QuickTake: Checking in on six this year’s US TV returning line-up

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Is it me, or is this year’s new Fall TV season proving rather muted? I can’t think of any new shows that have premiered that have caught my attention, and instead it’s been mostly a return of new seasons of last year’s programmes.

In the absence of anything fresh and noteworthy, let’s do a quick round-up of what’s happening in six of the US shows that have come back onto our screens in recent weeks. All of these have been reviewed on Taking The Short View in the past so we’ll keep his quick and punchy as we check in with the latest offerings from The Walking Dead, Criminal Minds and DC’s superhero quartet The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

A word of warning in advance – there are some spoilers from the episodes that have aired to date.

supergirlSupergirl S2 E1-6 Sky One, Mondays 8pm
Supergirl got off to a rocky start last year and I was far from kind to its pilot episode when I reviewed it – but it hung on in there, and I’d have to rate it as last year’s most improved show over the course of a season. It’s now undergone a major overhaul after switching networks from CBS to The CW over the summer, which means it’s now airing alongside its DC siblings The Flash, Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow enabling an upcoming multi-show crossover. The changes do mean that Calista Flockhart has left the show (she didn’t want to switch from filming in LA to Vancouver), while Chris Wood has been added to the line-up as a gauche “Superman-lite” (he can’t fly, but is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound) for Supergirl to mentor in earthly ways which provides more humour. The rest of the returning cast have been redeployed in new beefed-up roles which together with stronger storylines means that the ever-delightful Melissa Benoist finally has the support and back up she needs to make the show work. The show has even taken care of its Kal-El problem by finally having Superman make a guest appearance – not in the guise of the movies’ Henry Cavill but played instead by Tyler Hoechlin, who while a little slight to play the Man of Steel is nonetheless genuinely impressive as his alter-ego Clark Kent finding just the right line between making the character charming and bumbling. That said, the show is right to think that a little Superman goes a long way and to hustle him back out of the picture again for only occasional returns.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ 1/2

criminalmindsCriminal Minds S12 E1-6 Sky Living, Mondays 9pm
It’s hard to keep a series fresh when it’s been running for 12 years, especially in such a well-worn furrow as this crime procedural centred on the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit. Criminal Minds’ producers are still working hard to find a new ways of doing the same old stories – one episode told from the point of an agent unloading her worries to her husband late at night in their kitchen while their baby suffers from colic was particularly notable – but it’s events behind the scenes that have tended to overshadow this year’s episodes. After losing one of its most popular characters at the end of last season (Derek Morgan, played by Shemar Moore), the show has now been rocked by the abrupt firing of series star Thomas Gibson who apparently had done something of a Clarkson, that is to say he’d been involved in an altercation with one of the show’s producers. Former series regular Paget Brewster had already been lined up for a guest appearance and her stay was extended to cover what initially appeared to be a temporary suspension for Gibson’s character. After the show was left spinning its wheels rewriting scripts to explain the changes, Brewster has now been signed-up permanently with her character taking over as team leader. This is actually no bad thing – I had nothing against Gibson or his character, but his stone-faced taciturn Aaron Hotchner was never a particular favourite of mine either. Added to this, Aisha Tyler has finally been promoted to full-time season regular, long overdue after a year of guest appearances; and Adam Rodriguez has filled the action hero role vacated by Shemar Moore and has proved himself surprisingly warm and engaging after ten thankless seasons in the painfully po-faced CSI: Miami. While these changes have been forced on the show by unplanned staff changes, it also might just be the tonic and fresh blood the venerable series needs if it’s to continue beyond the end of this current season.

Rating: ★ ★ ★

walking-dead-6The Walking Dead S7 E1-6 Fox, Mondays 9pm
I always wondered how long The Walking Dead could get away with keeping the show going before something snapped, and I think we’ve finally found the answer. The new season opens up at exactly the point the last one finished, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his group on their knees before new über-menace Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and the first episode details the way Negan commences to crushe the group’s spirit so that they become totally subservient to him. Unfortunately the show does this so well that it also crushes the viewer’s will to watch, especially when two favourite characters are suddenly and violently killed in the process. One of them (and look away now if you’re avoiding spoilers) is a character who spent much of last year’s run apparently dead but miraculously alive and seeking to stay that way while getting back to his pregnant wife for a tearful reunion. No sooner is that done than he’s bludgeoned to death and we’re left with a strong whiff of cynical manipulation on the part of the show: after spending all that time involved with Glen’s plight, we might as well not have bothered if this is the result. In fact it’s hard not to ask why it’s worth engaging with any of these characters at all any more if that’s to be the outcome each and every time: I confess I gave serious thought to concluding that was it, that was enough and that I wasn’t going to watch anymore. It’s surely no coincidence that The Walking Dead has haemorrhaged a third of its peak audience so far this season. Yet despite the nasty taste that the season premiere left in the mouth, this remains one of the best written, best acted and impressively staged shows on television. There have been complaints that the show has lacked pace and been ‘dull’ as it’s swapped overt action for the suffocating menace of Negan and his gang, but I’ve enjoyed getting to see how other communities such as the Savours, the Kingdom, Hilltop and Oceanside have organised themselves in response to different circumstances and it’s made the world of The Walking Dead feel bigger and more ambitious as a result. Once Negan has been dealt with – and that needs to happen fairly quickly since he doesn’t work nearly so well in a TV context as he does in the graphic novels – there’s still a lot of rich material to exploit. As long as any of our heroes are left alive and sufficiently intact to tell the tales, that is.

