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The best new series of the fall season, by Bunky Bunk

Hi there, this is me. The 2013/2014 season has started for a few weeks now, I wanted to write a little something about the new shows I'm watching, and hopefully convince you to watch. I tried to make spoiler-free reviews, and if I do mention precise plot points, either it's in the pilot or it's not a big deal, and it won't ruin your viewing of the show. I hope you enjoy reading, and if you do, or if you have questions, don't hesitate to leave a comment!

My system :

= bad.
= not that good.
= quite alright.
= pretty great.
= excellent!

Masters of Sex — Showtime (6 episodes aired out of 12) :

Masters of Sex is must-see television and bar none the best new show of the fall. Episode 5 is one of the best episodes of TV I've seen in 2013. I had hopes for this series, and halfway through season 1, this is even better than what I had expected. Such an interesting subject, treated with intelligence and evolving throughout the course of the season. Brothel sex, gay sex, female masturbation, mummy issues, those subjects would have been tacky and vulgar in less capable hands. Here, it's the basis of intereting discussion on the nature of relationships.

Michael Sheen was nothing short of spectacular in the second part of that fifth episode, and his performance in the rest of the series is worthy of praise too because he portrays a very calm, rigid man, who shows little to no emotion, and while many actors would have a wooden face all the time, you can tell what's going on in Masters' head, and that's because of subtle details in Sheen's acting. I'm a fan of Lizzie Caplan since the amazing Party Down, and she shows a great ability for drama here, her duo with Sheen couldn't work any better. When I first saw her in the pilot, I was worried that Caitlin Fitzgerald, who plays Masters' wife, wouldn't have much of a personality, wouldn't have a character on her own, if you will, well I'm glad the actress and the writing proved me wrong. Guest star Allison Janney was wonderful in episode 1.06, and we have Margo Martindale playing an important part, it's too bad they both have commitments to CBS sitcoms…

I feared Masters of Sex might be boring, or lack elements that'd make me want to come back the following week : it doesn't. It is compelling, original, it takes advantage of the pay-cable factor, not for the nudity itself (which is never cheap) but to go beyond that and explore the characters' psychology in a profound way. It is that good already, and we're only six episodes in. Masters of Sex is becoming one of my favorite shows on the air.

Tunnel / The Tunnel — Canal+ / Sky Atlantic (3 episodes aired out of 10) :

I was very curious to see what this French/British production would look like, and so far I'm liking it. Sky Atlantic has started to air the show before Canal+, which will start airing Tunnel on November 11 for 5 weeks, episodes 1.07 to 1.10 will thus air in France first. That's a nice compromise.

I haven't seen the original Bron/Broen, and I haven't even delved into FX's The Bridge yet (I've only seen the first couple of episodes this summer), but I will make a point of following this version until the end. And I don't really have a choice because I'm kind of hooked already. First of, I love the leads, when watching Dillane on Game of Thrones I thought he was pretty charismatic and it's great to have him here as a laid-back, kind of snarky cop facing his much colder French counterpart, who Clémence Poesy also plays quite well. The supporting cast hasn't really had much of a chance to shine, though I do like the French female cop played by Sigrid Bouaziz.

A big part of the appeal of Tunnel is that it's truly a bilingual series, I would say 54% English / 46% French for the first 3 episodes, though the interactions between Élise Wasserman and Karl Roebuck are always in English, but on some occasions he tries to speak French too. The investigation hasn't become quite addictive yet, but the killer's motivations are definitely intriguing, and i like the inclusion of some sort of social background to his motives. When Karl's son tells him that he thinks the crimes being committed (at the nursing home, the old man taken hostage who's probably a veteran) have the benefit of making people talk about how our society treat the elderly, I liked that, that the show isn't painting the bad guy as an evil person with no moral code.

