Follow-Up: Did The New Fall Shows Deliver?

Holy moly where did the time go? We’re over halfway through October now and the fall TV season is in full swing. Back in September, I wrote a post highlighting five shows premiering this fall that seemed promising to me. Now that each of those shows has premiered and aired multiple episodes I figured now would be a perfect time to let you know what I thought about each of them. Check it out!

1. Designated Survivor

Kiefer Sutherland in ABC’s Designated Survivor

I was very excited for Designated Survivor in the run-up to its premiere so I was disappointed to find the pilot a very underwhelming hour of TV. It was an hour both packed with tension and completely devoid of it. Any scene involving Kiefer Sutherland’s Tom Kirkman feeling like a fish out of water in the oval office crackled with tension that would then dissipate whenever we cut to see what his teenage son was up to. If anything, the pilot reminded me just how hard it is for a pilot to be both a proof of concept for a show and a satisfying hour of TV.

Despite how underwhelming the pilot was I stuck with Designated Survivor for the next three episodes and am pleased to say it has found itself on much better footing. After a pilot that presented Kirkman as a little too confident in his new role, subsequent episodes knocked him down a few pegs by presenting him with adversaries both within and without The White House who challenged his character and authority in believable ways. I’ve enjoyed watching Sutherland play Kirkman as he struggles with the man he was (and still is) versus the man he is now expected to be.

That said, Designated Survivor does a pretty poor job at making me care about any of the plotlines that don’t revolve around The White House. While I love Maggie Q, her character’s investigation into who bombed the capital just isn’t working at this point. It all just feels by the numbers at this point and her motivation (her congressman lover died in the attack) is pretty hackneyed. I will also throw my remote at the TV if we spend much more time with Kirkman’s drug dealing son. Most dramas (save for The Americans) struggle at giving teenage characters plotlines that measure up to what the “grown-ups” are doing and sadly Designated Survivor does not buck that trend.

These four episodes have given me enough confidence in Designated Survivor to secure it a spot on my watchlist for this season. I’ve seen enough to know there is a great political drama here, it just needs to get out of its own way.

2. The Good Place

The Good Place - Season 1
Ted Danson and Kristen Bell in NBC’s The Good Place

Oh, this show is so very silly. I knew that from the trailers but even those didn’t prepare me for giant ladybugs and flying shrimp. Yes, you read that right. If there’s one word to describe The Good Place, it’s whimsical. Zany things happen in this version of the afterlife and things may not be as perfect as they’re supposed to be, probably because Eleanor Shellstrop (The delightful Kristen Bell) is there by mistake.

I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a bit of depth in  The Good Place. It’s been fun to watch Eleanor come to terms with how awful she was on earth while trying to take advantage of the second chance she’d mistakenly been given to become a better person. Bell is also surrounded by a great supporting cast comprised of actors like Ted Danson, Jameela Jamil, and William Jackson Harber. The show rarely takes itself too seriously but has been able to find a significant amount of pathos in peeling back the layers of its characters by showing that despite their entry into The Good Place, their lives on earth were anything but perfect.

It’s funny, silly, a half hour, and the season is only 13 episodes. I’ll watch this one through to the end.

3. Timeless

Matt Lanter, Malcolm Barrett, and Abigail Spencer in NBC’s Timeless

Here’s a case of the trailers for a show accurately preparing my expectations for the full product. The trailers for Timeless made the show seem like a silly and fun romp through time. Well, if the pilot and second episode are any indications, Timeless is going to be just that.  Any show that names its antagonist Garcia Flynn (which, by the way, is now my favorite name ever) isn’t asking to be taken too seriously. Sure the pilot has plenty of cringe-worthy dialogue (“I thought someone who loves history would want to save it”) but the wackiness of the show makes lines like that easy to handle and that’s really the most egregious example.

