It’s widely known that January is the film industry’s least favorite month, a dumping ground for movies of poor quality and low expectations. Fortunately, TV doesn’t play by the same rules. For both returning favorites and series premieres, many of this year’s midseason debuts have been off to a strong start. But of course, it wouldn’t be premiere season without its share of duds.
Empire (Wednesdays at 9 p.m., FOX)
Viola Davis journeyed to TV this fall for ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, and now two fellow Oscar nominees have followed her lead. Created by Lee Daniels (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and Danny Strong (Game Change), Empire is already a ratings hit, securing a second season after only two episodes. And rightfully so; the acting is strong, the tension is sharp and the music, written and produced by Timbaland, is both soulful and catchy. The freshman drama stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, who head the family behind hip-hop’s most lucrative record label. It makes sense that most of FOX’s midseason promotion has gone to the music-oriented show; the network birthed American Idol and later struck gold with Glee. Now that the former phenomena have gone stale, Empire is stepping up to the mic.
Togetherness (Sundays at 9:30 p.m., HBO)
You likely don’t know much about it, but you know it exists, thanks to unavoidable everywhere-you-look advertising. But with massive billboards come great expectations, and we’re not so sure Togetherness lives up to the hype. Created by the Duplass brothers (Baghead, Cyrus), the series examines the confusion and desperation of four middle-aged people living under one roof. The plot has potential for hilarity, though its execution embraces a quieter brand of humor. With relatable moments and convincing performances, Togetherness has the makings of a memorable show. Though so far, it’s nothing spectacular.
Nightwatch (Thursdays at 10 p.m., A&E)
Too often, watching reality TV is synonymous with losing brain cells. But now that unscripted series’ ratings are on the downfall, maybe networks will revive the genre with quality, thought-provoking content. Premiering January 22, Nightwatch follows emergency responders as they brave the New Orleans streets for the graveyard shift. From a fly-on-the-wall perspective, the show exposes viewers to real-life trauma and the heroes who risk their lives to help. Capturing such intensity is no easy task, but we have faith in the docuseries. After all, executive producer Dick Wolf (Law & Order, Chicago P.D.) knows a thing or two about crime.
12 Monkeys (Fridays at 9 p.m., Syfy)
Adapting a cult film for the small screen doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea after all, with last year’s Fargo (FX) earning critical acclaim. Deviating from the film’s plot, the Fargo miniseries found its own identity, an achievement 12 Monkeys hopes to replicate. The storyline is essentially the same as in the movie: a man from the post-apocalyptic future travels back in time to the present day. In the film, Bruce Willis’ James Cole visits the present to collect information about the future’s deadly plague. But info isn’t all that Syfy’s Cole (Aaron Stanford) wants—in a more heroic turn, he’s here to stop the plague. With plenty more changes, such as to characters’ names and genders, the series has definitely proven to differ from the film. Even with that checked off the list, will we keep tuning in? The pilot alone was entertaining, well acted, and a huge step up for the network. We’re sticking around for now.
Man Seeking Woman (Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m., FXX)
This show is, well, strange. Like, a-man-goes-on-a-blind-date-with-a-troll strange. No, not an unfortunate looking girl—an actual garbage-eating scaly-skinned troll. Not strange enough for you? The pilot has 126-year-old Adolf Hitler attending a New York apartment party. Jay Baruchel stars in this zany comedy, which at its core is about your average Joe searching for a mate. Man Seeking Woman may score points for originality, but not even trolls, Hitler and a Japanese penis monster can save a series that just isn’t very funny. We expected more from executive producer Lorne Michaels—although recent years of Saturday Night Live have been lackluster.
Girls (Sundays at 9 p.m., HBO)
Watching Girls’ titular foursome is comparable to having girlfriends in real life. When you see them on a weekly basis for months straight, all of their annoyances come to light. You recognize their selfishness, immaturity and the fact that they may just be downright unlikeable. But after a much-needed hiatus, you forget how bad they really are and you’re pretty glad to see them. The Season 4 premiere offered everything you’d expect from Lena Dunham’s hit show: tears, confrontations, a controversial sex scene, and Marnie’s cringe-worthy singing (no offense to Allison Williams). Same old gimmicks, but done in a surprisingly enjoyable fashion. Have the Girls actually grown up, as this year’s tagline leads us to believe? We’re only two episodes in, and all we know for sure is that, so far, they’re tolerable.
The Fall (streaming on Netflix)
With Doctor Who and Sherlock hogging all of the attention, Netflix’s other British gems often go unnoticed. Highly underrated, BBC’s The Fall is the disturbing and dark nail-biting drama that’s been missing from your queue. It stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, two impossibly good-looking people entangled in the ugly Belfast crime scene. There’s a clear distinction of good versus bad, but while you root for Anderson’s stone-cold detective, part of you hopes Dornan’s serial killer never gets caught. Season 2 picks up right where the first left off, addressing unanswered questions while introducing a whole new set. Last season’s intensity is present if not heightened, and the performances are as chilling as ever.
The Americans (Wednesdays at 10 p.m., FX)
Awards season snubs have been the center of controversy as of late, but it’s not just the Oscars that apparently get it wrong. Despite its critical raves, The Americans (FX) has never earned a major SAG, Golden Globe or Emmy nod. Thrilling, masterfully acted and simply excellent, the Cold War spy drama’s first two seasons have been more than worthy. But maybe, just maybe, its third season is the charm. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’ undercover Russian agents return January 28, still contemplating one of last season’s main plot points. Will Elizabeth and Philip Jenning (Russell and Rhys) not only reveal their line of work to their 16-year-old daughter, but recruit her as a second-generation KGB spy? It’s time for the couple to choose between their country and family, and it’s time for The Americans to take home a trophy.
Shameless (Sundays at 9 p.m., Showtime)
It isn’t true what they say, that remaking British shows is a recipe for disaster. Sure, there’ve been some failures, but we can’t forget about the stateside successes. Like The Office, Getting On, and House of Cards, Shameless is amongst the latter. The Gallagher family had it hard in Season 4, with Frank (William H. Macy) undergoing a liver-transplant and Fiona (Emmy Rossum) serving jail time. But the future seems bright for the always-dysfunctional crew. Season 5 kicked off on a lighter note and, according to reports, “outrageously funny” moments are in the comedy’s future. That’s nice and all, but is it wrong of us to miss the darkness? Last season’s dramatic turns were captivating, and the performances were some of the series’ best. If history is any indication, we can rest assured knowing that for the Gallaghers, trouble is just around the corner.
Parks and Recreation (Tuesdays at 8 p.m., NBC)
Hot off a best-selling memoir and successful third run as Golden Globes host, Amy Poehler had a winning streak to uphold with the Parks and Recreation premiere. Not to mention, it’s the comedy’s seventh and final season, so there’s little room for error. We meet Leslie Knope (Poehler) and friends one last time after a three-year time jump. By 2017, Leslie and Ron (Nick Offerman) are at odds, holographic tablets have replaced iPhones and Shia Labeouf added “wedding gown designer” to his resume. But truly, the only thing we care about is if the Pawnee clan has still got it. Parks and Rec may be a bit past its prime, but the first of the final episodes deliver a slew of subtly witty moments. We would’ve preferred to say goodbye with fall-of-your-chair funny, but a mediocre Leslie Knope is better than no Leslie Knope.