Dear White People (Friday, April 28, Netflix), series debut: A few white people were angry about the mere title of creator/director Justin Simien’s 2014 film Dear White People, and even more got pissed when Netflix dropped a trailer for his new 10-episode series of the same name. They’ve never seen more than a minute of either, but said whiteys waged futile YouTube downvote campaigns and “cancel Netflix” drives to stop this reverse oppression … or whatever the hell was perceived as happening. Too bad, because Dear White People is a ferociously funny look at “post-racial” relations, PC college culture and misconceptions from both ends of the color spectrum. Could it maybe change some minds? Nah, probably not. But! For everyone else, DWP features some killer performances and nimble comical/political scripting. What’s in a name?
Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (Saturday, April 29, TBS), special: In the name of Serious Journalism, this column has never agreed to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a clique-y gathering wherein reporters and politicians mingle in a professionally suspect manner. (It should also be noted that this column has never been invited to attend the event, but whatever.) When our likely temporary Cheeto in Chief was elected bigly last November, the fate of future WHCDs was thrown into doubt—so Samantha Bee and her Full Frontal crew decided to hold their own alternative soiree, whether the other one will happen or not (and it is, tonight, with The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj hosting). Even though details are scarce, Bee’s affair is the better entertainment bet, and TBS is waaay easier to find than C-SPAN.
American Gods (Sunday, April 30, Starz), series debut: Producer extraordinaire Bryan Fuller is no longer attached to CBS All Access’ Star Trek Discovery; in other news, Star Trek Discovery is never going to happen. Anyway: Fuller’s previous TV work, even the darker-than-dark Hannibal, has always been constrained by the limits of broadcast “standards.” But his (and Logan writer Michael Green’s) American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s geek-grail 2001 novel, is on Starz, a premium-cable network on a roll with more to prove—no PG-13 compromises here. The fantastical, vivid and violent story of Old Gods ramping up for war against New Gods on Earth is impossible to sum up in a paragraph, but the performances of Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Orlando Jones, Gillian Anderson, Crispin Glover (!) and others are revelations. Get Starz now.
United Shades of America (Sunday, April 30, CNN), season premiere: Similar to the Dear White People situation, viewers of all colors took exception to comic W. Kamau Bell kicking off his CNN docu-series United Shades of America in 2016 with a behind-the-sheets look at the Ku Klux Klan, claiming that he was “normalizing” white supremacists. He wasn’t; they’re morons. Over eight episodes, Bell profiled prison life, Latino culture, police, survivalists, gentrification and more from a black perspective with a deft blend of humor and factuality—a task that won’t come easier in the era of “fake news.” Season 2 isn’t toning anything down, as the first episode tackles immigration and features an interview with everyone’s favorite white nationalist/Nazi piñata, Richard Spencer. United Shades of America: The bravest (and, as far as I know, only) show on CNN.
Drop the Mic (Tuesday, May 2, TBS), series debut: Prompting celebrities to sing karaoke, lip-sync hits and engage in rap battles are cheap and easy methods to connect with Middle ’Merica, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Late Late Show With James Corden have the gimmick on lock. Spike expanded Fallon’s Lip Sync Battle bits into a successful series, and Corden’s Carpool Karaoke gets regular prime time-special treatment on CBS; now, his hip-hop combat segment Drop the Mic is a TBS show. (Note to these series: Stop dropping unplugged microphones in commercials—details, people.) Drop the Mic blatantly clones Lip Sync Battle’s LL Cool J/Chrissy Teigen dynamic with hosts Method Man (veteran rapper) and Hailey Baldwin (model with an Instagram account). Up next: Celebrity Colonoscopy.
Mary Kills People (Sunday, April 23, Lifetime), series debut: Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas has starred in left-of-center American series like Wonderfalls and Hannibal, but Mary Kills People is probably the first to fully realize her oddly chilly-sexy potential. (It’s also a Canadian production, so no U.S. credit earned.) As the title bluntly spells out, Dr. Mary Harris (Dhavernas) kills people—terminally ill patients who want to go out on their own terms, specifically. Her secret Angel of Death gig threatens to spill over into every other aspect of her life, echoing dark-side classics like Weeds and Dexter, and Dhavernas’ complex Mary is an easy equal to Nancy Botwin and Dexter Morgan. The first season of Mary Kills People is only six episodes, but it’s an addictive taste of what should be more to come. Make it happen, Canada!
