Favourites of 2013

It’s that time of year, where everybody is getting ready for Christmas and the start of a new year. Meanwhile, entertainment outlets everywhere are doing their “best-of” lists to cap off the year. So to keep up with my own modified version of those traditions, I give you my favourites in music/movies/television of the past year.

MUSIC – ALBUMS

  • Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience [The Complete Experience] – My year in music was made all the better with JT releasing 2 new albums this year. Some people didn’t like them for various reasons (songs were too long, not dance-y enough, a little self-indulgent?), but this was hands down my absolute favourite album of the year. I may be biased as a JT fan, but as a music fan, I appreciate that he can take musical risks while still keeping his signature sound. It was perfection to my ears.
  • Megan Hilty, It Happens All the Time – Megan had been known as a Broadway actress before starring in the TV series Smash, and though the show ended up being not so great in its two-season run, it was very much agreed upon that Megan was the best part of it. So it came as no surprise that she managed to get an album recorded and released, filled with original songs and covers. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the album is, particularly with the music selection, as it wasn’t just showtunes. For the covers, I loved her version of Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move” and then one of the originals “Walk Away” was actually a song that was co-written by Carrie Underwood and Ne-Yo! There is just an easy feeling when you hear the album and I just fell in love with it.
  • PJ Morton, New Orleans – I only came to know about PJ when he started playing with Maroon 5 during the Hands All Over days as an additional keyboardist/vocal to fill out their sound live. Since then, he’s continued working on his own music, while playing with the band in a bigger capacity (taking over for Jesse Carmichael on keyboard while he takes a break from music). PJ had signed to Young Money Records (Lil Wayne’s label) and this album is his first release with the label. For me, this was just a solid R&B album from beginning to end, that really had a throwback sound to it (almost a Stevie Wonder quality to it) but decidedly modern as well.
  • Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest – I feel as though Sara is just one of those artists who are just so damn dependable to make good music. This is her third album and you can hear the progression in her songwriting from her first album to this one. “Brave” is just a fantastic first single that follows in the footsteps of “Love Song” and “King of Anything” being sort of a pop anthem. The rest of the album is filled with wonderful piano pop that often stretches the musicality of it (I’m not sure I made sense there). Point is: she stretches herself as an artist/musician but in a way that fits into her style and personality, so it doesn’t ever feel like she’s trying too hard to do something different.
  • Matt Nathanson, Last of the Great Pretenders – What I said about Sara being so damn dependable as an artist, certainly applies to Matt as well. That the two of them released their albums on the same day this summer was a perfectly awesome coincidence. With this album, his eighth, Matt draws up a 40-minute ode to San Francisco, with all of its eclectic influences.
  • Beyonce, BEYONCE – She surprised the entire world when she secretly released this album on iTunes. I have always respected Beyonce as an artist and have really enjoyed her songs, but can’t say that I’ve been a huge fan. So I have to give her props for everything she did with regards to this album. As a whole, I think it’s her best one yet. I liked that she took different risks with the songs and that it’s a unique sound, but still completely Beyonce. There might not be a typical radio single, but who cares? When the music’s good, that’s all that matters.

MUSIC – SONGS

  • Lorde, Royals – I admittedly was late to the party in terms of hearing this song. I had heard about it but didn’t hear the song itself until sometime in the summer. I was hooked from the first listen. There’s a dynamic about the song that was just so different from anything else.
  • Megan Hilty, Bittersweet Symphony – Season 2 of Smash was a mess but for the most part, the music was still good. For some reason though, Megan’s cover of this Verve song stuck out. I already raved about Megan and her album up top, but I just fell in love with her version of this song. It’s just SO GOOD, I can’t even explain why I love it so much. I’ve always loved this song, but how they did re-did this song with Megan singing, it almost sounds like a different song
  • Ben Hazlewood, Knock On My Window – This is a case of I’m not entirely sure why it’s one of my favourites this year; I just couldn’t stop listening to it. Ben was a contestant on the first season of The Voice Australia and this track came off of his EP that he released. The song itself is pop with a very cool groove to it…and now that I think about it, it reminds me of Maroon 5’s “One More Night.” THAT’S probably why I’m addicted to it.
  • Jay-Z ft. Justin Timberlake, Holy Grail – Jay-Z & JT were just on a roll with their collaborations this year. With all the dynamics of the song, it probably shouldn’t have worked but it did. Justin sounds very melancholy starting off the song, then the hip-hop beat kicks in, with a little Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sample put in, all serving as a backdrop to lyrics about the fickleness of fame. It is all kinds of awesome.
  • Glee, Make You Feel My Love + If I Die Young – I stuck it out until the end of season 4 of the show and I promised myself I wasn’t going to watch the show again (except the early episodes when it was good). Then tragedy struck with Cory Monteith’s untimely death. I was like everybody else, I wanted to see how the show would deal with such tragedy in their family, so I watched their tribute episode to him and his character. The episode itself was so emotional and it’s a wonder how any of them coped with such a loss. The two songs, sung in the episode by Lea Michele and Naya Rivera respectively, were particularly poignant and wrought with emotion that the tears were out of control just hearing them sing these songs.
  • Kelly Clarkson, My Favorite Things – I usually don’t listen to a lot of Christmas music, especially early on in the season; I usually limit it to a week or two leading up to Christmas. This year, all that changed and it’s completely Kelly Clarkson’s fault because she released a holiday album and one of my favourite songs on that album was this one. I’ve also never been a huge The Sound of Music fan, but good lord I love how Kelly jazzed up this song.

