Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fall TV Scorecard: Week 1

Guys, I'm excited. As an adult who is no longer subject to the agrarian calendar, the Fall TV Premiere season is pretty much the best time of the year. The leaves are changing, pumpkin-flavored treats are back on the shelves, my autumnal wardrobe is my most dashing and, best of all, the television is once again a gateway to endless hours of entertainment and storytelling.

In case you've forgotten how this works, here's a refresher. Each week we here at Wood's Stock will be watching the latest fall premieres (all new series and a few returning favorites), which we will then evaluate with a two-step model.

First, the episode will be given a letter grade based on its quality, consistent with the other reviews commonly posted on this website.

Second, based on that premiere episode we will issue one of three classifications for the amount of attention we predict you should give to coming season: "Subscribe" meaning you should commit to watching weekly, "Keep and Eye On," meaning it's too early to decide how a show will be, or "Kill and Bury," meaning you should terminate with extreme prejudice.

All set? Here we go.

Sleepy Hollow (Fox)

A month ago if you had told me I would end up saying "subscribe" to Sleepy Hollow I would have said....well I would have said "ok, but I'm definitely going to hate 'Dads'."

Frankly, I didn't know what to expect from Sleepy Hollow and frankly, I still don't. Written by Star Trek's Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and directed by Underworld's Len Wiseman, the pilot episode is a slickly produced, 44-minute gonzo smash of mythological conspiracy, supernatural mystery and buddy-cop shenanigans. Oh yeah, and it features no less than five decapitations, one of which makes gleeful use of a clever first-person camera view. "Guillotine Cam," as it were.

It begins in the throes of the revolutionary war, where British defector-turned-American-spy Ichabod Crane encounters, skirmishes with and beheads a hulking Redcoat with a battle axe, getting injured in the process. Next thing he knows, he's waking up in a cave and stumbling into a strange land with electricity, automobiles and a Starbucks at every corner.

But the Redcoat, now a headless horseman, wakes up as well and quickly dispatches with the town sheriff. Suspicion is immediately cast on the apparently-insane Crane, but a local beat cop begins to sense that things are not what they seem and enlists his help to track down the real killer.

"Sleepy Hollow" goes a step further than the children's tale, envisioning the Headless Horseman as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and setting our heroes in the middle of an age-old battle between the forces of good and evil, in which our world naturally hangs in the balance.

The question is whether Sleepy Hollow will sustain it's madness or be consumed by it. Many of these high-concept spookfests fizzle, but here's hoping Fox's new creation continues to be bloody good fun.

Grade: B+
Class: Subscribe, before this train flies off the rails

Dads (Fox)

For months now the buzz on Dads has been that it's awful. One media watchdog group asked the network to reshoot what it viewed to be racist scenes, to which Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly responded by telling critics to be "patient," essentially implying that yes, the pilot is garbage but it gets better.

Having seen it, Dads isn't so awful, it's just aggressively mediocre. Shot in a bargain-bin laughtrack and multi-camera style that sticks out of the Fox's single camera Tuesday lineup like an Asian schoolgirl at a business meeting, Dads tells the story of two man-child game developer bros (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) who reluctantly take in their down-on-their-luck man-child fathers, because COMEDY! Oh yeah, and The Social Network's lovely Brenda Song is also along to serve as both eye candy and as a catalyst for insensitive and racially-stereotypical jokes, because COMEDY!

Dads is the product of the team behind Family Guy and American Dad, and proves the old adage that some jokes only work when cartoons say them. It's also no surprise that the plot, characters and production are so two-dimensional.

Grade: C-
Class: Kill and Bury

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

Imagine if the characters on The Office had guns and arrested criminals and you get a sense for the tone of this workplace comedy/cop procedural hybrid. SNL's Andy Sandberg stars as Jake Peralta, the young detective with a gift for police work despite his schoolyard antics and disdain for authority. Last Resort's Andre Braugher stars as said authority, whose appointment as commanding officer over Brooklyn's 99th precinct serves as the entrance into the storyline, with Braugher taking a tough-as-nails approach to management in order to shape things up.

Oh and there's a murder, but it's mostly an afterthought since we have to acquaint ourselves with the characters, including Peralta's obligatory will-they-won't-they love interest partner, with whom he shares a flirtatiously competitive repertoire, and the always welcome Terry Crews as a lame-duck Sergeant shaken up by the dangers of police work after his daughters were born.

The tone is light and the jokes mostly land, with the show-runners sprinkling in just enough sentimentality between the shenanigans to keep things from dipping into a Police Academy parody land. Qualms, I've got a few, but I'm willing to give Brooklyn the benefit of a doubt.

Grade: B
Class: Subscribe

New Girl (Fox)

Nick and Jessica are finally together, now what? Apparently the answer to that question is run to Mexico so they can further delay facing the complications of their roommate/romantic relationship. That naturally leads to the kind of overblown nonsense you would expect, as the two prove they're "all in" by making a series of increasingly poor decision.

Back in the loft, Schmidt is still struggling to decide which of his two lady loves to commit to. We all know it's going to be Cece, but why make easy decisions quickly when it can be postponed for maximum comedic value. Right?

Oh, and Winston continues to not be a character so much as he is a convenient plot device the other characters can interact with and bounce their plots off of. In this episode, which feels like like a premiere than it does a back half pre-finale burner hour, we learn that Winston apparently loves puzzles. But surprise, he's actually terrible at them.

A poor showing that hopefully doesn't signal what's to come in season 3.

Grade: C+
Class: Keep an Eye On. Oh who am I kidding? Subscribe for Schmidt. 

The Mindy Project (Fox)

Much like its sister-series New Girl, The Mindy Project was all but unwatchable when it first premiered but managed to find a voice and deliver an appealing product. Unlike New Girl, however, it never quite materialized into something that demands to be seen, IMHO.

Such continues to be the case in this, the first episode of season 2, which finds Mindy happily enjoying her stint in Haiti alongside her reverend boyfriend before a case of gall stones quickly lands her right back in Manhattan where she started. "What a surprise," says no one, "I really thought that season finale cliffhanger was going to take the show in a whole new direction."

Same goes for the Reverend, whose time in this world is written on the wall. This show doesn't really function with Mindy in a stable relationship, plus we're obviously building towards the inevitable pairing with Chris Messina.

But hey, look who the cat dragged in? It's James Franco, playing a James Franco-type doctor who is little more than a meta-caricature of role Franco plays on General Hospital. I'm glad we can look forward to his and Mindy's witty banter before he signs off to produce his latest impressionist art installation. At least then we'll get the joy of Adam Pally, who signed on for a season-two stint and who I see every night when I dream of a world where Happy Endings wasn't canceled.

Grade: B
Class: Keep an Eye On

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