Winter TV Roundup — Week 9


March begins tomorrow, but many of us are still in the throws of winter. And the TV is still there to keep us company. In these weekly posts I look at the pilot and second episode of new scripted shows from winter. Don't see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks.

Monday Nights: 
Taken, Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC (Premiered February 27)
About: NBC has taken a new stance this winter, seemingly just launching new series that are brand extensions of existing properties of shows like "Taken," that are brand extensions of movie franchises. That usually doesn't work, and it certainly doesn't work with "Taken." What is the real pull of the "Taken" franchise? Is it the stories, or is it the charisma of Liam Neeson broken down in easy to swallow 90 minute bites? I think its the latter, and the pilot for this series did little to change my feeling. In the series, Clive Standen takes on the role of Bryan Mills, who in this series is younger and sans family. This is meant to be a prequel of sorts which fills in the gaps in Mills' unique set of skills. In the pilot, his sister is killed by a mercenary and Mills ends up surviving attacks and being recruited by a nefarious organization. All that would be fine if it was interesting or compelling. This isn't. It got the plum post'-"Voice" slot, but I don't expect many will return for second and third viewings. This is dull. The cast is dull. And the story feels tired. Standen might be a fine performer, but he's no Liam Neeson, and it shows.
Pilot Grade: C-

Wednesday Nights:
Doubt, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS (Premiered February 15)
About: So this ends up being less a review and more an obituary. "Doubt" aired two episodes, and despite being a buzzy new drama, has already been cancelled. That reminds me of what used to happen before the last few years when networks let shows play out the string. That's not good enough for CBS, which will move on from here. And that's sort of a shame. I was luke warm on the pilot, which was fine but too busy and not overly compelling. The second episode wasn't incredible, but I thought it made strides. I was actually curious to see where this might go, but, alas, no one else was, and the show is now off the air. CBS is struggling with new dramas this year, and some aging series are slowing down. For the first time in years, the cracks in the seemingly invincible armor are showing, and "Doubt" is a prime example.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Thursday Nights:
Sun Records, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CMT (Premiered February 23)
About: While many people were probably still reeling from the twist on "Nashville" Thursday night, the network launched a new scripted series grounded in the history of Memphis, focusing on the early careers of Elvis and Johnny Cash, among others, and producer Sam Phillips, who helped revolutionize the music industry. The pilot was a little slow at first and had to bounce around a bit, but it did a good job of building characters and the world. I liked the flow and I can see some potential here.
Pilot Grade: B

The Blacklist Redemption, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC (Premiered February 23)
About: This spin-off of "The Blacklist" focuses on Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) and his mother, Susan Hargrave (Famke Jassen). There's some mystery here that had been a moderately compelling part of "The Blacklist." Did it deserve it's own spin-off? Is this an idea that can be franchised? Based on the pilot, I'd say no. I like Eggold and his character on "The Blacklist" pretty well, but there's not enough here to sustain a series. The pilot felt a bit stale and formulaic, as the original recipe has felt for the past season and a half. And the ratings here can't be what NBC is looking for, either. This feels like a bit of a reach, and shows signs of a misguided programming theory by the Peacock.
Pilot Grade: C-

Sunday Nights:
Big Little Lies, Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO (Premiered February 19)
About: This is HBO's latest venture, a mini-series featuring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and Nicole Kidman, among others, in a series written by David E. Kelley based on a popular book. There's all the ingredients for a hit here but the series is just average at best. I thought the pilot dragged and struggled to establish characters and stories. The second episode — which was released early by HBO on Friday — gave me a better sense of these people and the central conflict, but it didn't help me invest in these characters or this world. It's hard to pin down blame, and it's possible this just isn't my cup of tea, but this feels like a talented group that's come together for a project that's just missing the mark.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-

Crashing, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO (Premiered February 19)
About: HBO's other new series, "Crashing," is a comedy based on the material of Pete Holmes, who stars in the leading role as a struggling comic that finds his wife cheating on him, his marriage broken up, and connects with a series of famous faces to crash for a night. The pilot and second episode featured Artie Lange, handing it off at the end of the second episode to TJ Miller. It's an interesting gambit, and I kind of like Holmes as an actor, but there isn't enough to this series. It's dull and feels a little too disconnected. And I'm not sure it's a good fit with "Girls," which serves as its lead-in.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-

Streaming Series:
Patriot, Now Streaming on Amazon Prime (Premiered February 24)
About: Thanks to Amazon's pilot program, everyone gets a chance to sample potential series and weigh in before the network makes decisions. More than a year ago Amazon offered six pilots during a pilot season, and four of them were ordered to series. "Good Girls Revolt" has already been a one-and-done series, "One Mississippi" is working on season two, and "Z: The Beginning of Everything" was released earlier this winter. Now comes "Patriot," a series that was my favorite of that pilot season. And I say that with the caveat that I didn't love or even really like any of the pilots from that group. I came to appreciate "One Mississippi" after seeing all the episodes, and the same might be true of "Patriot." I like the idea, about an intelligence officer going undercover at a menial mid-western company. I think there's some potential for dramedy here, and the pilot intrigued me enough to make me wonder where the series will go from here.
Pilot Grade: C+

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