Silicon Valley (Sunday, April 23, HBO), season premiere: Another season, another seemingly insurmountable clusterfuck for Pied Piper: Thanks to the fallout from using a click-farm to artificially boost the popularity of the clunky compression platform made by Richard (Thomas Middleditch), no one wants to fund Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and his viable-and-already-blowing-up video-chat app—coder probs, am I right? Silicon Valley, aka Nerd Entourage, makes far more sense if you’ve ever worked in the digital world, where the only physical product is the occasional promo hoodie or sport bottle, and egos run rampant (I have; this show nails it uncomfortably well), but the funny is universal. In an unlikely parallel to HBO’s Girls, Season 4 of Silicon Valley sees the crew growing apart—but clothed, thankfully. And I stand by this: A little T.J. Miller goes a long way.
Dimension 404 (Tuesday, April 25, Hulu), season finale: Hulu’s six-episode anthology series Dimension 404 is like a more comedic take on Black Mirror—then again, pretty much anything is comedic compared to Black Mirror. The series’ premiere episode, “Matchmaker,” was a twisty riff on dating-app tech in which Joel McHale gave a more lively performance in under 30 minutes than he has in 20 episodes of the dead-eyed slog of The Great Indoors. (Please, CBS, kill that show, and set Joel free.) Another installment, “Cinethrax,” starring Patton Oswalt, began as a cautionary commentary on the divisiveness of insular nerd-elitism, only to have said insular nerd-elitism ultimately save the day (well, until—spoiler—aliens enslaved the planet). Dimension 404 isn’t a mind-blower, but it’s at least amusingly unpredictable—and now you can binge all six episodes.
Great News (Tuesday, April 25, NBC), series debut: NBC’s last great newsroom comedy was NewsRadio in the ’90s (30 Rock doesn’t count, and the hilarious antics of Brian Williams reside on MSNBC), but damned if they don’t keep trying. Great News is set behind the scenes of a cable-news show, The Breakdown, produced by Katie (Briga Heelan), a—you guessed it—frazzled, unlucky-in-love young career woman who becomes even more frazzled-er when her mom, Carol (Andrea Martin), comes aboard as an intern. For a Tina Fey production, Great News lacks the snap of 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, though vets Martin and John Michael Higgins (as The Breakdown’s old-school anchor) are reliably solid. Also, Nicole Richie is … here, for some reason.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Wednesday, April 26, Hulu), series debut: Here’s yet another bleak dystopian future in which the super-rich rule in a fascist theocracy—but wait, there’s more! Women are servile, disposable and mostly barren; those “lucky” enough to be fertile are treated like higher-grade animals, “wombs with two legs.” Fun, right? The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, was first given the screen treatment in 1990, but lends itself far better to a 10-episode series than that rushed, uneven film. In the society of Gilead, former-American-with-rights-turned-handmaiden Offred (Elisabeth Moss, fantastic as ever) is the designated baby-maker for Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski); dehumanization and ickiness ensue. There are few slivers of light in the darkness here, but the payoff is worth it.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Friday, April 14, Netflix), season premiere: While MST3K O.G.s Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett continue their movie-mockery biz at a staggering pace with RiffTrax, Mystery Science Theater 3000 proper is still missed. Netflix, proving that not all pop-cultural reboots are heinous abominations, picked up the 1988-1999 series after creator Joel Hodgson sparked a revival firestorm via Kickstarter. Hodgson has also recast the show, with comedian Jonah Ray as the new astro-host on the Satellite of Love, as well as new ’bot voices (Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn as Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, respectively), and Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as MST3K’s new “Mads.” Exactly which cinematic disasterpieces the crew will be viewing and skewering in these 14 fresh episodes are currently unknown, but who cares? New MST3K!
Doctor Who (Saturday, April 15, BBC America), season premiere: After Series 10—that’s U.K. for Season 10—latest Doctor Peter Capaldi is outta here. For his final go-round of 12 episodes, Capaldi will joined by a new companion, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie). Nardole (Matt Lucas) and Missy (Michelle Gomez) are still around, as are those steel salt shakers of evil, the Daleks. With Capaldi set to exit Doctor Who after the 2017 Christmas episode, the question of, “Who’s going to be the next Doctor?” has pointed up a whole lotta British actors you’ve never heard of, but also a few intriguing U.S.-known quantities: Former Agent Carter Haley Atwell, Supergirl’s David Harewood and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade. After 50+ years of white guys in the lead, could we finally get a female or black Doctor? Nah; it’ll probably be a ginger.