MOVIES

*This list is obviously based only on movies that I’ve been able to see this year. There’s many more movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing or are too new (i.e. those darn Oscar-bait/contenders that just got released but are on several critics’ Best Of lists for the year).

  • Now You See Me – Fantastic word-of-mouth over the summer made my expectations high for when I did actually get around to watching it. It was a fun caper thriller featuring magic. The tone of the movie reminded me a lot of Ocean’s Eleven (with a slightly smaller cast of course) and though it wasn’t a perfect movie, it was highly enjoyable. Plus, bonus points for an original screenplay that’s not a remake/sequel/adaptation.
  • Thor: The Dark World – Getting Alan Taylor, best known these days for being a frequent director on Game of Thrones, to go behind the camera for this movie was a wise decision. Not to knock Kenneth Branagh for his work on the first film, but with this movie, you could really feel the scope of Asgard and the other realms. Add to the fact that there seemed to be a lot more going on in this movie than the first, everything just felt better and fuller, as if pressure had been lifted from having to make everything work. Bonus for me was getting to see Zachary Levi taking over for Josh Dallas as Fandral. Again, nothing against Josh, I just love Zac and seeing him on the big screen put a huge smile on my face.
  • Prisoners – First of all, look at the poster and check out the actors billed: almost all Academy Award nominees and/or winners. Not gonna lie, that alone made me go “Whoa” when I first heard about the movie. Then the trailer looked incredibly intense. Then when I finally got a chance to watch the movie, I saw for myself what all the talk was about after it premiered at TIFF this year. It’s a crime thriller that definitely borrowed influences from a bunch of different movies and the end result was just as what the trailer suggested – intense. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal put in incredible performances in this movie. I myself am so looking forward to attending the In Conversation With Jake Gyllenhaal and Denis Villeneuve (the director of this movie, as well as Enemy, another movie starring Gyllenhaal) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in early January, and hopefully they’ll talk about this movie
  • Gravity – Whether or not it is technically accurate doesn’t matter. Sandra Bullock gave the performance of her career here, essentially carrying the movie on her own, except for brief moments with George Clooney. The movie was exceptional in 3D, as director Alfonso Cuaron made you feel as if you were in space with Bullock. Everything was just visually stunning.
  • Philomena – I talked about this movie in my TIFF wrap-up post already, but I have to say it again, I’m really glad I was given the chance to see it. It’s not the typical movie I’d be interested in, yet after I watched it I was just so impressed by it. The fact that Steve Coogan, known mostly as a comedic actor, co-wrote the heartwarming script based on a true story, was a very welcome surprise and you also get to see a side of Dame Judi Dench you don’t normally see.
  • The Spectacular Now – I had listed this as one of the movies I was looking forward to watching in August, and boy did it ever live up to the praise. On the surface it is a love story, when Sutter (Miles Teller) the popular kid in school falls for Aimee (Shailene Woodley) the quiet girl – sounds cliche doesn’t it? On a deeper level, it’s Sutter’s coming-of-age story – how his unexpected relationship with Aimee changes him, his relationships with his family and friends, and his outlook on life. What made this movie stand out is that it’s not the Hollywood view of teenage life; this feels real with the awkwardness of dating and the anxiety of life after high school.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – One of my most anticipated movies of the year and it did not disappoint. To some, Catching Fire (both the movie and the book) can seem like a rehash of the first movie with another Games and it serving as the bridge to the third (and fourth, for the movies). It’s not completely wrong to think that way because it’s kind of true. However, you can’t deny all the character development that occurs as we’re being set up for Mockingjay. Director Francis Lawrence also proved to be a great choice to take over for Gary Ross, as he brings a different style to the film.
  • Fruitvale Station – This movie is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man wrongly shot in a subway station in the Bay Area on New Year’s Day 2009. The film itself follows the final 24 hours of his life and shows him as a young man wanting to do right by his family, but has to contend with his past. Surprisingly, knowing what was going to happen didn’t make the fateful scene any less shocking because we just spent time getting to know him. It’s certainly a testament to writer-director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan for making us sympathize with Grant’s struggles in such a way that it still does shock us when the incident occurs.

