Series that should have been better: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the show I was most excited about this past season. Because of how well-made the films all are (and how well-crafted all of DC’s television programs have been), I thought the producers (including The Avengers‘ director Joss Whedon) would do a terrific job continuing those big screen adventures into a weekly series. Somehow, even with the return of Coulson (Clark Gregg), the show lost its way early on, most likely because of the lack of intriguing characters and plots, and only started to find the right path halfway through the series. What rejuvenated the show was the injection of Coulson’s drive to learn everything he could about why he’s not dead, as well as letting Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s plot line alter their main story threads. These aspects allowed the cast to finally find the chemistry that was lacking in the first half of the season, giving it a much needed boost of adrenaline and fun. Adding Bill Paxton was also a winning move, and turned the show into what I hoped it would be from the very beginning. They were lucky to get a second season — but is it still too little too late?
Series that was better than expected: Dads
With all of the controversy surrounding this show before it even aired its first episode, it seemed like it would be dead in the water — and judging by those first couple of episodes, it probably should have been. I’m a big fan of both Seth Green and Giovani Ribisi, so I gave the show more than its fair share of chances, and wouldn’t you know it…. the show actually grew on me. I’m not saying it was anywhere near as good as a lot of shows that I watched, but it wasn’t the Razzie-worthy piece of excrement most people and critics claimed it to be. Though I could have done with far less bathroom humor (which I knew going in would be a big part of the show), and I could never find anything to like about Peter Riegart and Martin Mull, who were so boorish and cartoonish that they become unwanted annoynaces rather than grounded irritations, Green and Ribisi were terrific fouls for one another. Am I sorry to see it canceled? No, but while it was on, it did give enough laughs to sustain a season pass.
Series that shouldn’t have been this good: Sleepy Hollow
There was something about the pilot of Sleepy Hollow that was as strange as its premise. On the surface, it was a fun, entertaining show with a good cast (and a couple of recognizable actors who shockingly died in the first episode) that spurned your interest even though the depths of the mytholgy were still quite lackluster. Tom Mison as Ichobod Crane was so good in all of his old-time British glory, as was his chemistry with Nicole Beharie’s Abbie Mills, that it was incredibly easy to overlook the early weaknesses in the actual story. Then, as the season progressed, magic happened. Orlando Jones, wholly underutilized at the beginning of the season, finally got some meaty things to do, and the addition of John Noble added exactly the right amount of nuance and chemistry to bridge the series into a must-see appointment. On paper, Sleepy Hollow was comic-book cheese; the execution — especially the final third of the season — pure entertainment gold.
Series that shouldn’t have been this bad: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
Once Upon a Time brought a fresh new look to the fairy tales of old when it debuted a couple of years ago. It enchanted its way into our hearts with its cunning ability to create its own brand of mythology, and endeared us into watching, even during the meandering second season. So when they decided to branch out and take a bite out of Wonderland, you half expected it to be bigger than its predecessor. Alas, the show was so horribly executed that everything from the preposterous special effects (more on that in part 3 tomorrow) to the poor acting and labored dialogue made you cringe. Except for the Knave of Hearts (played with glorious, smarmy fun by Michael Socha — hands down the best part of Wonderland, which is probably why he gained an appointment on next season’s Once) not one character was all that likeable, and everything just felt so forced. I will say that after it was learned that the Red Queen (Emma Rigby) was also Anastasia, and was in love with the Knave of Hearts, it started to get a lot better, leading into a pretty decent finale. However, based on its predecessor, Wonderland failed on all counts, and its cancellation was inevitable from the start.
Most obscure story arc placement: The Mentalist
For five seasons, Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) spent the bulk of his time helping the California Bureau of Investigation solve crimes week after week in the hopes that some day he would be able to track his elusive nemesis, Red John, and finally obtain closure for the death of his wife and daughter. It finally happened this season, as Patrick whittled the final seven suspects into one and gave fans a much needed end to the long in the tooth story arc. The odd thing about this, though, was where the producers chose to place it in the context of the series as a whole. Usually with a major story arc like this, it either happens at the end of a season, or at the midday point, using it as a bridge into the second half. This episode, which ended with Patrick running off into the sunset (so to speak), occurred not before a month long hiatus, but at the end of a sweeps month. Two episodes that set up the last two-thirds of the season followed immediately after and then the show went on Christmas vacation, making it feel as if the story arc never really ended. I would have had a much better reaction to the conclusion of this arc had it have been the final episode of the season, giving me a reason to tune back in to see where they would take the show in the future. (To see what I’m talking about, look no further than Person of Interest, which ended its first half with the shooting of Detective Carter, and the season with the disbanding of Finch and Co. Now that’s how you create show-altering momentum.)
Best New Story Arc: Haven
When Audrey (Emily Rose) and Duke (Eric Balfour) disappeared with the barn at the end of last season, leaving Nathan (Lucas Bryant) to hold down the fort alone after the meteor shower, you had to wonder where the writers were going to take us. It turns out, they took us on a head-spinning ride that finally disclosed almost everything about what the barn is, who Audrey really is and what (or would that be who) originally caused the troubles to form in the small Maine burg of Haven. And they did so with such concise precision that it never felt expositional. Right from the start, as Duke returns with no memory of the past six months, and we find out that Audrey is now a bartender named Lexie, but is only using the persona to hide from her past self, the show uses every episode to peal a new layer away. On top of that, Nathan’s acceptance of his fated death, the hunt for the hand-print killers, and the introduction of Colin Ferguson as the mysterious newcomer, William, all helped to turn the tables on this already fantastic series. The real kicker though, was finding out that Audrey and William are actually the force behind the creation of the troubles. This, in addition with the final moments when the persona of Audrey is all but wiped from existence in favor of the embodiment of her real (or original) devilish persona, were perfect set-ups for what should be a stellar finale season.
Tomorrow, check out Part 3 of the awards, where I’ll discuss some technical issues, who the best new duo was, the most surprising death, and the show that once again found its voice.