I'm not as invested in the side plots though (the Colombian immigrant, Karl's family, or the journalist - though for that one that may change in the next episode given the cliffhanger of episode 1.03). By the way, the killer has to be French, because British people don't speak French, and this one does when he announces his "truths". The English subtitles over the French language are good, btw. It's not exactly gripping TV yet, but episode 3 was the best one so far and announces an interesting fourth episode. This show is worth a watch.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine — FOX (6 episodes aired out of 22) :

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or B99 (I like to call it that) is the best new comedy of the fall season. Parks & Rec fans should love it: I am, and I do. I was sold when I knew Mike Schur was behind it, I was even more sold when Andre Braugher was added to the cast, but now after seeing those 6 episodes I'm officially a fan, they had great ingredients and they made a good stew out of them. At first, one thing was bugging me though: I'm no fan of Andy Sanberg, I think he's annoying, but I have to admit that in this show I actually don't mind him, which is a testament to the good writing. Sure, he acts like a 5-year old most of the time, often wrong and/or ridicule, but all the other great characters counterbalance his dumbness. Plus, it's not like he slips onto banana peals or bangs into doors, you know, he just doesn't think things through, or has a cooky way of doing things. I'm not rooting against him and given my bias against Sanberg, that's an achievement.

The cutaways to flashbacks work very well, there's the right amount of them and they're justified. Much like Parks & Rec, it's an ensemble show and there isn't a single flaw in it. I already knew and liked Andre Braugher, Terry Crews and Jo Lo Truglio, but ones I didn't know are equally good. I especially like Chelsea Peretti as Gina, kind of mysterious, borderline creepy, which usually is a good combinaison for fun.

At first I tried to match the characters of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to the Parks & Rec main characters : the April of B99 is Rosa, the Ann (Perkins!) of the show is Amy, the Andy of the show is Peralta (I bet the idea of this show came from the Bert Macklin moments Andy had), the Ron of B99 is Captain Holt, the Jerry (Larry?) is Hitchcock. I don't do that to be dismissive towards Brooklyn 99, its characters are well-defined, different from one another and all are funny, but there are similitudes imo. While B99 is not close to Parks & Rec's greatness, it's also a whole lot better than Parks & Rec's first 6 episodes. If you like smart cop comedies in the same vein as those of the Golden Age of NBC (when they had Community, Parks & Rec, The Office and 30 Rock on the air in one night), go for it, you won't regret it.

Hello Ladies — HBO (5 episodes aired out of 8) :

This show is growing on me. After the pilot, I would have given it 2 S, after episode 1.03 it would've been 3 S and now it's 4 S, because it's just getting better each week.

I find myself rooting for Andrew, so I guess Merchant succeeded in crafting that complete asshole for whom you can't help but feel sorry. The first three episodes were alright but episode 1.04 was quite brilliant, actually, going so far with the cringe (the scene where Andrew takes the gay jokes too far was so hilarious) and yet redeeming it in a way that hadn't been done before on the show: with the discovery by Andrew's friends of his fear of a life alone without love — they had begun to trash his bedroom (as punishment for leaving them there while he's chasing women) until they found his diary of when he was an adolescent, in which he says that he fears he's going to die alone.

Episode 1.05 didn't have such bittersweet feelings, just the taste of failure once again, with Andrew getting so close to his dream and yet not being able to reach it. Some of those situations are very Larry Davidesque, whose style I adore (Curb your Enthusiasm is my all-time favorite comedy series), except it's meaner, darker, the characters get pathetic, but overall it remains quite funny. This season has been an escalation in the disappointments on Andrew's side : after seeing the woman of his dreams pass by him in episode 4, he sees from behind bars having fun at the party he technically organised. It's safe to assume the last 3 episodes will see Andrew get even closer to that dream woman until unfortunate circumstances he's responsible of get back at him (unless there's episode 8 has an happy ending, which I'm not rulling out, except it will not be with that model but with Jennie). I hope it gets renewed, it might be a bit repetitive but it's really fun.

Sleepy Hollow — FOX (5 episodes aired out of 13) :

Well, this is definitely more fun that I was expecting. I hate procedurals, and at its core it's definitely one, but with a blend of fantasy stories, a wacky tone and a big share of serialized elements, it makes the show work.

One thing I dislike is how the show has useless flashbacks, I hate that, it's worse than clumsy writing with characters feeling compelled to recap all the facts to be sure no viewer is left behind (they also did that a couple of times, though I remember one time Crane did it and it was pretty well integrated). I get that they don't want to lose their audience, but that's what the "previously on" is for. Assume your viewers are smart and drop all that.

