Don't Touch That Dial!
If this year's TV mid-season has anything going for it, it's quantity. I'm not sure I've seen a more crowded field of new series in January and February (and continuing on into March and April).
Here's my attempt to at least make some sense of the coming flood, which abates a bit during the Olympics.
I've included short reviews of some shows I've already watched (Fox's "Rake," starring Greg Kinnear and the CW's "The 100," about post-apocalyptic teens, are among the best so far).
"Blood, Sweat and Heels" (Bravo at 9 p.m.) Follows a group of black women described as "movers and shakers" in the New York fashion, real estate and media scenes. The usual.
"Intelligence" (CBS at 9 p.m.; moves to its regular time Monday, Jan. 13, at 10 p.m.) "Lost's" Josh Holloway returns to series TV in this espionage drama as Gabriel, an intelligence agent who is the first human to have a supercomputer implanted in his brain. He can mentally sort through heaps of data with a wink-blink of his pretty eyes. "CSI's" Marg Helgenberger stars as his boss at a clandestine government cybersecurity agency; Meghan Ory plays a tough Secret Service agent assigned to protect Gabriel from an array of foreign bad guys who want the billion-dollar science project inside his head. Complicating things is Gabriel's heartsick obsession with his wife, who turned out to be a terrorist.
So there you have it. Holloway is pretty much his usual simmering self, as is Helgenberger. The technology in the show displays the very latest in what-the-. . .?, as far as TV's hyperactive imagination goes. (If we'd had the Internet in 1974, this is what "The Six Million Dollar Man" might've looked like.) On the whole, "Intelligence" trafficks in the usual request to suspend your disbelief and then some, but it's also mildly intriguing — especially in the idea that its macho lead character is also treated as a vulnerable prize who needs to be protected at all costs. Grade: C+
"Killer Women" (ABC at 10 p.m.) The show's title and advertising seemed to suggest something much saucier and violent, but this lady-cop drama (co-produced by "Modern Family's" Sofia Vergara) is a fairly straightforward and briskly perfunctory affair about a gutsy Texas Ranger named Molly (Tricia Helfer), who chases after criminals while trying to put her own life back together. She wants a divorce from her politician husband, and she's having secret trysts with a handsome DEA agent. ("Dangerously handsome," the press release insists. Hmm, if you say so.)
Like all shows filmed and set in Texas, "Killer Women" is cooked through with too much yee-haw sauce and a whole lot of urban-cowgirl chic, but Helfer ("Battlestar Galactica") ably carries off the assignment and keeps the momentum going. "Killer Women" is one belt notch tighter and better than some of ABC's already-forgotten fall dramas. Grade: B-
- "100 Days of Summer" (Bravo at 10 p.m.) A group of self-absorbed, 30-something Chicago strivers mate and grate during the city's much-welcomed months of sunshine.
- "American Experience: The Poisoner's Handbook" (PBS, check local listings) A documentary about Charles Norris, who in 1918 became New York's first official medical examiner and developed forensic techniques that sent otherwise-elusive criminals to the electric chair.
- "Escaping the Prophet" (TLC at 10 p.m.) This six-part docu-series follows former Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints member Flora Jessop as she helps others break away from Warren Jeffs' strict religious community.
- "Mind of a Man" (GSN at 8 p.m.) It may sound like the premise for an "SNL" sketch, but in this actual game show, two female contestants try to figure out the male thought process, aided by a panel of celebrities.
- "Chasing Shackleton" (PBS, check local listings) Five adventure-seekers follow the treacherous 1914 Antarctic journey of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew. A three-part docu-series.
- "Chicago P.D." (NBC at 10 p.m.) Creator Dick Wolf ("Law and Order") spins off his "Chicago Fire" into a drama about an intelligence unit that investigates the Windy City's biggest crimes, contrasted with the work of the uniformed beat officers in the same precinct.
"The Spoils of Babylon" (IFC at 10 p.m.) Tobey Maguire stars in this comedy spoof of those sprawling, 1970s miniseries based on tawdry bestselling novels about the rich and powerful — in this case, "The Spoils of Babylon," written by one Eric Johnrosh (Will Ferrell), who exhumes the film reels of the never-aired series (the networks deemed it "too long") that he directed himself.
So that's the set-up. The cast includes a whole lot of familiar faces — Kristen Wiig, Molly Shannon, Michael Sheen, Tim Robbins, Haley Joel Osment, Val Kilmer, David Spade and so on. Though I admire the show's commitment to form in satirizing an entire genre, something about "Babylon's" overall shtick wears immediately thin. Part of the joke is that "The Spoils of Babylon" was utterly unwatchable, and that's why the network never showed it; it seems they achieved that goal a little too well. Grade: D
- "Enlisted" (Fox at 9:30 p.m.) It's a comedy about three Army brothers (Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, Parker Young) stationed at a rear-detachment base in Florida. "Enlisted" was originally scheduled to premiere in November; in The Post's fall season guide, yours truly negatively compared the show to old "Beetle Bailey" comic strips and gave it a C+. But having seen some more episodes, I think they've charmed their way up to at least a Grade B-.
