Winter TV Roundup, Week 10

We're into March, and now we're starting to get a new flood of network releases held to "spring." In these weekly posts I look at the pilot and second episodes of new scripted series this winter/spring. 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: Based on the film franchise featuring Liam Neeson, this series is a prequel of sorts, trying to show how Bryan Mills became the badass we see in the movies. I mentioned this last week, but the reason the films work is the simple plot and, Neeson. Neeson isn't here, and the plot is anything but simple. Now he's working for some kind of government agency, he's got a case of PTSD, he's still seeking revenge, and there's the case-of-the-week format. They've taken everything that made the "Taken" movies a good 90-minute escape and turned it into a 60-minute trap each week. No thanks.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-

Thursday Nights:
The Blacklist Redemption, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC (Premiered February 23)
About: "The Blacklist Redemption" is formulaic like "The Blacklist," but without the compelling characters and personality. I like Famke Janssen just fine, but her character just isn't as compelling as Red on "The Blacklist." In fact, this series feels very much like the formula that's bogged down "The Blacklist" in recent seasons, except in reverse. Instead of a criminal teaming with the FBI to track down other criminals, the formula for the first two episodes of "Redemption" is about a group of criminals coming together to give the government an assist in saving people across the globe. It's not awful, it's just not compelling. And the central mystery built around Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) is not as compelling as the original hook on "The Blacklist." This feels like a true filler between halves of the main series, and something that's likely one-and-done. The second episode was a touch better, but not better enough to be a breakout hit.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C

Sun Records, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CMT (Premiered February 23)
About: This latest CMT limited series is based on the musical from Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, and focuses on the music scene in Memphis in 1950s. It's an interesting concept with a decent cast. I liked the pilot and the way it set up the potential for the world. The second episode felt like a little step backward. It was slower and I had less of a sense of where this first run of episodes — eight in all — is aiming to end up. It's an interesting subject and period, but the pacing felt off in episode two. It will be interesting to see if that picks up a bit more in the third episode or if this slows down due to the constraints of trying to make a longer form series out of shorter source material.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: C

Sunday Nights:
Making History, Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on FOX (Premiered March 5)
About: Well, football and awards season is officially over. Sunday brought a host of premiers, including this time-travel sitcom from FOX. So time travel is big this year. In the fall "Timeless" tackled the subject, and on Sunday a pair of shows that premiered did the same. "Making History," which comes from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and is squarely aimed at satire. The cast includes Leighton Meester and Adam Pally, and the story centers on a simple guy who finds a time machine, goes back in history, and sets off a chain of events that threatens to end America before it begins. You know, simple stuff. I like the cast and the idea, but the pilot was odd and dull. Not a great combination.
Pilot Grade: D

Chicago Justice, Sundays at 9 p.m. on NBC (Premiered March 1)
About: This is the latest entry in the Dick Wolf Chicago empire, and kicked off with a special crossover episode with "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago PD" on Wednesday before settling into its Sunday timeslot. If you're fans of those shows, this will be right in the wheel house. In fact, Jon Seda from "Chicago PD" has moved over as a regular on this series. If you're a fan of Wolf, you likely remember "Law & Order." This latest series reminds me of "Law & Order," and might be my favorite of the four series. That being said, it's about what you'd expect and squarely aimed at extending the brand in a way that makes sense.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Time After Time, Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC (Premiered March 5)
About: This is the other time-travel series that debuted, this time a soapy option from ABC. It centers on Jack the Ripper and H.G. Wells going from 1893 to 2017, as Wells tries to track down the Ripper and bring him back to his right time and to justice. The Ripper, meanwhile, has other ideas. It's based on a film of the same name from 1979, and comes from Kevin Williamson. He wants to give it that horror story edge, but it didn't translate in the first two episodes, which aired as a single block Sunday night. I was bored about 15 minutes in. The concept could have potential as a feature film, and it clearly did, but it doesn't feel like the kind of thing that works as a weekly drama. And the ratings on Sunday proved it didn't connect with audiences.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

The Arrangement, Sundays at 10 p.m. on E (Premiered March 5)
About: This is the second scripted series from E, and it focuses on a young and upcoming actress who meets and falls for otherworldly leading man Kyle West. Soon, she's presented a contract to become his wife. And did I mention he's in a sort of therapy/religion that seems to be guiding all aspects of his life, including relationships. Yeah, they're trying to take some kind of veiled shot at Tom Cruise it seems, but if you get past that the pilot and characters were actually kind of interesting. Josh Henderson makes for a decent leading man and Christine Evangelista was compelling as the new woman in his life. Michael Vartan also works well as the shifty leader of this quasi-religion that will, no doubt, become a bigger focus in future episodes. I'm not sold by any means, but I was intrigued.
Pilot Grade: C+

Feud: Bette and Joan, Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX (Premiered March 5)
About: This is the latest anthology series from uber producer Ryan Murphy, who directed the pilot. I'll admit, this one surprised me. I thought the concept sounded ridiculous, and I couldn't imagine caring about the series. Then I watched it and within 15 minutes, I was completely taken with the idea, performances, and this story. The first season, which runs a crisp eight episodes, focuses on the feud between actresses Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange). Let's say I really enjoyed what I saw and I think this has the potential to be another hit. Great casting, great look, and an engrossing story.
Pilot Grade: B+

Streaming Series:
National Treasure, Now Streaming on Hulu (Premiered March 3)
About: This import from across the pond dropped all four episodes on Friday. And before you race to watch, it isn't a TV series based on the Nicholas Cage films. I made that mistake, too. Instead, this one is about a famous, aging comedian (Robbie Coltrane) who's accused of sexual assault. That throws his life, career, and family into turmoil as, soon, many others come out to accuse him of crimes. This hits a little too close to home for those following the Bill Cosby saga, but it's very well done. Julie Walters and Andrea Riseborough co-star. The first two episodes leave you waffling back-and-forth about whether he's really guilty. And just when you think you're sure, something changes. The whole series is only four 48 minute episodes, so it's a breezy watch for those draw to these type of stories.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C+


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