TELEVISION (NEW SHOWS)

  • Orphan Black – I was one of the idiots who didn’t watch this show when it first aired. Despite reading tweets by entertainment writers telling me to watch it, I just didn’t know what it was; I may have also mixed it up with some other show in this brain of mine. Anyways, after getting proverbially hit over the head multiple times to watch this, I binge-watched it over one weekend and was immediately hooked after the first episode (hence the binge-watch). I mean it’s sort of a sci-fi show (it deals with clones after all!), but it also has all this character drama, a hint of a thriller, which also deals with psychological/sociological ideas. Plus, Tatiana Maslany! The girl plays SEVEN different characters with such ease, you forget that it’s just her. Also, being Canadian, I was so surprised to see that this is a Canadian made/set show. I know they say it’s a little ambiguous about where the show is set, but it’s fairly obvious it’s Toronto. The funny thing about all this is that at SDCC, my cousin was all about this show trying to get the autograph signing; she didn’t get it, but I ended up trying to take pictures of Tatiana, Dylan Bruce, and Jordan Gavaris for her during the signing, not realizing I was taking pictures of people I was about to obsess over! Now I can’t wait for my next Comic-Con (be it Toronto or San Diego) so I can try harder and meet these wonderful people!
  • Sleepy Hollow – A sort-of re-imagining of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, where Ichabod Crane wakes up in present day Sleepy Hollow to fight the Headless Horseman. Sounded awesome, with a dash of ridiculous, didn’t it? – which is kind of what it ended up being. It’s a show that ended up striking just the right balance of mythology, character, drama, action, supernatural, campy fun, and humour. Executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci definitely know something about that balance, having worked on Fringe, but Len Wiseman and Ken Olin also bring a lot to the table. And the cast – regulars Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter; plus recurring stars Lyndie Greenwood, John Noble, John Cho – just make everything work.
  • Almost Human – I was so excited about this show when it got picked up at Upfronts back in May because it’s from J.H. Wyman, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk, the three people who were very much responsible for my beloved Fringe. Then I saw the pilot at SDCC, which re-affirmed my excitement. It’s a futuristic take on the typical procedural and that in itself just makes things more interesting because it’s a new realm of crime and technology. Add to that, the fact that this is like a buddy-cop drama, with Karl Urban’s damaged human, Kennex, being forced to team up with Michael Ealy’s emotional and wickedly awesome robot, Dorian.
  • Trophy Wife – The name has been an issue; a case you thought ABC might have learned from when they aired Cougar Town, a show that was also MUCH more than its name suggested. At times, you can have a hard time grasping how Bradley Whitford’s Pete ended up with either of his two ex-wives – the cold and stern Diane + the carefree Jackie – or his current younger wife, Kate. That suspension of disbelief aside, it’s a really funny and cute show. The dynamics between the adults, as well as the kids, are terrific. They’re all such characters that somehow work extremely well together. And yes, Albert Tsai’s Bert almost always steals the show whenever he shows up.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine – I mentioned in my fall check-in post how this cast works phenomenally well together. It was like a well-oiled machine, right from the get-go, and I count on them for my weekly laughs. I just need other people to also watch this show.

