New Fall TV Quick Cuts – Lots of Wasted Potential, but a Few Bright Spots

The new TV season is upon us and while there hasn’t been one series that’s earned a spot on my must-see list, there are a couple of bright spots and a couple of frustratingly dropped balls. Here are some of the new shows I’ve seen so far.

The Playboy Club
AMC’s Mad Men may be the most critically acclaimed drama on television, but it isn’t exactly burning up the ratings charts. The retro series enjoys a small, but loyal audience. So NBC and ABC both decided to try and capture that nostalgic quality and hopefully make it more mainstream. For NBC, The Playboy Club is intriguing, but falls far short.

The pilot unfolds quickly, almost too quickly and haphazardly; plot points that could’ve used a much more sleeker introduction. The series has plenty of potential. It may not have the nuanced storytelling of Mad Men, but it has potential in being a dark period crime drama. It has potential in being an underdog story for small town girl Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard). It, surprisingly actually, has potential to be an interesting look at social issues of the 1960s. But all this potential needs good execution and the pilot was far from perfect.

And despite the ratings, I hope the show has a shot to fix the sloppy writing to make the show flow much better, allowing you to care about the characters more instead of feeling like you’re being dragged around town and expect to give a damn about the flashes of people you stumble upon.

Up All Night
This Christina Applegate-Will Arnett (and Maya Rudolph)-led comedy is a winner. I always like slice of life stories and Up All Night on NBC is so far a sweet little comedy about new parents. Applegate and Arnett have nice chemistry and Maya Rudolph is usually a winner in any project. The show does play like half-homelife/half-Ava (the fictional talk show hosted by Rudolph’s character, on which Applegate’s Reagan is a producer). The homelife scenes and scenes with baby keep the show grounded while the office-ish scenes inject a little crazy and fun into the proceedings.

It was interesting to see NBC schedule the series on Wednesdays with Free Agents instead of with the Thursday comedies, especially over multi-cam Whitney, but Up All Night is actually not a thematic fit with the other Thursday comedies. If anything, Up All Night matches better with last season’s Outsourced (yes, I’m talking about Outsourced again). Both series lack the satirical and biting scripts that The Office, Parks & Recreation and Community have. But that works in their favor. Up All Night (like Outsourced last season) relies on more relatable situations and maintaining a lot of heart, heart that is usually replaced by over the top comedy elsewhere on Thursday.

Up All Night is off to a great start and NBC might have finally found a keeper in their comedy division.

On the other hand, NBC’s Whitney misses a lot of the beats it sets out for itself. The multi-cam, laugh track comedy might seem out of place with its Thursday, single-cam neighbors. But of more concern really is the show’s uninspired writing. The series plays too much on traditional comedy themes, but does nothing to make the jokes sound or look fresh. Star, creator and executive producer Whitney Cummings is usually very funny. But it seems she’s put most of her talent on her other new comedy, CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, which is much funnier and more tightly written. Whitney is unfortunately your run-of-the-mill, uninspired comedy.

New Girl
Back on the other end of the spectrum is Fox’s New Girl. Not everyone is a fan of Zooey Deschanel’s bubbly personality. But for those that love or enjoy her sweet precociousness, New Girl takes full advantage of its lead star’s talents. The series is funny and sweet, like Deschanel herself, and it plays like a fun, buddy comedy. It is definitely nicely paired with the similarly fun and cute Raising Hope. (Not so much Glee though.)

Prime Suspect
As has been said by many reviews, NBC’s American adaptation of the British classic series starring Helen Mirren is actually anything but. NBC’s Prime Suspect shares only two thigns, the title and the main character’s first name. Otherwise, Prime Suspect is a nicely written and sleekly produced procedural. Maria Bello is a great choice for the role of Jane Timoney, a talented, no nonsense, but far from perfect female detective in New York City. Her unconventional ways in an outdated, but soon to be dialed back boys club of the NYPD along with compelling cases should make the series worth a couple of return trips.

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