With the holiday season starting earlier and earlier every year, the media crunch times that are the launch of the network tv season, the pre-Christmas gaming rush, Oscar awards bait, and peak musician touring times are overlapping more and more. And since I have far too much time on my hands, I'll be attempting to guide through the morass of garbage in hopes of finding the little good out there in American media. Starting with TV, since it's been a long enough time for shows to find their feet. Games and Music to come later.
This was an abysmal year for new shows on networks. Even if you liked the tired genres getting flogged, did anyone really need Outlaw or The Defenders or The Whole Truth? Networks had no new ideas, nor did they execute any of the old ideas well. That's not entirely fair, Fox had a single idea (Lonestar), but America rejected it like a failed organ transplant. Unfortunately it looks like the midseason replacements might be even worse, because NBC already gave full season orders to every single one of its terrible new shows except Undercovers, and even that they ordered more scripts for. Chase? Really? That show has sub-Jay Leno Show ratings, and is expensive to boot. In fact with the exception of Law & Order: LA, all its 9PM shows are doing worse than Leno.
The only 'hits' are CBS and William Shatner's dramatic retelling of a twitter feed and Hawaii 5-0, a rehash of an ancient property that I suspect thrives because the Alzheimer's patients that make up the CBS audience* think it's the original. Thankfully the networks have learned from the Shat and have already optioned multiple other twitter feeds for next season. This is not a joke, it is real and possible that there'll be a two hour block of comedies based on twitter feeds to compete with NBC's Thursday.
*seriously compare overall rating numbers vs 18-49 demographic numbers for CBS. Every old white person in America watches everything on it.
So what's worth watching? Let's take it night by night in a followup to Jesse and Jim's now month old but still only half posted conversation.
Thankfully Mad Men and Rubicon ended their stellar seasons, making this ridiculously busy night moderately more reasonable.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO) A shameless attempt to recapture HBO's glory days that actually works. It's no Deadwood or The Sopranos yet, but it has potential. Recommended for: Anybody with HBO.
Dexter (Showtime) It's Dexter. Still not even close to the highs of seasons 1+2. Recommended for: Existing Fans. Not worth dropping, not worth picking up.
Bored to Death (HBO) I like this show a lot but find it impossible to actually defend. Recommended for: Hipster Doofuses.
Venture Bros (Adult Swim) -Still hilarious, but probably impenetrable to new viewers. Worth starting from the beginning if the idea of an absurdly elaborate Johnny Quest parody amuses you. Recommended for: Existing Fans.
How I Met Your Mother (CBS) Sigh. I feel like a demographic traitor for watching a show on CBS at all, but this one is sometimes funny. The writing has dropped off dramatically but Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris are good actors and try to salvage it. Recommended For: Existing fans who don't care enough to cancel the DVR alert.
Note: I dropped Chuck and House this season, both because the writers ran out of ideas. Chuck is the same old shit, and every time they inch towards shaking things up they get terrified and run like timid kittens in mittens back towards the status quo. I don't regret watching it but three seasons was plenty.
Glee (FOX) Schizophrenic as ever, but it hasn't flamed out yet. I'd be lying if I said I watched this regularly but if I'm bored and it's on, there's generally enough shiny things and flashing lights and Jane Lynch to keep me entertained. Recommended For: Existing Fans, people who love Autotuned covers of awful songs.
Raising Hope (FOX) Baby Danger! The baby is in danger! Hilarious! Actually this show found its footing, and while not great, you could do a lot worse for network comedies. Recommended For: People who think white trash is funny
Running Wilde (FOX) Sigh. I'll let writer and Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz handle this one: "I wanted to have the money to send my kids to a nice school". Perversely I'm still watching this. Recommended For: Nobody, sadly
Sons of Anarchy (FX) Also a sigh. Season two was fantastic and easily took a place in the cable drama pantheon... right up until the last five minutes, when it ended with a shocking but utterly nonsensical cliffhanger. Six episodes in, the cliffhanger has only gotten dumber and resolution is nowhere in sight. Recommended For: Nobody, but go watch Seasons 1+2 on bluray.
Modern Family (ABC) Easily wins 'Most Declined Sophomore'. The appeal in the first season was that it was a tired, classic style of show impeccably executed. Well, now it's just a tired show. Every episode has had one cringe inducingly bad plot, and while it still gets laughs, they're cheap gags. Recommended For: People who love old family sitcoms, Emmy Voters
Terriers (FX) - The best new show, cable or network. Just fantastic. A sleazy but lovable ex-cop, and a sleazy but lovable thief join forces as low-rent PI's who get in over their heads. A winning mix of serialized and standalone stories with a stellar cast. It is, of course, getting abysmal ratings. Recommended For: Everyone over 16
Community (NBC) It hasn't gotten dramatically better, but stayed solidly in the excellent groove it was in for most of last season. With the promise of more John Oliver, its cast has only improved. Recommended For: Everyone
30 Rock (NBC) I liked last season more than most people, but so far this one is a definite improvement. Ignoring the love it or hate it one-off live episode, it's still a winner. Recommended For: Everyone who likes absurd humor
The Office (NBC) Not as crappy as last season. Not good either, but I don't dislike putting it on while I do laundry. Recommended For: Existing Fans
We'll end with a special "Fuck You" to NBC, who gave Outsourced the cushy post-Office slot the far, far, far superior Community and Parks & Rec (season 2) never got, and another for now forcing the two into a deathmatch that at most one will survive. They've got a lot of awful looking 30 minute comedies for midseason so it's easy to imagine Community not getting a full season AND the already filmed third season of Parks and Rec never airing at all or being burned off in the summer. All while Outsourced continues crapping all over TV.