Monday, September 17, 2012

Field Guide to Returning Fall TV Shows

[Cross-posted at Bitch Flicks.]

The roster of new television shows premiering each year in the fall ought to be an exciting time for any TV fan. Unfortunately, I am a jaded, cynical curmudgeon, burned by my previous experiences in the field of new fall shows, and I read the previews with dread roiling in the pit of my stomach. In our age of podcasts, webseries, and countless other competing forms of entertainment, the networks seem to be getting more and more desperate, scraping the barnacles off the bottom of the barrel.

Broad stereotypes? Check.

Dominated by straight white men? Check.

God help us all, a new Ryan Murphy show? Check.

It's predictably depressing and depressingly predictable. Once upon a time, as a starry-eyed viewer full of hope and gillyflowers, I had a “three-episode rule” for judging any show whose premise piqued my interest even a tiny bit. This year, I don't expect to watch any of the new shows unless critical opinion snowballs in the course of the season.

However, fall still brings its sweet gifts even unto the cantankerous television fan, in the form of returning shows. Some of these shows have spiraled so far down the U-bend that I can't even hate-watch them anymore, but there are still enough watchable returning shows to compensate for all the awful new ones (and to wreak havoc on my degree). In the absence of new shows that don't make me want to claw my eyes out, here is a list of returning shows worth watching.

The Thick Of It (9/9)

I already covered this. It's on Hulu. Watch it. (N.B. Because it is full of swears, Hulu will make you log in to watch it, and for some reason this entails declaring yourself male or female. If this disgusts you as much as it does me, and you wish to, ahem, seek out alternate methods of watching, I will turn a blind eye.)

Boardwalk Empire (9/16)

A questionable creative decision last season nearly made me rage-quit this show, but it drew me back in with a jaw-dropping finale. Slow, dense, and luscious, this isn't a show to everyone's taste, but I remain compelled by the epic-scale world-building of 1920s New Jersey, and especially by the way the show explores the lives of not only the rich white men who run things but also marginalized minorities: people of color, women, queer people. This is not a perfect show by any means, but it fascinates me.

Parks and Recreation (9/20)

 This, on the other hand, might well be a perfect show. Leslie Knope, April Ludgate, Ron F---ing Swanson... Just typing the names gives me a big goofy grin. Every episode is a half-hour ray of blissful sunshine, brightening my spirits with a healthy dose of feminism, Amy Poehler, and laughter. Roll on Thursday (by then I might even have stopped crying about the breakup of the century).

How I Met Your Mother (9/24)

I still watch this show, I guess. I can't really remember why.

Bob's Burgers (9/30)

The charming adventures of the most delightful animated family since The Simpsons deserve a full-length treatment at some point. For now I simply say: Watch it. If the hijinks of close-knit siblings Tina, Gene, and Louise don't fill you with joy, you have a shriveled husk in place of a soul. Also, Kristen Schaal! Eugene Mirman! H. Jon Benjamin, for crying out loud! (HEY, FX, WHEN IS ARCHER COMING BACK ALREADY?)

Tina's my favorite. No, Gene is. No, it's Louise. Oh, don't make me choose!
 The Good Wife (9/30)

For a sitcom-loving sci-fi nerd like myself, a legal drama is well outside the comfort zone, but this is about as good as they come. The juxtaposition of title and premise alone should grab any feminist's attention: When her husband is embroiled in an Eliot Spitzer-style scandal, Alicia Florrick returns to the bar in order to make ends meet. The rich ironies and tensions suggested by the show's title play out on Julianna Margulies' understated yet beautifully expressive face as she navigates personal and professional life when she has so long been defined as Peter Florrick's wife. And sometimes Michael J. Fox guest stars, and it's awesome.

30 Rock (10/4)

For several seasons now, 30 Rock has been but a pale shadow of its best self, but laughs are still guaranteed, and my love for Liz Lemon is fierce and undying. I will almost certainly complain vociferously about every episode, but I wouldn't dream of missing out on bidding farewell to the TGS crew.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (10/11)

In some ways, this is the anti-Parks and Rec: A crass and often vicious show about crass, wholly unlikeable people. You won't see anyone hailing the Sunny gang as feminist icons anytime soon (though, for what it's worth, the jokes are usually on the holders of prejudice rather than the victims thereof). I'd like to revisit the episodes featuring Carmen, a trans woman, to see how they stack up against the generally appalling mainstream pop-culture depiction of trans women, but I'm honestly a little afraid to do so. When Sunny misses, it misses hard, but it's also capable of making me laugh until I cry; and, unlike a certain other 2005-premiering show mentioned above, I'm actually optimistic about the chance for creativity and entertainment in Sunny's eighth season.

Community (10/19)

The date is on my calendar and on my heart. Friday, October 19th, 8:30pm: The stars will align. The cosmos will come into harmony. Wars will end. Justice will prevail. God will be in his heaven and all will be right with the world.


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