We had a tepid fall season, as far as new shows go. But finally, the midseason is upon us — that wonderful time of the year when the disappointments of the Fall (The Mob Doctor, Animal Practice) are forgotten so we can get all worked up about TV again.
Continuing a trend toward more cinematic television, most of what will be premiering in the next couple of months is pretty ambitious. There are epic historical dramas and intricate thrillers but only a handful of sitcom debuts.
Listed here in order of premiere date are five of the most encouraging new series.
Kroll Show (Comedy Central) January 16th
The Story: Comedian Nick Kroll’s sketch comedy show featuring guest actors like Jenny Slate, Hannibal Buress, Ed Helms, and Fred Armisen.
Kroll has had several memorable guest appearances on everything from Community to Children’s Hospital and can be seen regularly on FX’s The League. For years now, he’s also been creating hilarious characters like flamboyant Fabrice Fabrice who works craft services for That’s So Raven, so developing a sketch show seems like a completely natural and long overdo progression for him. Personally, I’ve been waiting a long time for Nick Kroll “to happen” and it’s nice to see that he’s found a home on Comedy Central–one of a handful of cable networks that hasn’t become a dumping ground for exploitive, soul-crushing reality shows.
Kroll’s off-the-wall, character-based skewering of strange and idiotic pop culture phenomena is witty but also broad enough to have wide appeal. Of course, the danger of this kind of show is that the funniest characters will inevitably appear a little too often but that probably isn’t going to be a problem in the first season. For now, we can just laugh.
The Following (FOX) January 19th
The Story: In this psychological thriller, Kevin Bacon is Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who, as the preview trailer informs us, “doesn’t play well with others.” He’s tasked with tracking down Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), an Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed serial killer who has recently escaped from death row. Hardy was responsible for capturing Carroll the first time but now things are different: Carroll has somehow created a devoted network of psychopathic followers who carry out crimes in his name.
To my mind, the connection between Poe and Carroll is what really makes this one intriguing, much more than the idea of these serial killer protégés on its own, which seems more practical than compelling (even if Carroll is captured or killed there will always be someone new to take up the mantle, and being introduced to a new killer each week gives viewers a break from the series’ larger mythology). The Poe thing gives a demented poeticism to all of the gore (and apparently this is going to be a very, very bloody affair) which makes the premise a lot more chilling.
Another interesting element is the show’s creator: Kevin Williamson. Though Williamson does predominantly work within the horror/supernatural genre these days, his TV oeuvre (The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle, Dawson’s Creek) tends to be operatic and angsty. This one will be worth watching initially just to see how Williamson’s style changes to fit an adult world where the stakes are a lot higher.
The Americans (FX) January 30th
The Story: Set in 1981, The Americans is a thriller about two KGB spies (played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) living in suburban Washington D.C. in an arranged marriage. As the Cold War intensifies, their allegiances (to each other and to their homeland) are tested. Their mission is further complicated by a new neighbor (Noah Emmerich) who is an FBI counterintelligence agent.
With shows like Louie, Sons of Anarchy, and Justified, FX has emerged as a powerful force in TV. Aside from Charlie Sheen’s anomalous Anger Management, each new series is reliably entertaining, complex, and inventive. So, The Americans has FX’s solid track record backing it up. Added to this, Justified’s Graham Yost is executive producing. If The Americans is even half as gripping as what has been going down in Harlan County for the past three years then it should be a hit.
Vikings (The History Channel) March 3rd
The Story: An original scripted series about those rascally Norsemen, reportedly focusing on the family and exploits of Viking raider Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel). Gabriel Byrne stars.
The History Channel has been attempting to diversify and energize its programming for a while now. Until recently, this has resulted in a lot of reality shows and Ancient Aliens, which, despite being incredibly amusing, probably shouldn’t be on a network with a historical focus. Their first scripted drama, the mini-series Hatfields & McCoys, was a monumental success and the network looks to repeat that here. By virtue of the subject, Vikings is bound to be exciting and the show was created by The Tudors’ Michael Hirst who knows how to add thrilling dramatic flourishes to these sorts of historical subjects. As someone who majored in history and is particularly interested in the early Middle Ages, this is the show that I’m most anxious to see.
Da Vinci’s Demons (Starz) April 12th
The Story: Leonardo Da Vinci gets a sexy makeover (à la The Tudors) in this Starz historical fantasy drama. Focusing on the “secret history” of young Da Vinci, the show pits the Renaissance artist/inventor/scientist against the oppressive forces of the 15th century church (and possibly other, more mystical forces).
The tagline is “Free the Future,” which sounds a bit like a prosaic political slogan but also seems to hint at a juicy, underlying science-fiction plot about time. The show’s creator is The Dark Knight trilogy’s David S. Goyer, which gives it a bit of cachet, something that shows on Starz really need heading out the gate — despite the acclaim of Boss (recently canceled), Spartacus, and Magic City, Starz is still trying to establish itself as a destination for the kind of quality, engrossing programming that people get fanatical about.
The trailer for Da Vinci’s Demons features blood, talk of treachery, and costumes that expose well-defined pectoral muscles–True Blood has lasted five seasons with similar ingredients, so there is certainly hope here.
Other Noteworthy Debuts: Banshee (Cinemax) January 11th; Ripper Street (BBC America) January 19th; Cult (The CW) February 19th; Defiance (SyFy) April 15th