[EDIT Episode 1.06] They did again, three times we had some stupid, useless flashbacks (one of them from a scene that took place in this episode with Abbie's dream of Katrina, and another during the last scene). It is so annoying, it downright RUINS scenes, and it also ruins my faith that the writers/FOX don't believe viewers are capable of remembering things. The show's not that complicated, guys. [/EPISODE 1.06]

Nicole Beharie is pretty, has a good character (as in, she's not weak, afraid or clueless and depending on her male co-star) and her duo with Crane is great, and I love that there's no romantic tension between them, or love triangle, though I dislike the few hints about Abbie's past relationship with a cop, they should ditch that. Their duo is the driving force of the show, and it's a good thing given what the mythology is promising. And I know it's easy, but I'm not getting tired of those moments where Crane's XVIIIth century mentality clashes our modern world (the slavery comment, the Starbucks thing, being locked in the car, etc.), it always makes for funny moments.

Which brings me to why I think Sleepy Hollow works : because the show doesn't take itself seriously, with all this head chopping going on. So far it is fun, I don't know if it will work for 7 seasons, and I wouldn't mind the show going full Fringe — making the show darker / more complex and putting the cases of the week on the backburner to focus mostly on the mythology, as long as FOX doesn't change the time slot I don't see why they'd lose their established audience, which seems loyal by now (Sleepy Hollow doesn't need a lead-in to have those great ratings). It's great to see a good fantasy series performing very well on a broadcast network that has always supported the genre, usually with lots of flops and a handful of successes.

The Crazy Ones — CBS (6 episodes aired out of 22) :

It is so good to see a sitcom like that on CBS! Weirdly enough, this fall, I'm watching more CBS sitcoms (three: HIMYM, TBBT and this one) than NBC sitcoms (Parks & Rec). Okay, I may watch HIMYM and TBBT purely out of habit, but going back to The Crazy Ones, it's not just that it's a single-camera comedy in the land of multicamera, it's also that it's a good show right off the bat. There is already a clear chemistry in the cast, not one of them is miscast, and they can all keep up with Robin Williams, whose wit and fast-pace work so well in this very wordy show. The fact that they work at an advertising agency offers something different from regular workplace comedies.

One thing I don't like, other than the stock shots of Chicago buildings appearing 5-6 times in each episode for 4-7 seconds (it gets repetitive, why not skip them, viewers will still understand the character aren't in the same place anymore), is the feelings-fueled endings that so many sitcoms are plagued with. When it's every time, it gets predictible, and one thing I don't like about in comedy is predictability. But if the previous 18 minutes are good, I guss I'm willing to forgive, and enjoy this good comedy that will probably not become one of my favorites, but will definitely have a cosy place in my schedule. Oh, and I like the bloopers at the end, with a guy as good for improv as Robin WIlliams it lends itself to it.

Hostages — CBS (6 episodes aired out of 15) :

Apparently this show isn't very popular. I don't mean the lousy ratings, I mean it doesn't get very good reviews.

Well, that surprises me a lot because while being flawed, I like it. Careful though, I'm the guy who watched Persons Unknown and The Event until the end and enjoyed it. Back in May, after seeing the trailer of the pilot, I didn't think Hostages could pull off being a weekly series without the whole concept falling apart, but so far it sort of works. I don't think Dylan McDermott is very charismatic, he mostly just stands there emotionless, but overall I like the cast, I especially like Toni Collette and I think she's doing a good job (though it doesn't require has much investment as what she displayed in the great United States of Tara). Sure, I loathe the way some events in episode 1.05 panned out (two words : stupid teenager) and it's in those moments that the concept is a burden, but for the most part that concept is a quality, and it's something CBS and especially Jerry 'CSI' Bruckheimer never do - and will never do again given the ratings.

It may have cheesy dialogue, cheap tricks to raise the tension (suspicious looks, music that tells you it's about to get real), but I'm intrigued, the concept isn't falling apart at all, let's see if they'll maintain my interest for 8 more episodes until we get to the end of the 2-week delay and Ellen finally has to kill the POTUS during surgery.