TELEVISION (RETURNING SHOWS)

  • Nikita – I’m going to keep this short. My favourite show/obsession just ended its run as one of the most underrated series in recent memory. I’m going to miss it SO MUCH.
  • Arrow – If there’s a show that just continually tries to outdo itself, this is it. Through the second half of the first season and going into the second, the writers just know no bounds. Particularly with this second season, where it seems like DC just let them go nuts with the universe and include whatever character they want. I think it’s a real testament to everyone involved with the show that they can make people like me, who don’t know the source material, still be excited about a character reveal. They’ve just done such a great job building their version of Starling City, plus Oliver’s world and relationships, that it’s very easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on.
  • The Mindy Project – Mindy is on a roll. This rom-com + workplace comedy is non-stop laughs, not just from the leads but also by the supporting characters. I don’t know what to say about it, except that more people need to be watching it! I mean where else are you going to see Chris Messina dancing to an Aaliyah song? (Seriously, watch it for yourself. It is hilariously awesome.)
  • Suits – I love this show. There’s some legal stuff that happens on the show but that’s not important. The important thing is the relationships that occur between the characters and how they seemingly riff-off each other. That, plus the pop culture references! In all seriousness though, this is a show that is the very definition of a dramedy – a drama series that infuses a lot of humour and heart. One of the best examples from this season is how they handled what seemed like a throwaway storyline involving Louis and a cat, and gave it the same depth and weight as any other legal case.

That’s it from me. Here’s hoping for the best in 2014!

Midseason TV Report: What’s Going On With All the Shows?!

On the heels of FOX cancelling freshmen series Ben and Kate, I thought it would be a good time to check-in on the TV season thus far. The 2012-2013 TV season started promising enough, with a batch of new shows vying for our attention and space on our DVRs. But it seems, to this TV fan anyways, that this was a particularly rough year for a lot of shows, not just the new freshmen series.

TOO MANY COMEDIES = FEW LAUGHS

The biggest issue that came about with the new season was that 3 of the major networks decided to schedule a chunk of their comedies on Tuesdays. Sure, it probably seemed like a good idea early on, but it became clear that with 8 comedies vying for similar audiences in a two-hour block, there were casualties to be made. After making their debuts, Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project got more episode pickups beyond the initial 13, despite middling ratings. FOX put faith in the shows growing in viewers, but for some reason, the numbers just weren’t there for Ben and Kate. Critics approved and enjoyed the show, but seemingly out of nowhere, FOX halted production and pulled the show from the schedule. In its place, FOX is doubling up on Raising Hope, currently in its 3rd season, and putting its season finale at March (which could be taken as a bad sign for the critically adored show).

Over on ABC, the story is just as troubling. After cancelling 666 Park Avenue (more on that later), ABC had decided on putting Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 in that timeslot, on top of its current Tuesday timeslot, so that all their episodes would air before DWTS came back and they introduce some celebrity diving show. However, after two weeks of not so great ratings on Sundays, ABC effectively pulled the plug on Apt. 23, while Happy Endings will double up on episodes on Tuesdays. Again, it seems like Happy Endings is getting burned off, which might be a sign of trouble ahead for the show.

NBC is struggling with their own Tuesday comedies, Go On and The New Normal. Go On, the ensemble comedy starring Matthew Perry, has a solid viewership (some say due to its former Voice results lead-in), but not a lot of people talking about it. The New Normal had a lot of people talking early on, with people either loving or hating it, and now has settled in with those who liked it and not much else.

The new season has certainly been rough on a lot of comedies, and not just for the aforementioned Tuesday shows. CBS’ Partners and NBC’s Animal Practice were pretty much D.O.A. NBC cancelled Dane Cook’s Next Caller before a single episode even aired. FOX’s The Goodwin Games saw its episode order cut from 13 to 7, and no sign of when (or even if) those episodes will see the light of day. Second season show Up All Night took a hit creatively upon its return and are currently in the midst of reformatting to a multi-camera show (think more along the lines of Big Bang Theory; filming in front of an audience). Community was supposed to come back for its fourth season in October, but NBC put it on benchwarmer status, before finally giving it a February premiere date. Yet don’t even get me started on the shows that somehow find a way to survive.

RISKS PAYING OFF?

This is not a knock at the general viewing public (or maybe it is?). With cable networks thriving with their original programming (Homeland, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, etc.), the broadcast networks served up some different offerings for the new season to varying degrees of success. NBC got off easy when it found itself a hit with Revolution, a show that hooked people in with its premise of what happens when all our power/technology goes off?

