New shows on the TV block: the good, the excellent and the ‘why did they bother’

hugh-dancy-hannibal-sliceFirst and foremost an apology to all for the lack of blog goodness from me over the last few weeks. Starting a new job, a family holiday and trying to get to as many Oscar flicks as possible has been sucking up my time. But, the thing that has occupied most of my non-work time? Trying to catch up on all of the new TV shows which have been starting over the past few weeks. After worrying that the world would end due to the collapse of the Mediaworks/Fox deal, it appears my worry was misplaced – there is more than enough free to air content of great quality to keep me occupied. For those of you who don’t waste as much time as me on the small box, here is a bit of a break down of what’s available – and what you should actually bother watching 😉

(Note: I am only covering new shows here – but there are a heap of great returning shows that have also re-started: Homeland, New Girl, Scandal, Revenge and Parks & Recreation being among the best).

Best in Class New Entrants

1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: after only one episode this cop shop sit com has made it onto my best list. No surprise really – given it comes from the stable of The Office and Parks and Rec – and picked up the Golden Globe for Best Comedy. Andy Samberg (famous for SNL, his ‘singing group’ Lonely Island and the excellent indie flick Celeste and Jesse Forever) showed in the first ep why he picked up the Globe for Best Comedic Actor. The show has a mountain of comedy at hand in the form of mocking police procedurals – but appears to be taking a more inventive and entertaining approach. And, like Parks, it serves its comedy with a side of heart (not in the Hannibal sense…). Monday nights, TV2.

2. The Blacklist: for many people all it took was ‘starring James Spader’ to ensure they added this to their MySky – but for me it was the punchy premise and terrific trailers. The concept – one of the FBI’s most wanted men hands himself in on the basis that he will help them track down many others on the most wanted list in exchange for immunity. The hitch – he will only talk to one FBI agent (rookie Elizabeth Keene) and won’t tell anyone WHY he is doing this. The show is both extremely entertaining – Spader a particular highlight – but also has the smarts and the action to make this better than most spy movies being made these days (yes, Jack Ryan – I am talking about you). Keene – played by relative unknown (unless you count Step Up movies, which I don’t) Megan Boone – is a well rounded and mysterious female lead, and isn’t overshadowed by the on form Spader. Investigate immediately I say. Sunday nights, TV3.

3. Hannibal: Let me first admit something – I have never seen The Silence of the Lambs, or any related films. I know, it’s terrible for a film geek to admit that. I should also admit that the only reason I bothered checking out this show was the fact that lovely bit of British biscuit Hugh Dancy was starring in it. But, for once, choosing something solely based on the leading man was an inspired decision. Hannibal’s focus is Dancy’s FBI-agent-with-something-like-Asbergers-but-different Will Graham. He has the ability to enter a crime scene and put himself into the mind of the killer – visualising (in usually a pretty graphic way) what happened before the cops showed up. In the first ep his boss – Laurence Fishburne in excellent form – calls on some additional psychological profiling – on both the killer and Graham – in the form of one Dr Hannibal Lecter. Mads Mikkelsen has great fun with this role, lifting this above the realm of just another police procedural. I for one just wonder what Hugh Dancy and wife Claire Danes chat about when they both get home from playing government agents with serious mental health issues. Not for the faint of heart but well worth it. Saturday nights, TV3.

4. True Detective: I almost didn’t include this on the list as a) it isn’t free to air (it’s on Soho) and b) it is so much better than anything else on TV right now that it is almost unfair. The concept of the series is simple but extremely clever – each season cast two A list actors (this first season Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) as cops dissecting a crime from years ago. You see them in flash back as younger, and very different, detectives investigating a speight of particularly disturbing murders. Then – many years later – they are interviewed (separately) by other cops investigating another crime, and picking carefully through the old investigation. McConaughey – who seems to have discovered acting form recently that would make Olympic judges suspicious – steals the show here, as an atheist philosopher with enough skeletons in his closet to start his own dungeon. Harrelson is far from left out in the cold though – with an interesting, and unexpected for him – character arc. And the show itself is just all kinds of awesome – extremely smart, extremely clever, extremely disturbing. Watch if you can. Tuesday nights, SoHo.