The Leftovers (Sunday, April 16, HBO), season premiere: Now that Rectify is done, The Leftovers could claim the Most Depressing Show on TV crown—or at least battle it out with Mama June: From Not to Hot. While the existential drama—about those left behind after a seeming Rapture took 140 million from the planet, if you recall—did lighten up in Season 2, there’s still plenty to ennui on about in this third and final run: The seventh anniversary of the event is looming; the pesky Guilty Remnant cult has invaded the new Miracle, Texas, hometown of Kevin (Justin Theroux); Kevin Sr. (Scott Glenn) is searching for an apocalypse-stopper in Australia; and creator/producer Damon Lindelof has asked the “Critical Community” to not spoil anything else. Fine. Except for this: Australia does not exist. (Look it up!)
Veep (Sunday, April 16, HBO), season premiere: In these stoopid political times, the phrase, “Now, more than ever,” gets tossed around frequently in regards to art-imitates-life shows like House of Cards, The Man in the High Castle—hell, maybe even The Last Man on Earth (which was the first series to “kill off” the Trump administration, after all). But it’s modern comedy treasure Veep that will carry the burden of detracting from real politics, and Season 6 continues to go gloriously blue while largely ignoring the New Orange Order. Ex-president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) may be out to heal the world in public, but she’s out for private, personal vengeance against old pains-in-the-ass like now-Congressman Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons): “I want to let you know that I will destroy you in ways that are so creative, they’ll honor me for it at the Kennedy Center.” Now, more than ever.
Fargo (Wednesday, April 19, FX), season premiere: It’s been a while—16 months since the end of Season 2, give or take—but Fargo has earned its Game of Thrones-esque lag time. Season 3 is set in 2010, and concerns the soon-to-be criminal misadventures of “The Parking Lot King of Minnesota,” Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor); his bridge-loving parolee girlfriend, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead); and Ray’s loser brother, Emmit (also MacGregor). On opposite lawful sides of this trio of hilarious clothes and hair are this season’s Endearing Cop, Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), and Greasy Villain, V.M. Vargas (David Thewlis). It’s another taut tale of small-town good vs. evil vs. dim, and since Fargo is an anthology with no obligation to keep characters around for next season, anyone could meet their bloody end at any time. Yes, even Gloria’s doughy deputy (doughy Jim Gaffigan).
Idiotsitter (Thursday, April 6, Comedy Central), season premiere: If you somehow made it through the 2016 “holiday” flick Office Christmas Party, you must concur that Jillian Bell’s bipolar she-pimp character was the funniest part of the movie—really, you must. Earlier in 2016, Bell and comedy partner Charlotte Newhouse dropped the debut season of Idiotsitter, a hilarious, flipped-to-female Workaholics of sorts that looked to be another Comedy Central one-and-done (see also, 2015’s genius Big Time in Hollywood, FL). But! Idiotsitter is back for a second season, and broke “baby sitter” Billie (Newhouse) and heiress “idiot” Gene (Bell) are now off to college. Despite what the Ghostbusters trolls told you, 2016 was a fantastic year for women in comedy—on-demand Idiotsitter Season 1 now, and report back.
You the Jury (Friday, April 7, Fox), series debut: Was Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s recent spanking of House Speaker Paul Ryan merely a publicity stunt to promote You the Jury, the new legal-reality show she’s presiding over? Since Justice With Judge Jeanine airs in the dead zone of Saturday-night cable, and only your red-cap-sportin’ grandpa knows who the hell she is, probably. And this show seems no less cynical: “The new unscripted series You the Jury will give the biggest jury pool in history—America—the power to decide the outcome of some of the most explosive, real-life, ripped-from-the-headline civil cases,” pitches Fox. “Six top attorneys who’ve represented some of the nation’s biggest celebrities will argue their cases each week for America’s vote.” Via text, of course, as American Litigation Idol brings us one step closer to the dystopia we deserve.
The Son (Saturday, April 8, AMC), series debut: Speaking of the Saturday-night cable dead zone, here’s another Western from AMC to fill that Hell on Wheels void: The Son, based on Philipp Meyer’s novel of the same name, chronicles the rise of Texas oil tycoon Eli McCullough (Pierce Brosnan) by focusing on two time periods, 1849 and 1915. In the earlier timeline, you get Young Eli (Jacob Lofland) being kidnapped and held captive by Comanches; in the later, you get Brosnan in full Texan mode being a hardline bastard in business and a plain ol’ bastard to his children, who each have their own drama. There’s also an uneasy tension with a Spanish family who occupies the land between McCullough’s and Mexico … and, as you may gather, the uneasy tension of cramming a 576-page Western epic into 10 episodes.