ABC, on the other hand, continued its rough season when it was 0/2 for new dramas, 666 Park Avenue and Last Resort. 666 Park Avenue struggled to find its footing for the first couple episodes and was quickly deemed as a campy thriller/guilty pleasure. A lot of people shot down Park Ave for its not-so-scary storytelling, to which I can’t help but say that it’s a broadcast network show – American Horror Story, this is not. Alas, some people dropped the show as it was getting good and new viewers were nowhere to be found. When the announcement was made that ABC was cancelling the show, they had initially promised to air all 13 episodes, but then completely pulled the show off the schedule with 4 episodes left (that will supposedly air some time in the summer). Last Resort was an ambitious effort to begin with and paired with its terrible timeslot, it didn’t seem like it was going to last very long. Despite strong writing and a top notch cast, the show seemed to appeal to a more male audience, on a mostly female-oriented network.

Though not as much of a risky show as the other 3, ABC’s Nashville is still quite a wildcard. While it was deemed as another musical series a la Glee, the outcome was a much more drama and character-driven series that happened to be set in the world of country music, thereby allowing music to be organically introduced into the show. The show is certainly not without its flaws, but overall, it is a great show. For some reason however, the ratings are not what was expected of the show, leaving questions as to whether it will be able to earn a second season pickup come Upfronts (or earlier).

WRITING SLUMPS

Not to be rude, but there are some shows that I think have suffered in quality lately. Revenge, coming off of winter break has finally picked up steam and gotten a little bit back to basics. But before break, it was a huge mess with all this Americon Initiative stuff that made absolutely no sense, the stuff with the Ryan brothers and the Stowaway, even the storyline of Emily/Amanda’s mom felt a little underwhelming and unnecessary.

Glee is trying its hardest to balance the McKinley and NYADA storylines, but when I’m not furious with them over musical choices, I can’t quite seem to connect to the new kids. I keep wanting to see Dianna Agron, Naya Rivera, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., and they are nowhere to be found.

What should’ve been a huge creative kick with Elena becoming a vampire on The Vampire Diaries, has instead become an incredible bore with the focus on finding “the cure.” Even the thing of having Damon and Elena finally hooking up got ruined by the idea that Elena was sired to Damon. Now with the writers and the network trying to do an Originals spin-off featuring Klaus and Elijah in New Orleans, I can’t help but not want it to happen.

SHOWS THAT HAVE IMPRESSED

I hate to sound so negative in all these analytical postings, so let me turn around and muse about some shows that have done well so far this season. Who would’ve thought that one of the biggest hits of the fall would end up belonging to The CW? Arrow was far and away one of the biggest winners of the fall TV season, and one of the few new shows this season that seem to be a certainty for renewal.

Scandal premiered late last season with 7 episodes, but came back firing on all cylinders for its second season. Shonda Rhimes created a show that certainly didn’t feel like Grey’s Anatomy or Private Practice, in any shape or form. Its steady ratings increase certainly show that more and more viewers are catching on to this seductive series.

Though it only premiered this past week, I am already very impressed with FOX’s The Following. Lots of people tuned into the premiere, despite all the controversy of whether it was too violent, particularly in the wake of such violent tragedies around the U.S. We’ll have to see if those numbers stick for the next few weeks.

Of course, some of the other new shows that I have enjoyed this season so far have received middling ratings including The Mindy Project, Go On, Nashville, and the now-cancelled Ben and Kate. Of the returning favourites, Nikita continues to not disappoint and impress on so many levels, while How I Met Your Mother is finally guiding us towards the pivotal meeting of the mother in question.

So moral of the story is: no matter how good (or bad) the show is, ratings are everything, and dictate whether or not your favourites survive. There are still a bunch of new shows that will premiere in the coming months, heading into the circle of TV life that is Upfronts. In the meantime, sound off on your thoughts of the TV season thus far!

Hit or Miss?: Which of Fall’s New Shows Are Worth Watching?

The Fall TV season is well underway and that means that we’ve had a bunch of new shows all vying for our attention, amidst our returning favourites. I try to give most of these new shows a chance, particularly the comedies because who doesn’t want more laughter in their lives? So as follows, here’s a rundown of some of the new shows that have premiered thus far. As always, these are simply my opinions on the shows that I took an interest in to watch. Everything is subjective so don’t just take my word for it; if something interests you, check it out and make your own judgment.

