Survivor’s Remorse: LeBron James ventured into producing television and surprisingly delivered with a show that’s just as impressive if his name is removed (it shouldn’t be removed though!). Mike O’Malley wrote some of Shameless‘ most applauded episodes and he knows how to be a deft showrunner here, carrying over his skill with dark humor. The Entourage comparisons are inevitable, this too centers on a rising star and his support system, albeit in pro basketball. But something is different, this one is lacks the ironic shallowness of Entourage, replacing it smartly with emotions. On the looks of it, things will get even better as the season progresses, and who knows, perhaps LeBron could Mark Wahlberg his way into some behind-the-scenes success too.
Happyland: MTV’s scripted programming shot up miles in quality once Mina Lefevre of ABC Family came on board. Finding Carter and Faking It are both home runs, this one isn’t quite there, yet. It’s definitely interesting, the premise is original, albeit on the network being tentpoled by the steamy Teen Wolf, it might struggle to fit in. But I really hope it does, a talented young cast of actors mostly known from youth-oriented shows is doing a decent job and a seemingly happy setup carries a twisted unknown incest storyline at the center (the lead couple are half-siblings and don’t know it). The humor is surprisingly not bland, but it’s still not as clever as it has the potential to be. Again, it’s different in a good way, let’s hope it does well.
Kingdom: This is just too good. It’s set in the gritty world of MMA fighting, yet at the core it’s a touching tale of a broken family. The handheld camerawork and Venice, CA scenery are unique compliments to each other. There’s definitely a hint of Friday Night Lights in the realism, a dash of Sons Of Anarchy in the interactions, and a heavy dose of both in the inner turmoil of all the characters. The casting is a stroke of genius, whoever recommended Nick Jonas for a part nobody could have seen him in a few years ago deserves a raise. The breakout star however could be Jonathan Tucker who plays Jonas’ down-on-his-luck brother. The pilot succeeds in setting up just about enough to keep the audience coming back. Bonus points for an amazing soundtrack that includes Deer Tick’s Dylan-esque 20 Miles!
The Flash: Marvel might rule the roost with motion pictures but looks like DC Comics is marking their territory on television. This character comes to us spun off from Arrow (though there was a short-lived televised version in the early 90’s) but the smartest thing Greg Berlanti/Andrew Kriesberg/Geoff Johns did here is that they made this new show very unlike the older one, or any of today’s flawed hero types for that matter. Despite getting his powers accidentally, Barry aka The Flash actually enjoys having them. There’s no brooding or pent-up anger, but lot’s of positivity and confidence. There are definitely traces of a Tobey Maguire-era Spiderman, a clumsy science wiz into his female best friend, but minus that annoying gee-whiz stare. Grant Gustin is one impressive leading man with screen presence for days. He’s all but guaranteed to carry this show to success. The icing on the cake are Tom Cavanaugh and Jess L. Martin in deliciously meaty parts. This will join Arrow up there in popularity.
Jane The Virgin: If you missed Ugly Betty on your small screens, this dramedy is for you. Adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela, it still manifests that signature melodrama, but with a nudge and a wink. There’s also cheeky voiceover by Anthony Mendez. The main premise is farfetched, how often do you go in for a pap-smear and get inseminated instead? That too with the sperm belonging to the married guy you had a crush on. On top of that, imagine you had taken a vow to remain a virgin until marriage. Oh, and that guy had cancer and that sperm was his last chance to become a father. You can either drown in the shock and horror or you can deem it some form of divine intervention. Okay, enough with the negative, once you do move past that, it’s not all that bad. The authentic Miami flavor is fun but punctuated too strongly with Reggaeton/Pop Latino thumping in the background. Speaking of Ugly Betty, Gina Rodriguez possesses that same charm that made us all fall in love with America Ferrera, and she alone is worth tuning in for.
The Affair: This one had me at ‘Fiona Apple did the opening theme song’, and what a lovely unconventional theme song it is! The show’s name sounds like it’s giving too much way, yes it is about an affair between two married people, but creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi (In Treatment) add brilliant complexities to it,complete with character development and dialog that is top-notch. It doesn’t play out as a scandalous soap about philandering in the dark, but rather an analysis of how marriage and fidelity might impact different people. After numerous thankless turns post-The Wire, Dominic West finally gets a role worth his salt where he holds his own against Joshua Jackson and his on-screen wife, the incomparable Maura Tierney. Equally enthralling is Ruth Wilson as the other half of the titular indiscretion. Shades of Mike Nichols’ Closer are evident, but not overpowering, this show has its own caustic tone that shines through.
Cristela: In a world of genre-bending hybrids, this show is a mulit-cam setup. The premise is classic ‘Stand-up comic transitioning to tv’. But despite what could be seen as pitfalls, this show works! Cristela Alonzo has a gift, her writing pokes harmless fun at her culture but never tries for an offensive cheap laugh (except for her boss who is SUPPOSED to be kinda racist). In fact, a huge part of the story is how this young woman embraces her two cultures, a Mexican heritage and American upbringing, despite struggling to fit into either one at times. Alonzo’s performance is a rarity for stand-ups, she’s immediately at home without a mic in her hand. Facial distortions added to line delivery can get downright irritating after a while, think of characters in any sitcom that was on for years. But the way Cristela does it is sweet and endearing a la Mindy Cohn in The Facts of Life. The situations and humor have that old-timey charm that worked so well for Melissa & Joey and Hot In Cleveland. And it’s funny, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, with a talented supporting cast to boot. It’s the underdog of the pilot season for sure, but the type that could sneak its way to the top.