by Matthew Thompson
The Fall TV season is here and that means a slew of new shows hitting the major networks. I love to try stuff out and get a taste of what the new season has to offer. So I am here with a handful of quick reviews on the various series I have sampled so far. I plan to roll out one or two more posts just like this one when I have the chance. To start I will be breaking down four new comedies. Here it goes!
Life in Pieces (Mondays at 8:30 on CBS)
The Premise: A single-camera comedy that tells four short stories about the lives of one extended family: three adult siblings, their families as well as their parents.
My Take: We aren’t exactly hurting for family comedies these days and the generic synopsis above could certainly describe a number of them. Where Life in Pieces looks to separate itself from the pack is with its structure. Instead of flashing back and forth between an A-story and a B-story and so on, it tells one small contained story between each commercial break. I’m open to the idea of anything that can freshen up this sub-genre and I hope they experiment with this aspect a lot. Like it’d be interesting if some weeks had all four segments focus on one character with others popping into the various tales (the second episode started with two focused on Matt which is promising). Hopefully they make the most of this tweaked format.
A slightly altered setup isn’t enough to make the show work though – the content that fills each half hour still has to deliver. With people like Colin Hanks, Betsy Brandt, and James Brolin as series regulars, they certainly have the cast to pull it off (I’m also partial to Angelique Cabral from her role on Enlisted). The writing is less of a sure thing so far. The pilot was particularly hit and miss (the father-son conversations during the college visit were especially groan-inducing), but I feel it has found a nice rhythm since. And the format means that if one segment whiffs, there is the promise that the next one will not.
Worth Watching?: I am finding it very enjoyable so far and I really think the structure does make it feel fairly different. It is not essential viewing by any means, but if this type of show is your thing then it is worth a go. It feels fresher to me than Modern Family if not quite as clever or interesting as something like Black-ish has been which I feel is currently the best family comedy out there.
The Muppets (Tuesdays at 8 on ABC)
The Premise: A mockumentary-style sitcom that delves into the personal and professional lives of the Muppets as they work on a late-night talk show.
My Take: I’m not really a Muppets guy. I am familiar with them. I know most of the characters, but I don’t have a particular affinity for them. Nor do I dislike them. I guess I’m just saying I went into this series pretty neutral on the Muppets… and my feelings sort of remain there for this show so far.
Comparisons to 30 Rock only seem valid due to the premise so far – it doesn’t feature that show’s rapid-paced joke delivery or brilliant sense of humor. Still it remains a solid idea to build the show around with a lot of potential and I do think it does some good things in its own right. It has used guest stars well both as big focal points like Elizabeth Banks and Josh Groban or small cameos like Laurence Fishburne. Statler and Waldorf have been gold whenever they have popped up too. On the other hand, I’m not sure delving into the romantic relationships of Muppets and some of the more adult jokes that go along with it is something I’m very into. There have been some good gags from this material, but it has been uneven overall. And that kind of sums up my feelings about the show as a whole. The pilot was solid, the second episode was good, and the third kind of fell flat. It has left me unsure what to think of the show as a whole or what to expect going forward.
Worth Watching?: If you are a Muppets fan, you probably already checked this out and know how you feel (from what I’ve seen fans seem pretty split on this series’ direction). As just a TV fan, I’m just kind of left shrugging my shoulders so far. It is okay overall, but my least favorite of the four new comedies I have checked out this Fall (the ones in this post) so it comes hard to recommend it in its current form.
The Grinder (Tuesdays at 8:30 on FOX)
The Premise: After playing a lawyer on one of TV’s most popular shows, Dean Sanderson (Rob Lowe) returns to his hometown of Boise, Idaho to join his brother (Fred Savage) and his father (William Devane) at their law firm.
My Take: This is really funny so far. Dean acts so ridiculous and Lowe’s line delivery for it all is just perfect. Everyone else seems to buy his bullshit save a few. One of those few is his brother Stewart and his incredulous reactions to both Dean and how everyone else reacts to Dean are just hilarious. Oddly enough the brothers make a good pair in the courtroom with Dean leveraging his stage presence and Stewart bringing his wealth of law knowledge. William Devane does great work here as the supportive father while Natalie Morales and Mary Elizabeth Ellis add two more solid comedy performers to round out the cast.
The interactions between the brothers and the situations that arise as a result seem to be the core of the show, but there are some other touches that help add to the show’s humor. Like seeing scenes from the show within the show (also called The Grinder). Or how it pokes fun at law show tropes. Overall it has just been a really fun new sitcom.
Worth Watching?: This seems like the one unequivocal yes among this bunch. Funny. Great cast. Well-acted. So far at least it seems easy to recommend.
Scream Queens (Tuesdays at 9 on FOX)
The Premise: In its debut season, this new comedy horror anthology series focuses on a string of murders occurring at the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority.
My Take: It is hard to describe Scream Queens’ brand of humor. It is silly and ridiculous and even a bit stupid fairly often. But it knows it is stupid, embraces it and as a result is really fun. There is a lot of parody here. Horror movies are the main target – the most recent episode had sequences that recalled Silence of the Lambs and The Shining – but then they also poke fun at everything from sororities/frats to Taylor Swift’s “Swiftmas” too (you can see that Chanel-O-Ween video here). Emma Roberts is great as the Kappa president and I’m constantly shocked at some of the things she says especially given this is on network TV. Nick Jonas is a surprise scene stealer alongside his frat bro Chad Radwell in the early going as well. Throw in the likes of Nasim Pedrad, Niecy Nash and Jamie Lee Curtis and you have a cast up to the task of delivering in this absurd hour-long comedy series.
Scream Queens’ sense of humor feels like a fairly unique combination of many styles, but is so all over the place in how it delivers jokes that not everything works. When it does it is my favorite of the comedy bunch I am talking about in this post. I was hoping between this and Scream the TV Series that I’d get a show in the mold of the classic horror film the latter is based on. Unfortunately I didn’t. But while the Scream TV series tried and failed to deliver what Scream did for movies years ago, Scream Queens is aiming for something completely different. In doing so it is at least giving me something very entertaining in its own right in the process.
Worth Watching?: If there was ever an acquired taste, this is it. And then there are the constant warnings that this will soon fall apart that I am told is the case with most Ryan Murphy shows (I have only watched the first season of American Horror Story of his work and it was certainly a wreck by the end). For now though, I am getting a real kick out of this so it seems worth a shot if how I described it sounds appealing to you.
That will do it for this round. I hope to tackle some new dramas – which have been much worse thus far in my opinion – soon. I also hope to check back in with some of these shows later on in the season to see how they have held up. Thanks for reading!