PARTNERS: The series stars David Krumholtz and Michael Urie as two lifelong friends, and their respective others played by Sophia Bush and Brandon Routh. I went into this being a fan of both Urie (best known for his work on Ugly Betty) and Bush (none other than B.Davis of OTH!) so I was very much looking forward to it. Not to mention, it comes from the creators of Will & Grace. The pilot showed some promise but very much predictable, in the way that it’s setting up all the characters, relationships, etc. It definitely has the feel of a sitcom from the late 90s/early 00s, and while some critics are calling the style outdated, I personally don’t see why it can’t peacefully coexist with all the other comedies out there. Assuming of course that they don’t write themselves into a corner with outdated/stereotypical jokes and instead stay relevant. It seems to be a nice fit with the rest of the CBS comedy Monday lineup, but the episodes thus far have been so-so.

REVOLUTION [Picked up for full season]: Brought to us from J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke, the series jumps forward to a future where we have lost all electricity and power. The governments as we know it cease to exist and the country is run by a powerful militia, under the rule of a man named Monroe. It is a fascinating concept to say the least in our tech-driven world and what’s been shown so far has been promising. Of course, with such a high concept, it leaves a lot of viewers questioning whether the writers can keep momentum/interest going. Fans of genre fare have been burned one too many times over the years and so many are going in with a “proceed with caution” frame of mind. Because for every Lost or Fringe, there’s been FlashForward, The Event, Alcatraz, and many more failed attempts at highly serialized dramas. Revolution, at least thus far, has shown to be far superior than any of those failed attempts in terms of the writing, but it is certainly the adult characters (particularly Billy Burke’s Miles and Giancarlo Esposito’s Captain Neville) that are carrying the show right now.

BEN AND KATE [Picked up for full season]: When I initially heard about the show during Upfronts, I had my reservations about it. I certainly still think they could’ve at least tried to come up with a better, less-generic title but I’ll let it be for now. That’s because the pilot was actually pretty good. It was cute and had a certain charm to it. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it had some awfully amusing elements to it – Ben not liking Kate’s love interest’s inability to high-5 properly; the attempt at a three-point turn in a stationwagon; Ben trying his hardest not to swear in front of his niece Maddie (which anyone with little ones in the family can certainly attest to.) I certainly will keep watching, but it might take a backseat to the whole load of other comedies on Tuesday nights and will probably be watched the day after.

THE MINDY PROJECT [Picked up for full season]: Mindy Kaling breaks out of The Office and into her own show, where she plays an OB/GYN who sort of lives her life like it’s a romantic comedy (though let’s be real, women who watch enough rom-coms kinda do wish real life was like that). What’s great about this show is just how straightforward Kaling makes her character. We’re not talking the Hollywood ideal of what a working single woman should be. Kaling writes her character Mindy as if she was real, and rooted in reality, not Hollywood reality. Love what’s aired so far.

GO ON [Picked up for full season]: Matthew Perry returns to NBC as a sports commentator who is forced to join a support group after the death of his wife. Perry does snark pretty well (he is Chandler Bing after all!), but he’s also got a pretty funny supporting cast, including John Cho, Tyler James Williams, Laura Benanti, and Julie White, among others. Without a doubt, one of the best new comedies of the season.

THE NEW NORMAL [Picked up for full season]: Ryan Murphy’s new project centers around Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha’s couple, Bryan and David, and their want to start a family. Georgia King’s Goldie is their surrogate, who already has a child of her own, Shania. Goldie’s grandmother, Jane (played by Ellen Barkin) is a total left-winger, racist, and bigot. Though it has its funny moments, I’m not entirely sure how much longer I will keep up with the show. Even for Ryan Murphy, who brought us Glee, a lot of what happens in the episodes feel very heavy-handed and almost preachy – talk of gay equality/acceptance, political views. It all feels a little too much.

GUYS WITH KIDS: The sitcom stars Jesse Bradford, Anthony Anderson, and Zach Cregger as…guys with kids (can they BE any more straightforward?). Almost similar to Partners in that it has an old-school sitcom vibe, and yet I was taken aback a little bit when I heard the audience laughter on this show. Maybe because these days, NBC rarely has any sitcoms that tape in front of a live studio audience. I didn’t particularly like what I’ve seen so far. It had its amusing moments (as tends to be the case when you’ve got kids in the mix) but I don’t remember truly laughing at anything. Maybe a few chuckles but that’s about it. I’m willing to give the show a chance, based purely on the fact that Jimmy Fallon created and is executive producing it, but they have to really step up their game with the writing.

