'Fargo,' 'Jane the Virgin,' 'The Knick' & more: Sophomore sensations return
Once upon a time, there were obvious weeks to get excited about TV premieres. The last full week in September was when the broadcast networks premiered most of their fall shows, cable networks would start rolling out their big guns in the first or second week of January (also when the networks started debuting their midseason replacements), and there would often be a third wave of network and cable stuff in mid-March.
In Peak TV in America, though, big premiere weeks can happen at any time, like the mid-October one we're in right now. In particular, it's interesting because it features the sophomore debuts of five series that were either very good or great in their first seasons: "Jane the Virgin," "Fargo," "Manhattan," "Kingdom," and "The Knick."
I'll have individual pieces on all these shows at different points in the week, but a few general thoughts right now:
"Jane the Virgin" (Tonight at 9, CW): Simultaneously a funny parody of telenovelas and a genuine example of one, "Jane" was one of last season's most pleasant surprises, simply because it kept avoiding all the pitfalls that tend to come up in any young soap, and particularly a self-aware type like this. When I saw the pilot, I thought, "This is well-made, but I can't imagine watching past week three or four." Then at week four, it was, "This is still good, but I'm worried it could fall apart at any minute." By mid-season, it had become clear that Jennie Urman and company knew what they were doing and could very effortlessly shift from comedy to melodrama, invest even the broadest characters with humanity, and sidestep obvious traps that would screw up the narrative or the tonal balance. Without giving too much away about tonight's premiere (I'll have a spoiler-filled review after it airs), I'll say that the show once again takes a story idea that could have been ruinous and turns it into something smart and rewarding. Happy to be watching this one for the long haul.
(Jane also has a much more fitting lead-in in "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," a musical comedy co-created by and starring YouTube comedy singing sensation Rachel Bloom. Not sure I'll have time to write more about that one today — especially since the the debut is a slightly expanded and edited version of what Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna made when it was supposed to air on Showtime, with all the growing pains that entails — but if not, I'll check in sometime in the next couple of weeks.)
"Fargo" (Tonight at 10, FX): I published my review of the new season — this 1979 crime epic seems like it could be even better than season 1 — last week, and I'll have a review of the premiere tonight. Meanwhile, the debut of the show creates a wrinkle in time of sorts, because Fienberg did a bunch of interviews on the set earlier this year, which means HitFix will have a few final Dan pieces (like this interview with the show's producers) over the next couple of weeks.
"Manhattan" (Tuesday at 9, WGN America): This drama about the men and woman who designed the atom bomb had some fine performances and direction from the start, and by the end of its first season had figured out how to get its many moving pieces to work in harmony. Season 2 adds what looks like the ideal final piece to the puzzle, drafting William Petersen to play the new commander of the Army base that houses the Manhattan Project, and who's a more imposing counterweight to Frank, Charlie, and the other scientists. Look for a full review (I've seen the first four episodes) tomorrow.
"Kingdom" (Wednesday at 9, DirecTV's Audience Network): This drama about a family of MMA fighters and trainers was solid in year one, and Wednesday's premiere continues in that vein. Of particular interest to me is the presence of Jonathan Tucker, whom you might know as hipster gunslinger Boon from "Justified," or villainous Berkeley mayor Bob Little from "Parenthood," and who here is giving a great performance as the family's talented black sheep, Jay. I interviewed Tucker at press tour; look for that conversation on Wednesday.
"The Knick" (Friday at 10, Cinemax) It was, and remains, the best-looking show on television, as you might expect with Steven Soderbergh directing and shooting every single episode. I'll have a lot more to say about this one in a review later in the week, but all the show's visual (and, thanks to Cliff Martinez's electronic score, sonic) delights return. Also, it remains very not for the faint of heart, given its depiction of surgery circa 1901.
Network TV's premiere week last month was pretty much a bust, creatively, but there's a whole lot to get excited about here.
Did any of these returnees catch your eye last season? Any you've been hoping to catch up on?