Spring TV Roundup, Week 2

Spring is springing up everywhere. As we turn toward May, the next TV season begins to come into focus. We’ll find out what’s cancelled, what’s coming and what we should look forward to. But that’s all the future. The present is a variety of different series debuting this Spring hoping to hook viewers. But what’s worth your time? Let this weekly post be your guide. I review the pilot and second episode of new scripted series this Spring. Don’t see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks.

We Own This City, Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO (Premiered April 25)
: David Simon and George Pelecanos can’t work on an HBO series about the Baltimore police without inviting comparison. The Wire is one of the greatest works ever to grace the small screen, drawing on real experiences from Simon and Ed Burns, a producer for We Own This City. Where The Wire sought to explore the failure of the system on a number of levels, We Own This City is based on a book and tells the true story of how monsters are allowed to thrive due to a broken system. It focuses on the scandal involving the Gun Trace Task Force which blew up and resulted in a number of arrests and convictions in 2017. Like other Simon series, this one moves at its own pace, building the characters and the world to understand the larger picture. It features a strong cast led by Josh Charles and Jon Bernthal with a healthy dose of Simon regulars, like Wire vets Jamie Hector and Delaney Williams. I enjoyed the pilot and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of this six-episode deep dive plays out. For fans of Simon and the genre, this is one to get excited about.
Pilot Grade: B

The First Lady, Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime (Premiered April 17)
: This limited Showtime series focuses on the woman behind the President. In this case following Michelle Obama (Viola Davis), Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson). The episodes bounce back-and-forth along the timeline, exploring their time in the White House and their struggles with the role. I thought the pilot moved at a decent clip and offered the potential to be something different. The second episode, however, felt a bit stagnant. I’m not sure what theme is supposed to connect these journeys or what I’m supposed to take away from the exploration. I like the lead actresses, but some of the performances feel like imitation rather than performance. It’s an interesting idea, and perhaps the focus will come more into view moving forward, but so far it doesn’t quite land.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C

Gaslit, Sundays at 10 p.m. on Starz (Premiered April 24)
: Another series that dives right into politics, this one focusing on the Nixon re-election campaign that led to the Watergate scandal. It tells the story through the eyes of the key players, primarily John Mitchell (Sean Penn) and his wife, Martha (Julia Roberts), John Dean (Dan Stevens) and J. Gordon Liddy (Shea Wigham). The pilot laid out the players and the world, featuring an incredibly high-profile cast. Many have heard of the Watergate Scandal, but few have spent a lot of time researching how it happened. This series seeks to be more of a deep dive into the scandal, a star-studded affair that seeks to put a new spin on history. It’s a big swing toward the mainstream for Starz and there’s potential here, both in the story and the casting. The pilot, however, felt a little stiff and cliched. There’s room to grow but it needs to sharpen the focus to keep the audience hooked.
Pilot Grade: C

The Man Who Fell to Earth, Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime (Premiered April 24)
The new Showtime series which rounds out a new Sunday night is based on the novel from Walter Tevis that served as the inspiration for the classic 1976 film of the same name starring David Bowie. The new series focuses on an alien (Chiwetel Ejiofor) falls to Earth on a mission, pairing with a scientist, Justin Falls (Naomie Harris), who has hit a rough patch. The first episode is a chaotic introduction that is full of moments that are likely meant to be humorous but land awkwardly in practice. I like the cast, and I trust the creative team, which includes Alex Kurtzman. But the pilot doesn’t work and doesn’t serve to engage us in the characters and the plot. It offers glimpses of what’s to come but it doesn’t make a lot of sense at this point. The 10-episode season will provide time to sort it out, but for now the first episode doesn’t work.
Pilot Grade: C-

The Baby, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO (Premiered April 24)
The latest co-production with Sky, The Baby is a half hour that joins the Sunday night lineup behind the third season of Barry. It’s a prime spot, showing faith in the series. But what we got from the pilot was something weird and confusing. Natasha (Michelle de Swarte) is seeing all her friends having babies, but she wants no part. A chef in need of a break, she retreats to a rickety cottage on the beach. Soon, a woman’s body lands on the rocks from the cliffs above and she catches a baby that is following suit. That draws her into a dark mystery, wedding her to the last thing she ever wanted—a baby. It’s likely meant to be a dark comedy, and at times it feels like something of a horror story. But the tone is inconsistent and the purpose of the series remains a mystery. A dark comedy could be a good offering to pair with the similarly themed Barry, but this lacks the charm of its lead-in. The pilot was a slog, which doesn’t leave me hopeful for the rest of it.
Pilot Grade: C-

Streaming Series:
A Very British Scandal, Now Streaming on Amazon Prime (Premiered April 22)
: The new mini-series for Amazon Prime is another story of the British elite gone wrong, this time focusing on a marriage and its dissolution that rocked the headlines. It’s a three-episode story, making it a quick binge with a top line cast that is led by Claire Foy and Paul Bettany. The pair play Margaret and Ian Campbell, the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. The first episode picks up as their divorce proceedings are about to begin then rewinds 16 years to show how we got here. Foy and Bettany are great performers but this story is dour and a bit of a slog. Those that enjoy these types of stories will be engaged, and it’s not a big commitment, but I didn’t love the first two hours.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

They Call Me Magic, Now Streaming on Apple TV+ (Premiered April 22)
It’s a big time for the Lakers—if you focus on TV series and not the team’s complete failure to qualify for the post-season. Currently HBO is showcasing the rise of the Showtime Lakers with Winning Time on Sunday nights. Now, Apple TV+ has launched a four-hour docuseries on the Lakers’ most recognizable star, Magic Johnson. The new series features in-depth interviews with Johnson, his teammates, coaches and family. It explores the man and the career, looking at the icon’s life on and off the court. As a long-time Lakers fan, I enjoyed this for what it is—a trip down memory lane and an exploration of a Hall of Fame player’s career. It doesn’t reach the heights of The Last Dance but it puts a new spin on the version of the story airing Sundays on HBO.
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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