The Gorburger Show (Sunday, April 9, Comedy Central), series debut: Great news for those sick of late-night talk shows hosted by white dudes: The Gorburger Show is hosted by a blue alien (puppeteered and voiced by white dude T.J. Miller, but still). After taking over a Japanese variety show and making slaves of its staff, alien Gorburger “settles in as host in an attempt to understand what it means to be human.” The Gorgburber Show, which sprang from an online series, borrows from tweaked talkers like The Eric Andre Show and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, but never fully commits to the bit. It doesn’t help that Miller’s frequently upstaged by his guests—which could be by design, but I’ve already overanalyzed this show that costs maybe $150 to produce.
Better Call Saul (Monday, April 10, AMC), season premiere: Yeah, yeah—I know: “But I can’t watch Season 3 yet, because Season 2 just came out on Netflix two weeks ago! I don’t have cable, anyway—I only watch shows when they’re on Netflix, so can you puh-leez refrain from dropping any spoilers for, like, a year? And will you remind me when Season 3 comes to Netflix, because Netflix, Netflix, NETFLIX!” Do you realize what a pain in the ass it is to review TV for you cord-cutters? Anyway: Season 3 of Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul picks up immediately where the last left off, with Chuck (Michael McKean) plotting to take down brother Jimmy/Saul (Bob Odenkirk) with a secretly taped confession. As for the much-geeked-about introduction of Bad villain Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), like everything else, BCS is in no hurry to get there. Just like you and your Netflix.
Prison Break (Tuesday, April 4, Fox), return: Make that Prison Break: Resurrection, because the “dead” Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) is actually alive in another prison—this time in Yemen, like that matters. The original 2005-2009 run of Fox’s Prison Break was a cultural phenomenon for a hot minute, but the story of blueprint-tattooed Michael springing his wrongfully convicted brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) from jail held up surprisingly well over four seasons, thanks to a colorful supporting cast and ri-dic-u-lous plot twists. Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies), Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) and the unforgettable T-Bag (Robert Knepper) rejoin the Buzzcut Bros. for this nine-episode international Break-out event; it’s best if you don’t think too hard.
New Girl (Tuesday, April 4, Fox), season finale: Is Season 6 the end for New Girl? Fox yet to come to a decision, and tonight’s season finale could easily serve as a series finale for the comedy. Zooey Deschanel (who plays “New Girl” Jess) could not be reached for comment, as she was busy plucking turn-of-the-century tunes on a ukulele at a nearby farmer’s market. With well more than 100 episodes of reruns available on TBS and MTV, as well as Netflix, Hulu and whatever else you kids are watching “content” on, we probably have enough New Girl. The quality of laughs remained consistent to the end, and has even delivered some late-run surprises: Megan Fox can be funny; Cece (Hannah Simone) has an endless cache of eye-rolls; Schmidt (Max Greenfield) … still works.
Schitt’s Creek (Wednesday, April 5, Pop), season finale: Speaking of you kids and your viewing habits: Schitt’s Creek is not a Netflix show! It’s been originating from Pop since 2015; since no one knows what or where the hell Pop is, however, this can be forgiven. Three seasons in, it’s cool to see comedy veterans like Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Chris Elliott on a successful series, no matter how it’s being found. Like Arrested Development writ Canadian, Schitt’s Creek pits dumb ex-wealthy folk against small-town not-quite-hicks with hilarious results, even if the plot doesn’t add up: Johnnie and Moira Rose (Levy and O’Hara) are now forced to live in a hotel in the town of Schitt’s Creek, which they purchased as an impulsive joke decades ago. Ever tried to buy a town? Not easy.
Archer (Wednesday, April 5, FXX), season premiere: You may recall that, at the end of Season 7 last year, Sterling Archer (the voice of H. Jon Benjamin) was full of bullets, face-down in a swimming pool and presumed dead. But! In cartoons and Prison Break, death fake-outs are a thing: Archer’s now in a coma, and Season 8 is a 1940s Hollywood-noir-themed dream—it’s also only eight episodes long, and relocated from FX to FXX (which isn’t the literal TV death sentence it used to be, so relax). Only Archer could top the ultimate crime-noir comedy, 1982’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Steve Martin’s greatest achievement, BTW); just don’t expect much deviation from the series’ usual abusive banter (thankfully).