Rating: ★ ★ ★

flashThe Flash S3 E1-6 Sky One, Tuesdays 8pm
The Flash has always been my favourite among DC’s line-up of superhero television shows, and it continues to be consistently inventive and engaging into its third season. Rather than being lazy and putting its feet up, the new season has used some time travel shenanigans to shake things up: after the Flash tried to save his mother by changing history only to be forced to undo his meddling which nonetheless leaves his current present altered in significant ways such as a brand new character called Julian Albert (played by Harry Potter alumni Tom Felton.) However, while the series is generally still fun and packed with geek media in-jokes, it feels that it is becoming increasingly serious and dark – which is a shame as it was always its sense of fast-paced fun that was its strongest asset. Now most of the laughs come from a new version of Harrison Wells recruited from a parallel Earth, the third (or is is fourth?) edition of the character which is providing Tom Cavanagh with plenty of rich material to work even as other returning characters are starting to feel a little stuck in a rut. At least Keiynan Lonsdale as Wally is getting some good storylines this season to make him feel more fully a part of the action after a soft introduction in series 2.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ 1/2

arrowArrow S5 E1-6 Sky One, Wednesdays 8pm
After an impressive first season, I have to confess that I’ve always found Arrow to be a bit of a grind to get through. Despite some impressive fight choreography and a nice ray of sunshine in the form of Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak, the turnover of characters (many of them getting killed off in decreasingly effective shocks) and the increasing density of back story and continuity references just makes this feel like very hard work. The new season has at least finally managed to clear the decks to a certain extent with Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) acquiring a public role as mayor of Star City alongside his nocturnal activities as the Arrow, together with the disbanding of the Arrow’s original support group leading to the forming of a new band of rookie vigilantes who resent the Arrow’s tough approach to training them and his habit of keeping secrets to himself. This has allowed the show to lighten its black mood somewhat with jokes being made at the expense of the Arrow’s dour demeanour, but unfortunately the show persists in keeping the flashbacks to Oliver’s past – currently featuring the Russian mafia – which are both interminable and largely dispensable. I’m kind of sticking with the show because of the upcoming multi-programme crossover story, but I’m increasingly finding other things to do or read when its on which is hardly a great sign or recommendation.

Rating: ★ ★ 1/2

legendsDC’s Legends of Tomorrow S2 E1-6 Sky One, Thursdays 8pm
Many people didn’t expect DC’s Legends of Tomorrow to return for a second season after a scattershot first year, and it’s no surprise that it has been comprehensively revamped in time for a shorter second tour of duty. Happily the characters of Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Vandal Savage have been written out, which is all to the good as far as I’m concerned; but unfortunately two of the show’s strongest performers, Wentworth Miller and Arthur Darvill, have also departed at least for the time being, the latter to return to the UK to film the new series of Broadchurch. At least Darvill’s absence as Captain Rip Hunter has allowed more time and space for the show to concentrate on Cathy Loiz as the de facto new head of the team alongside Victor Garber and Brandon Routh, while Dominic Purcell manically overplays as strongman Mick, the purely comedic element. It’s good to see Franz Drameh increasingly impressive and coming along in leaps and bounds as Jax, while new recruit Nick Zano is at least holding his own as new recruit Nate Heywood even though fellow newcomer Maisie Richardson-Sellers is yet to make much of an impression. Overall the show feels to have a better sense of what it is and what it’s trying to do rather than the haphazard first season melange, and it’s having some reasonably good fun with its cartoon side with stories including Albert Einstein kidnapped by Nazis and the Union Army in the US Civil War under siege from zombies – of which, quick delightfully, the usually rigidly rational Martin Stein (Garber) has a mortal dread – but the whole thing still feels overblown and all over the place. Watching DC’s Legends of Tomorrow feels a bit like eating nothing but candy floss all day and then going to bed wondering why you’ve got a massive headache and feel simultaneously both sick and ravenously hungry.

Rating: ★ ★ 1/2

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