First Quarter Report Card for ‘Elementary,’ The New Normal,’ ‘The Mindy Project’ and ‘Nashville’

By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal ®

You can only tell so much in a show’s pilot. You can sense the potential or lack thereof. You might know at a gut level whether you’re interested in the characters or not.  But really the pilot is merely a peek into what could be. I had no idea when I watched the pilot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer that it would turn into the landmark TV. But I knew from the moment I watched the first episode of Arrested Development that it would most likely become one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

With that in mind, let’s check back in on four new shows that have been picked up for the full season.

The New Normal (Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC): To my utter surprise, I’m still watching The New Normal.  So there’s definitely something there that keeps me coming back each week. Perhaps it’s just to see what Babe Wood Shania will do next. Wood is the discovery of the season. And while the show isn’t as funny as it needs to be to actually be a comedy, it has, at times, been surprisingly poignant. I loved the episode the October 23 episode that found Bryan and David searching for godparents.  When the show tones down its preachiness, it is actually capable of providing thoughtful commentary.

But, as much as I hate to say it, Ellen Barkin’s Nana is a huge, almost insurmountable problem for the show. There’s some sort of graduate student thesis that could be written about why Sue Sylvester works as a character on Glee and Nana doesn’t.  Both women make absolutely outrageous homophobic and racist comments. Both women have no problem doling out vicious, personal attacks.  Both women are, on the surface, beyond offensive. Yet Sue has always provided great entertainment value. Nana is cringe-inducing. Perhaps it’s because The New Normal has given Nana no redeeming qualities. She is the cruelest to her own granddaughter. Seeing Sue with her sister let the audience know that she had a loving side to her and I always feel that, on some level, Sue actually cared about her students.  Nana is merely angry at the world and that much vitriol in an endless loop is tedious to watch.  Nana needs to go back to Ohio.

The Mindy Project (Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on FOX): There is so much that is not working about this comedy and it starts with Mindy Kaling. As I said in the review I wrote for Paste Magazine this week, Kaling’s character becomes increasingly unlikeable with each passing week. The crux of the problem is that she’s playing a doctor -not just any kind of doctor, an OB/GYN.  If you want women to watch your show, you really can’t mess around with that. Most women have a trusted relationship with their OB/GYN.  These are the doctors who know your most personal information. They see you through your pregnancy and the delivery of your baby.  As I’ve always said, I don’t need a ton of realism from my TV shows. But I need to believe that Mindy actually is a doctor. (At least to the same degree I believe Phil Dunphy is actually a real estate agent or Robin Sherbatsky is actually a news anchor). So I want to watch a comedy where Mindy is actually good at her job and cares about her patients.  I want to believe the premise the show is built on – that Mindy has her professional life together but her personal life is a mess.  Dr. Lahiri and her colleagues don’t seem to ever work. Mindy is vapid and vain. I wouldn’t trust her to paint my nails.  She would probably stop half way through so she could chase a boy or try on outfits. There are so many other problems with the show (beginning with the painful underutilization of Anna Camp) but if your main character isn’t working, the rest of your show isn’t going to work.  Mindy Lahiri needs a profession where other people’s lives aren’t at stake. I fear the character’s career choice is fatal error from which the show cannot recover.

Elementary (Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CBS): The biggest problem this crime drama is facing is that it keeps casting familiar faces as the weekly bad guy.  The show films in New York City. It needs to take a page from the Law & Order playbook and start casting more theater actors – faces that viewers don’t know. Because if we see David Costabile, who has had major arcs on Breaking Bad and Damages, as a janitor, we’re not fooled. We know he is probably the bad guy.  And if we solve the crime before Sherlock does every week, we are going to get bored. My other issue with the show is that Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller are giving incredibly strong performances but the series is struggling to integrate the mystery part of the show with the interpersonal aspects of the character’s lives.  It is often clumsy and awkward.

