Some Thoughts on the 2012-2013 TV Season Thus Far

posted Oct 22, 2012, 10:51 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Oct 28, 2012, 11:25 PM ]

The 2012-2013 TV season is still young but well underway and there have already been some surprising developments (namely NBC’s current #1 ranking in the “all-important” yet outdated A1849 demo) as well as two cancellations (CBS’s Made in Jersey and NBC’s Animal Practice).

With November sweeps (one of four 4-week periods throughout every year the networks and local TV stations use to set their ad rates) approaching, here are some thoughts of the fall season thus far.

But first, I’d like to commemorate a few televersaries:

1962 – the 50th Anniversary of Lucille Ball’s return to television with The Lucy Show and the premiere of The Beverly Hillbillies (one of only two programs to have ranked #1 in the Nielsen ratings for its first season)

1972 – the 40th Anniversary of Maude, M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show

1982 – the 30th Anniversary of Cheers, Family Ties, Newhart

1992 – the 20th Anniversary of Martin, Picket Fences and Mad About You


NEW SERIES (THAT I HAVE WATCHED) 

Partners (CBS) – when an engagement changes the relationship between two longtime best friends, one gay and one straight, both have to make adjustments. From the creators and producers of Will & Grace.

Even though its premise is reminiscent of the fantastic 1995-1996 FOX series starring Jon Cryer and Tate Donovan, I was most excited about this series for two reasons: the gay/straight dynamic between the two male leads and Michael Urie (formerly of Enterprise favorite Ugly Betty).

Unfortunately, this version didn’t start off as strongly as the previous, leaving much room for improvement – an opportunity the writers are slowly taking advantage of.

From day one, Urie was, and remains, the show’s standout. He takes a character written with some level of stereotyping and makes it less so. At first, his frenetic performance was a bit over-the-top as Urie had to compensate for the under-delivery of co-star Brandon Routh (who has the BEST arms on television) and Sophia Bush while they and the writers found their respective characters.

Routh's bland delivery during the network run-through I attended in March was a weakness at the time, but the writers have brilliantly turned that into a character trait which capitalizes on Routh’s unexpected (from my vantage point) comic timing. And Sophia Bush, whose casting I was NOT thrilled with, is coming into her own as part of the ensemble. The chemistry between her and Urie is just as strong as Urie’s is with Krumholtz. And as Bush’s and Routh’s characters connect, there is great interplay between them that is enjoyable to watch.

But the writers are still having a hard time finding David Krumholtz’s character and pulling from the actor himself to inform that character. Right now, he’s a foil for everyone else. However, in between takes, Krumholtz exhibits a great comic sense that the writers would be wise to incorporate into his character. Ricky Ricardo was written the same way sixty years ago until the writers recognized what they had in Desi Arnaz in terms of performing comedy and began to use it.

The writing in general is very reminiscent of Will & Grace in terms of style, pacing and tone. But what worked with that earlier series 10 years ago seems somewhat dated now – a situation I expect to rectify itself as the series progresses.

I hope the series does get to connect. As of right now, Partners is the weakest link of CBS solid Monday night comedy lineu -- which has already taken a ratings hit opposite NBC’s fall edition of The Voice. But CBS would be wise not to cancel the show. Not only is it getting better, but CBS needs to nurture new hits as How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men could end this season or next.

Perhaps a time slot relocation is in order. Two and a Half Men’s ratings are lower on Thursday nights following The Big Bang Theory than they were as the 9pm tentpole on Monday nights and what was expected to be continued success for sophomore series 2 Broke Girls was stunted by The Voice. CBS may need to revert back to last season’s comedy lineup for another year and shift Partners to the more protected, but more risky Thursday night cushion following The Big Bang Theory where expectations will unfortunately be even higher. 


The Mindy Project (FOX) – a single woman in New York, successful in her career but not in her love life, seeks to make changes in her approach to dating and finding the man of her dreams.

