Spring TV Roundup, Week 1

Spring is springing up everywhere. We’re just past Easter and looking forward to Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer. The Network TV season is hitting the home stretch but there’s still plenty of options coming to our TV sets. With the days getting longer and the weather getting nicer, what should keep you glued to the couch? Let this weekly post be your guide as I look at the pilot and second episode of new scripted, and select unscripted, series this Spring.

Thursdays:
The Garcias, Streaming Thursdays on HBO Max (Premiered April 14)
About:
The latest comedy for HBO Max is a sequel series to a teen comedy that aired from 2000-2004 on Nickelodeon. It returns all the original characters, jumping forward nearly 20 years to see the four siblings as adults with families of their own, and trying to balance the demands of their parents. That’s a cool connection, and it’s equally cool that this is a primarily Latino cast and production team. Telling different kinds of stories is an important part of the proliferation of content producers. However, this sitcom fell a little flat for me. It felt stiff at times and like a throwback to a different era of cable sitcoms. That’s likely a product of some of the show’s roots, and while that isn’t bad it makes it tough to stand out in a crowded landscape of original series. The first three episodes of this 10-episode season are available to stream now, each around a half an hour. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Fridays:
Outer Range, Streaming Fridays on Amazon Prime (Premiered April 15)
About:
Josh Brolin fronts this series about a Wyoming rancher who is facing the pressure of a lifestyle from a bygone era. It seems like it might be the streamer’s answer to Yellowstone. Then Brolin’s Royal Abbott finds a giant hole in one of his fields. It leads somewhere unknown and that puts us off to the races. There’s a strong cast here that includes Lily Taylor, Tom Pelphrey and Imogen Poots. The first two episodes were released Friday, and both had solid production values and a moody, mysterious story. Brolin is strong in the lead role and by the end of the second episode the mystery deepens to the point that it’s impossible not to want to see what happens if you follow the series down the rabbit hole. The episodes run 45-60 minutes, with two episodes released weekly for a total of eight in the season. I don’t know precisely where this is going, but I’m curious enough to take the ride.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: B-

Sundays:
The First Lady, Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime (Premiered April 17)
About:
The new drama from Showtime is an ambitious swing with a high-profile cast and story. It looks at three different historical First Ladies—Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson), Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Michelle Obama (Viola Davis). This 10-episode drama takes an unvarnished look at their lives, their work and the times they lived in. It’s an intriguing concept, which features Kiefer Sutherland, O-T Fagbenele, and Aaron Eckhart as their more famous President husbands. It also features plenty of other famous faces slotting into high-profile historical roles. The pilot, which ran about an hour, transitioned between the three-time frames, showing pieces of how each landed in the White House and bouncing up and down the timeline to show their sacrifices and struggles. I like the cast and I like the concept but I don’t know what to make of the series. The pilot was engaging, but at the same time it’s hard to see how this lasts 10 episodes and where, precisely we’re going with this.
Pilot Grade: C+

Streaming Series:
Hard Cell, Now Streaming on Netflix (Premiered April 12)
About
: This new Netflix comedy comes from Catherine Tate and is a mockumentary style series about a Women’s Prison in the U.K. The season is six episodes, each around 25 minutes. Tate not only created the series but is the star, serving as the Warden and a number of other characters in the series. It’s very much an Office-style series but the consistent laughs just weren’t there for me. The first two episodes felt a bit stiff, possibly owing to the cultural differences but possibly owing to the fact this style of series feels a bit played out. Tate is doing her best in nearly a dozen roles but it just doesn’t work.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-

Our Great National Parks, Now Streaming on Netflix (Premiered April 13)
About
: Earlier I wrote about a fictional Barak Obama, but in this Netflix series we get the former President himself. He appears both on screen at times and serves as the narrator for this documentary series that looks at national parks throughout the globe. Timed just ahead of Earth Day, this feels like a celebration of the globe and an encouragement for us to take stewardship of the Earth more seriously. The mini-series features five episodes, each about an hour. As is the case with most nature series, the cinematography here is stunning. The episodes are interesting enough to hook you and, among other things, Obama makes for a solid choice as guide in this world. This feels like a win for Netflix.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: B-

Killing It, Now Streaming on Peacock (Premiered April 14)
About
: This newest Peacock series is a sitcom starring Craig Robinson as a down-on-his luck father trying to find a way to make a living and impress his daughter and ex-wife. This isn’t a network sitcom; it’s definitely taking advantage of its streaming location. Robinson is an affable lead but the story here is a bit on the strange and rambling side. I still think a show built around Robinson can work but this isn’t it. Peacock continues to struggle to find original programming that will help it stand out and make a dent in the marketplace. Killing It won’t move the needle on that.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-

Roar, Now Streaming on Apple TV+ (Premiered April 15)
About
: The latest series for Apple TV+ is a deviation from their formula in a few ways. It’s an anthology series, featuring a different story and entirely different cast each episode, and it released all eight episodes of the season all at once, rather that dolling them out weekly. That makes it an interesting addition to the library. The episodes all run about a half an hour and creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch are using the platform to celebrate what it means to be a woman. This includes a blend of grounded and creative storytelling, often within the same episode. The first featured Issa Rae as an author whose book, telling a very personal story of racism, is up to be adapted into a visual medium. The second features Nicole Kidman as a woman whose mother (Judy Davis), is losing her memory and forced to move in with her. The performers do a good job and the production values are strong but the format feels a bit awkward, as do the resolutions to the stories, both of which introduce supernatural elements without explanation to drive the plot forward. It is OK but falls short of the level of quality and intrigue set by most of the recent Apple TV+ releases. That makes it a novel attempt that feels like a rare creative misfire for the streamer.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Anatomy of a Scandal, Now Streaming on Netflix (Premiered April 15)
About
: Among the collection of content creators acquired by Netflix is David E. Kelley, who is the co-creator of this series along with Melissa James Gibson, an adaptation of the novel from Sarah Vaughn. The series focuses on a high-ranking member of the British Government (Rupert Friend) who is caught having an affair. This rocks his wife (Sienna Miller), especially when the young woman involved (Naomi Scott) accuses him of rape. That puts him on trial, squaring off against a fierce attorney (Michelle Dockery). All the elements are there to make this an engaging drama. It also is a bingeable six episodes, each around 45 minutes. I like the cast and premise, and I’ve enjoyed Kelley’s work in the past. That being said, the first two episodes were a bit of a slow burn, seemingly full of cliches. There is a mystery here and I’m curious enough to see it unfold given the short commitment, but it wasn’t all it could be.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C+

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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