It officially turned fall this week. Sure, we’re going to be in the upper 90’s where I live this weekend and the leaves won’t start changing color for a while yet, but my Halloween costume is in full swing, school is back in session and the new TV season has started. [Edit: Okay, I started this a week ago but I have to post it now before it’s too outdated. There wasn’t much by way of new shows this week, so part 2 will cover next week’s premieres.]
The Good Place: Ooh, this is a fun one. Kristen Bell stars as a woman who is accidentally sent to “The Good Place” when she dies instead of “The Bad Place,” but if she wants to not be found out, she has to learn to be a good person. There are hints that the show is going to expand into more world-and-mythology-building and it stays firmly away from choosing a specific religious viewpoint, and in the meantime is a fun show exploring what it means to be who you are and how mutable that might actually be.
This Is Us: I never watched Parenthood, but it always seemed like one of those shows I’d like if I gave it a shot. I just didn’t have time to give it a shot. But a lot of my friends were really into it and it had that sorta-soapy family dynamic that’s really worked for me on shows like Brothers and Sisters. So this show seemed to be my chance to make up for never watching Parenthood. The reviews loved it. They promised I’d cry. They promised I’d be gobsmacked by the twist at the end and the only question would be how the show could continue with such a high bar. I… did not care for this show. And the reviews after the premiere seemed to agree, to the point where I wonder if more editing was done between the screeners and airing. The “big twist” wasn’t so much a moment of wonder as it was realizing that the producers had outright lied to us. But they were so freakin’ enamored with their own cleverness. I’m trying not to spoil too much, so I’ll just say that you probably call your siblings on their birthdays, right? If you have the same birthday, you’d probably exchange calls, maybe mention them to someone else? There’s not even any family discord hinted at that would explain the silence on that topic. I’m going to watch this week’s episode to see if I can find what I’m missing, but I kind of think I’m not missing anything.
Pitch: I had a lot of reasons to be apprehensive before watching this show. It’s the same writer as This Is Us, the reviews had been pretty middling, and I don’t particularly care for baseball (or any sports). (Ask me where I’m from sometime. It’s an unfortunate icebreaker.) But I LOVED THIS SHOW. Where This Is Us promised me tears, Pitch actually made me cry. Yeah, it has that twist at the end the writer loves so much, but in this case the show doesn’t hinge on it. I liked the twist, but even people who didn’t were able to like the show. I’m so excited to see where it goes.
Designated Survivor: For the first two seasons of 24, I was in a relationship with someone who loved it. Loved it. And I hated that show with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I considered it one of the great victories of that breakup that I’d never have to watch that show again. So, here we are. And the good news: This is not actually 24. In fact, I didn’t hate it. Which is not to say that I liked it, but I don’t think its existence will make my life demonstrably worse and that is where the bar is set right now. It’s ostensibly a show about high-level officials having to act in the wake of a massive terrorist attack in the US, and that is a fascinating playground. The main character strikes me as slightly too good at knowing what he’s doing and playing the political game to really resonate as an everyman character though, and the “this season on Designated Survivor” previews sure look like the show loves a really stupid subplot about the teenage son being a low-level drug dealer. (And this is totally nitpicking, but people who wear glasses don’t take them off to demonstrate emotional intensity. I hate that.) So I just don’t think the show’s priorities align with mine.
Notorious: The reviews hated this show, and I have to agree. While the stakes were high for the characters, I didn’t particularly care about what they cared about. Awful people are awful to each other. A news producer and a high-profile lawyer have an incestuous (not literally) relationship, working together to make clients look not guilty/really trashy. It’s a fine premise but it just didn’t hit the right beats for me.
Speechless: Minnie Driver stars as the mother of a boy with cerebral palsy who moves Heaven, Earth, and her whole family to try to get him the best care possible. But that’s just the premise. The characters are fully-realized and their life comes with backstory and meaning. One of my favorite jokes from the pilot is when the middle son asks to speak with the dad and he suggests they go “watch the cars.” This turns out to mean they park at the bottom of a really steep hill and watch cars bottom out trying to drive by. It’s a really funny, lived-in moment.
Son of Zorn: This is the animated/live-action hybrid about a He-Man type character who also exists in the real world, where he has an ex-wife and a son and a shitty job at a telesales company. While it has some funny jokes, it tends too far towards the “bro-humor” side, where it’s okay to spy on a girl if you really like her, just as long as your dad doesn’t also spy on her and a romantic tattoo means spelling your lover’s name with your asshole standing in for the “o.” It’s an okay show, but I’m setting a higher bar for my DVR season pass list this year, and it just misses the cut.
*Note: I am not reviewing the CBS pilots. I read the scripts for work, and have only academic things to say.