Nashville (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC): This was my favorite new show of the season and, for the most part, it has lived up to my expectations. I’m enjoying the continuing development of Rayna’s character. Given my affection for Friday Night Lights, I expected Rayna to be a tough-as-nails/heart-of-gold type character. But she’s evolved into something much more complex than that.  I like that I don’t always like Rayna. Deacon, who she clearly loves, calls her from jail and she declines the call? That seems awful but it also tells me quite a bit about their shared history. Maybe this is the fifth, tenth, or twentieth time that has happened. I would like to see Eric Close’s Teddy be less of a pawn in everyone else’s game.  But the character I’m having the biggest problem with is Scarlett. As much as I love Scarlett’s music, I’m not that into her character. Her little-girl-lost act is grating and so is her stand-by-her-man nonsense – at least she stopped standing by her man last night. It’s tricky to play a character that fragile and innocent and still make her compelling. So far Scarlett is the show’s weakest link.

What new shows are you still watching? How do you think they’re doing? Talk about it below. If you’ve heard a great quote or seen a terrific familiar face, email me and let me know. And remember to sign up to follow my blog (upper right hand corner) if you want to be part of my December TV Swag Giveaway.

‘The Mindy Project’ and ‘Vegas’ – Two Shows I Wish I Loved

Cr: Beth Dubber/FOX

By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal®

There are times when I am out of sync with the rest of the critics andThe Mindy Project (premiering tonight at 9:30 p.m. on FOX) is one of those times. I’m not feeling the love that so many are bestowing upon the show.

It’s not that I hated the new comedy from Mindy Kaling. I am simply not wildly enthusiastic about it. Kaling stars as Mindy Lahari, an OB/GYN with a successful medical career and a disastrous personal life.  That’s a great and relatable premise for a show. My problem is that the whole pilot has this “Look at me! Aren’t I clever and cute?” vibe.  And I do think Kaling is clever and cute but the pilot feels too self-aware and self-conscious.

These are problems that can be fixed of course.There is a certain innate nervousness that can be present in a pilot. The stakes are extremely high as far as television goes. Maybe things will settle down by episode two.  I’m rooting for Kaling to succeed. TV needs more funny women and it certainly needs more funny women who don’t look like everyone else on TV.

(My other gripe with The Mindy Project is that it took Anna Camp away from The Good Wife. And I loved Caitlin. She was a fantastic foil for Alicia and her departure was way too abrupt. I know this doesn’t really count as a legitimate gripe with the series but I had to share.)

The show definitely has a potential breakout character in Chris Messina, who plays Mindy’s fellow doctor Danny Castellano. It would be great to see Messina, who also plays Reese Lansing on The Newsroom, finally have his moment. And if The Mindy Project doesn’t work out, he can just move in with the boys over on New Girl.

I’m not against The Mindy Project, I’m just not for it yet.  After you watch the show tonight, let me know what you think.

Vegas (premiering tonight at 10 p.m. on CBS) is another show I would love to love. Jason O’Mara is a man who deserves a hit TV series.  I’ve been a fan ever since his character terrorized Brenda on The Closer. Until the bizarre finale, Life on Mars was a fantastic show and there was great potential in Terra Nova. O’Mara swings for the fences when he picks a TV project and I really admire that.  I’ve loved Dennis Quaid ever since I saw The Big Easy (so interesting that both he and Ellen Barkin are in new TV shows this fall). And, of course, it’s always fun to have Michael Chiklis back on TV. Really, you couldn’t ask for better headliners.

Quaid stars as Ralph Lamb, a reluctant sheriff in the 1960’s in Las Vegas. O’Mara is his brother and Chiklis is the gangster Lamb must battle. Chiklis clearly enjoys playing bad and this role seems much more comfortable for him than the heroic family man he played in No Ordinary Family. But there’s also something far too familiar about Chiklis in Vegas. It’s like Vic Mackey got sent back in time (perhaps during a Life on Mars/The Shield crossover event?). His performance almost seems redundant.

The pilot for Vegas moves very, very slowly. Make sure you drink lots of caffeine before you sit down to watch this show.  Mad Men looks downright speedy compared to Vegas.  It’s a totally different pace for primetime television and one that I’m not sure will work.  But there is still some good stuff here. I will be following the show closely. After you watch tonight’s premiere, let me know what you think.

Finally I will be holding the first meeting of the Private Practice support group tonight when the show returns for its sixth season tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC.  Really there is absolutely no reason why I should still be watching this show or why I should care if Addison picks Sam or Jake.  So, if you still watch the show too, join me tonight so we can commiserate together.

Remember to follow my blog by entering your email in the upper right hand corner. That way you’ll know every time I have a new post. And don’t forget to email me your favorite quotes and familiar faces this week. I’ll be posting them on Thursday.