As a lifelong fan of pretty much all forms of media and entertainment, it shouldn’t be much of a shocker that I enjoy new TV launch season every year. Granted, it’s usually a pile of wet shit being flung about in a blender, but every now and then there’s the genuine joy of discovering a real gem, something with wit and humor that reminds you not every sitcom needs to be boringly formulaic. This year was a bit of an oddity though, in that I ended up finding several programs that weren’t just good, they bordered on and occasionally passed into greatness.
Now good shows happen, but these aren’t like last year’s surprise hits such as iZombie (which has a horrible name but is a fantastic show). No, I’ve been around the block enough times to recognize these programs for what they are: too smart, too quirky, and all around just too different to find mainstream acceptance. With one possible exception, they’re destined to be slashed long before they see a second season, or retooled so that the charm and magic is forcibly ripped out.
So, today, while you all are heading home or bracing for the impending visit of family, if you need to duck out and burn some time away from your folks, these are some programs you might not have checked out that are a great way to lift your spirits. We’re never going to be able to save them, but we can still appreciate them while they’re here.
Boy, if there was one show I went into this season expecting to be shit, it was this one. Don’t get me wrong here, I love the Muppets as characters. Even as a kid I watched their incredibly dated variety show and enjoyed the crap out of it, and the revival movie with Jason Siegal was fantastic. But I assumed this would be a cash grab built on the back of people’s nostalgia, with nothing of actual worth to offer. And I am very pleased to say that I was way freaking off base.
For one thing, The Muppets dealt with the fact that variety shows are a dead format by adapting, moving the setting to a late-night talk show environment, and that is pretty emblematic of the show as a whole. Rather than leaning on familiarity, they shook things up, keeping characters cores the same but adapting them, updating them, and giving them new challenges. On top of that, the writing is good. I mean, really fucking solid dialogue, plot, character growth, all of it. If this exact show were made without muppets, I think it would be destroying in the ratings, it’s so well done. Having it be with characters that we don’t need backstory for, that we’re familiar with, only makes it better.
So why will this one die? From what I can gather, it’s due to the very things that make it special. They did all this work, really tried to make the show something original, and people tuned out because it wasn’t a clone of the muppet shenanigans they were expecting. The writers took risks, and risks don’t always pan out. It might manage to survive in a way, they’re bringing in a new showrunner to retool it for its post-holiday return, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the version of the show I found so enthralling has already aired its final episode.
You really shouldn’t need me to talk about this, since pretty much every critic out there sings it’s praises. I had high hopes for when this show was announced since I’ve been a long-time fan of Rachel Bloom’s work. Still, after getting let down by another comic I liked last year (*sigh* Mulaney) I went in with trepidation. In the journey to television, sometimes comics and actors don’t get to execute their vision as intended, having their work be watered down and made more generic. Those worries were unfounded, as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is undoubtedly the brainchild of Rachel Bloom as intended.
It takes a lot of big swings, from starting off with a character who clearly has some psychological issues and integrating musical numbers almost at random, not to mention a premise that seems thin from jump and makes me wonder how it can be executed over the long-term. And yet, pretty much every one of those swings connects. Rachel Bloom is talented enough to play a character who often makes objectively bad or selfish decisions yet still manages to stay likeable. The songs are funny and well-written, which was the one thing I expected, and odd as the premise of moving across country for a boy one dated for a couple of months years ago is, they’ve managed to make it last and stay interesting so far.
This one will die as the year’s annual reminder that universal critical acclaim doesn’t translate into ratings. Much as I love this show, I sort of expected it to do badly since I saw the first episode. It strays so far from the norm, giving people the completely unexpected in a way that most either don’t want or aren’t ready for. I could be wrong, it’s on CW and they are a network willing to take chances, letting series run long enough to get a real following built up, but based on the numbers it seems unlikely.
If you saw the movie with Bradley Cooper, this isn’t that. Nor is it a re-imagining. It’s… a spin-off? Maybe a sequel? Basically, this show is in cannon with the movie, taking place some years after it ends and establishing that with cameos from Bradley Cooper as his character. If you didn’t see the movie, bullshit science makes a pill that uses one of the oldest tropes in sci-fi: giving the taker access to 100% of their brain (yes, I know we’ve long ago debunked the 10% use notions, but just pretend it’s magic and the plot works the same) but comes with the cost of making the user sick until they die. So, the long story short is that the protagonist, Brian, can take the pills without the side-effects, and gets drafted for study/use by the FBI, since he’s super brilliant while on them.
I’ll bet a lot of you just rolled your eyes, because this is functionally the exact same premise of so many goddamn shows out there right now. One brilliant/super-natural/unique person paired up with a regular cop. Bones, Castle, Sleepy Hollow, Numbers, I could go on for a while. So what makes this one different? Aside from a stronger cast and writing than most of those, the honest answer is one that’s hard to quantify, but I’d have to say above all else it’s this: charm.
This is a show that knows it’s going into well-tread territory, and instead of trying to follow in those same footsteps precisely, they decided to let the show be its own animal. One thing I love is that Brian completely bucks the “brooding/socially awkward” genius archetype. He’s easily the comedic focal point of the series, and a character who is instantly loveable to boot. Aside from that, there’s a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humor that pervades the series, never taking itself too seriously. For example, the sixth episode of the first season is an homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Most shows at least wait a season before getting glib and meta, but Limitless is coming right out of the gate letting viewers know what it’s about. It’s a bold move, and one that will either sink or save the series.
Out of all three, this show actually has the best bet of making it to season two right now. I loathe CBS and their refusal to adapt to the digital market (their streaming app costs as much as Hulu and still has commercials, so the only real option is to use their shitty site player) but they extended the original Limitless order to a full season, so I have to cut them a little slack for now.
Enjoy these while you can, folks, before they go off to join other incredible shows cut down in their prime. Maybe when they arrive they’ll be greeted by the ghosts of Firefly, Better off Ted, and Wonder Falls.