Other than Partners, this was the new fall series I was most excited about. I’ve never watched The Office so I wasn’t a built-in Mindy Kaling fan. But I watched the Mindy Project pilot when it previewed on Hulu and laughed out loud when she drunkenly rode a bicycle into a pool on her way home from the wedding of the man she was in love with. Such ridicularity endeared me to the series and to her character. FOX was wise to quickly grant the show a full season order.

The standout on this series is longtime actor Chris Messina (Six Feet Under, Damages), whose character may or may not be a jerk and may or may not have feelings for Mindy. He’ll be this year’s Max Greenfield (last year’s breakout on New Girl). A welcome post-pilot addition to the series is Ike Barinholtz (of Mad TV) as an unorthodox ex-con nurse.


Ben and Kate (FOX) – a hapless guy wandering through life finds purpose in helping his   single younger sister raise her young daughter. 

On paper, this series is “dumb guy with a good heart played by a recent Oscar winner.” (Nat Faxon, Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants). But there’s a lot more to like about the series than there is to dislike.

I don’t generally find dumb and hapless all that appealing (Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy notwithstanding), but there’s motivation for Ben because he has genuine love and concern for his sister, his niece and his friends. No matter the risks and no matter how he’ll look when all is said and done, he’ll do whatever he can for them.

As with Raising Hope, The New Normal and Guys with Kids, you can’t go wrong with cute kids (so long as they’re not overly-precocious and smarter than the adults) and Kate’s daughter is beyond adorable.

And the show has its funny moments – namely the impromptu margarita party after Parent-Teacher Night in a recent episode where Kate has to use a friend’s parent’s house because theirs is the address she used to enroll her daughter into a better school. 


The New Normal (NBC) – a committed gay couple decide to have a baby via a surrogate who also brings a daughter, an estranged husband and a bigoted grandmother into their lives.

I was hotly critical of this series after its preview – and rightfully so. While I still don’t understand the casting of NeNe Lekes, she does deliver some funny lines – especially in the otherwise silly kid wedding episode a couple weeks ago.

But then there is the Ryan Murphying that has plagued Glee and is far more out-of-place here. We get it. Equal rights for gays. We get it. Gays should get married. We get it. Gays should be entitled to the same pursuits of happiness as straight people. We get it. Gays can make great parents. We get it.

While this has been toned down since the pilot, it’s still utterly unnecessary. Hell, the underlying agenda is in the title of the series itself! Shoving such messaging is not only unnecessary but a turn-off for many of those you are trying to reach and groan-inducing to the choir.

The show is not all bad though. Justin Bartha’s down-to-earth performance remains the #1 reason to watch. Despite the over-the-top nature of Ellen Barkin’s character, the writers have wisely established a lot of foundation for it and she has become more than just the one-note bigot we saw in the pilot. Like Lekes, she gets to deliver some downright funny lines and provide much-needed balance for which some credit to Murphy is warranted.

Like Michael Urie of Partners, Andrew Rannells is the victim of some stereotyping with his character. Also like Urie, Rannells is a very able actor who can play up the flamboyance of his character but also nail some very sweet, poignant moments -- none more so than one of his many showdowns with Barkin’s character, who challenges him on his shaky relationship with his own family after he judges her on hers with carrier Goldie.

From a storyline perspective, one of the smartest moves the series has made so far is to build a subplot where Goldie is sued by her husband for custody of her uniquely otherworldly old soul of a daughter Shania. The subplot provides a depth to the series that it can continue to build upon through the remainder of the season without, hopefully, getting overly complicated in its plotting.

Since the show was among the season’s first full pickups, we’ll find out between now and May.


Go On (NBC) – a recent widower is reluctantly forced into group therapy with an eclectic group of fellow grievers.

At first review, I didn’t fully understand the show’s concept or how its seemingly limited premise could sustain itself for the season let alone four or five.