- "$10 Million Bigfoot Bounty" (Spike at 10 p.m.) The sasquatch pursuit never ends. Actor Dean Cain hosts this weekly competition show in which hunters must deliver proof of the elusive creature.
- "Helix" (Syfy at 10 p.m.) A team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travels to the Arctic and finds something that could wipe out all of us. Billy Campbell ("The Killing"; "Once and Again") stars in this drama/thriller.
"When Calls the Heart" (Hallmark at 9 p.m.) A new original series about a young teacher (Erin Krakow) who leaves big-city life to teach in a small frontier prairie town in the 19th century.
"True Detective" (HBO at 9 p.m.) Highly touted eight-episode crime drama stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as Louisiana detectives investigating a macabre murder that has obsessed them for nearly two decades. The narrative hopscotches around from 2012 to 1995 to 2002.
- "Chozen" (FX at 10:30 p.m.) An animated comedy about a gay white rapper (voiced by "SNL's" Bobby Moynihan) who goes by the name Chozen, fresh out of prison and now seeking another chance at fame.
- "Don't Trust Andrew Mayne" (A&E at 10 p.m.) In this goofy reality show, a magician uses his talent to assist people seeking revenge on others.
- "Bitten" (Syfy at 10 p.m.) Based on Kelley Armstrong's novels, in which a young woman leaves behind her werewolf pack (and the man who turned her into a howler) for a new life in the big city.
- "Friday Night Tykes" (Esquire at 9 p.m.) A 10-part docu-series about the super-serious world of the Texas Youth Football Association, where the players are all 8- and 9-year-old boys.
- "Building Wild" (National Geographic Channel at 9 p.m.) Two home-building experts tackle jobs from clients who want to build cabins in challenging locations.
- "Inside Job" (TNT at 9 p.m.) Job-seeking execs live together and vie for a six-figure corporate position in this reality show — but one of them is a mole who is spying on the others' behavior.
- "Save Our Business" (TNT at 10 p.m.) Yet another show where a successful entrepreneur administers advice and tough love to struggling business owners.
"Crazy Hearts: Nashville" (A&E at 11 p.m.) Reality series follows a group of musicians trying to make it in country music. Moves to its regular slot at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16.
"Under the Gunn" (Lifetime at 9 p.m.) Tim Gunn calls in former "Project Runway" winners to provide guidance to young designers in a new fashion competition.
- "The Square" (Netflix) From the filmmaker of "StartUp.com" and "The Control Room," a documentary about Cairo's Tahrir Square during the "Arab Spring" uprising.
- "The Diamond Collar" (OWN at 10 p.m.) Reality series about James "Head" Guiliani, a former associate of Mafia man John Gotti who now runs a dog-grooming parlor in Brooklyn.
- "My Gal Sunday" (Hallmark Movie Channel at 9 p.m.) Adventures of husband-wife crime solvers (Rachel Blanchard and Cameron Mathison), based on short stories by Mary Higgins Clark.
- "Mom's Got Game" (OWN at 10 p.m.) Reality series follows former WNBA basketball star Pamela McGee and her 25-year-old son, JaVale McGee, a center for the Denver Nuggets.
- "#RichKids of Beverly Hills"(E! at 10 p.m.) This docu-series follows a clique of fancy kids who gain Internet notoriety by promoting their every action and thought on social media. You can only hope one of them is named Ja'mie, but probably not.
- "Looking" (HBO at 10:30 p.m.) A new dramedy about three gay men in San Francisco who are at different stages of life and emotional issues.
- "The Powerpuff Girls: Dance Pantsed" (Cartoon Network at 7:30 p.m.) Fifteen years after their debut, the heroic Powerpuff Girls return with a new special and a new computer-generated animation style. Original characters/voices return to do battle with Mojo Jojo; Ringo Starr provides the voice of Townsville's "flamboyant mathematician."
- "Klondike" (Discovery at 9 p.m.) Richard Madden (Robb Stark from "Game of Thrones") stars as one of two adventurers who head for the Yukon in 1890 during the gold rush. It's Discovery's first original miniseries drama.
- "Broad City" (Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m.) Upright Citizens Brigade alums Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer bring their critically acclaimed online series to Comedy Central.
- "The Wahlburgers" (A&E at 10:30 p.m.) Brothers Mark and Donnie Wahlberg head back to Boston to join forces with their brother Paul and open a hamburger restaurant.
- "Treasure King" (Reelz at 10 p.m.) Accompanied by his comely "Gallery Girls," globe-trotting collector Richie Marcello seeks to buy and sell pop-culture treasures and memorabilia that were thought to be lost.
"Rake" (Fox at 9 p.m.) Greg Kinnear happily and believably sinks his pearly whites into this amiably sharp drama (based on a hit Australian series) about a criminal defense attorney who finds trouble everywhere: He's up to his ears in gambling and IRS debts, drinks way too much, lives in a ratty apartment above a restaurant and is hopelessly in love with the prostitute he pays for conversation and backgammon games. His therapist is also his ex-wife.