It's good thing Hostages won't be able to have a second season, as it would inevitably have felt unnecessary, though they could have dealt with it the way American Horror Story is, by changing the characters / setting. So I might forget all about it in 6 months, but for now I will enjoy this 15-episode hostage situation. If you like conspiracy thrillers like I do, if you like serialized series like I do, if you like it when broadcast networks try to do something different, you ought to give this show a chance, because despite the clichés, I cannot see myself stopping until I see how everything ends, I guess I'm hooked, which means Hostages is doing something right.

The Blacklist — NBC (6 episodes aired out of 22) :

Well, well. NBC is spending a lot of money on The Blacklist, it looks good, they have (car) chases, helicopters, plenty of outdoor scenes, great locations, the whole deal, it doesn't feel cheap.

The best part is that it doesn't feel like a copshow, or a procedural, which you know I hate if you've read my Sleepy Hollow review. By heavily focusing on how Spader's character is odd & extreme, and his relationship with Kane, it mosty feels like a regular drama series, so congratulations, this twist in the old formula actually makes the show work. The ongoing plotlines (the mystery behind Kane's boyfriend, the one tying Reddington to Kane, the people spying on Kane's house) are developed enough to keep me intrigued, it's not a serialized show but they don't forget to give us a coherent progression of the story without bashing our heads with flashbacks.

And the show isn't afraid to go to the dark side, in episode 1 when Tom is tortured and Reddington is stabbed in the neck by Lizzie, or in episode 4 (my favorite so far) when Lizzie herself also gets a knife in the neck because of the Stewmaker, who ends up being disolved in acid because Red is protective of Liz and he just felt like it. I'm glad when they embrace this bloody, gratuitious violence - after all, Red is a criminal and making him be a nice boy just wouldn't work. Btw, I can't help but facepalm in my head when James Spader does his "evil" laugh (he did it 3-4 times already), but it's still fun for now.

Between Sleepy Hollow, Hostages and The Blacklist, Mondays are definitely better this season than last year. None are must-see TV by any means, but they're all succeeding in being solid entertainment.

SHIELD — ABC (5 episodes aired out of 22) :

I must say I'm a bit disappointed. I like most of the Marvel films, I love some of them (Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, X-Men First Class, Iron Man 1, Captain America) but I wouldn't call myself a fan of the universe. Still, I was looking forward to that show, but mostly because it's from Buffy's Joss Whedon, not The Avengers' Joss Whedon — had it been a Joss Whedon show about talking potatoes, I would have been equally intrigued. This might have been better than SHIELD. I know Whedon's shows usually take time to find their footing (a whole season for both Buffy and Angel, 5 episodes for Dollhouse, none for Firefly and that's a good thing given the amount of episodes), and I'll be happy to see SHIELD prove me wrong in the next months. But after 5 episodes, it's just meh.

The big problem is, all the characters are one-dimensional characters. This works for a character like May, who seems very secretive and you don't know much about other than she can kick ass, but the rest of the gang should be more than cardboard characters. I don't like Fitz/Simmons, I know they're supposed to be the comic relief (not that the show is excessively dark, it's definitely for the whole family) but they annoy me (I don't usually like obvious comic reliefs anyway - damn you, Chloe O'Brien). Ward grew on me in the latest episode to date (where he was wearing the glasses to impersonate the agent who had a camera in her eye), but for the most part he's pulling a Dylan McDermott by having a wooden, emotionless act.

Now, I like that they're not shrugging off Coulson's resurection as a deus ex machina necessary to have a TV series about SHIELD — getting Samuel L. Jackson for a 60-second cameo is hard enough so until Cobie Smulders becomes a series regular in season 2 they needed this return from the dead to link with the films. I'm interested in the mystery behind his return. But the thing they're doing with this is getting repetitive: a few lines every once in a while telling us how "he's not the same", "he can't know", etc. They better not play that card until episode 1.22, in the next 6-7 episodes we should have a major development on what happened in Tahiti, which indeed is a 'magical place' (if Tahiti isn't something SHIELD implemented in his head because actually he's not human anymore and they used alien technology to resurrect him, that's not widly original and the writers should have something better given how much they insist on it, but it's a major element and it should have huge ramifications that drive the story for the second part of the season).

