Right now, we're living in what has been called the “Golden Age of Television." But I’m not sure why anyone’s calling it that.
I mean, I see that Netflix and Amazon have been major disruptors to the way TV works. But come on, seriously? If this is the gold standard, we need to take a step back and reconsider.
What’s made the bleak reality of the “Golden Age” even bleaker was this year’s fall pilot season. Let’s just say it felt… lacking. And by the numbers, it was: this year featured 74 pilots versus the 88 purchased last year—and that includes the yet–to–come midseason releases. Not to mention that a large number of this year’s pilots were unoriginal and/or uninspired in origin. For the most part, it’s been spin–offs like Young Sheldon, reboots like Dynasty, and even more derivative superhero reimagines like Inhumans. Suffice to say, the TV stratosphere has been feeling a little stale.
Here’s the thing: if you’ve been feeling fed up with the bulk of bad content out there right now, you’re not alone. But if you’re like me, you’ve still got to watch something to take your mind off of the minutiae of your miserable existence as a semi–intellectual.
So here’s a charitable contribution to assuage some of your suffering: I went through the season’s best and worst so you don’t have to. And some of them were not easy to watch, so you’re welcome in advance.
The Deuce (HBO):
This new HBO drama about sex workers and the emergence of porn strikes the perfect balance between grit and camp. While the first couple episodes are a pretty slow burn, the pay off is worth it. Plus it stars James Franco as twins and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a prostitute, both of which make for pretty good content anyway.
Dynasty (The CW):
I live for CW trash about the lives of attractive one–percenters and the network’s unrealistic depiction of glitz and glamour. I’ve been clamoring to find something to fill the hole Gossip Girl left in 2012, and finally the CW delivers. In this reboot of the synonymous 80’s soap, audiences get a CW–style retelling of the wealth and woes of The Carrington’s, America’s richest family. And it’s the best the network’s looked in a while.
The Mayor (ABC):
The Mayor is a depressing sort of godsend: while it’s considered (and is) the best comedy of the season, the fact that it ranks so highly this year is a sad reminder of what TV has come to. Starring Lea Michele and Brandon Michael Hall, this show about a rapper who becomes mayor is funny in all the most obvious ways. The show gains redemption in its few moments of subtlety on matters of politics and civic duty. It’s funny, it’s well–meaning, and it’s sweet, exactly as a cable sitcom should be. And in that way, The Mayor is a satisfying watch.
Starring Frankie Shaw as a young Boston mother, SMILF is that rare, intimate kind of comedy. The pilot is a little disappointing (as so many pilots are) but this is one of those shows you can tell is going to be worth it. Stay tuned.
White Famous (Showtime):
White Famous is Showtime’s answer to Curb Your Enthusiasm, and stars Jay Pharaoh as Floyd Mooney—a comedian on the rise. The show is still getting its bearings and hasn’t lived up to the fullest of Pharaoh’s potential yet. But since it’s a relatively new take on that pseudo–autobiographical slant that comedians are so drawn to, its worth seeing where this thing goes.
Okay, as far as cable television goes, this season has been sorely lacking in good comedies. So while the lot to pick from isn’t great, this definitely stands out as one of the better options this fall. Starring Adam Scott and Craig Robinson as a professor and detective recruited by the government to investigate the paranormal, Ghosted is a little ridiculous. But the cast’s chemistry carries this show.
The Good Doctor (ABC):
For those of you live for medical dramas, this one's for you. The show is basically a carbon copy of the genre’s essentials: hospital romances, department tensions, and long and unnecessary monologues. Here’s the twist: the main character, played by Freddy Highmore, is an autistic surgeon who’s a medical wunderkind. It’s a derivative, emotionally manipulative melodrama, but Highmore is great. All in all, it’s exceedingly entertaining in a weird, guilty–pleasure kind of way.
Young Sheldon (CBS):
I’m not a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory, but this show was a pleasant surprise. It’s a cross between The Middle and Fresh Off the Boat, and it achieves a difficult balance—mild but not boring, funny but not hokey. It’s a difficult balance I didn’t expect the show to get right, but I’m happy to say I was wrong (for the most part).
