Last fall produced many television shows with shaky starts, but a handful managed to claw their way beyond the freshmen fifteen (scripts, an order for more, but ultimately, cancellation) and have earned permanent spots on the DVR list. Most notably, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D lagged hard at the start, but managed to capitalize on the big game-changing bomb that went off in Captain America: the Winter Solider, leaving them with high stakes and a much stronger back half of the season. Sleepy Hollow, which was fairly consistent throughout its freshman run, not only pulled off the best plot twist I’ve seen in a while, but earned it. While it took last season’s newbies some time to find their bearings, the new crop of fall 2014 shows seem reeling and ready to go right out of the gates. Here are my thoughts on some of the shows I can’t stop talking about.
How to Get Away with Murder
Best new one-hour drama of the TV season. There, I said it. I was first introduced to Shonda Rhimes’ work by a college friend, binge-watching season after season of Grey’s Anatomy in the crummy university dorms. I was even an avid Scandal watcher for a time, but I have always been wary of taking up long-term residency in Shondaland. Now, after how thoroughly hooked I am on How to Get Away with Murder, I respect Rhimes as a creative, a businesswoman and an all-around badass female.
HTGAWM is sharp and every bit of it, every word, every look between the actors, is so deliberate. HTGAWM follows a group of law students and their criminal defense professor who work on different high-profile cases while becoming personally involved in a complicated murder plot. While some shows meander in the beginning, searching for their voice, it’s clear that HTGAWM has a plan and I am 100% along for the ride. What I love most is how they’ve looked at Rhimes’ past shows, took elements that worked best and used it to create this fresh new one in a new setting.
The HTGAWM pilot has all the straight-down-to-business quickness of Scandal’s pilot while also pulling from Grey’s Anatomy in that it features a young group of characters, bright-eyed and ambitious, not to mention gorgeous and naïve, unaware of the shark tank of a world they’ve willingly entered. My favorite aspect might be the foreboding feeling that surrounds the show, knowing that these kids are going to have to grow up fast and adapt to survive in this world. The way it’s structured, juxtaposing flashback and flash-forward, points to how inevitable change is. Some of these characters may remain firm in their values and their identities while others will compromise both out of the need for survival. Half the fun is guessing which character falls into which category and seeing it play out on the screen.
Viola Davis is incredible. She is a force and has such a powerful presence. She never disappears in a scene. You always feel her there, the gears in her head turning. Straddling the line between being stoic and projecting authority and sheer domination is a skill Davis has down. She’s the kind of actor that brings out the best in her castmates, forcing them to rise up to the bar she sets. If HTGAWM continues on this trajectory, I see it having a long run on ABC and launching the careers of many of its cast members.
Gotham is a mess. I mean that in the best way possible. Gotham tells the story of Commissioner James Gordon in the years before Batman. I’m not obsessed with Gotham like I wish I were. Maybe my expectations were too high even though I wasn’t expecting anything specific. In this prequel of sorts, Batman is a strange kid, Alfred reminds me a little too much of the soccer coach from She’s the Man, and the weekly storylines aren’t very compelling, sometimes underwhelming.
I do enjoy the little nods to the comics, the sprinkle of foreshadowing and set design and setpieces that really feel like a comic book come to life. My favorite thing about Gotham is that it is a bona fide mess. The city has such character. Crime is at an all time high, gangsters run things, the cops are as dirty as the streets littered with drug dealers and prostitutes. The show’s biggest achievement is how they present Gotham as a character itself. After all, the show isn’t called Gordon. Comparatively, with Arrow and Smallville, Sarling City and Metropolis feel like settings, merely where the action takes place, while Gotham is the title character and has such life. Although we follow Gordon and all these characters, having Gotham be the star brings something different to the game of superhero adaptations. It’s a different approach to the task and worthy of an honorary mention.
As far as the acting goes, Robin Lord Taylor completely embodies Oswald Cobblepot down to the way he waddles much like a penguin. Otherwise, I might need a little more convincing with the other characters and cast members that inhabit this world.
