As we near the finishing line for this six part series looking at the highs and lows of the previous television season, we’ll take a look at the shows that managed to surprise and those that left a strong smell of disappointment in their wake. In these next two parts, only shows in their entirety will be mentioned rather than individual stories within them, as was the case with previous parts.
As always, these selections are entirely of my own choice and may or may not reflect the opinions of others. If you agree or disagree with them, your thoughts as to why that’s the case are completely welcome.
Biggest Surprises of the Season
It’s no secret that NBC do not have a strong track-record of launching new shows to any degree of considerable success. Because of that, their latest effort to turn the stories of The Brothers Grimm into a modern day setting looked doomed from the start, even more so from their decision to air it on Friday evenings – typically slots where shows go to die whilst they still have some air left inside of them. However, what actually came to be was more of a success that I had ever expected it to be, and Grimm was actually a show with something good going for it, even if it was being hindered by consistently sloppy execution.
2011 was easily the year of the fairy-tales. ABC made a largely successful attempt with Once Upon a Time and NBC enjoyed probably more success than it had ever expected with Grimm. Granted, its ratings and critical reception were hardly going to set the industry alight but for a show that had been plonked on a Friday evening, as well as dealing with material that could easily scare away some, it did remarkably well.
Putting the show’s reasonable reception aside, Grimm isn’t too bad of a show. It started off shakily, as though it was overwhelmed by its own objective, but it became darker and stronger as its debut season progressed. Where the show ultimately faltered was the mundane police environment it chose to strangle its stronger elements with. If the show made less of an effort to focus on the dull procedural nature of itself and instead concentrate on the mythical, it would be much better off because of it. Grimm has a lot of potential to be something much more than it currently is and whether it will eventually realise it remains to be seen.
Grimm looked to be dead on arrival and NBC likely didn’t have much faith in it either. Fortunately, it managed to push aside the pre-conceptions people had of it emerge as victorious. Now it will be heading into its second season without those doubts present, and it will most probably benefit because of it.
ABC’s soapy mystery drama Revenge carried the burden of being relatively unknown before its pilot hit the screens, at least to me. I knew nothing about it besides its concept, which in itself didn’t sound particularly strong to me, and that was about as far as my knowledge of the show went. Along came the pilot and I still had doubts about whether I would be able to continue with it as it just didn’t seem to connect with me as quickly as other shows often do. However, I did continue with it and as time progressed, Revenge became a powerfully addictive, intriguing and tense drama that ultimately became one of the best new shows of the season.
Whilst Revenge’s success, both in the ratings and in the reception from viewers and critics alike, may not have come as much of a surprise to some people, it certainly did to me. It’s not just the reception either; it’s how they managed to make a soap-like story be so compelling when soaps are often overly melodramatic to the point of irritation. Whilst Revenge did experience some episodes that threatened to turn the show into an irritant, the majority of its first season impressed on multiple levels, from the cast and the story to the pace and the script.
The biggest factor as to why Revenge surprised me so much was obviously because of my pre-existing knowledge of it before it aired, or lack thereof. In some ways, I’d say that my enjoyment of the show benefited from it, as its frantic narrative wouldn’t have been half as spectacular had I expected it beforehand. Also, Revenge’s unsteady start solidified the familiar statement of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Had I done that, I would’ve ditched the show early on and missed out on a season full of surprises, excellent characters, out-of-breath scripts, tension at every turn and the magnificent Madeleine Stowe. And believe me when I say that not having those to look forward to every week would be missing out on something rather special.
Law and Order: SVU
After spending twelve years investigating horrific crimes perpetrated by equally horrific people, one could have naturally believed that NBC’s latest and greatest in the franchise didn’t have a lot of areas left to explore. The writing team hadn’t produced anything truly remarkable for some time – not like the earlier seasons – and the characters, story and progression of them both had stagnated considerably.
In came season thirteen, sporting a new executive producer, replacing one who had departed for pastures new. Not only that, it had suffered the loss of one half of its star pairing – Christopher Meloni. Things looked grim for the show that was once at the top of its game but surprisingly, season thirteen was easily the best the show had experienced for many years, surpassing all expectations of it and successfully reviving the show from the crumbled heap it had found itself in.