The silliness is anchored by great lead performances from the wonderful Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcolm Barrett. Much to my surprise, the show has focused a great bit on the characters struggling with their knowledge of the future and whether they should change events in the past. The second episode, which featured the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, further explored this quandary as Lucy (Spencer) struggled with whether she should save Lincoln despite not knowing how that could change history.

The pilot features the usual teasing out of mysteries that comes with any new serialized drama and I must admit I’m intrigued by them. I want to know why Flynn is trying to change history, why Lucy was chosen, and why Flynn has a diary she wrote but doesn’t seem to remember writing among other things. Of course, the danger here is that the mysteries will devour the characters but so far, Timeless has created a solid episodic foundation for itself and I look forward to seeing what periods our heroes go to next.

Timeless is most likely not destined to be America’s Next Great Drama but, it is first and foremost a fun show and one I am more than happy to keep watching.

4. Luke Cage

Mike Coulter in Netflix’s Luke Cage

I’m only three episodes into the 13 first season of Netflix’s Luke Cage but what I’ve seen suggests Netflix has made another solid (if not amazing) addition to their lineup.

One of the first aspects of Luke Cage I noticed was how proud it is of African-American culture. The show lives and breathes it with references to prominent figures like Malcolm X and Crispus Attucks and through its Harlem setting. I find it tremendously refreshing to see portrayed on-screen especially in a superhero genre that is all too often whitewashed. Luke Cage is a show that wears its heritage on its sleeve for all to see and I love it for that. It remains to be seen if the story can sustain itself for a full 13 episodes, a problem that several Netflix shows have fallen into.

Mike Coulter provides a powerful lead performance as Luke Cage himself and  is surrounded by an equally impressive supporting cast made up of players like Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard. In a time where racial tensions in America are at an all-time high, Luke Cage feels especially timely. It represents a great step in Hollywood’s ongoing path to diversity both in front of and behind the camera. On top of being culturally relevant, it is also entertaining, so give it a watch.

5. Westworld

James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood in HBO’s Westworld

This show is a doozy. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a true science fiction TV show. Westworld isn’t a light and fun adventure show with some sci-fi trappings no, this is the real deal and it is both fascinating and frustrating to watch.

Let’s start with the frustrating parts. With traditional “adventure shows,” the audience is conditioned to care about the immediate physical fates of the characters as they embark on some sort of quest. This gives the proceedings a sense of stakes and allows for quick audience investment in the storylines. For example, a show like Game of Thrones had you invested immediately with the mystery of who killed Jon Arryn. Westworld presents mysteries and questions that are key to the show’s overall narrative but none of them are progressing particularly fast. As such there are large parts of the episodes that feel as though they don’t accomplish much, perhaps I will be proven wrong in the coming weeks.

However, it is Westworld‘s commitment to showing the slow maturation of consciousness that captivates me with every episode. The show is much more concerned with the moments between the action; when the hosts (androids) slowly begin to remember what has happened to them. This is all centered around a magnetic lead performance by Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores, the oldest host in the park who is among the first to begin to remember more and more about the awful things that are done to her by the guests.I also have to mention the incredible work Anthony Hopkins and Jeffery Wright are doing as the director of the park and his protegé respectively. Hopkin’s character is particular is one whose backstory I can’t wait to see unveiled.

Westworld is the kind of show that can only be done by a network like HBO. The scale of the production is absolutely ginormous and even if the story gets a little muddled along the way, it’s always pretty to look at.

Westworld is the slowest of slow burns but I have hope that my investment in the show will pay off. It isn’t a show that will appeal to everyone but for those looking for some serious sci-fi, it might do the trick. For now, I remain transfixed by the journey of Dolores and the others hosts to self-realization.

Well, there you have it friends; an update on the five shows I was most looking forward to this fall. While none of them scream “best show ever,” I think any of these five would make a worthy addition to your roster of shows.

Have you watched any of these five? Are you in for the long-haul or have you seen enough of each to know that it isn’t for you? Let me know in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “Follow-Up: Did The New Fall Shows Deliver?

  1. We’re checking out Luke Cage next!


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