Shows with Potential

1. Super Fun Night: Australian Rebel Wilson was one of the highlights of Bridesmaids and simply stole the show as self-named Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect. So the news she had created her own sit com was welcomed in my house. The show – after probably around 4 episodes so far – has proven itself a solid watch. The concept isn’t a complex one – Wilson’s lawyer makes a pact with her two equally introverted room mates Helen-Alice and Marika that they will make a more concerted effort to put themselves out there and meet boys. Add to the mix Wilson’s unrequited love for workmate Richard, and the new skinnier, prettier, nastier lawyer on the block Kendall – and you have a pretty entertaining half hour of TV. The only things probably letting the side down so far are a) far too many fat jokes (is it too much to ask to just leave it alone for one episode at least?) and b) the fact that they can’t quite decide whether Kendall is evil-incarnate or evil-with a heart of gold. Something tells me the first option would be more fun. Mondays, TV2.

2. Trophy Wife: So I should admit that, yet again, I chose to watch this based on the mail lead – The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford. But, although he gets some great lines, it is the girls and the kids who steal the show here. It is a very Modern Family-esque show (but better, I would argue): young party girl Kate (Malin Akermann) marries Whitford – and in the deal gets two ex-wives and three kids. Comedy ensues. Although it isn’t a particularly inventive kind of comedy – and although old tropes of ‘career focused and discipline obsessed woman’ (Marcia Gay Harden as Wife #1) and ‘kooky and flighty woman’ (Michaela Watkins as Wife #2) are overused – there are still laughs a many here. The kids are of the generally entertaining rather than annoying kind (though the youngest one has the potential for annoyance in the very near future) and Kate’s single friend Meg also adds another angle to a family show. My one gripe: what does Kate do all day? Mondays, TV2.

3. Step Dave: Disappointingly the only new kiwi show in the new season so far – this new hour long dramedy from the creators of Go Girls and Nothing Trivial debuted last week. It is a relatable story – 24 year old bar tender falls for 39 year old Cara – not realising how old she is or that she has three kids. There have been quite a few reviews of this so far – many agreeing that the pilot was a little all over the place tone wise, but that it has potential. I agree – I laughed a couple of times but not many, but I think the main characters may have the ability to make this into a great show – if the script writers step up in the way the Almighty Johnson’s ones did from day one. My main gripe: this does seem like a little more of the same for Kiwi TV – the same actors (aside from the main two – who are excellent) from other kiwi shows, the same sets, and the same city. As an Aucklander, even I am a little over seeing my city (and the same mostly white middle class depiction of my city) shown on the TV. Is it too much to ask for NZ On Air to fund a show set in Wellington, Wanaka or Waipu? Even Hamilton could make for an interesting backdrop at this stage. Can’t be that hard, surely? Tuesdays, TV2.

The Great Disappointment

1. Mom: I am glad there is only one show in this category (that I have bothered to watch – there are some new shows (like all reality ones) that I just haven’t wasted my time on) – but I am really sad that it is this one. I went in with middling expectations – there was a fantastic cast (The West Wing’s Alison Janney, Studio 60’s Nate Corddry and Chris Pratt’s wife Anna Faris) and reasonable reviews but the ads just made it look terrible. Hoping the ads were just badly put together, I tuned in on Wednesday and wished I hadn’t. This sit com tries to tackle some big issues – alcoholism, drug addiction, teen pregnancy – but ends up lampooning them. And – a note to all Hollywood execs – laugh tracks do the opposite of what you want them to – they don’t tell you when you laugh, they have you asking ‘why did they possibly think I would laugh at that?’. I almost laughed twice in this half hour (at Janney – who gets the best of a poor bunch of lines) and that doesn’t even come close to what a good sit com should be aiming for (as comparison, I counted at least 20 belly chuckles during Parks and Rec’s Season 6 premiere). And I am just sorely disappointed that the comedic talents of these three actors is being wasted here. What worries me most though? That this will prove a hit show (like the consistently terrible Two and Half Men) and get renewed season after season after season. Epic fail.

So that’s all for me from the small screen. Hope to have some more Oscar fodder reviews for you next week. In the meantime, happy TV watching!

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