Television is in full swing again after the holiday hiatus, and some midseason replacements have even swung in to make things even more interesting. Unfortunately, it’s not all cotton candy and unicorns…unless of course you’re talking about the unicorn-men on the long-awaited premiere of NBC’s Community.
Much as I feared aloud here back in May, what was once one of the most innovative and hilarious shows on TV has come back limping and bloodied. Show creator Dan Harmon and his surrealist skills are gone, but the surrealism remains. Unfocused, un-clever, and tragically unfunny. The February 7th (or October 19th) premiere showcased not one, not two, not three, but four pop-culture-reference-structures, from Inception to Hunger Games to Muppet Babies to multi-cam sitcoms. In the past, the blending of such disparate elements would have seemed brilliant, but there’s no bite to any of it. The references are vague and fuzzy, as though they didn’t actually watch the material, but heard about it from a guy they know. I’m going to continue to give Community a chance to regain its footing, but I’m afraid the first step was not a good one.
Over on the CW, Arrow has started to pick up. Granted, it still takes itself way too seriously for a show about a guy who runs around fighting crime with a bow and arrow in the 21st century, but it switched gears following the midseason finale showdown against Merlyn. There is still the criminal-of-the-week element that sees Oliver killing off far too many of his comic book rivals. Count Vertigo bought it a couple of weeks back without so much as a multi-episode arc. At the rate they’re going, most of Green Arrow’s Rogues’ Gallery — and a few from Batman’s — will be in the ground by season’s end. However, the behind the scenes maneuvering between Ollie’s mother and Malcom Merlyn is starting to work its way into the A-side of the story and Detective Lance’s Ahab-like quest to bring down “The Hood” threatens to wreck everything. Comic references are still on full display, which may even work some more confusion into the flashbacks of Oliver’s time on the island. That, and Roy Harper — Speedy himself — is due to pop up any time now.
FX might have a new hit on its hands with the intense, brutal, and intriguing The Americans. Keri Russel puts her Felicity past to bed lightning-fast as she punches and shoots and fucks her way to killing a Russian defector alongside her more-reluctant husband/partner Matthew Rhys. They play Communist spies in deep, deep cover in 1980s America who not only have to contend with their missions, with the enemies that quite literally surround them, and with the dangerous nature of living double lives…but also with two children who have absolutely no idea who their parents really are. The pilot was almost too action-packed, too tense. And indeed, the second episode was a bit of a come-down. But it still carried across that sick feeling of “Oh shit, they could get caught any second” coupled with the odd realization that, “Oh yeah, these are Communist spies.” Russel is convincing as the very committed spy, but Rhys shines even more as a man who’s beginning to question what has been asked of him all these years and may be looking for a way out as he sees the noose tighten.
Of course, FX already had a hit on its hands with Justified, which started its fourth season back in January. Now, this is actually my first time watching Justified as it airs. I have all the Blu-Rays and caught up that way, but I’ve never had to wait a week or more after a particularly wicked cliffhanger, something the show is all-too-good at. The twist for Season Four seems to be that Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) isn’t chasing down a big bad, but is on the trail of a decades-old mystery instead. As a result, the first few episodes have been a little rough and uneven. Still great TV, but not quite on par with seasons past. Yet. But with last week’s “Kin,” Raylan and Boyd have been drawn together again as they both chase down a man who disappeared years ago. That, and there’s tons of loose threads that could come back to play havoc with both their lives at any moment. But right now, the image of Raylan staring down at a severed foot has me wishing I could put in the next disc instead of waiting until Tuesday night…