Brockmire (Wednesday, April 5, IFC), series debut: Like Kenny Fucking Powers in the late Eastbound and Down, Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria) yearns to return to Major League Baseball after a spectacular career meltdown. Unlike KFP, he’s on the other side of the announcer’s booth. In Brockmire, Azaria has found a cartoonish character to rival the 800 he voices on The Simpsons; he plays an old-school sportscaster full of hysterically dark asides (“I don’t drink … hard liquor … between the hours of 6 and 11 a.m.”), now reduced to calling minor-league ball for the Morristown Frackers. The team’s owner, Jules (Amanda Peet), is no ray of sober sunshine, either—hence, adversarial love interest. Brockmire has all the markings of a one-season-and-done oddity (as do most IFC shows not set in Portland), but it’s a … oh, the hackery! … home run.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (Friday, March 24, VH1), season premiere: For Season 9, RuPaul’s Drag Race moves from niche network Logo to the slightly more mainstream VH1—what does this mean? That drag queens are now ready for ’Merican primetime? That our divided country needs fabulousness now more than ever? That VH1 could use some new programming unrelated to basketball, hip-hop and potluck dinners? Yes. Like a flashier, bitchier Project Runway, or a taller America’s Next Top Model, RuPaul’s Drag Race brings the D-R-A-M-A like nothing else on television, and deserves to be exposed—phrasing—to a wider audience (and if a few unsuspecting motorsports fans accidentally tune in, even better). On the educational side, I also now understand the phrases “Read to filth” and “She done already done had herses,” and hope to use them in a doctoral dissertation soon.
Bones (Tuesday, March 28, Fox), series finale: When it premiered in 2005, Bones had an interesting twist on the forensic procedural already beaten to death (ha!) by CSI: Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) was an atheist anthropologist who lived by science; her FBI partner, Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), was a sturdy block of all-American wood who liked Jeebus and hockey. Together, along with some slick computer graphics, they solved murders. Then Fox went on to make 246 damned episodes so TNT could play incessant weekday reruns alongside Castle (fun sick-day game: “Is This Castle or Bones?”). Now, after 12 seasons, it’s finally canceled … or was that Castle?
Harlots (Wednesday, March 29, Hulu), series debut: The producers of Harlots, a drama about 18th-century London prostitutes, promise that the series will deliver just as much male nudity as female nudity … so … progress? Said producers are also all women, so, yes. Recent sex-worker shows, like the cheeky Secret Diary of a Call Girl and the chilly The Girlfriend Experience, were told from a single female perspective, but Harlots introduces several (including Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville, Eloise Smyth and Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay), while also throwing in familial strife, professional rivalry and the everyday/night danger of 1700s England (not to mention impossibly elaborate wigs and corsets). The best whore-TV show since Sean Hannity.
Imaginary Mary (Wednesday, March 29, ABC), series debut: Since Dharma and Greg ended in 2002, Jenna Elfman has not been able to catch a break: She’s headlined four failed network sitcoms since then, and has also guested on several high-quality dramas and comedies (and Two and a Half Men). The obvious answer is to give Elfman a supporting role in a cool cable series—she would kill it in something like Better Call Saul or Fargo, literally—but no, here she is in another throwaway midseason crapcom. In Imaginary Mary, she’s a career woman in PR (because that’s the only job for the ladies on TV) who’s love life is a mess (of course), and she has an imaginary, animated friend (voiced by Rachel Dratch). Time for a Dharma and Greg reboot, Netflix.
NCAA Basketball (Through April 1, CBS, TBS, TNT, TruTV), March madness: I filled out my brackets—when do I collect my sportsball winnings? After years of ignoring the inevitable office-wide emails about “March Madness!” I picked teams based upon color theme (UNC Wilmington has a particularly pleasing palette) and wacky-name factor (Villanova is close enough to “villain” + “nova,” while Golden Gophers and Gonzaga are self-explanatory). When someone reminded me that this is college sportsball, I then factored in each school’s academic rankings and … JK! This ain’t about grades—it’s about getting paid. Speaking of which, when again do I cash in? These columns barely cover beer runs.
True TV: 'Marvel's Iron Fist' Does Not Pack Enough Punch; 'Into the Badlands' Delivers Kung-Fu ActionMarch 15 2017
Marvel’s Iron Fist (Friday, March 17, Netflix), series debut: Well, this sucks. Of all the Netflix/Marvel adaptations, I was most looking forward to Iron Fist, one of my favorite comic-book titles from back in the day. Where Daredevil was a fantastic surprise and killer introduction to this Marvel microverse, and Jessica Jones and Luke Cage delved even deeper into characters and motivations, Iron Fist is just … there. “Cultural appropriation” bullshit aside, the story of rich kid Danny Rand (Finn Jones) being orphaned in the Himalayas and trained in supernatural-adjacent martial arts (which includes manifesting a literal “iron fist”) to Save This City is one that’s been reinvented successfully ad infinitum, from Batman to Arrow. Unfortunately, Iron Fist’s “deadly kung-fu action” is mostly backyard pro wrestling-level. Jones is too bland to carry the dramatic side, and the exposition-heavy writing is more like Ham Fist. Sigh. On the upside, it’s the final lead-in to The Defenders team-up—maybe this Iron Fist will work better within an ensemble. In the background. Silently.
