Winter TV Roundup: The Good, the Bad, and the Unbearable

Each season brings us a fresh new crop of TV series. For those of us who obsessively watch television, this means a nicely plump workload of shows to sift through. For those who don’t, this means absolutely nothing at all. But if you fall into the latter category, then you may be missing out on some of this season’s best shows. So here’s my breakdown of new winter series and which ones you should be watching (and which ones you should avoid at all costs).

MV5BMjgzMjA2MDk0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzc3ODM4OA@@._V1_SX214_The Carrie Diaries is The CW’s attempt to replace the now deceased Gossip Girl (RIP!). It’s a high school drama that showcases fashion and New York City (and also witty in-jokes that New Yorkers would get—and love). The twist is that this is a Sex and the City prequel series set in the 1980s. Based on Candace Bushnell’s YA novels (which are more enjoyable than some of her adult fodder), Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) uses her familiar narration style to tell the story of her adolescence as she discovers her ambitions to live in NYC and write.

This is a fun, teen drama and should be experienced as such. The cast is well-equipped to bring exuberance to their compelling characters, and the story seems to be moving at a swift enough pace to keep things moving right along (Carrie already has two different boyfriends within 7 episodes).

Bottom Line: Best new teen show on TV and one of The CW’s strongest shows. Definitely worth watching, unless you despise the ‘80s.

(Airs Mondays at 8pm on The CW.)

The-following-posterKevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries) has taken what he knows about vampires and transferred that knowledge into the serial killer series The Following. (It also incorporates the conspiratorial urgency of 24 with completely addicting nuance.) Years after capturing the Poe-obsessed serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is drawn back into the fray as a cult following that takes orders from Carroll begins a killing spree. More than just straight thriller, The Following humanizes these killers, giving the show an extra dimension that is usually lacking in other cop shows.

While the explicit use of violence has everyone’s panties in a bunch, those torturous murder scenes are too disturbing to be considered glorifying. What’s more disturbing is how invested you become with these cult followers (especially as concerns the delicious bisexual love triangle between Emma, Jacob, and Paul). Just as we have learned to care about bloodthirsty vampires, Williamson strives to make us care about bloodthirsty killers (and that’s the scariest part of all).

Bottom Line: Mixing character-building flashbacks with accelerated storytelling, The Following keeps up a thrilling pace that quickly sucks you into the show. This is definitely the best new show of the season (and it’s already been renewed for a second season!)

(Airs Mondays at 9pm on Fox.)

tnt-monday-morningsIf you’re not up for getting invested in a cult of serial killers, perhaps you’d like to invest some feelings in the heartfelt show Monday Mornings. Based on Sanjay Gupta’s book, David E. Kelley focuses this medical drama on the M&M (morbidity & mortality) meetings that holds doctors accountable for the deaths of their patients. Put in the hot seat, doctors must defend their actions and learn from their devastating failures.

Unlike soapy medical shows (read: Grey’s Anatomy), Monday Mornings is a compelling emotional drama that makes both the doctors and their patients feel real. Due to the dire nature of many of the cases, patients tend to transcend the patient-of-the-week story and become recurring characters (especially the more litigious patients). While too many moments descend into overwrought emotionality, they are handled with enough skill by the stellar cast (Alfred Molina, Jamie Bamber, Jennifer Finnigan, and Ving Rhames) to come off as genuine and touching.

Bottom Line: If you’ve been looking for a medical drama or are just in need of some emotional release, then Monday Mornings should be on your radar.

(Airs Mondays at 10pm on TNT.)

The-Americans-FX-Poster-300x450If you love the ‘80s but can’t stand the exuberance of The Carrie Diaries, then the Cold War drama The Americans may be up your alley. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are Russian spies living in America. Balancing their idyllic American family lifestyle with their ingrained Russian patriotism, the couple must navigate the treacherous worlds of love and espionage.

Rhys and Russell do admirable jobs of drawing us into their drama, but to get fully hooked you must wade through the first two episodes before reaching true emotional engagement. The bland production design leaves the show bereft of visual stimuli (other than Rhys’ various Alias-esque disguises). While no true overarching stories have come to fruition, the foundation has been laid and the characters’ emotional dilemmas are entertaining enough (for now).

Bottom Line: Espionage intrigue should draw you into the show, but the anti-hero leads provide engaging performances to make you stay—it, too, has been renewed for a second season.

(Airs Wednesdays at 10pm on FX.)

ZERO-HOURHad Dan Brown written Taken, it probably would’ve resembled Zero Hour. When Hank’s (Anthony Edwards) wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett) is kidnapped by notorious criminal White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist), he must uncover the truth about a series of ancient clocks that predict not only the end of time—or “zero hour”—but also the most likely whereabouts of Vincent and his wife.

With twelve clocks in the mix (to represent the twelve disciples), you would think they would have plenty of Da Vinci Code sleuthing to last them a few seasons. But each episode reveals the location of the next clock while also enlightening us about famous historical figure’s conspiratorial pasts. Fortunately, this pacing is what makes the show so entertaining (as long as you get past the uninspired pilot episode). By the end of the third episode, enough twists have been inserted into the series that you’ll be begging for more.

Bottom Line: This adventuresome thriller will entertain you if you let it. It also serves as the perfect aphrodisiac for Brown’s upcoming new release Inferno.

(Airs Thursdays on ABC at 8pm.)

Cult-Poster-cult-31484975-620-912Cult is like the meta younger brother of The Following. Skeptical Jeff (Matthew Davis) gets sucked into cult intrigue when his brother goes missing. With the help of Skye (Jessica Lucas), the two navigate the murderous cult following that bases their actions on the hit TV series Cult (scenes from the show within the show are featured in each episode).

Unlike big brother The Following, Cult is a lifeless series. Even though I enjoy Davis and Lucas as actors, their acting is flat. And all the various layers of the show are just smoke-and-mirrors designed to hide how little substance the show really has.

Bottom Line: Avoid at all costs, and go watch The Following instead.

(The CW has already buried the show in the graveyard that is Fridays at 9pm.)

house-of-cards-final-posterLastly, for those of you who prefer to marathon shows in one weekend instead of enjoying the dissemination of plot development over 13 weeks, then House of Cards is perfect for you. This Netflix original series helmed by David Fincher will fill that Boss-sized hole in your heart (RIP!). Cards follows the revenge-y political machinations of spurned Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) along with his cold, calculating wife Claire (Robin Wright) and ambitious—yet naïve—journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara).

The show is instantly addicting, and Netflix does its best to encourage bingeing behavior. Its only misstep is use of asides to the camera by Underwood to explain his thoughts in certain moments (which only serve to undermine the complexity of the series—if you can’t tell when Underwood is being manipulative then maybe you shouldn’t be watching this show). Thankfully, the asides become negligible (or at least less distracting) the farther you get into the series. Just be careful what you tweet about the show because, due to its watch-at-your-own-pace option, everything  (and conversely nothing) is a spoiler.

Bottom Line: If namedropping Fincher, Spacey, Wright, Mara, or Boss hasn’t convinced you already, then watch it because it is merely the first of Netflix’s groundbreaking new foray into scripted series.

(Airs on Netflix Streaming whenever you want it to.)

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