ANIMAL PRACTICE: Let it be known that the only reason I checked out this show is because I’m a fan of Joanna Garcia Swisher. Now, I attempted to watch it online but the video just kept on stalling. So I pretty much took it as a sign that I REALLY should not be watching it. From what little I was able to watch, it pretty much reaffirmed my initial thoughts upon hearing it got picked up – terrible. [UPDATE: Cancelled]

LAST RESORT: I can’t even begin to explain the plot of this show, which probably should’ve been a warning sign as to whether or not I’d like it. This is my attempt at explaining it – a nuclear submarine crew receive orders to nuke Pakistan, but something about the order doesn’t seem right to the captain. They disobey the orders, get hit by an American missile, and take refuge on some island, until they are told what exactly is going on in D.C. The cast that creator Shawn Ryan has assembled include Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman, Robert Patrick, and Autumn Reeser; in other words, a great cast. But watching the pilot, I got rather bored and quickly realized that it just was not for me. I did watch to the end, but I can’t help but wonder how they are going to be able to sustain it as a series. It seems better suited as a movie or mini-series. Also, in my opinion, ABC didn’t do it many favours by putting it on Thursdays @ 8. It’s a show that would definitely work better and possibly get a better audience if given the 10 p.m. hour. Just don’t count me in on this one.

ELEMENTARY: A modern take on Sherlock Holmes set in New York, with Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. Yes, Watson is now female. No, the producers have already adamantly said that there will not be a romance between Holmes and Watson. Besides the inevitable fact that the character details of Holmes and Watson are slightly changed, there really isn’t much else that really sets it apart from any other procedural drama. I certainly applaud the fact that Lucy Liu was cast as one of the leads (we certainly need more visible minorities as leads, instead of just supporting), but it’s not quite enough to make me a regular viewer. Due to the case-of-the-week set-up of the show it’s not exactly something that requires immediate viewing, so I think it is safe to say that I’ll only watch it from time to time.

666 PARK AVENUE: Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable star as Jane and Henry, a young couple who move into the historic Drake Hotel in New York as the new resident managers, which is owned by Gavin and Olivia Doran, played by Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams. As she attempts to restore the Drake to its former glory, Jane slowly uncovers something far more sinister in its history than she could’ve ever imagined. We also follow the lives of the other residents, including Robert Buckley and Mercedes Masohn’s couple, Brian and Louise Leonard; Samantha Logan’s Nona Clark; Helena Mattsson’s Alexis Blume; and Erik Palladino’s doorman, Tony DeMeo. The show is a sexy, seductive thriller, attempting to create a balance between being a soap and a creepy horror mystery drama; it’s a little bit of a hard sell. Now I know people have dismissed it because it’s “not as creepy/scary as American Horror Story“, to which I say it’s a broadcast drama AND it’s on ABC (which is owned by family-friendly Disney) – there’s only so much that they can air. From the get-go, I thought it was a great move by ABC to air this as part of its schedule alongside Once Upon A Time and Revenge, but for some reason, the ratings thus far haven’t been stellar. I’m certainly intrigued by the show and can’t wait to see where they go with the story. Hopefully ABC gives this some time before making any rash decisions regarding its fate in TV land.

ARROW: Based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, this new adaptation follows former billionaire playboy Oliver Queen coming back to Starling City, after being presumed dead for 5 years. Oliver comes back vowing to right the wrongs of his family and restore their city to its former glory. The show comes to us from executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg, with Stephen Amell cast as Arrow. A lot of people saw this as a replacement for Smallville, but what the producers have done here is make it an entity of its own, with a look and feel that draws more from the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. The CW have a surefire hit on their hands here, with not only a known entity but with a well-crafted show that goes along well with their Wednesday night partner Supernatural and Nikita (which would’ve worked INCREDIBLY well as a lead-out of Arrow). You certainly don’t have to be a comic book geek to see how great a show this is.

NASHVILLE: Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere stars as two rivals in the country music industry. Britton is Rayna James, a superstar who’s made a name for herself in the country music world, but who’s record sales aren’t so spectacular in the eyes of her label. Panettiere is Juliette Barnes, an up-and-comer with massive crossover and youth appeal. Just like how you don’t have to know the comics to get into Arrow, you don’t need to be a country music fan to be able to enjoy Nashville (though it may help a little when they perform some of the songs). The writing is impeccable, Britton has found herself another great character (following Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story), and Panettiere is coming back rather nicely with a much role than her Heroes character. While the focus is on Britton and Panettiere, the supporting cast certainly holds their own. Clare Bowen (Scarlett O’Connor) and Sam Palladio (Gunnar Scott) play a pair of songwriters who might just help Rayna regain success, and almost nearly stole the show with their performance of “If I Didn’t Know Better” at the end of the pilot episode. Charles Esten as Deacon, Rayna’s lead guitar player and ex; Eric Close as Teddy, Rayna’s husband, who is running for mayor; and Jonathan Jackson as Avery, Scarlett’s boyfriend and an aspiring musician, all add much drama to what’s sure to be another hit for ABC, assuming the ratings are good.