Into the Badlands (Sunday, March 19, AMC), season premiere: Now this is how you do deadly kung-fu action. Since the first season of Into the Badlands aired way back in 2015, long before we entered our own dystopian future, I’d suggest a Netflix refresher of those six episodes, which introduced Sunny (Daniel Wu), a bullet-biking warrior who serves one of seven warlord barons who rule future eff’dup ’Merica. Sunny’s looking for a way out of the Badlands for his pregnant wife, and his super-powered protégée M.K. (Aramis Knight) knows a place away from the despotic dickheads. (Canada?) Meanwhile, warlord The Widow (Emily Beecham) has a different plan: Kill off the other six, and take it all for herself. The plot isn’t always easy to track, but Into the Badlands’ martial-arts sequences are stunning—and a fun break from The Walking Dead’s gun-crazy melodrama.
Cosplay Melee (Tuesday, March 21, Syfy), series debut: Syfy’s previous foray into costume reality, 2013’s Heroes of Cosplay, was an overly staged pile of hot garbage that made all involved look like pissy idiots—you know, a basic, successful reality show. Despite its clunky title (“What’s a ‘me-lee?’” asks the average American who can’t place apostrophes correctly or differentiate “lose” and “loose”), Cosplay Melee is at least an improvement, focusing on Face Off-style competition rather than manufactured drama. Yvette Nicole Brown hosts, but the real reason to watch is judge LeeAnna Vamp, a pro cosplayer who must be seen to be believed. Oh, and it’s pronounced “may-lay.”
Shots Fired (Wednesday, March 22, Fox), series debut: Oh look, another cop show. But this one is about race relations, and social unrest, and media bias, and everything else that broadcast TV never gets right (with the possible exception of ABC’s kinda-preachy American Crime). Shots Fired—billed as an “event series,” code for “we’ll be lucky to air 10 episodes”—centers on two murders in a small North Carolina town: a white college student and a black teen, both at the hands of police officers; much hand-wringing and “ripped-from-the-headlines” pontificating ensue. Again, American Crime does it better, but, if you’re a fan of Richard Dreyfuss’ overacting, tune right in.
Rogue (Wednesday, March 22, Audience/DirecTV), season premiere: So, what’s going with Rogue? It began as the story of undercover Oakland cop Grace (Thandie Newton) out to avenge her son’s death, but then she became an FBI agent in San Francisco and hooked up with mysterious security consultant Ethan (Cole Hauser), eventually following him to Chicago and—spoiler—winding up dead in a Dumpster so she could move to Westworld. Then, a new fed (Sarah Carter) and a new femme fatale (Ashley Greene) entered Ethan’s vaguely criminal life to carry Rogue through Season 3. Now, for the fourth and final season, we’re back in San Francisco with a pair of new cops (Meaghan Rath and Neal McDonough) on Ethan’s ass—if Greene (really, the only worthwhile part of Rogue anymore) doesn’t put him in the ground first. FYI: This paragraph is the most that’s ever been written about Rogue.
Love (Friday, March 10, Netflix), season premiere: In its 2016 debut season, Judd Apatow’s Love received wildly mixed reviews from real people and TV critics (who, it should always be noted, are not real people) alike. I was on the positive side—but, then again, I also liked Will Arnett’s universally despised Netflix baby Flaked, so there’s obviously something wrong with me. Lovebirds Micky (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) still aren’t exactly right, either, but they’re giving the committed-relationship thing a go with predictably messy/hilarious/sad results. Both Jacobs and Rust (and an ever-expanding guest list) are fantastic; at its best, Love plays like an introverted cousin of couplehood-is-hell MVP You’re the Worst. A great place to be in Season 2, and the haters are still gonna hate.
Samurai Jack (Saturday, March 11, Adult Swim), return: A long, long time ago, I wrote about a Cartoon Network series called Samurai Jack, which premiered way back in 2001. Also more than a decade ago, friends would ask me: “Are you still doing that little TV review thing?” with the same regularity that they do now … sigh. Anyway: Samurai Jack was a simply plotted tale of a time-traveling warrior fighting his way through monsters, robots and general dystopia, as well as all-powerful villain Aku. While the stories were rudimentary (or often indecipherable), Samurai Jack’s dense, mind-tweaking animation set a standard that’s still rarely matched today; Hulu the original five seasons, and behold for yourself. This final chapter of the saga looks to be up there with Logan in terms of brutality and finality. Catch up.
