The fall 2010 TV season has produced three new shows that I can straightfacedly and without shame describe as good: Boardwalk Empire, Terriers, and Lone Star, the last of which Fox took into a back alley and executed after just two episodes. So, subtracting Lone Star and adding the other two shows that I seem to have stapled onto my regular viewing docket, The Event and Running Wilde, we come to a total of four new shows, only one of which, HBO's Boardwalk Empire, is likely to make it to a second season. Not particularly impressive, but not that far below ordinary TV par either.
Now, if you lurk on TV message boards, you may have heard rumors that Boardwalk Empire is bad. I can assure you that these rumors are stupid, or at best impatient. We're four episodes in. HBO dramas are never explosively paced; they were still setting the stage four episodes into The Wire and Deadwood too.
Is Boardwalk Empire the culmination of television as an art form, a transcendent masterpiece that you are incomplete as a human being until you've experienced (i.e. The Wire, or what idiot fanboys believe Lost to be)? No, it's not, which seems to be what naysayers were expecting. But what it is is a very cool, very stylish period crime epic with terrific production values and some great performances. True, the first episode is still the best, but that's just kinda what happens when your pilot is directed by Martin Scorsese, and I think the last episode in particular was enlivened by the development of Michael K. Williams' character Chalky White. But I will admit that Kelly Macdonald's character Margaret Schroeder is yet to truly click and tends to gum up the momentum.
I don't have a whole to say about Terriers that I didn't when I discussed the show just a few days back, and not enough people watch it for there to be any kind of backlash for me to respond to, but it's a hilarious mystery show that all y'all should check out. As for Fox's late, lamented Lone Star, while I thought the first two episodes were poised to develop into something fascinating I'm not sure if you should watch them. It'd be like watching the first ten minutes of a movie, liking it, then someone snatching the DVD from the player and snapping it in half. You don't need that tragedy in your life.
As I mentioned above, I'm still watching The Event, albeit with a highly critical eye. The characterization remains shit compared to the first season of Lost or even Heroes. Subsequent episodes have given a slightly better sense of who the protagonist Sean Walker and President Elias Martinez are, and I like Heather McComb as Agent Collier, a cop who arrests Sean but defects to his side when mysterious agents show up and gun down her colleagues, but by and large the characters are just props. But I will give this to The Event: stuff happens. Some shit goes in every episode. By no means does this make it great television, but it does make it more watchable than the vast majority of new shows this fall.
The slate of new half-hour sitcoms — $#*! My Dad Says, Raising Hope, Better With You, Running Wilde, Mike & Molly, and Outsourced — doesn't exactly glow, with the two least offensive being Fox's Running Wilde and Raising Hope. Wilde, from Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz and co-star Will Arnett, can be compared to Arrested with the wit and pacing and creativity dialed back to about a third, while Hope, from My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia, can be compared to My Name is Earl almost exactly, from its white trash settings to the pacing of its humor. I'm still watching Running Wilde out of loyalty to Hurwitz, but it's akin to the lesser sequel of a great film. If Arrested Development is Chinatown, Psycho, or The Matrix, then Running Wilde is The Two Jakes, Psycho II, or The Matrix Revolutions.
Also, a brief note about NBC's fish-out-of-water comedy Outsourced: I don't want to go so far as to call it legitimately funny or worthwhile, but the critical hive mind which has desperately tried to label it one of the worst new shows of the fall is just stupid. Give it up, critics. It's bad, but it's not as bad as you want you want it be. And give up the phony cries of racism too while you're at it. I actually saw one blog suggest the show was racist for "making fun of" the Indian accents, something which no character did at any point. If you find the Indian accent so absurd that just hearing it makes you think it's being mocked, that's your racial issue, but there's no need to project it onto a mediocre sitcom.
Looking to the remaining shows, all new procedurals, be they cop (Chase, Blue Bloods, Detroit 1-8-7, Hawaii Five-0), lawyer (The Whole Truth, Outlaw, The Defenders), or both (Law & Order: Los Angeles), can be thrown out. I rank the recently canceled Outlaw the highest of the lawyer procedurals because it at least gave a fairly strong sense of who the protagonist was, but it's still pretty much a piece of shit. Detroit 1-8-7 and Hawaii Five-0 aren't quite as bad as the other cop shows, reaching the level of relatively harmless time-filler, but still present no reason to watch.
If there's any show that my initial opinion has shifted on, it's ABC's No Ordinary Family. I went back and watched a second episode and I admit I was probably just a little bit too harsh on it. Key words being "just a little bit." I'm not going to go so far as to add it to my regular schedule and I still absolutely hate the goofily hyperbolic family drama, but as serialized sci-fi it may actually have a small amount of merit. A character I had assumed was a series regular was suddenly and rather brutally offed at the end of the second episode, which makes me think the show may have a little more blood pumping through its veins than I initially gave it credit for, so I'll check up on the reviews and reconsider giving it another chance in a couple months.
The CW's Nikita and NBC's Undercovers are alike in that both are slick, polished, and inoffensive action shows that just don't quite stand out from the crowd enough to be appointment television, although Nikita comes closest. And last (except for ABC's My Generation, but no one cares about a mockumentary soap opera that got shitcanned after two episodes) but surprisingly not even close to least, the CW's Hellcats is about as watchable as you can imagine an overly peppy college dramedy about cheerleaders could possibly be.
Since there are a few more premieres in late October I can confirm that there will be a sixth day of pilot reviews in about three weeks, after which I'll go back and edit this post to insert the new shows in my rankings. Fingers crossed we'll get something that doesn't suck. Now let's make with the list.
Day 1: Outlaw, Boardwalk Empire, Chase, The Event, Lone Star
Day 2: Detroit 1-8-7, Raising Hope, Running Wilde, Better With You, Undercovers
Day 3: My Generation, Outsourced, No Ordinary Family, Law & Order: Los Angeles
Day 4: Blue Bloods, The Defenders, Hawaii Five-0, Mike & Molly, $#*! My Dad Says
Day 5: Hellcats, Terriers, Nikita, The Whole Truth
Beyond the jump, the rankings!
== Good Tier ==
#1 - BOARDWALK EMPIRE
#2 - TERRIERS
#3 - LONE STAR (canceled)
== Watchable Tier ==
#4 - THE EVENT
#5 - RUNNING WILDE
== Inoffensive Tier ==
#6 - NIKITA
#7 - RAISING HOPE
#8 - NO ORDINARY FAMILY
#9 - HELLCATS
#10 - UNDERCOVERS
#11 - HAWAII FIVE-0
== Poor Tier ==
#12 - OUTSOURCED
#13 - DETROIT 1-8-7
#14 - MY GENERATION (canceled)
#15 - OUTLAW (canceled)
== Awful Tier ==
#16 - THE DEFENDERS
#17 - CHASE
#18 - BETTER WITH YOU
#19 - LAW & ORDER: LOS ANGELES
== Apocalypse Tier ==
#20 - THE WHOLE TRUTH
#21 - $#*! MY DAD SAYS
#22 - BLUE BLOODS
#23 - MIKE & MOLLY