season selves and this character reboot will revitalize what had become pretty dull viewing. Oh, and at least six times more True American.
Last season definitely succeeded in pulling Revenge out of the creative nose-dive it’d been in for much of Season Two (Don’t. Mention. The Initiative.), only to jump the shark in a huge way in its final moments. We have to reserve judgment to see where the writers are taking it, but the return of David Clarke stands to completely undermine the entire premise and emotional stakes of the show for the sake of one not-actually-that-great WTF moment. Revenge may yet continue last season’s remarkable creative revival, but one fears the series is destined to go down as the ultimate example of a great cable idea ruined by having to fill 22-episodes each year on a network schedule.
No more Brody, no more Dana, let the games begin! There’s a real cautious optimism approaching the return of Showtime’s breakout hit — what shot out of the gate as thrilling, compelling, and new quickly faded into inane relational sub-plots and near self-parody. Does the creative team have another wholly original mystery of earth-shattering proportions for Carrie, Saul, and fan-favourite Quinn to unravel? Or will they depend again on Claire Danes’ bottled hysteria to propel the drama? The current state of Homeland is the greatest mystery of all.
American Horror Story: Freak Show.
After the strikingly original Murder House and the insanely disturbing Asylum, American Horror Story took a huge step back with last year’s meandering, self-indulgent entry, Coven, which was essentially a supernatural version of Big Brother: New Orleans with no plot, nonsensical characters, and very little horror. Unfortunately, our first glimpses at Freak Show aren’t very reassuring. Promotional materials make it look just as banal and conflict-free as last year. One hopes that Ryan Murphy rediscovers his game and gives his incredible troupe of actors material worthy of their talents — that he can once again shock us, horrify us, and delight us the way he did with Murder House and Asylum. Unfortunately for him, now that we know he’s capable… anything less is unacceptable.
Marvel: Agents of SHIELD.
What started as an exciting project to bring the sweeping world of Marvel superheroes to the small screen, turned into a startling example of poor, easy, formulaic storytelling plagued by cookie-cutter characters and techno-babble. Here’s hoping the events of this summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier continue to resonate into Season Two and shake up Agent Coulson’s team, making them a lot rougher around the edges. Maybe the dissolution of SHIELD is exactly the course correction the series needs — because, as Joss Whedon should know better than most, characters on the “inside” aren’t nearly as entertaining as the rebels, scoundrels, and pirates bucking the system. If the mini-reboot works, “Hail, Hydra!”