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Spike’s Idiot Box: A Deluge of Mediocrity

We’re now well into the beginning of the new television season, and let me say up front that, in general, I’m pretty disappointed. There aren’t a lot of new shows that I really love, and there aren’t a lot that I really hate. What we have is a deluge of mediocrity. Mediocre shows are truly annoying, because they manage keep me hooked for recurring disappointment and, ultimately, dashed hope.

In this week’s column, I’m going to briefly give my thoughts on some of the new shows that I’ve watched. My DVR has been running non-stop, so allow me to dive right in, starting with my favorite new shows.

The Good

The Blacklist‘ has a story that’s a bit far-fetched, to say the least. However, led by a balding, amoral James Spader, this character-driven action series is a lot of fun. Spader is the elegant, sophisticated Raymond Reddington, one of the FBI’s most wanted, who turns himself in for mysterious reasons and teams with rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen to help solve crimes. His motivations are unknown, but Keen’s husband has a mysterious past that’s apparently key. When I first heard of this show, I was a bit put off by its apparent ‘Silence of the Lambs’ premise, but that worry seems a bit unfounded now. No doubt helped by following ‘The Voice’, this show has already been picked up for a complete season and is a ratings hit (a rarity these days for NBC).

Andy Samberg is hotshot detective Frank Peralta in ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘, a cop sitcom airing on Fox. Andre Braugher is his hard-nosed, by the book boss, Captain Ray Holt, who we learn is gay in the first episode. Braugher is dependably great, and Samberg brings his well-known brand of humor in what looks like a fairly promising ensemble comedy.

The Goldbergs‘ is a new comedy based on the childhood of producer Adam F. Goldberg. I, too, grew up in the ’80s, and so far I’m smitten with this nostalgic, funny show. The Reagan decade is ripe for parody, and the writers are doing a pretty good job of it so far. The latest episode explored the horrors of mothers picking out clothing for their adolescent kids, an embarrassment most of us remember all too well. The choices of music don’t really make a lot of sense time-wise (Public Enemy wasn’t popular at the same time as REO Speedwagon or the J. Geils Band, for example). But that’s just nitpicking. It’s not perfect, but I enjoy it.

With a name like ‘Trophy Wife‘, I was predisposed to dislike this new sitcom. However, with its smartly-written scripts and extremely likeable characters, I was very pleasantly surprised. Kate is the new, third wife of Pete Harrison. A former party girl, she finds herself playing dutiful wife and stepmother to a brood of challenging kids while under the scrutiny of the ex-wives. I found the show to be understated and subtle, kind of a rarity in television comedy. So far, so good.

Back in the Game‘ is another pleasant surprise in the sitcom category. I was leery of the seemingly clichéd premise of a single mom moving back in with her gruff father. But James Caan, as former jock Terry “The Cannon” Gannon, is great in a performance that reminds me of Billy Bob Thornton in ‘Bad Santa’. The Cannon coaches a baseball team full of geeks, misfits and rejects that’s reminiscent of the original ‘Bad News Bears’. This show has a lot if the writers can keep the schmaltz at bay.

Michael J. Fox returns to NBC in the self-titled ‘The Michael J. Fox Show‘. Fox plays Mike Henry, a regionally famous newsman returning to his anchor position after taking a few years off due to having Parkinson’s Disease. It’s all very meta, and I enjoy it so far. It’s not quite as funny as I had expected, and the writing walks a fine line between humor and exploitation (albeit quite self-aware). Fox is of course great, and I hope for good things from this new show – though I also hope that Fox still has time for the occasional return to ‘The Good Wife’.

The Middling

Also returning to television are Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar in ‘The Crazy Ones‘, a new sitcom on CBS. Williams plays Simon Roberts, a brilliant ad executive and the father of Gellar’s Sydney, who is a director at the same agency. With a cast like this, I expected more than I got. The plot has been kind of dull and lifeless (adjectives I never thought I’d use in reference to a show featuring Williams). I like the characters, though, so I hope that it lives up to its inherent potential soon.

Mom‘ is a new Chuck Lorre sitcom starring Allison Janney and Anna Farris. To me, this show is neither good nor bad. It kind of just exists, which is a shame considering the talented cast. It has that horrible canned laugh-track that seems to be part of every Lorre production, which is almost unbearable. Mining the complicated landscape of mother/daughter relationships, there’s potential here, but it hasn’t been met yet.

I’m kind of disappointed in ‘Hostages‘, the new suspense series on ABC starring the talented Dylan McDermott as FBI agent/bad guy Duncan Carlisle and Toni Collette as Dr. Ellen Sanders. Carlisle is scheduled to perform surgery on the President of the United States. She and her family are taken hostage by Carlisle and his team of rogue FBI agents, who threaten to kill them if she doesn’t assassinate the President during the planned surgery. As absurd as I found the plot in the superior ‘The Blacklist’, this narrative is eye-rollingly insipid. Even the subplots are ridiculous. I may give this show one or two more episodes, but I’ll probably cancel it from my watch list before the network drops it anyway… which probably won’t be too much longer.

