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2014 Fall Network TV Preview: Thursdays

2014 Fall Network TV Preview: Thursdays

Several network series return this week, but the fall season starts in earnest next week. Before the premieres kick off, here are SoS TV Editor Kate Kulzick and SoS Managing TV Editor Deepayan Sengupta’s initial impressions of the networks’ new offerings.

Note: Our thoughts are based on pilots that are works in progress, so there may be changes to these episodes before they air.

How to get away with murder

How to Get Away with Murder (10pm ET, ABC)
Premieres Sept. 25th, 2014

Starring Oscar nominee Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder is the latest quasi-procedural serialized drama from the writers at ShondaLand. Davis plays Annalise Keating, a law professor and defense attorney whose 100-level criminal law class sparks the series. Following Keating, her two associates, and a handful of her students, the show flashes back and forth between the beginning of the semester and an undetermined point in the future, when the characters become embroiled in a plot that requires them to take advantage of everything they’ve learned.

Davis is unsurprisingly strong as the lead. She sells even the less believable material well and grounds the action, bringing gravitas to her exchanges in both the court and classroom. There are hints of more around the edges of her character, but almost every scene with Keating puts her in a position of authority; hopefully the show will change this up and explore more sides to her as it continues. The supporting cast is less developed, their character shown primarily in how they react to plot developments. The closest this series comes to having a good person is Alfred Enoch’s Wes, one of Keating’s students, and even he is compromised, but it appears uninterested in such pedestrian descriptors. How to Get Away with Murder is not concerned with being nice, it wants to be intense and mysterious (making it a good match with Scandal) and viewers looking for this kind of show are likely to enjoy it. [KK]

Gracepoint image

Gracepoint (9pm ET, FOX)
Premieres Oct. 2nd, 2014

Chris Chibnall’s British crime serial Broadchurch was a hit last year, garnering critical and popular acclaim and leading FOX to commission an American adaptation, Gracepoint, created once again by Chibnall. The cast for the remake is filled with heavy hitters, including David Tennant (reprising his lead role, though switching out his Scottish accent for an American one), Anna Gunn, Michael Peña, Nick Nolte, Jacki Weaver, and many more and wisely, this will be a limited series, airing only 10 episodes (as compared to the original’s eight).

Unfortunately, while those unfamiliar with Broadchurch may enjoy this, those who have already sought out the original are likely to be distracted by its eerie similarities. Much of Gracepoint plays as a near shot-by-shot remake, tweaked ever so slightly to fit with American network TV sensibilities. The characters, already clear types in the British version, are further heightened here and with the element of discovery removed, Gracepoint winds up feeling more like a staged reenactment than a compelling story on its own. Plenty of across the pond adaptations work wonderfully and, again, it’s possible those unfamiliar with the source material won’t have these problems, but to this critic, viewers are better off seeking out and marathoning Broadchurch. [KK]

Bad Judge

Bad Judge (9pm ET, NBC)
Premieres Oct. 2nd, 2014

The first half-hour legal comedy in quite a while, Bad Judge stars Kate Walsh as Rebecca Wright, a tough as nails judge who lays down the law in her courtroom and is a wild child outside of it. Her life is turned upside down when she winds up caring for a ten-year-old whose parents were sent to jail by Wright. Walsh is a talented and charismatic actress and there is certainly a version of this show that could work; unfortunately, a lot of changes will need to be made. There’s quite a bit in Bad Judge that almost comes together, buoyed by Walsh’s sheer effort, but there’s only so much a strong performance can do with this material. By far the weakest element is Wright’s new charge, who falls squarely into the precocious, wise-beyond-his-years child role. He’s completely unbelievable and these contrived scenes are the ones that most weigh down this potentially fun, if broad, comedy.

There has been some behind the scenes turmoil at the series, with original showrunner Liz Brixius leaving earlier this month. Betsy Thomas, creator of the under-seen and appreciated My Boys, has been brought in to be the new showrunner, starting at episode five, so it’s possible Bad Judge will find its feet after some growing pains, if given the chance. If it doesn’t, one can only hope Walsh gets another, better vehicle soon. [KK]

A to Z

A to Z (9:30pm ET, NBC)
Premieres Oct. 2nd, 2014

A to Z marks the latest entry in the romantic comedy sitcom genre, this time focusing on the trials and tribulations of Andrew and Zelda over the course of their relationship. From Drive co-creator Ben Queen, the series is executive produced by Rashida Jones and stars Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti as the central couple.

A show of this nature lives and dies on its cast chemistry. Fortunately, A to Z has that, as Milioti and Feldman both spark in their individual scenes as well as during their interactions. Milioti in particular shows an easy charisma that indicates she’s a natural fit for a show like this. However, while the pilot does a good job of establishing Andrew and Zelda, the rest of the characters get short shrift. Both Andrew and Zelda’s roommates have a single character trait each and there’s no clear indication of why the leads are friends with these characters, as they seem to come from polar opposite mindsets, suggesting convenience is the only reason for the friendship in the first place.

If a show like this is to become something worth watching, deepening the secondary characters is just as important as deepening the leads. This is not an impossible proposition, as the writers indicate a level of nuance in their treatment of the leads, which could easily extend to the rest of the cast. Further exploring the world around the characters would also be beneficial, as understanding the attitudes of the people at large will help the audience better understand Andrew and Zelda’s attitudes towards love. With these two leads, the foundation is there for an enjoyable sitcom; now all the writers will have to do is ensure the rest of the show is given the same attention. [DS]

The McCarthys image

The McCarthys (9:30pm ET, CBS)
Premieres Oct. 30th, 2014

The new sitcom offering from CBS comes from creator Brian Gallivan and focuses on the titular McCarthys, a close-knit family in Boston comprised of two parents and four adult children, including one daughter and one gay son, and how the group deals with everyday life. Will Gluck is among the executive producers.

While Sound on Sight was unable the see the pilot for The McCarthys prior to its premiere, the show does not distinguish itself from the rest of the television landscape at first glance. The premise is a mix of clichés and this is Gallivan’s first go-round at creating a show, with his longest stint in television coming with Are You There, Chelsea? This is not to say that the show is devoid of promise. Gallivan has also written for Happy Endings, with his credited episodes showing some warmth and heart, key ingredients for a sitcom focusing on a family. In addition, the main cast, which includes the likes of Laurie Metcalf and Kelen Coleman, have proven themselves to be adept performers who might be capable of elevating poor material. A network sitcom with a gay main character is also worth applauding in this day and age, provided the character becomes more than a collection of stereotypes.

To be a show worth watching, The McCarthys needs to go in one of two directions: it can either become a delivery system for rapid-fire jokes every episode, or it can build the characters to become endearing and worth spending time with, making their relationships worth emotionally investing in. Whatever direction it chooses, the series is already starting from a disadvantage due to its premise (high school coach father hires sports-averse gay son as assistant coach) and will have to transcend said premise to become a show worth watching, rather than another in an interchangeable series of forgettable sitcoms. [DS]

Check out the rest of our 2014 Fall Network TV Preview: Mondays // Tuesdays // Wednesdays // Fridays and Sundays