Every fall, TV critics are asked to recommend new shows for their readers. Our job is to hand out grades for freshman series often after seeing only an episode or two, declaring the hard work of hundreds either worthy or unworthy of your limited time. Yes, it’s incredibly fun, and yes, we’re very lucky people. But it’s not an easy task, and mistakes are often made—not because we’re fallible (of course we’re not!) but because sometimes it takes a program more than a few episodes to find its feet. Or a show that starts strong might dip considerably under the weight of a full season order.
With these limitations in mind, we here at Indiewire present The Reevaluation, a guide to what’s worked and what hasn’t this fall. Below, we’ve listed every new series we focused on this fall with a fresh, up-to-date analysis of each program. This way, with the holidays coming up, you won’t be stuck binge-watching a half-season of something over your break that turned sour after only a few episodes. Read on and remember: time is the most valuable commodity.
What We Got Right
There’s a lot to be impressed by when it comes to Showtime’s subtle yet increasingly intense marital drama. The promise of the show’s intimate pilot has carried through the subsequent weeks, with the moral and emotional costs of Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson)’s affair balanced against an increasingly knotty thriller plotline that weaves together sex, drugs, money and maybe even murder across a period of years. But what’s also been exciting to see evolve from episode to episode is the show’s use of its unique format; while fundamentally, “The Affair” hasn’t strayed from its split POV — half the episode seen through Noah’s eyes, half through Alison — it’s found new ways to explore, bend and reevaluate its approach. Normally, a show as intriciately structured as “The Affair” would feel bound by that format, but it’s instead found room to breathe and evolve within that structure. Every week, we learn more about what happened in Montauk, that one fateful summer, but more importantly, we learn more about what creators Hagai Levi and Sarah Treem are able to pull off. A-
After seeing the pilot episode back in early September, we said we had plenty of appetite for more “Gotham.” Almost halfway through the five-course dinner, consider us satisfied. While there have been a few questionable episode arcs in the first eight entries (though I didn’t have as big of a problem with venom entering the mix as others), the FOX comic-based crime drama has been surprisingly focused on its main plot: Detective Gordon vs. The Mob. Ben McKenzie’s boy scout with a badge keeps getting looped into predicaments he doesn’t want any part of, but thankfully he has yet to back down completely (though we would’ve liked to see some shots fired from that machine gun he busted out in “Penguin’s Umbrella”).
Bolstering the ever-improving writing is the show’s exquisite cinematography and production design. The American Society of Cinematographers just nominated “Gotham” for both its TV categories, singling out the pilot as well as “Spirit of the Goat” for their technical achievements. These aspects help make “Gotham” an enjoyably dark world to dive into every week, and a more-than-worthy show to keep up with in 2015. B+
“Jane the Virgin”
We knew that “Jane the Virgin” would be adorable from the get-go — if not because of the pilot, then because of the charming cast and high-concept yet entertaining premise. And while subsequent episodes have definitely cemented the show’s soap-y status (trying to explain just one character’s relationships to the other characters requires multiple charts and graphs), the strong cast has brought a depth of emotion to those relationships that makes everything believable. It’s as fun and exciting and twisty as we’ve come to expect from CW programming, but with the added bonus of being geniunely solid television. So far, “Jane the Virgin” is guilty pleasure without the guilt. A-
It’s an obvious and cliche thing to say, but really there’s no other way to put it: If you haven’t watched Amazon’s breakout original series “Transparent” yet, you’re missing out. Not only has Jill Soloway’s program put the streaming service on the map (sorry, “Alpha House”), but it’s taken an industry by storm in much the same way “Orange is the New Black” did for Netflix. Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the titular trans-parent Maura, is getting tons of awards buzz for his performance, and the show itself could break into the comedy categories thanks to its unique blend of drama and laughs. Now’s the perfect time to watch, too, if only because it will make your family dinners seem all the more bearable—and important. B+
The Jury Is Out
What We Got Wrong
Chalk this one up to corporate interference. The original pilot for the Kate Walsh comedy featured enough humor and heart to engage, in part because the affable Walsh wasn’t trying to play an R-rated character on a TV-PG show (like the short-lived “Bad Teacher”). Walsh’s judge wasn’t “bad” at or during her job—she was bad at life, and this concept was challenged by a side story that kept young Robbie Shoemaker a recurring character on the program.
Enter the NBC brass with some ill-advised “improvements,” exit the original showrunner, and you’ve got the mess of a comedy that’s on the air right now. While the re-shot pilot was still somewhat appealing, every bit of its limited potential dropped off the board by Episode 2. It’s only got more hopeless from there until reaching peak failure when NBC canceled “Bad Judge” after five episodes. It won’t be missed, but it was a missed opportunity. D
Turns out it’s not so easy to remake a miniseries, even if you copy it shot-for-shot. The American version of BBC’s “Broadchurch” missed all the subtle beats that made the original feel grounded and relatable: “Gracepoint” feels like every iteration of “10 Little Indians” we’ve seen before, complete with shifty-eyed suspects and brash cop caricatures. It wouldn’t be wrong to call the show’s depiction of its central figures sexist, considering how weak-willed and gullible Anna Gunn’s jealousy-filled detective is written, while David Tennant’s “walking penis” tried and failed to be everything a male cop is “supposed” to embody.
Our official review condemned the one-and-done show (thankfully), but we also made the mistake of recommending it blindly during our Fall TV Preview. For that, we are sorry, especially to anyone who spent more than one hour with it. D
What We Missed (The Good)
We know we’ve already bothered you enough about “Kingdom” — you’ve surely read Ben’s 400 word rant (cut down from 550) in the Fall TV Preview, as well as his full review comparing it to “Friday Night Lights” and “Warrior.” So we know you want to see it because, frankly, you’d be insane not to want to watch anything even casually connected to either of those unbeatable pieces of entertainment. Lastly, we know why you’re not watching it: “Kingdom” is only available on DirecTV, and many, many people do not have the satellite service and some can’t even get it due to lease agreements or unfortunate locations. So just consider this a reminder to watch it when you can (as well as an apology for not making it the Pick of the Week), and not to forget about “Kingdom.” Don’t worry. We’ll keep reminding you. A-
We said all that needs to be said in the headline of Ben’s review of BBC America’s new spy thriller: “BBC America’s ‘The Game’ Plays Like John le Carre’s ‘Homeland.’” Oozing style, secrecy, and sexuality, “The Game” combines all the classic elements of the genre and revs them up for modern audiences, including a sporadic sense of humor to contrast its continuously commanding performances. It’s as fun as it cool, heady as it is heartfelt, and a real winner for BBC America. It could be for you, too, just don’t forget to give it a go. B+
What We Missed (The Bad)
“Manhattan Love Story”
Confession: We’ve only seen the first episode of “Stalker,” because it’s one of those shows where, y’know, that’s enough. Unfortunately, the miss in our case is the fact that CBS is on board with Kevin Williamson’s setting-ladies-on-fire-is-awesome drama, and has picked it up for a full first season. Admittedly, hoping that CBS would cancel a violent crime procedural with solid ratings was pretty dumb of us. But we watch a lot of television. Somehow, that’s made us optimists. D-