The Gifted (FOX):
I won’t lie, shows about the Marvel or DC Comic franchises are not my forte: they tend to feel weak and pandering. The Gifted is a slight exception to that rule, because it forges its path differently from its X–Men predecessors. That said, the dialogue is weak, and the acting is subpar (which is actually not that surprising given the genre). If superhero shows are your thing, then this will hit all the right marks.
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (ABC):
This show feels like cable’s very own version of the Bruce Almighty franchise, but with a less specific goal. It has all the bones to be something, I’m just not sure the audience (or even the writers, really) can tell what. God and other religious content is hard to do well in a comedy, but the effort shows.
Me, Myself, and I (CBS):
The premise of this show—the story of one character, Alex Riley, at three different times in his life—is pretty ballsy for a sitcom. So its no surprise that the series fumbles a bit trying to deliver: the dialogue and style feel directly pulled from some show you’d see on Nick at Nite, which is to say it feels a little dated and insignificant. But, you know, if you’re looking for something easy and mild, this is it.
Seal Team (CBS):
A military drama starring David Boreanz, Seal Team is the best of the military–themed offerings this season. While it’s a obvious and plain, it's engaging. If you planned to invest your time on any of the military shows this season, this would be the one.
Will and Grace (NBC):
As much as it pains me to say this, the return of this turn–of–the–millennium game changer feels tired, probably because it is. I mean, by now, half of the stars have teenage children, and have between them a handful of mid–tier movies, several failed pilots, and the still–painful Smash season two under their belts. Don’t get me wrong, no one is as happy as I am to see the return of Debra Messing to the small screen, but it’s a little weird to see her and the rest of the cast spit–taking for a live audience and making Trump jokes. They aged out of this type of thing. And that’s okay.
9JKL is worse than 2014’s Mulaney, and its without the respite that came from knowing that Mulaney and Pedrad had, at least, the ability to be funny. Deeply, deeply, disappointed and confused by the network’s choice here.
The Brave (CBS):
As hard as networks have tried this season to make military–dramas the new thing, its really just not happening for me. It’s lazy emotional manipulation paired with bad dialogue and an attractive cast. Ultimately, the military setting and action aren’t enough. The Brave bores more than anything else.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (NBC):
It’s not that this show (the plot of which is pretty self–explanatory) is bad or poorly done. It just feels forced, and to be honest, wholly unnecessary. Why did Dick Wolf think no one would see his obvious attempt to cash in on the true–crime craze? Law and Order is one franchise that definitely does not need expanding. I’ll stick to my Mariska and Ice–T, thanks.
Halfway through the premiere episodes of this Marvel–based show, I was already bored to the point of tears. If there’s anything superhero shows should be good for (even when they’re exceptionally bad), it’s intrigue. But Inhumans is so overwhelmingly silly and poorly executed that it feels satirical.
The Orville (FOX):
This show, which comes straight from the mind that brought you something called Zoomates and runs for a full hour, has already been renewed for a second season. So I guess if you are amongst those who found Ted 2 funny (and hopefully you aren’t), then maybe you’ll like this. But still, probably not.
Ten Days in the Valley (ABC):
For all its best efforts, this show has no drive. Sure, we have Kyra Sedgwick as a damaged TV producer whose daughter goes missing, but the show itself is boring, melodramatic fluff.
Valor (The CW):
Valor has all the derivative drivel of The Brave with all the weak writing and obvious plot points of the CW. While the idea of following helicopter pilots is an interesting take, the show has little to no follow–through on any hint of promise the premise holds.
Wisdom of the Crowd (CBS)
The problem with this show—which stars Jeremy Piven as a CEO for a crowd–sourcing app he uses to solve crime—is two–fold. First, the plot is extremely watered down and has very little draw. Second, the draw the show does have comes from this app—the concept of which makes no sense given that Piven’s character blindly trusts the information he is given by strangers. While this show could say something about the positive and negatives of technology, it doesn’t. And it doesn’t really seem to be trying to, anyway.