WGN America’s new drama Manhattan got off to a slow start. But three weeks in, it’s steadily gaining momentum. The network’s flagship original drama, Salem, wound up being good, grisly fun, but Manhattan is even better: a canny, haunting drama with an incredible sense of place.
Starz’s new series Outlander, from author Diana Gabaldon’s books and executive producer Ron Moore, is really quite good, and also sorta bad. Which is not great from one perspective, but also rather delightful from another.
Though decidedly less than the sum of its parts, NBC’s new pirate adventure series Crossbones should nonetheless manage to shiver the better part of your timbers. “Pirate adventure series” has never exactly translated into ratings gold — just ask the equally fun, if somewhat less cerebral, Crusoe from a few years back — but Crossbones packs its hold with plentiful supplies of intrigue, menace, and wit, while still managing to sail swiftly along.
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is that rare TV series to personify itself in one of its own characters. Professor Niall (har har), head of Egyptology at the British Museum, is a whimsical, pretentious fop who has vital information the series’ protagonists need immediately, but refuses to share it right now because he wants them to be his audience in the future. As the Bluths might say, he kinda gets off on being withholding.
That’s Penny Dreadful in a nutshell. “Ooh!” it trills, lifting a pinky finger to the corner of its mouth in sheer giddiness. “Aren’t I mysterious! I know more than you do, and I could tell you — but not yeeeeeet!" In the ominous ads that have led up to the series’ May 11 premiere, that lack of information worked well. But in the pilot itself, currently screening for free online, it begins to suggest that Penny Dreadful may be less than it appears. SPOILERS for the first episode follow…
You’d think there could be nothing more terrifying than watching Bozo the Clown or seeing the Chicago Cubs lose year after year after year. But WGN America, the relatively new offshoot of Chicago’s beloved “superstation,” is nonetheless trying to conjure up something even creepier. For its first effort in an intriguing slate of new original dramas, it’s reached into its cauldron and drawn forth Salem, a drama that adds one clever twist to the infamous Colonial-era witch trials: The witches are real — and they’re in charge of the trials.
In World War II, Bletchley Park was Great Britain’s codebreaking command center. In absolute secrecy, the Allies’ brightest mathematical minds worked together to decrypt Axis codes. And while some of the computing power involved was mechanical, many of the “computers” doing the brute-force math were actually young women. The Bletchley Circle, returning to PBS for a second season April 13, springboards from a simple but intriguing question: What did those women do after the war?
We react to David Letterman announcing his retirement and speculate about where late-night comedy goes from here. Also, why are we all wearing togas? With Jason Snell, Andy Ihnatko, and David Loehr.
That we have Seth MacFarlane, TV’s woeful king of crass and soulless comedy, to thank for a series as amazing, intelligent, and genuinely stirring as the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, seems as brain-bendingly improbable as the vastness of the universe itself. It’s a bit odd to find oneself feeling grateful to the guy who unleashed Peter Griffin on an unsuspecting universe. But he’s more than repaid any karmic debt by reviving Carl Sagan’s Cosmos as a brisk and literally spectacular voyage into the wonders of the world around us.
Sometimes you just need a little time off to shake out the cobwebs, regain your mojo, and start doing your best work again. As of Dec. 31, 2013, ABC’s Agents of SHIELD was a promising show struggling with a lot of problems, and NBC’s Community was limping back into the TV listings after a rudderless fourth year whose bright spots were few and far between. But seven days into the new year, both have come roaring back to life.
I don’t have cable, much less HBO or Showtime. And I’ve never seen an episode of Breaking Bad. So you won’t find any of the usual suspects — or a whole bunch of other worthy series — in this year-end roundup. I simply wanted to highlight things I saw this year that stuck with me; that may not have gotten a lot of attention from TV critics; and that definitely deserve your time and viewing.