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 TV Gal Character Relocation Program

Photo by: Timothy White/NBC

By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal®

We are a few weeks into the new television season and I believe it is time to activate the TV Gal Character Relocation Program (CRP). In the CRP, I sweep in and pluck good characters from bad shows and relocate them to a new series where their talents will be put to the best use. Really, it’s a public service.

Here are the current candidates:

Shania (Bebe Wood) on The New Normal to Glee:  The New Normal makes an Aaron Sorkin show look subtle. But aside from all the pontificating,  my main problem with the show is that it’s not funny. And, you know, I like my comedies to be funny. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I missed something and the The New Normal is actually supposed to be a half-hour drama.  But Wood is fabulous. Her impersonation of Little Edie from Grey Gardens was one of the best things I have seen on TV this year.  Let’s send Shania to Glee, another Ryan Murphy show which sure is uneven in quality but at least when it’s good, it’s very, very good. Shania could be a child prodigy who becomes the newest member of New Directions. Sure that’s a bit of an outlandish plot but is it anymore outlandish than Kurt landing a job with I don’t think so.

Louis (Michael Urie) on Partners to New Girl:  Urie is trying his best with material he’s given. But honestly if you close your eyes and just listen to the show, it’s as if you’re watching a really bad version of Will & Grace. Same set-up (My analogy: Ali is to the jewelry design business as Grace was to the interior design business). Same jokes. Same elevator, even. Just a lot less charm. Louis could move into the apartment on The New Girl. He could talk fashion and, more specifically belts, with Schmidt while Nick and Winston could convince him to take his shtick down a notch or two. Now I would love to save Wyatt (Brandon Routh) too but, unfortunately, the CRP only allows me to save one character per show.

Miles (Billy Burke) on Revolution to Homeland: I’m exhausted by the fact that Revolution has been picked up for a full season.  I was really hoping the show would just go quietly to that great TV season pass manager in the sky. But no, now I’m going to have to keep up with its gaping plot inconsistencies and bad acting. Bill Burke is a great actor who has done a number of wonderful guest arcs (most recently as the nefarious Phillip Stroh on The Closer). The man deserves to be on an Emmy winning drama. On Homeland he could play a CIA agent who believes Carrie and helps bring Brody down. And then he could win an Emmy for his performance. See how well this could work out?

Dr. Brett Robinson (Zach Gilford) on The Mob Doctor to Grey’s Anatomy:  Seattle Grace needs a few new doctors and, given The Mob Doctor’s ratings, Dr. Robinson could be available very soon. Here at TV Gal, we leave no one from Friday Night Lights behind.

Marny (Tempestt Bledsoe) on Guys with Kids to The MiddleI’m delighted to have Vanessa Huxtable back on TV again. Now let’s get her on a show that’s actually funny. Marny could be one of the Heck’s new neighbors. She and Frankie could become friends. Maybe she could even help Frankie find a new job.

Which characters would you enter into the CRP and where would you relocate him or her? Talk about it below.

Grey’s Anatomy and Revenge

Last week, two shows totally tried to fake out viewers. On Revenge, the nighttime soap tried to convince viewers that Victoria Grayson was dead. While I believed there was no way that the series would kill off a character as great as Victoria, it was a very nice touch to not list Madeleine Stowe in the opening credits. It didn’t fool me, but I appreciated the effort and attention to detail.

I’m kind of disappointed that the alliance between Victoria and Emily was so short-lived. I loved the idea of the two former frenemies being in cahoots together. I do want everyone to know that Revenge is currently in my “Could So Easily Go Off the Rails” file. Revenge is great because of its over-the-top line delivery and plot twists. The show is so much fun. But I’m concerned it could start racing through plot twists and character reveals. (We’ve seen this happen before on many shows including Heroes). If Daniel is going to be evil, let him be evil. And please find some way to make Ashley useful to the plot. The show hasn’t seemed to know what to do with her since the beginning.

On Grey’s Anatomy, the show spent the entire hour trying to convince us that Arizona was dead but we’ve all watched TV long enough to know that unless there’s a funeral, he/she is probably not dead. (Unless, of course, you’re a show like Revenge when they can say you’re dead,hold a memorial services and you’re still not dead).  I knew we were going to see Arizona in the closing seconds of the episode. I holding out judgement of the Arizona as an amputee story line until I see tonight’s episode. The premiere didn’t really work for me for three main reasons:

  1. I simply can’t get too worked up about Mark Sloane dying. I never really bought Mark and Lexie as some great star-crossed couple and I’m really not that sad that McSteamy is gone.
  2. It’s annoying that now Meredith is the one terrorizing the interns. Medusa? Really? Another sign that it’s time for a show to end is when they pull an old plot line out of the bin and try to recycle it.
  3. I’m saddened by what’s become of Miranda Bailey. I’m glad she now knows that her nickname is Booty Call Bailey but the Miranda I knew would never have let it get to this point.

That’s all for today. Make sure to follow my blog so you know every time I have a new post.  And if you see a familiar face or hear a great quote of the week, definitely email me about it through my contact page.