I’d never say I was wrong, but I have to admit that the series has gotten better with every episode. As I suggested in my earlier review, the primary focus is on the counseling ensemble – which is where the heart of the series lies. While I initially found the supporting cast a bit too quirky. However, the connection formed between the characters and their individual back stories has formed some of the series’ most heartwarming moments so far.

The highlight of the ensemble is Bill Cobbs’ old blind man, who, along with Julie White’s lesbian, deliver some of the best lines – which will be hearing more of as the series was also picked up for a full season.


Guys with Kids (NBC) – three longtime friends are now fathers, but still want to hold onto their youth. From Executive Producer Jimmy Fallon.

At first glance, I chalked up this series to nothing more than dumb daddies. In early previews, they changed diapers and handled their kids much in the same way Jesse Katsopolis and Joey Gladstone did back in 1987 on Full House. Yawn.

It’s a rare occasion that I check out a series I’m so adamantly against, but curiosity got the best of me a couple weeks after the show premiered. And while Guys with Kids would be hard-pressed to ever become a Stewart Award winner, there’s a silliness about the show that’s enjoyable to watch.

And being the ardent Cosby Show fan that I am, it’s always a thrill to see a former Huxtable back on the small screen. Tempestt Bledsoe channels her inner Clair to play a wife and working mother of four young boys.

The three Guys themselves, Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford and Zach Cregger, are genial and entertaining. Their characters are just three ordinary guys trying to be good husbands, good fathers and good friends to each other. Whatever weaknesses there may be in the writing and whatever silliness may transpire onscreen is made up for by how these characters support each other as they navigate the rough terrain of early fatherhood.


Nashville (ABC) - a legendary country music star at the beginning of a decline faces the realities of a changing industry at the hands of a popular rising startlet.  

At first, I wasn’t sure whether this was going to just be another soapy camp fest or bitchy drama. But as the premiere date approached, ABC's promotional machine actually worked and Nashville became one of my most anticipated new shows.

After a strong pilot that set-up so many great storylines for the series, I was sold. As of the second episode, it is my favorite new series. I love the characters (particularly the aesthetically pleasing Gunnar). I love the main conflict (between the legendary Reina and the upstart starlet Juliette). I love the dilemmas (for Reina’s longtime collaborator Duncan as it regards her and Juliette). I love the music (especially “No One Will Ever Love You Like I Do" from the second episode).

Mostly, I love that Connie Britton might have another shot at an Emmy after three consecutive losses (in 2010 and 2011 for Friday Night Lights and one this year for American Horror Story).


RETURNING SERIES 

New Girl (FOX) – Starring Zooey Deschanel 

Perhaps because of the “adorkable” ads splayed throughout Los Angeles last year and the overuse of the term during that same period, I didn’t watch this series last season. I don’t know what made me start, but I’m glad I did.

While Emmy-nominated Max Greenfield (as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series) was the show’s breakout last season for his utterly hilarious douchebag character Schmidt, Jake Johnson’s Nick is also one to watch this year.


Scandal (ABC) – Starring Kerry Washington 

I am glad that ABC picked up the series for a second season. It is my hope that it has a breakout year. Be on the lookout for Bellamy Young’s whip-smart wife of the President (Tony Goldwyn).


THE NETWORKS 

NBC – currently #1 in the antiquated A1849 demo

I don’t care what the ratings say. Scheduling a fall edition of The Voice is a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem that will affect the spring edition and future editions. Their success in the demo is driven by The Voice and Sunday Night Football as opposed to anything scripted, which, as a writer, is very bothersome to me because it feels like cheating. NBC isn't The Voice to strategically rebuild. Instead, they are depending on it to momentarily boost ratings with up to three editions some weeks. 

The other networks, particularly CBS on Monday nights, will just have to suffer through the fall to get to the spring when football is over and The Voice weakens with new hosts and viewer fatigue from the overabundance of singing competitions.