Midseason in Westchester

They whiffed, they wobbled, they stalled, but midseason television shows are finally underway. Midseason replacements are in a very odd phase right now. Half the shows scheduled for debut were stunted by the writers’ strike, which lead to a few truncated seasons. (We were just getting started, Sarah Connor!) The strike also prompted studios to talk big about how they’re doing away with lavish upfronts and big fall premieres and switching to year-round programming, swapping in new shows and taking old ones off the air as the need arises. That sounds like television utopia, right? New shows all year? But right now, “new shows all year” translates into “we’ll run whatever we were able to produce before the strike, and when those run out of episodes we’ll slap whatever we were able to produce in the meantime in its timeslot.” This means right now we’re burning our way through a lot of lousy five- and six-episode runs of a mixed bag of shows. Welcome to midseason.

There are a couple familiar names poking through. Dancing with the Stars, usually a ratings powerhouse, returns with a pretty Westchester face among its nonprofessional dancers striving to go strictly ballroom. Marissa Jaret Winokur, the original star of Hairspray on Broadway, grew up in Bedford Village. Let’s hope she brings home the disco-ball trophy. Check her out on the show’s premiere, Monday, March 17 at 8 pm on ABC.

Secondly, New Amsterdam, a show about an immortal homicide NYPD officer that was cancelled in the fall to make room for more episodes of Don’t Forget the Lyrics, has now seen the light of day. Unfortunately, I still have the first episode stored up on my TiVo. I know, I know. I should have more hometown pride for Bedford director Lasse Hallström. But American Idol is back, and watching that is like a part-time job (not to mention keeping up with all of the time-travel on Lost), so it fell by the wayside. For now. I’ll check it out, I promise.

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The good news is that those who did check it out mostly like it, at least according to metacritic.com, a site that aggregates reviews. The Chicago Sun-Times writes that “New Amsterdam is smart and far more original than most of the new series this season, which warrants it becoming a Monday habit.” The show is on Fox every Monday at 9 pm.

Speaking of rave reviews, the best-reviewed TV event this midseason was A Raisin in the Sun. Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy) may have gotten all of the media attention for his transformation from rapper to serious actor in the mold of Sidney Poitier, but it’s Westchester’s Audra McDonald who holds her own. Entertainment Weekly writes that she “embodies Walter’s anguished wife with a piercing directness.” Sadly, this was a one-shot deal on ABC, but let’s keep our fingers crossed for a DVD.

Other than our neighbors, who are midseason’s biggest critical winners and losers?

Winners

Eli Stone
Usually, shows about people who have weird visions that give them life lessons don’t pan out all too well (think Wonderfalls, Joan of Arcadia). I guess they were just missing George Michael. Michael appears as a sort of prophet to lawyer Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller, or Sickboy from Trainspotting), and thus he is called to drop corporate law for a life of good works. Adventures ensue. The show seems better than its description, and TV Guide
calls it “adorably quirky and emotionally surprising.” Eli Stone is on ABC every Thursday at 10 pm.

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
After Arnold, future robo-resistor John Conner sends a sexy cyborg back in time to help him prevent machines from taking over Earth. For a while, this show will have you thinking in circles, wondering, “If John Connor stops the machines from being built, how can he send a Terminator back to protect him? And if he doesn’t do that and he dies, how can he stop the machines from being built?” But then stuff blows up and robots fight each other and everything is as it should be. New York magazine
calls executive producer David Nutter “an adrenaline junkie equally adept at terrorizing a classroom, blowing up a city, rebooting a cyborg, or time-warping a bank vault.” Unfortunately, this was one of those quickie strike-stunted series that already had its finale. Find a friend who saved it on DVR.

Losers

Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle
Oh, it’s not a good time to be a Sex and the City rip-off. Sex and the City‘s executive producer is behind Mafia, while its writer adapted another one of her novels for Jungle. It seems the parts are not greater than the sum of its whole—reviews are each more dismal than the last. The Washington Post
states that “the self-absorption and selfishness” of Mafia‘s characters “become unbearable,” and the New York Times writes that “Lipstick Jungle is a wooden clog of a melodrama squeezed into a flimsy, satin and marabou mule.” If you’re still not deterred, Cashmere Mafia is on Sundays at 10 pm on ABC, and Lipstick Jungle is on Thursdays at 10 pm on NBC.

Unhitched
Poor Rashida Jones. First, her character on The Office loses heartthrob Jim to her romantic rival, Pam. Now she’s stuck in a middling sitcom from There’s Something About Mary creators The Farrelly Brothers. The show focuses on a group of thirtysomethings who find themselves once again single. A critic for Variety
writes that “the show feels completely derivative, it’s wholly unconvincing that the central quartet would hang out together, and I’m frankly still fuzzy (mostly because after 10 minutes it’s difficult to give a damn) on what connects them beyond the not-that-jarring status of being single again in their 30s and, well, Seinfeld did it.” Ouch. Give it a pity viewing on Sunday, 9:30 pm on Fox.

Any favorite midseason show to report? Let me know in the comments.

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