Winter TV Roundup, Week 3

In these weekly posts I look at the pilot and second episode of new shows this winter. If you don't see a new show listed below, check previous weeks.

Monday Nights:
Eye Candy, Mondays at 10 p.m. on MTV (Premiered January 12)
About: This show is a murder mystery, but it's also got a vibe that resonates with recent gritty crime dramas like "The Following" and "Stalker." I would argue this is something different for MTV, and might do better at this formula than either of those Kevin Williamson shows mentioned. It also is based on an R.L. Stine novel, which means at least the first season should be somewhat tightly plotted. I liked the pilot for this show more than I expected. There were some interesting twists and turns, and I thought it built the drama and tension. The second episode, not so much. The second episode was flat, repetitive, and only packed a punch near the end. I still like some of the characters, and there is still a little something fascinating about the concept, but the second episode was a big drop off. It remains to be seen how the series develops.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: C

The Nightly Show, Mondays at 11:30 p.m. (Premiered January 19)
About: This is the latest companion to "The Daily Show." It's hosted by Larry Willmore, who was a frequent "Daily Show" contributor, but this one focuses more on issues related to race relations. It also features a panel of guests rather than an interview. Of course, with these kind of shows it takes a few episodes to really dial down the format. That was the case with John Oliver, another "Daily Show" regular, who really got things cooking with "Last Week Tonight" after the first month. Willmore has a funny, dry style. The first episode tackled a lot of big topics — including the Oscar snub of "Selma" and the protests in Ferguson, and they did it well. I liked the panel and the format. I think there's potential here, and this is probably the kind of news and take on current events that America needs in 2015. But it wasn't perfect.
Pilot Grade: C+

Wednesday Nights:
Empire, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on FOX (Premiered January 7)
About: I wasn't wild about the pilot for "Empire." It wasn't what I expected and I thought it was a little too campy. But perhaps that's the point. This is perhaps the most ambitious show attempt this season — a throwback soap opera, family drama, musical set in the world of hip-hop. I like Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, but I wasn't sold on the plot in the first episode. All that changed in episode two. I thought it was better, more fascinating, and I loved the music. I may have put it on season pass three quarters of the way through the episode. I think you have to give in to what the show is, and the fact they do it really well. And the Timbaland music really adds some dimension and depth to the show. There is a reason the audience is growing. This is camp, but it's really well done camp.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: A-

Hindsight, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on VHI (Premiered January 7)
About: This show has a lot of kitsch. It's the story of a woman who gets a do over — going back in time from 2015 when she's about to go through her second marriage to 1995, the day her first marriage was supposed to happen. Now she gets a chance, with the advantage of hindsight, to skip the mistakes she made the first time around. But the show is really a chance to look at the mid-1990s, and all its fashion and foibles. A lot of the second episode was about the differences in the time period, with the main character, Becca (Laura Ramsey), bemoaning the loss of her iPhone. I sort of enjoyed the pilot, which I thought had some funny moments. But the second episode felt like a step backward. It was a lot of jokes about walkmans, VHS, and other 1990s elements, and not a lot of great forward momentum on the story. There is still some potential here, but it feels like perhaps this show is more interested in its time period than its characters, and that's a problem.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C-

Thursday Nights:
Babylon, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Sundance (Premiered January 8)
About: This is a workplace satire from Danny Boyle set inside the London police headquarters. Commissioner Richard Miller (James Nesbitt) is struggling with public perception, and Liz Garvey (Brit Marling), an American, is the new Director of Communications aiming to help him. For American audiences, this is probably not the easiest show to follow because the slang and politics won't be too familiar. But the basic premise is familiar, and there is some interesting style here. The show is very kinetic — much like Boyle's movies — and there is a blend of humor and drama here. But the characters aren't that likable, and the show is wearing thin after two episodes. This is OK, but it's not the wildly compelling and original production that it's marketed as being.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C+

Friday Nights:
World's Funniest Fails, Fridays at 8 p.m. on FOX (Premiered January 16)
About: This reality show from FOX is a spin on "America's Funniest Home Videos." It is hosted by Terry Crews, and features videos in different categories showing fails by people. A panel of comedians helps pick the finalist, then Crews picks the week's biggest fail. The videos are funny, the format is light, and this is breezy TV. That might be a win for FOX, which struggled much of the fall to find an audience. It's not that original or creative, but Crews is an affable host. There are worst things on TV.
Pilot Grade: B-

12 Monkeys, Fridays at 9 p.m. on SyFy (Premiered January 16)
About: This is a TV show based on the mind-bending, time-bending drama starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt that came out in the mid-1990s. This show tries to maintain those elements and create an interesting story. The pilot jumped around in time a lot while introducing the main protagonists — time traveler James Cole (Aaron Stanford) and Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull) — as well as the central plot. In 2043 most of the world's population has been wiped out by a virus released by bio-terrorists. Cole goes back in time to change history and save the world. There wasn't a lot dynamic about this show. It was fine, and functional. But that's about all you can say about the pilot. The film was weird and had great performances. That's not the case here. It's weird, but it's not yet compelling. It's a big swing by SyFy, but so far it feels like a miss.
Pilot Grade: C

Sunday Nights:
Togetherness, Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on HBO (Premiered January 11)
About: This is the latest comedy from HBO, nestled between the winter staples of "Girls" and "Looking." In a lot of ways, this doesn't fit that lineup. Instead of being about young people finding their way in the world, this is set in middle age. It's about a married couple trying to keep romance alive amid the duties of life and middle age folks trying to make the most of their life after some disappointments. This comes from the Duplass brothers, with Mark in the lead role. I like the four characters here, and I like how real the comedy feels. The second episode felt like a bit of a step up, and I'm curious to see where the show goes from here.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: B-

Granchester, Sundays at 10 p.m. on PBS (Premiered January 18)
About: This is the latest British crime drama imported to PBS Sunday night mysteries. This one centers on a small down minister, Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and a local detective Geordie Keating (Robson Green), who solve crimes. The pilot laid out the characters, the world, and the premise. It did a nice job of establishing the model for the series — which is based on the book series from James Runcie. The first case was a bit dry, but there is some potential for this to be something different. For fans of PBS mysteries, this will be a winner.
Pilot Grade: C


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