Trial and Error (Tuesday, March 14, NBC), series debut: How to follow the season finale of all-the-feels tearjerker This Is Us? With wacky midseason filler! Trial and Error, a probably-funnier-on-the-drawing-board hybrid of Making a Murderer and The Office, gives proven comedic talents (including John Lithgow, Jayma Mays and Sherri Shepherd) a prime setup, but little material to work with, emphasizing “small-town quirkiness” over what could have been biting comedy with a dark, media-overkill backhand (which It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia already did earlier this year). Lithgow goes big as a maybe-wife-killing poetry professor (!), but Trial and Error definitely won’t be a part of NBC’s comedy rebuild.
Hap and Leonard (Wednesday, March 15, Sundance), season premiere: Missed Season 1? Of course you did—it was on Sundance, and who has that? After you check out the six-episode origin story of ’80s Texas ne’er-do-wells Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael Kenneth Williams) on Netflix, come back for another installment of comic criminality that nearly rivals Fargo in sheer volume of WTF? twists. Hap and Leonard Season 2 picks up with a new mystery to unravel (the death of Leonard’s uncle) and a new cast of unsavory characters to butt heads with. (Spoiler: few not named Hap or Leonard made it out of Season 1 alive.) They’re just good(ish) guys in a bad, bad world; when you do get around to this series (because, again, Sundance), you’ll love ’em.
Modern Family (Wednesdays, ABC), contract crisis: Currently in its eighth season, Modern Family has (or had, depending upon when you get around to reading this) a problem: The contracts for stars Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet, Jessie Tyler Ferguson and Ed O’Neill are up, and signing them all for the inevitable Season 9 would be almost as expensive as a Trump weekend getaway—give or take bronzer budget. The obvious solution? Kill the adults off-camera in a plane crash during the show’s annual Disney-vacation infomercial episode, and refocus Modern Family on the kids. Haley, Alex, Luke, Manny and Lily could easily take over and Party of Five the situation—hell, I’d watch a Lily solo series, even. You’re welcome, ABC.
Making History (Sunday, March 5, Fox), series debut: After Frequency (R.I.P. at The CW), Timeless (the best of the lot, but struggling at NBC) and Time After Time (more in a moment), Making History finally lightens up the current TV season’s glut of time-travel shows, even though the timeline-twisting consequences are no less dire. When Massachusetts college employee Dan (Adam Pally) discovers a time-traveling duffle bag (just go with it), he begins making regular, continuum-cocking trips to the 1700s to visit his easily impressed new colonial girlfriend (Leighton Meester). No sooner than you can say “Hot Tub Time Machine meets Drunk History,” Dan’s dragging a history professor (Yassir Lester) back in time with him to re-reset the outcome of the American Revolution, lest the USA come to be ruled by a … psychotic dictator. Anyway: Making History is a funny, Fox-y comedy, unlike …
Time After Time (Sunday, March 5, ABC), series debut: Ugh. Based on the slightly less-terrible 1979 time-travel movie of the same name, Time After Time follows a pretty H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) tracking a pretty Jack the Ripper (Josh Bowman) from 1800s London to present-day New York City, because god forbid we have a TV crime drama not set in NYC. What follows is the expected “What sorcery is this?!” marveling at modern technology, and the gentlemanly wooing of 21st century womenfolk that Sleepy Hollow already does waaay better. As with Making History, there’s the nagging question of: “How do you get 13, or more, episodes out of this?” Time After Time should be gone after three, so problem solved.
Feud: Bette and Joan (Sunday, March 5, FX), series debut: On one hand, Ryan Murphy’s new secondary career as History-As-Meme TV director is already getting tiresome—FX already has, like, 12 seasons of American Crime Story planned, and the first sucked (admit it). On the other, watching stars playing dress-up as classic pop-culture fixtures is irresistible (The People v. O.J. Simpson was a visual hoot, at least). The eight-episode Feud: Bette and Joan chronicles the legendary Hollywood rivalry between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), who also battled sexism, ageism and every other -ism the early ’60s dished out. Predictably, Lange and Sarandon chew scenery portraying famed scenery-chewers, but at least there are some crumbs left for Sarah Paulson, Alfred Molina, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci and Kathy Bates. Resistance is futile, darling.
The Arrangement (Sunday, March 5, E!), series debut: The producers and stars of The Arrangement insist that E!’s new scripted soap is not based on Tom Cruise and Scientology … but it’s totally based on Tom Cruise and Scientology. Rising Hollywood starlet Megan (Christine Evangelista) is offered a $10 million contract to “marry” A-list actor Kyle (Josh Henderson), a member of a sketchy “church” called The Institute of the Higher Mind (!). The Institute’s leader, Terrence (Michael Vartan), also manages Kyle; Terrence’s wife, DeAnn (Lexa Doig) is Kyle’s producing partner; they all have secrets, as well as an interest in keeping up appearances with Megan (who has her own skeletons, because, drama). There’s a lot going on in The Arrangement, and, like The Royals, the series is surprisingly well-executed, for E! (read: not reality trash). Check it out before the lawsuits fly.