The Flash chronicles the adventures of young, somewhat nerdy scientist, Barry Allen, who wakes from a coma with the ability to run at lightning speed. Honestly, I’m still surprised by how much I liked the pilot. I think it had a lot to do with the score, how lighthearted and fun it was, something you’d expect from a TV show about a kid in spandex saving civilians from a burning building. In contrast to Gotham and Arrow, which both take a darker approach to the comic book world, the Flash is so much lighter (at least, for now) and just plain entertaining. Grant Gustin is a great choice for Barry Allen with how earnest he is, his balance of cute, nerdy excitement over science and the nearly invisible details of a crime scene and his firm grip on his morals and his decision to help others in whatever way he can. I’m less in love with the supporting characters, but the show is in its early stages and I look forward to the choices they make and how they develop moving forward. The Flash doesn’t have that weight other shows do, but it’s fun to watch so maybe lacking that heaviness isn’t such a bad thing.
Every TV season I find it hard to latch on and really fall in love with comedies. Community will always be my favorite with its innovation and perfect casting. Britta Perry will always occupy a special place in my heart as far as fictional characters go. My favorite comedy on TV right now is Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s just delightfully entertaining. The written jokes are funny, the actors bring their a-game to every scene and, again, perfect casting! Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta holds the group together, but the women of B99 really win it for me with how they’re three very different characters and all funny in very specific ways that differ between them. Good stuff.
A comedy I fell in love with just to watch it get cancelled too soon is Happy Endings. Sure, Happy Endings wasn’t really about anything other than an attempt to revamp the Friends formula, but the jokes and quick delivery of the jokes was always fantastic and hilarious. The ensemble had a nature chemistry between them, making you believe the actors loved each other and hung out even away from set. Whether that’s true or not, it felt that way thanks to, yet again, perfect casting. Needless to say, I was absolutely crushed when Happy Endings wasn’t renewed. One positive being that Casey Wilson and Eliza Coupe went on to book their own comedies. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine when actors seem to always play the same character (think: Nicholas Cage) but with how much I miss Jane Kerkovich-Williams and Penny Hartz, I really can’t bring myself to be bothered.
Casey Wilson was made for comedy from her exaggerated facial expression to the movements that accompany them. Wilson stars in Marry Me, a show about a longtime couple who stumbles through a number of marriage proposals that end badly and try their best to pull themselves together. I was first introduced to Wilson when she played Penny on Happy Endings (RIP) where she was an absolute scene-stealer and I feel Penny’s spirit living on in Wilson’s character, Annie. I’m not as sold on the supporting cast, not ready to call it perfect casting, but I definitely see potential and am eager to see more.
The most different thing about Marry Me, what sets it apart from the others, is that the main couple, Annie and Jake (Ken Marino) are in fact a couple. Although they’re undoubtedly in an established relationship, there’s still that classic will-they-won’t-they complication with the constant trip-ups and “signs” that suggest they aren’t meant to be. It feels like a fresh take on things we’ve seen before along with funny, snappy dialogue and visual gags. Honestly, I’d watch anything Casey Wilson is in, but I really did enjoy the pilot.
(Side note: I am a sucker for the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Based on my personal, wackadoodle rating system, a TV show/movie/anything gets an automatic star simply for having that song in it. If I wasn’t already sold on Casey Wilson starring in Marry Me, the fact that they use “Home” in their title sequence would have sealed the deal for sure.)
My other favorite Happy Endings alumni now with her own show is Eliza Coupe. If you say you wouldn’t watch Coupe reading the phonebook on a stage, quickly getting bored of that and ditching it to tell dirty jokes instead, you are a liar, my friend! Much like Wilson, I will watch Coupe in anything, including this USA comedy where she plays a prominent attorney who loses her boyfriend and her job and resorts to taking an available position in the Public Defender’s office. I feel like I need to see more of this one to truly gage how I feel about it, but one thing is clear: Eliza Coupe is amazing.
From her delivery of the dialogue to the physical comedy and the awkward yet entertaining way she maneuvers around a space (as featured in the photo above), not only does Coupe demand to be looked at, even while she’s looking like a complete mess, but she makes me root for her character, Nina. A lot of the time I feel like the leads in television and movies try too hard to be relatable and thus aren’t very likeable. Nina doesn’t have that problem whatsoever. She’s a mess and kind of rude and gets a lot wrong, but when she does succeed I find myself happy for her. In the pilot, there’s a lot of setup for some great dynamics, especially between Nina and Micah, the two-year law student, and Nina and Judge Don Nelson. I sense a lot of room for accidental mentor relationships and there’s never enough of that on TV. Surely, Coupe will have more to do than read a phonebook on this show and I’m looking forward to seeing what she gets up to.
This is what’s on my DVR for the fall 2014 television season. What’s on yours?