TV Review - Winter Finales

Danai Gurira as Michonne
in "The Walking Dead"
The first week in December had a bunch of TV series do what's been labeled a "winter finale" or a "midseason finale." It's the last new episode of the calendar year. It's an episode that's a semi-cliffhanger that's supposed to hold audiences over until the series returns with more new episodes in January or for some shows in February. This is not a new thing. All prime-time series on the major or broadcast networks go on a December and January break, while the networks air holiday specials or award shows, as is the start of the trophy season. The past couple of years has pushed this idea more and more. It's clearly just a marketing thing, but I wonder how much it affects the writers and producers of these shows. Regardless, it makes it a good time to check on these prime-time shows and re-assess where they are.

This fall, I've reviewed about 21 television programs. Five of which I refuse to revisit. Four I can't for obvious reasons. I have revisited seven shows and I've changed my mind about all of them either positively or negatively. There are also five shows that I continue to watch steadily because they are shows I continue to love.

Of the five shows I refuse, three come from the CW and two come from ABC. I usually will watch three episodes of a new TV series before writing a review and making any judgments about it. For the CW's Beauty and the Beast, I couldn't get past two. A third episode would have been too painful. Things might have gotten better in the third and subsequent episodes but I simply couldn't bring myself to watch. DTLA showed promise in its third episode but the way it's produced and its direction leave much to be desired. I also refuse to revisit Arrow because its main actor is dull. The writing tries to be smart but rarely succeeds.

Arrow revolves around a really, hot guy who shoots arrows from a bow. The ads were all about Stephen Amell's naked torso. The rest of the TV shows I refuse to watch are ones that are instead centered around women, not in an objectified way but strong female characters, which is sad because I'd hate to knock shows with strong female characters. Being that TV has way more strong female characters than movies, I don't feel too bad. Scandal, which isn't new, and Nashville are both on ABC, but both of their love triangles either don't go far enough or are way too over-wrought.

I can't revisit four shows because they've been cancelled. Made in Jersey on CBS was the first to be killed. Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue on ABC were cut-off next. Emily Owens, M.D. was quietly discontinued. Emily Owens, M.D. was basically a watered-down version of Ally McBeal and Scrubs. It had semi-interesting characters, but it was too derivative to be compelling. Partners, a sitcom a la Will & Grace, was also yanked.

The five shows of which I've written reviews this year that I continue to watch because they've been steadily great include Homeland, Dexter, Castle, The Good Wife and Elementary. Of those five, Elementary on CBS is the only freshman and it's the only new series that I felt was consistently good since its pilot.

There are seven shows that I've revisited and doing so has changed my mind about those particular programs. Four of the shows went negative and three of them went positive. In all of the cases, it was a reversal for me. For example, for all the shows that went negative, they were shows that started out positive or were shows that I liked and in some cases still like. For all the shows that went positive, they were shows that started out negative or were shows that I didn't like, or of which I had many criticisms.

The Mindy Project was probably my favorite new comedy of the year, and I love Mindy Kaling. I think she's lovely and hilarious, but, with each subsequent episode, my appreciation has diminished. I still think it's a good show, but I'm no longer inclined to turn to it, as I was a month ago. The episode where Mindy gets Danny Castellano to be her gynecologist was probably the funniest outside of the pilot because it made good use of the repartee between Kaling and her co-star Chris Messina, but there hasn't been enough of that.

Supernatural and The Walking Dead are two fantasy shows that I like that have leaned more negative to me. Both still have really compelling characters. It's just I feel they've gotten too repetitive, and in the case of Supernatural, that show did an episode this season that may have jumped the shark. Revenge has fallen out of favor with me too. The show always was a soap opera, but this year it's gotten way more like The Young and the Restless than what it was when it started, which was more B-movie and pulp fiction fun. Instead of being a personal, intimate story, it's opened into this grand, global conspiracy that's more about shadow organizations and boardroom plots that don't interest me.

Three TV shows about which I was skeptical have reversed my opinion in recent episodes. Once Upon a Time had an interesting start to its second season after I gave up half-way through the first. The writing, the production, direction and acting were all wavering on atrocious. All of that, however, was a good foundation for what the show is doing now. I still don't think it's a show that will make my top ten list or is a show that's award-worthy, but this year's winter finale of Once Upon a Time hit all the notes that I wanted that show to hit last year.

Zachary Quinto in
"American Horror Story: Asylum"
The greatest swing from first season to second season was American Horror Story on FX. Technically, the second season is titled American Horror Story: Asylum. The first season was absolutely awful. I can't believe that people liked it and I can't believe it got as many Emmy nominations as it did. This season began in a fashion that was a thousand times better. It fixes a lot of the problems that the first season had. The characters are interesting and better written, and the reveal of the villain was crazy yet surprising and cool in how it all played out.

I'll end with Chicago Fire on NBC. I thought the cast was gorgeous. Every actor in this series is ridiculously good-looking. I liked the overall cinematography, but the writing and direction were a bit suspect. The first three episodes had me convinced that it would spin its wheels, not go anywhere and be another lame procedural. Yet, the past few episodes have been remarkable because they've developed three of its characters with controversial story lines.

The most compelling involved Jesse Spencer as Matthew Casey who went toe-to-toe with a corrupt cop. The two others were Taylor Kinney who plays Kelly Severide and Monica Raymund who plays Gabriela Dawson. Kinney's character has a serious arm injury that could get him kicked out of the Fire Department, so to cover it he takes painkillers and other narcotics. Raymund's character is under investigation because of her aggressive actions on the job. Oddly, she's a paramedic that often makes rash decisions, often life-and-death decisions, which are often not by the book.

The development of these story lines prove how organic TV shows are. It shows that TV can get better. It's also proof that they can get worse. This has always been the case. Strangely, movies as singular things can be regarded differently over time, but movies once they're done, they're done. Aside from George Lucas or Ridley Scott who have gone back and re-edited as well as revisited their previous properties, most movies don't change. TV shows do change. They can actively change week-to-week or season-to-season, as were some examples this year. One always hopes for improvement or an upward trend, but not always.

Here are my grades for each of the 21 shows I've talked about and how they've changed since I first reviewed them.

Beauty and the Beast -- REFUSED TO WATCH AGAIN

Made in Jersey -- CANCELLED
Last Resort -- CANCELLED
666 Park Avenue -- CANCELLED
Partners -- CANCELLED

Homeland -- FIVE STARS
Dexter -- FIVE STARS
Castle -- FIVE STARS
The Good Wife -- FIVE STARS
Elementary -- FIVE STARS

The Mindy Project -- FIVE STARS to THREE STARS
Supernatural -- FIVE STARS to FOUR STARS
The Walking Dead -- FOUR STARS to THREE STARS

Once Upon a Time -- FOUR STARS to FIVE STARS
American Horror Story: Asylum -- THREE STARS to FOUR STARS


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