Season thirteen’s vastly increased quality over previous years was enough of a surprise in itself but perhaps the biggest was just how reinvigorated the repetitive formula actually felt throughout its season. The stories were stronger and packed more of a punch, the new cast members introduced brought new blood to freshen up the cast and the return to the grittier atmosphere of the earlier seasons was much welcomed. For a show in its thirteenth year on screen – which is a tremendous achievement to obtain in the current television landscape – to be able to so easily clean the rust out of the creative pipes and show a return to form is nothing short of fantastic and shows just how much it still has to give.
After season twelve’s dismal finale, bringing in new blood, both in the cast and the EP’s chair, needed to happen. SVU most likely wouldn’t have survived another season like twelve. Now, it’s riding high after a successful thirteenth year and will return in September for a fourteenth year, and it’s still at the top of its game.
Scandal was one of those shows that I ignored when it first appeared, due to doubting if it sounded like something I’d take enjoyment from. Over time, I saw countless amounts of praise for it on Twitter and other outlets and eventually I succumbed. Not only was Scandal impressive but it was a fast-moving and scarily addictive show that was dripping with compelling mysteries.
As was the case with Revenge, not knowing anything about the show besides its core concept made the experience more enjoyable and surprising. Not only did the rapid script flow at train speed, heightening the tension and making the wait between episodes literally unbearable, but the cast also played a part in the show’s huge critical success.
Perhaps one of Scandal’s biggest factors in its rise from unknown entity to unbeatable was the extremely short episode count. Standing at just seven episodes (after being introduced mid-season), the lessened amount of time they had to work with eliminated the need for filler material to extend the gaps between episodes of narrative importance. With that firmly out of the way, it allowed them to unravel the stories they had quickly and efficiently, providing an exciting experience that benefited massively because of it. There was no filler, only story arc and exploration of it.
Scandal piloted to doubts and scepticism, at least from me, and it eventually became a hit both in the ratings and the reception from those watching. Its second season carries the weight of heavy expectation of as good a material as its first season and whether it will deliver on that remains unknown. However, when talking about the biggest surprises from last season, Scandal has be mentioned for its ease at making use of what little it had, and rather than see it as a burden, it made it advantageous. Few shows can do that but when they do, you notice them.
Person of Interest
When it first started back in September, CBS’ latest cop procedural Person of Interest appeared to be nothing more than what you’d expect from the channel it found itself on – good guys investigate crimes and defeat the bad guys. Fortunately, whilst Person of Interest retained semblances of the procedural format throughout its debut season, it still managed to transform itself from dull to unmissable as it continued.
Much of the first half of PoI’s first season was dull, often a chore to watch and definitely underwhelmed on many levels. The cast, despite containing the brilliant Michael Emerson, weren’t providing stellar performances and the stories were as run-of-the-mill as you could’ve found anywhere. I found myself thinking that there was no way it could improve and that I’d probably end up ditching it to find some enjoyment elsewhere. Then something happened after the Christmas break; it became good.
After the festive period had concluded, Person of Interest suddenly became what I was hoping it would be. The characters became less imbecilic and started to function well and integrate with each other more easily. Not only that but the stories of the weekly episodes were heightened in quality and were actually interesting as opposed to ridiculously tedious. One of my main issues with the show prior to its transformation was that the more interesting story arcs were being left out in the cold in favour of the story-of-the-week format. During its second half, Person of Interest focused more on said story arcs, even weaving them into the procedural format so that both elements were explored at the same time. My concerns had been vanquished, fortunately.
I always knew that Person of Interest had much more to give than just focusing on week after week of catching the bad guys. For a start, it had a back-story that was just begging to be explored, from the history of the characters to the story of how the ‘machine’ came into existence. The first half of PoI’s season was inconsistent to the point of frustration but its complete u-turn after Christmas turned things around in the right direction. The ratings also increased around the same point where I believe the quality drastically changed and although they weren’t spectacular, the show sometimes won its time-slot, even against heavyweights on other networks. Things had turned around massively for Person of Interest and it’ll be heading into its second season hopefully retaining the same consistency I grew to be extremely fond of.
The final part of this series will focus on the opposite side of the above criteria, concentrating on the shows that were the biggest disappointments of the past season, and it’ll likely be the biggest yet!
To conclude this post, do you agree with the choices made above or perhaps you have your own that you’d like to share? Personally, I am extremely curious to see whether anybody else saw Person of Interest’s mid-season quality change or whether it was merely something I experienced. Either way, the comment box is yours so fire away!
Click here for part six.