The Americans (Tuesday, March 7, FX), season premiere: Everything Cold War is new again, right? Much like daily news-cycle life in 2017 ’Merica, every season of The Americans is a white-knuckle ride through ’80s Soviet Union fear and loathing, and Season 5 (the series’ second-to-last) cranks the anxiety yet again. Suburban Russian spies Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) have begun training teen daughter Paige (Holly Taylor, slowly becoming the real star of the show) in the ways of the KGB, but can they keep her away from the cute boy next door who happens to be the son of an FBI agent? Of course not—devushkas will be devushkas.
The Blacklist: Redemption (Thursday, Feb. 23, NBC), series debut: While hardcore Blacklist fans are asking, “How’s this spin-off going to work?” casual viewers are curious to know: “How many encoded tattoos can she fit on her body?” For the latter: That’s Blindspot, dumbasses. For the former: Undercover op and ex-Blacklist bad hombre Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) has a wife and a baby at home, but now he’s going to be traipsing around the world with mom “Scottie” Hargrave (Famke Janssen) on missions the U.S. government won’t avow, because, karma. It’s best to forget the parenting logistics of The Blacklist: Redemption and just go with the action (which will only span eight episodes, so Tom will be back with Liz and Agnes on The Blacklist proper soon enough). But if Redemption is a hit—which it could be; Blacklist faithful won’t be disappointed—they’re going to have to work out a nanny schedule for future missions.
Sun Records (Thursday, Feb. 23, CMT), series debut: Many a dramatized biopic and miniseries have tackled the rock ’n’ roll legend of Elvis Presley—but none have brought together the “Million Dollar Quartet” that also includes Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Sun Records attempts to contain all of these personalities and chronicle the civil rights movement of late-’50s Memphis, and fares mostly better than expected for reality-damaged CMT (which, as a reminder, still stands for Country Music Television, not Cheerleaders, Mullets and Trucks). The Quartet members are portrayed well-if-not-vacantly-pretty enough, but it’s the turn by Billy Gardell (Mike and Molly) as Elvis manager Colonel Tom Parker that provides Sun Records’ real spark.
The 89th Annual Academy Awards (Sunday, Feb. 26, ABC), special: More than just another overlong awards show wherein rich celebrities exchange trophies for being rich celebrities who put out semi-commercially viable content last year, The 89th Annual Academy Awards will also be an overlong soapbox for rich celebrities to rail against the rich celebrity currently residing in the White House (or Mar-a-Lago, or wherever). As boring as that sounds, it’s nothing compared to the snooze-inducing qualities of several of this year’s Best Picture nominees: The most—really, only—exciting part of Arrival was Amy Adams’ CGI floaty-gravity hair; La La Land somehow made jazz, and musicals, even more unpalatable; and Manchester by the Sea … WTF was that mumble-y tone poem of tragedy? Have fun watching the dresses and No Orange Order rants.
Taken (Monday, Feb. 27, NBC), series debut: Bryan Mills, the man with a very particular and dangerous set of skills who still couldn’t protect his daughter and wife from being kidnapped and/or killed over the course of three movies, is back! More accurately … was back? Doomed TV knockoff Taken is a prequel, set 30 years before the films, starring Clive Standen (Vikings) as a younger, fashionably bearded Mills, who’s recruited into the CIA after his sister is gunned down by terrorist goons on his watch. (It does not pay to be related to this guy.) Soon, his covert-agency boss (Jennifer Beals) is putting him through the usual crime-drama-case-of-the-week grind, leaving fans of far-more-ambitious timeslot occupant Timeless to wonder, “NBC cut the season short for this?”
President’s Address to Congress (Tuesday, Feb. 28, many channels), news special: What’s President … yep, still funny … Donald Trump going to pull out of the pocket of his ill-fitting big-boy suit this time? Another attack on real information leaks that somehow led to fake news? More victory laps for winning so hard/narrowly months ago? A eulogy for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Celebrity Apprentice? A declaration of war on New Mexico? (“So much more advanced and dangerous than old Mexico, believe me.”) As thrillpressing (thrilling + depressing, new term) as the many, many, many possibilities are, The Only TV Column That Matters™ suggests watching the new Roger Corman cinematic masterpiece Death Race 2050 on Netflix instead. It’s the best indicator of where ’Merica is headed since Idiocracy, believe me.