Anyway, I'm definitely not excluding the idea of SHIELD becoming very good eventually, but for now it isn't, and I'm not really passionate about the stories or characters.

Wonderland — ABC (3 episodes aired out of 13) :

So far, it's so cheesy it becomes enjoyable. This "spin-off" of OUaT (of which I haven't seen any episode) has my attention. It's not bad, it's not good, but it's entertaining. They clearly have very litte money, and thus the green screen is so glaringly obvious that I'm sure they didn't try to hide it, and that was the good call, as it gives a bit of a dream-like sensation so some scenes, the special effects look so fake and yet they put them in the episodes anyway, that's the best way to depict an eeary world when you're not a $200 million Disney blockbuster film.

Sophie Lowe is doing a good job, I care about her Alice and her cheesy Love that she reminds us of every 5 minutes, but I don't really care for the supporting cast, minus John Lithgrow's Rabbit (I like his voice). It's a shame the show inherited of the doomed Thursday 8pm time slot, putting it between OUaT and Revenge might have proven to be a better strategy. In the pilot, Alice says "if I get high enough, I can see the Mad Hatter's house". Well, you and me both, Alice and if ABC does cancel the show, maybe Adult Swim could pick it up, because with all these colorful landscapes, weird costumes and manichean characters combined with that thin, simple story easy to follow, it's the perfect stoner show. It's going to be a one-season show so hope it has a definite ending (at some point it was meant to be a miniseries but this summer ABC ordered more scripts I think… I just hope we'll get an actual end, she finds her true Love and then all is well.

Dads — FOX (6 episodes aired out of 22) :

I don't know why I'm still watching this, to be honest. Maybe it's because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and expected it to be cancelled after 3 weeks anyway. Maybe I did that because it's the perfect 'background' show, like when I'm eating or looking at stuff on the internet, and occasionally chuckle at 2-3 jokes per episode. It doesn't require a lot of attention, it's predictible and not really ambitious.

Maybe it's because most people who panned the show early on did so because it was "a racist show", or something, and this political correctness is baffling me so I checked it out just to see for myself. In those 'controversial' scenes, the show is making fun of white people (oh, I'm sorry, 'caucasian') with their stereotyped view of other ethnicities/cultures/those damn vegetarians. It's not the writers who're racist, because we are making fun of how stupid the characters are behaving and how caricatural their beliefs are! I can't believe everyone purposely avoided to put that in perspective. And what if that's not all the show is doing, what if they're actually making fun of black people, or asian people? Who cares, no one should be immuned to mockery, and poking fun at someone whose ethnicity you don't share doesn't make you racist. Dads isn't bad because of that.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I won't let go of that minor sitcom is because I can't believe how they're not exploiting all the potential they have. Talented people like Seth Green, Giovanni Ribisi, Peter Riegert, Martin Mull, Alec Sulkin, Seth Macfarlane, and this is what you get? Sure, they already shot themselves in the foot by doing a multicamera, but come on, they have a great cast and it's coming from the guys behind Family Guy, and while it may not be cool to be a fan of that show anymore ("oooh, I only like the episodes pre-cancellation"), I think it's still quite alright and they have a way of going in unexpected directions and being meta/weird that appeals to me. This doesn't apply to Dads, which is a run-of-the-mill sitcom with no hint of sarcasm, it's not a Family Guy cutaway where they're making fun of bad sitcoms here, nope, they're sadly making one.

Here are the new shows I will try until the end of the year (will perhaps update this thread accordingly) : Peaky Blinders (BBC Two - all 6 episodes have already aired, and it's been renewed), Almost Human (11/17, FOX), Getting On (11/24, HBO), Alpha House and Betas (this November on Amazon), and Mob City (12/4, TNT). I'll try to catch up on summer shows like The Bridge, Ray Donovan, Low Winter Sun and Orange is the New Black.

And shows I stopped after watching the pilot, so you have to assume I thought of them as or and I didn't want to bother with them as I already have a lot of shows on my plate : Dracula, The Michael J. Fox Show, Welcome to the Family, The Birthday Boys, Trophy Wife and The Goldbergs.

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