What to Add to Your DVR (and What to Stay Away From)

Yes, back in September, it was fun to keep up with all the new premieres and see what had big ratings, what had critical success—and what was flopping before it could even begin. But it’s hard to judge a TV show by its pilot. Now, the excitement of the new season has died down, and shows are really settling into their storylines. Everyone has had a chance to weigh in. And, while I brought you some of the early buzz on the new TV season a couple months ago, how do those shows fare now that they’re in for the long haul? I promised I’d check in after the initial critical wave, and so here is the state of the TV. Adjust your DVRs accordingly.

Biggest Winner!
Boardwalk Empire
The Metascore: 88/100
The Details: One of the strongest starts out of the gate managed to hang on to its supremacy throughout the new-season debuts. And it’s easy to see why. Boardwalk Empire has everything you could want in a TV show: fine attention to period details (like Mad Men); a cast populated by gritty, textured gangsters in New Jersey (like The Sopranos); and the loveably sleazy Steve Buscemi.

The Walking Dead

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Metascore: 86/100
The Details: Even though this Frank Darabont-written/directed zombie-drama came on to the TV schedule late in the season, premiering on Halloween, it made a pretty big impression. (Salon‘s Heather Havrilesky was moved to write: “A film-quality drama series about zombies? Somebody pinch me!”) If you’re a zombie fan—or you, know, fans of human drama with a backdrop of zombies—you better jump on AMC’s bandwagon quickly, because it only lasts six episodes, and two have already aired.

Metascore: 85/100
The Details: I was surprised at the outpouring of critical praise for this show—because, frankly, I’d never heard of it. But people who have seen it love it. PBS has modernized Sherlock Holmes, moving his story from Victorian London into the 21st Cenutry. The shame of it is, they only chose three mysteries to tell, and the last one—The Great Game—aired yesterday. But keep an eye out for repeats or DVDs if you’re a fan of elementary deduction.

What we can learn from the winners is that—with the exception of those PBS specials (which might not even count as a full TV show, being only three episodes/movies; if you want to DQ it, the fourth-place finisher is BBC America’s Luther)—cable is still putting out the highest quality television shows. Part of me is miffed—I don’t want to have to pay extra to watch the best shows out there—but the other part understands that only on cable is there the freedom to experiment with zombies and gangsters, who might develop niche followings but rarely reach Dancing with the Stars-level ratings. But, even in their attempts at big ratings-grabs, networks still come up short. Hence, the list of the season’s biggest losers.

The Biggest Loser!
$#*! My Dad Says
Metascore: 28/100
The Details: Spawned from a Twitter feed and starring Will Shatner as the titular dad, this old-school-style sitcom could be renamed Dads Say the Darndest Things. But don’t expect fresh things from the Twitterverse; the New York Times wrote that the show is “a wholly generic sitcom so divorced from its source material that you have to pinch yourself to remember it had anything to do with the Internet, or with the world after 1985. It might as well have been based on a greeting card.” Then again, the joke may be on us—CBS renewed the show for the rest of the season anyway, so it’s not going away any time soon.

The Talk
Metascore: 34/100
The Details: Another failure of CBS, this women’s chat show tries to follow in the vein of The View with hosts Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Holly Robinson Peete, Leah Remini, and Marissa Jaret Winokur. I’ve never really seen a daytime talk show get so brutally roughed-up by critics before, but the Boston Globe called this one “an hour of plastic blatherers pretending to be a microcosm of American women.”


Metascore: 36/100
The Details: You’d think that America has an unending appetite for law shows, but every once in a while one comes around that the people just reject. Outlaw, Jimmy Smits’s law vehicle in which he played a Supreme Court justice who retires to go back to helping the poor and defenseless (!), is one of those few unsuccessful law outings. But, it won’t bother anyone anymore; NBC has already canceled it.

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What are your new favorite shows of this season? Let me know in the comments.

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