"House" comparisons will surely abound, but "Rake" is easily one of the more confident network dramas to come our way of late. It's a procedural (in an episode shared with critics last year, Kinnear's character — Keegan Deane — defends a cannibal against murder charges), but it's just unorthodox enough to make me eager to see more. Grade: B+
"Black Sails" (Starz at 9 p.m.) At first glance, this is a sprawling, big-budget pirate drama series that somehow manages to feel too cheap. "Black Sails" follows several bands of Caribbean-based pirates in 1715, "the golden age of pirating." When the British Navy starts to crack down on these legendary criminals, the pirate Capt. Flint (Toby Stephens) allies with the daughter of New Providence Island's crime kingpin to chase after the ultimate treasure.
There's a whole lot else going on in just the first episode, with too many indistinguishable characters; at times "Black Sails" feels like it wants to be taken seriously as a complicated, premium cable drama (a la "Game of Thrones") . At other times, it feels more like cheesier, more niche material (a la "Spartacus"). I'll watch a few more episodes, but walking the plank seems more tempting. Grade: C-
"Star Crossed" (CW at 8 p.m.) Two Baton Rouge teens experience some angsty, sci-fi themed "Romeo and Juliet"-type issues because the boy (Matt Lanter) belongs to an alien race of refugees called the Atrians and the girl (Aimee Teegarden) is the daughter of the commander tasked with keeping the aliens in line.
As part of an integration effort, the gorgeous Atrian teens (who come with their own natural neck and face tattoos) are bused in every day to a local high school, where they try to fit in. "Star Crossed" hews hard to outsider themes and a nominally relevant exploration of civil rights history — amped up in CW's instinctive flair for stylish (and predictable) teen melodrama. One imagines the screenplay being written in purple ink and very loopy handwriting, intercepted by the English teacher wearing the "Battlestar Galactica" T-shirt. Grade: C+
"Mixology" (ABC at 9:30 p.m.) This new comedy is set in a bar called the Mix, where 10 single people have random encounters and conversations in their unending quest for love. If I understand the concept correctly, the entire season (however long it lasts) takes place on a single night.
"Review" (Comedy Central at 10 p.m.): Andy Daly stars as a "life critic," who reviews experiences instead of arts and culture.
"Sirens" (USA at 10 p.m.) Denis Leary co-produces this new comedy about three EMT dudes in Chicago.
"Resurrection" (ABC at 9 p.m.) The residents of Arcadia, Mo., react to the fact that a young boy who died 32 years ago has returned — unchanged — from the dead. (Not to be confused with the excellent French miniseries "The Returned," but it looks a little bit like it.)
"Mind Games" (ABC at 10 p.m.) Steve Zahn and Christian Slater star as Clark and Ross Edwards, two brothers who run an agency that helps clients fix their problems through psychological manipulation and influence.
"The 100" (CW at 9 p.m.) A refreshingly taut and well-executed futuristic sci-fi series about a group of 100 jailed juvenile delinquents who are banished from an orbiting space-station colony and sent to live on Earth — 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse.
They've barely crash-landed when things get pretty "Lord of the Flies," but a determined young woman (Eliza Taylor) tries her best to stick to the group's real mission: Locate a mountain bunker and determine whether or not the rest of the humans on the dying space station above can join them on land. What they discover — along with mutant deer — is that Earth is not as depopulated as they were led to believe.
I realize that sounds like a lot to chew on, but "The 100" does an excellent job of launching a CW-style take on bigger-budgeted adventure series like "Lost" or "Terra Nova" or "Revolution," with a little "Hunger Games" thrown in. But unlike "Terra Nova" and "Revolution," it's got characters you can actually care about. Maybe I've been too eager for an addictive sci-fi series that doesn't feel instantly dumb, but I raced through the first several episodes of "The 100" with pleasure. Grade: A-
"Friends With Better Lives" (CBS at 9 p.m.) A new sitcom about six pals, premiering after the one-hour "How I Met Your Mother" series finale. Takes over the 8:30 p.m. slot on April 7.
These shows haven't been given an air date as of press time, but they're expected sometime before May . . .
- "The Red Road" (Sundance Channel) Drama series about a small-town cop who also patrols a nearby Indian reservation.
- "Game of Arms" (AMC) Reality series about competitive arm-wrestling.
- "Turn" (AMC) Drama about spies in the Revolutionary War.
- "Gang Related" (Fox) Cop drama. An elite LAPD officer has a past with Latino gangs.
- "Surviving Jack" (Fox) Comedy set in the 1990s about a father and his teenage son.
- "Us and Them" (Fox) Comedy starring Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel as young lovers.
- "Crisis" (NBC) Drama in which a bus carrying children of the Washington, D.C. elite — including the president's son — is taken hostage. Gillian Anderson stars.
- "The Night Shift" (NBC) Drama about the overnight staff at a San Antonio hospital.
- "About a Boy" (NBC) Comedy based on Nick Hornby's novel.
- "Growing Up Fisher" (NBC) Jenna Elfman and J.K. Simmons star in this comedy about a family going through divorce.
- "Salem" (WGN) More witches.