Winter TV Roundup, Week 6

It's winter, snow is piling up for many, but TV's never been busier. More new premiers trickled out this week, and yet more will continue to trickle out the next few months. In these weekly posts I review the pilot and second episodes of new shows. If you don't see a new show from this winter below, check previous weeks.

Monday Nights:
Better Call Saul, Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC (Premiered February 8)
About: "Better Call Saul" is the latest show off the AMC production line, but it feels a little familiar. This is a spin-off of "Breaking Bad," the iconic AMC show that's now over. It feels a bit like AMC trying to fill the holes in its programming schedule by going back to the well one more time. The pilot episodes — which got "The Walking Dead" lead-in boost on Sunday night — begins with a long opening that's basically a nod to "Breaking Bad" fans. It shows you where Saul Goodman will end up. Then we rewind back to 2002 to see Saul — then working under his given name of Jimmy McGill — trying to make it as a lawyer. He's failing, somewhat, and ending up in shady situations. There's some comedic moments, but this is essentially somewhat of a crime show. The second episode, which aired Monday night in its regular slot, introduced another character from the "Breaking Bad" world and jumped off the trajectory of where Jimmy, soon to be Saul, is headed. Of course, one of the drawbacks of a prequel is that you know where he's going to end up. In fact, you know he's alive and managing a Cinnabon at the outset of the pilot, so it takes away some of the gravity of the situations in the show. In the second episode Jimmy is held at gunpoint in the desert, but you know he's not going to die. They threaten to take off a finger, but you know it doesn't happen. You know how the story ends, so do you really want to invest in the beginning? If you're a long-time fan of "Breaking Bad," you probably do. But if not, then it might be hard. True confession — I've never seen "Breaking Bad." So some of the nods to fans and the construct of the show didn't work for me. This isn't like "Fraiser," where a minor character on one show was given a whole new world to inhabit. "Better Call Saul" is a tangent to the existing world, but just in an earlier time. It's not bad, but it may not be the next big thing AMC is hoping for.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C

Tuesday Nights:
Fresh Off The Boat, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC (Premiered February 4)
About: This is the latest family comedy to roll off the ABC assembly line. ABC has found a niche in its programming. It's had great success with family comedies — "Modern Family," "The Middle," "The Goldbergs," and "Black-ish," among them. And it's also, probably, the most diverse network on TV. That's been the case with this year's development slate, which includes three comedies that explore family in different cultural contexts. "Black-ish" has been a success, "Cristella" has toiled on Friday nights. Now comes "Fresh Off the Boat," based on the life story of Eddie Huang. It focuses on a specific cultural perspective that clashes with growing up in Orlando, Florida in the 1990s. This, coincidentally, feels like a bit of a spin on "The Goldbergs" formula, too, with that show set in the 1980s. For fans of the ABC style of family comedy or unique perspectives, this might be fun. I felt like it trafficked a bit too much in cultural cliches and '90s nostalgia. It was OK, but not great, and not compelling. Part of the problem here, too, is that it's too reliant on child actors. That can be a toss up. While the parents in "Fresh Off the Boat" — Randall Park and Constance Wu — were decent, the child actors weren't compelling. That's a problem. This show is OK, but OK isn't good enough in a crowded marketplace. Especially since the show got a preview — two early episodes — on Wednesday night, propped up by "Modern Family," and now it's on its own on Tuesdays.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C-

Thursday Nights:
Allegiance, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC (Premiered on February 5)
About: This is the latest drama from NBC, which has now completely made over its Thursday night lineup. Instead of Must-See TV comedies, NBC now has dramas. "The Blacklist" moved to Thursdays at 9 p.m. and "Allegiance" slid in at 10 p.m. The show feels like it has its roots in a couple other cable shows — like "Homeland" and "The Americans." And, like it's other CIA spy drama "State of Affairs," it doesn't feel that great or that compelling. Still, there is some potential here. It centers on a young CIA analyst — Alex (Gavin Stenhouse) — who is assigned to a big terrorism plot involving Russian agents. Little does he know that his parents — Hope Davis and Scott Cohen — are sleeper agents for the Russians. So, he's investigating the case, and his parents are spying on him to keep one step ahead of the CIA. It's a complicated set up, but the pilot was somewhat compelling. It will be interesting to see how the show develops, or even if it gets time to develop. It's opening night ratings were poor — probably because this feels like a bit of a re-tread on existing plots. It lacks the performances and gravity of "The Americans," which is currently in its third season on F/X. It also lacks some of the punch you'd want from this kind of story. One of the big drawbacks might be Stenhouse, who wasn't incredibly compelling in the lead role. There is some potential here, but there's also a lot of potential for it to fall flat, somewhat like "State of Affairs."
Pilot Grade: C+


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