EMILY OWENS, M.D.: Mamie Gummer (daughter of legendary actress Meryl Streep) star as the title character, who is fresh out of med school and is quickly learning that life in the hospital is not so different from high school. It’s basically Grey’s Anatomy for the CW crowd. Based on the pilot alone, it’s not great, but it’s also not terrible. Something about the writing and the characterization of these people doesn’t particularly strike me as new and exciting. Certainly between Gummer and her other castmates including Justin Hartley and Michael Rady, you kind of wish they were given better material to work with. I am really hoping that the second episode will show improvement over the pilot, or else I’m afraid it’s not going to make the cut.

So that’s my thoughts on some of this year’s freshman shows. CBS already made the first cancellation of the season, cutting loose the legal drama “Made in Jersey” (Fridays @ 9? It never stood a chance.) But what else will join it? Which of the new shows have you watched? What’s been worth your time (or DVR space)?

Upfronts 2012: FOX Takes the Stage Unveiling Its Schedule for the 2012-2013 TV Season

Day 2 of Upfronts and it is now Fox’s turn to show us what they have in store for next season. Outside of figuring out where to place its new shows, it doesn’t seem as though there were that many changes to the schedule. The network picked-up a total of 5 shows – 3 comedies and 2 dramas.

  • MOB DOCTOR [Drama – Mondays @ 9]: As far as I’m concerned, this show could’ve used a better title. Sure it is succinct and straightforward, but it just sounds dumb. Jordana Spiro stars as the titular character, who while a promising young surgeon, must also do work for the mafia to pay off her brother’s debt. I probably should wait until I see previews for it to make judgment, but I’m not entirely sold on it.
  • BEN & KATE [Comedy – Tuesdays @ 8:30]: Show #2 that could probably use a title change (and it has already changed its title once). If you didn’t know any better, you would probably think this is some relationship comedy involving a couple. Still about a relationship, but about siblings. Kate dropped out of college after giving birth to her daughter and now spends her time either with her daughter or working as a bar manager. Ben is her spontaneous + irresponsible older brother who comes and stays with her, to take care of his niece, giving his sister the opportunity to live her life a little. If the writing’s solid, I might consider giving this one a look.
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  • THE MINDY PROJECT [Comedy – Tuesdays @ 9:30]: Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to what the show is about, except for the fact that this show stars and is produced by Mindy Kaling (formerly from The Office). She’s proven how funny she is, both as an actress and a writer, so I can’t wait to see what she’ll do on her own show, outside the confines of The Office.
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  • THE GOODWIN GAMES [Comedy – Midseason]: Becki Newton, Scott Foley, and Jake Lacy star as 3 siblings who must come together and follow their late father’s wishes if they want to inherit the $20 million he left behind. This cast, plus the fact that this is coming from the same guys who brought us How I Met Your Mother, means that I am totally in! Only thing that sucks is we have to wait until the winter.
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  • THE FOLLOWING [Drama – Midseason]: A new thriller from producer Kevin Williamson, the show stars Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent, who is brought back in after a serial killer (played by James Purefoy) he put away 9 years ago, escapes from death row. Without a doubt, an interesting premise; I’ll be sure to tune in.
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Other notable changes in the schedule:

  • Raising Hope starts off the Tuesday comedies @ 8.
  • With FOX making an all-comedy Tuesday block, Glee now moves to Thursdays @ 9, following The X-Factor/American Idol results shows. In related news, it was announced that Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker are slated to guest star on Glee for multiple-episode arcs.
  • Touch now anchors the night on Fridays @ 8, leading into the final season of Fringe
  • Britney Spears and Demi Lovato have been hired as the new judges on The X-Factor. Love Britney, but not sure how I feel about it. She’ll certainly bring more to the table than Demi – Britney’s had a career for over a decade, while Demi’s still new.  I’m honestly can’t see who would take Demi seriously as a judge/mentor. Just watch, she’ll probably get the younger girls as her team.

Tomorrow, it’s on to ABC.