The Bad

Dads‘ should have been so much better than it turned out to be. With Seth Green, Giovanni Ribisi, Martin Mull and Peter Reigert, the depth of talent in the cast is formidable. Alas, its humor is crass, base and more than a little dumb. I’m done with this one.

Lucky 7‘ was a new drama about a group of blue-collar New Yorkers who struck it rich in the lottery. It had some potential, but was ultimately forgettable. After just two episodes, it was the first cancelation of the season. I don’t know that anyone will miss it.

I was kind of excited to see a remake of the television classic ‘Ironside‘ was on the fall schedule. Unfortunately, this version is pretty disappointing. Blair Underwood updates the lead role, but the show traffics in bad genre cliché and over-the-top macho tough guy platitudes. Everything is painted in broad strokes of good and evil. It’s been trashed in pretty much every review I’ve read, and while it may not be quite as bad as they’re saying, it’s still pretty dull and probably won’t have a long shelf life. Underwood, of course, deserves better.

Super Fun Night‘, Rebel Wilson’s female buddy comedy on ABC, is fairly awful. Everyone likes Rebel, but this mess might upset that apple cart of good will. Fat jokes, karaoke and generic vulgarity do not make for interesting television. (I thought we learned this from ‘Mike and Molly’). Wilson is the creator and writer, so she has nobody but herself to blame.

Welcome to the Family‘ is ostensibly about the clash of cultures when a smart Latino boy and a dumb but pretty white girl get engaged right out of high school after she finds out she’s pregnant. There are a few laughs to be had, but ultimately the show just kind of lays there.

Sean Saves the World‘ gives us the return of Sean Hayes as a gay, divorced father determined to be a good parent while juggling his teenage daughter, his career and his bitchy mother. The comedy has a great supporting cast, including Linda Lavin and Thomas Lennon, but the premise is thin and the writing is lackluster. The physical comedy is pretty good, but ultimately it’s just not very engaging. I don’t know about this one.

Next week I’ll quickly give my thoughts on a number of returning shows and, space permitting, episodic comments about the ones I’m continuing with above.

I hope I didn’t insult something you loved, and I’m sure I liked some things that you loathed. Such is the nature of the television beast. Regardless, join the conversation in the Comments below! This could be a good forum for general television discussion.

12 comments

  1. You’re keener on The Blacklist than I am. I watched the second episode, but I’m taking this week-to-week before I commit to it.

    I really like the Michael J. Fox Show. I had low expectations for it, but it’s pretty funny.

    I was going to at least watch the pilot episode for Ironside, but I saw another commercial for it and just couldn’t bring myself to waste an hour of my life on that.

    I’ve also decided to skip Hostages.

  2. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    I do like The Blacklist so far…but it’s not a terribly enthusiastic like. (There’s so little enthusiasm for much of anything on the fall slate). Part of it is I like Spader a lot. He inhabits the role well. We’ll see.
    Speaking of enthusiasm, I AM very much looking forward to Masters of Sex. I haven’t started it yet, but I’ll probably binge the first 3 or 4 episodes after they run. Also, AHS: Coven, which debuts this week. Can’t wait for that one!
    I would say I’m looking forward to Dracula, but they’ll probably screw it up. I’m definitely going to check it out, though.

  3. Ryan

    No new network shows (so far) have been worth watching IMO. But Masters of Sex’s first episode on Showtime was pretty good. Definitely gonna keep watching for noe.

  4. I really wanted to like ‘The Goldbergs’ but they have already lifted a plot from ‘That 70s Show an it’s only two episodes in. Plus, there are so many continuity errors that it takes me out of the show. If you’re going to base a show in the 80s, make an effort to try and keep the details accurate. The first episode had the family driving slowly in traffic along side cars from the 1990s and 2000s.

    Dads is a disaster. It comes off like Seth McFarlane saw a horrible commercial for a school of video game design and decided to create a hack kneed sitcom around it. It’s too bad because the cast is full of hugely talented actors.

    The Blacklist is my favorite new show so far. James Spader is always at his best when he’s playing a bad guy (or is he?). It’s an intriguing show that has many possibilities.

  5. Les

    I really want to like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but so far, it has not lived up to all of the hype. I am a big Marvel fan but it has really been kinda dull. Sleepy Hollow, to me, is one of the best shows of season. It may be in the same vein as Supernatural or Grimm but, so far, it has been very good.

    I do watch Blacklist as well.

  6. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    Patrick, I do agree that the attention to detail in The Goldbergs is problematic. I never saw That 70′s Show…but when it comes to lifting plot ideas off older shows, I think pretty much every sitcom drinks from that well.

    Mike, I never added Agents to my watch list. I’m not entirely sure why…but I think it’s because by and large I don’t think TV does the comic book genre many favors. I may binge up on it eventually, but for now my slate is too full as it is.

    • They lifted the secret love of roller disco from That 70s Show right down to the outfit the kid was wearing. I grew up in the 80s. No way in hell was such a large crowd of people still doing roller disco in the mid 1980s.

      • Wayne

        I also grew up in the 80′s and where I lived, we were absolutely going roller skating at the rink at least once a week when we could.

  7. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    My go to song at the roller rink was “Another One Bites the Dust.” But that was…1980 or 1981, as I recall. So: yeah.

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