Now that the new year is here, midseason breaks are winding down, which makes it the perfect time to reflect on the television programs that premiered in the fall—and will soon be back on screens across the country.
By Molly Jay.
Two of the biggest hits of the season may be polar opposites, but they are equally enjoyable. Showtime’s Homeland, an hour-long drama, centers around a CIA officer (Claire Danes) who believes a recently rescued POW (Damian Lewis) was turned by his captors and is now a threat to national security. While the writing and direction are commendably strong, it is the talented cast who truly push this show from great to phenomenal. Danes and Lewis, joined by Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin, among others, turn in performances so affecting that it is impossible to remain unmoved. Homeland is gripping and gritty, oftentimes hard-to-watch—its realistic portrayal of war and mental illness is sure to keep your stomach in knots. This is not a show you necessarily enjoy while you are watching it, but each episode will stick with you. Unfortunately, Homeland’s 12-episode season concluded in December, but production on season two is scheduled to begin in early 2012, giving viewers plenty of time to catch up on this amazing, new series.
Fox’s New Girl is a 180-degree turn from the overwhelming intensity of Homeland, but it entertained me just as thoroughly. The half-hour comedy centers around Jess (Zooey Deschanel), an adorably awkward girl who moves in with three male roommates after breaking up with her longtime boyfriend. Like many freshman shows, the premiere episode was promising, but it took a few weeks for New Girl to find itself. As soon as the characters became comfortable with one another—which allowed storylines to weave together in a more organic, believable way—and the writers perfected the blend of humor and heart, the show hit its stride. While Deschanel is utterly charming as Jess (and even earned a Golden Globe nomination for the role), Max Greenfield, who plays the stereotypical “bro” Schmidt, is the comedic highlight of the show. As long as New Girl continues to develop all of the characters and build upon all of the storylines—and doesn’t rely too heavily on the obviously impending hook-up between Jess and roommate Nick (Jake Johnson)—the show will be treat to watch for years to come. It returns on January 17 at 9 p.m.
In addition to these two great, albeit opposite, shows, many other fall premieres made delightful additions to primetime lineups as well. CBS hit it big with 2 Broke Girls, perhaps the second most successful new comedy behind New Girl. While the writing is tight and the two young stars (Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs) are both likeable and funny, the show lacks a strong supporting cast—most of the characters are nothing more than faint outlines of racial stereotypes. Luckily, Dennings and Behrs’ charm often overshadows this—but for how long? ABC’s Suburgatory and NBC’s Up All Night are also sitcoms worth checking out but may not be strong enough (yet) to take the place of staples like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation.
Though not technically a “new” show, CBS also premiered the Charlie Sheen-less Two and a Half Men, now featuring Ashton Kutcher. The latter is clearly comfortable on the program, and it is nice having his energy back on the small screen (he started on television, playing Michael Kelso on That ‘70s Show for eight seasons), but the series, now in its ninth season, is ready to be put to bed.
On the dramatic front, ABC launched two great shows: Revenge and Once Upon a Time. Revenge is a wonderful return to the guilty-pleasure primetime soaps of the ‘80s—a bit of camp, a lot of (delicious) drama. Once Upon a Time, created by former Lost writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, brings fantasy to life: each townsperson of the fictional Storybrooke, Maine lives a parallel life as a classic fairy tale character. The show is fun and magical, as well as mysterious and complex, and much of the credit must go to Horowitz and Kitsis, who have had lots of practice creating multiple realities in television. Fox’s dinosaur-drama Terra Nova and CBS’s Person of Interest also developed a reasonable following, though neither show was particularly special.
Much like CBS and Two and a Half Men, NBC “re-premiered” Law & Order: Special Victims Unit with new additions to the cast after it was announced that Christoper Meloni (beloved detective Elliot Stabler) would not be returning for the show’s 13th season. While his character is certainly missed, Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish bring a breath of fresh air to the series without significantly altering the tone of the long-running series.
The most creative new show, however, was launched on the less-watched FX network. American Horror Story, helmed by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk of Nip/Tuck and Glee, was an over-the-top, 12-episode journey into a twisted, gory world, much like that of Rosemary’s Baby and The Amityville Horror. Not for the faint of heart (or stomach), this series brought real terror to the small screen in fresh and innovative ways. But perhaps the most intriguing element to this show is the overall plan for the series: each season will tell a different story—meaning the characters and plotlines we’ve come to love (or hate or fear) will last for only one season. Actors may return from year to year, but he or she will always play new roles. It will be interesting to see how larger themes and ideas come together throughout the show as a whole without the traditional, serialized approach used by most programs.
Of course, a few shows didn’t make it to this midseason break, including the much-hyped Charlie’s Angels reboot on ABC and NBC’s The Playboy Club. Neither show will be missed—Charlie’s Angels had potential but lacked the impish spunk of the original. Perhaps a different cast of Angels or a different group of writers would have yielded a more successful series. As for The Playboy Club, it was nothing more than a bad show trying to cash-in on the success of Mad Men. Luckily, Mad Men, the far-superior program set in the scotch-swilling ‘60s, will be back on the air in March of this year to help cleanse our collective palates.
It will be fun to see which new shows continue to flourish and which fizzle out along the way—especially against the new crop of shows returning and premiering this month. Can New Girl continue to climb in the ratings? Will Person of Interest lose viewership to Fox’s The Finder? And will any of these new shows take home any Golden Globes or Screen Actors Guild Awards? We will find out soon enough.