Fall TV Roundup, Week 2

Fall TV is upon us! We have a handful of new shows already on the air, and the full premier week begins on Sunday night. In these weekly posts I look at the pilot and second episode of news shows this fall. Don't see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks.

Tuesday Nights:
American Horror Story: Cult, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX (Premiered September 5)
About: This is the seventh iteration of the popular horror anthology, and each one features a different story, genre, and characters, while employing many of the same actors. People like Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson have been it since the beginning, and are continuing to generate scares. I commented last week that I had a small issue with this structure because it felt like the wrong venue to take up a somewhat serious political issue. Another concern I had was that we felt too close to this, in a way. It mirrored reality too strongly, which is rough for me since I view TV as an escape from the every day grind. The second episode moved away from that real feel and sunk more into the plot. I'm not totally sure what's happening yet. A part of me thinks Paulson's character is being gaslighted, but at other times I think it's a different kind of story just being shown in a funky way. Either way, I haven't been able to sink into these characters and story, and I'm not that scared, just bored. I've been fascinated by these in the past, but have frequently not completed seasons. That feels like the case here, and it's fair to wonder if this is a franchise running out of steam.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Thursday Nights:
The Orville, Thursdays at 9 p.m. on FOX (Premiered September 10)
This is the latest series from FOX, a sort of "Star Trek" rip off by super fan Seth MacFarlane, who stars as captain of a space vessel. This series will air Thursdays at 9 p.m. beginning this week, but the first two episodes got Sunday night previews behind football. That may have aided ratings and helped give this show a boost to begin its life. And this isn't the outright comedy some thought it would be (including myself) based on the trailer, description, and marketing campaign. But as an avid "Star Trek" fan and someone who frequently appreciates MacFarlane's sense of humor, especially when reigned in for TV, this has been a delight. It's not what I thought it would be, but I still like it quite a bit. It's goofy funny and fun, the perfect kind of escapist TV. And while I like shows of depth and meaning I can wrestle with (I'll point you to my "Game of Thrones" recaps), I also like some nice, light, and easy entertainment. This show is that, and I hope it keeps going.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: B-

Sunday Nights:
The Deuce, Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO (Premiered September 10)
This is the latest drama from David Simon ("The Wire") and frequent collaborator George Pelecanos, and it heads to New York City in the 1970s to trace the rise of pornography and rampant prostitution in that era. It stars James Franco in a duel role as a pair of twins, as well as Maggie Gyllenhaal as a self-employed lady of the night who finds a spark in the idea of making movies. The first episode sort of step the world up and introduced the characters, and as is common in a Simon production it moved as a slow and deliberate pace. Unlike many show runners, his series are all meant to be viewed as a whole (by season and series) in terms of understanding the type of storytelling, so individual episodes are just pieces. And as the great Lester Freamon said in "The Wire," "All the pieces matter." This second episode further expanded the world and set the characters on their paths. It, again, didn't have any big revelations, but the episode continued to build the world and explore the central themes (including the ways the system fails to address the bigger issues and create any real change). This eight-episode season is a quarter in and, while it's interesting, I still don't have a feel for where it's going. That's not uncommon. For those that want more clarity and resolution, this will be a bit of a struggle. But Simon's previous shows indicate the journey will be worth it, so I'm sticking with it for now.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Streaming Series:
American Vandal, Now Streaming on Netflix (Premiered September 15)
About: True crime documentaries are all the rage. It started with "Serial" on podcast, and really took off with Netflix's own "Making A Murderer" in December 2015. Now, nearly two years later, Netflix is steering into the skid with "American Vandal," a scripted take on the crime documentary series set at a high school and featuring students investigating the truth behind a series of "dicks" spray painted on faculty vehicles, and the local jokester who was, possibly, incorrectly blamed and expelled. It's a funny idea and it's been executed well. They are brief, 30-ish minute episodes, and an eight episode series. I've seen five of eight, and it moves at a good, easy pace. It's not incredible, but it's entertaining, particularly for those who enjoy these real crime documentary series. It's also a case so ridiculous, I defy you not to crack up.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C+


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