So here’s whats going to be happening this TV season: I’m going to do weekly episode reviews for a number of shows. Now, a lot of premiers happen next week, but don’t want to do too much catch up on the shows that have started. So this week in addition to the few reviews I have, I’m going to give a quick rundown of where I’m coming from for each show and what I’m looking for with them. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to picking the shows I’m reviewing herein, only, like the rest of this blog, that they happens to be the stuff that I pay attention to. Several of these shows I’ve been watching for a while now, but there are a few that are new pickups, or that I’m returning to after some time away. Also, I just started watching 30 Rock, so if I somehow catch up to the current season I’ll start reviewing that as well. But with seven shows a week already and other stuff to do with my life, I find it somewhat unlikely that I will make it around before next fall.

I’m going to try to keep these as spoiler-free as possible, but there are times that I can’t help but discuss specifics. You have been warned.

The Shows (in alphabetical order):

Community – Premiers 10/19

The first episode of Community I ever saw was the first part of season two’s finale – the western-style paintball episode. I didn’t know at the time what I’d wandered into, but I liked it, and by the time the start of season three rolled around, I was all caught up and ready to go.

I’m a huge fan of Community‘s dry, self-aware, meta-commentary humor. If you’ve never seen the show before, I highly recommend that you go back and start from the beginning, because the show is highly self-referential. There’s a reason fans love this show so much. It’s really, really funny. You just have to be  ready for something that’s a little outside the sit-com box.

Go On – “Pilot”, “He Got Game, She Got Cats”, and “There’s No ‘Ryan’ In Team” – 4 out of 5

Go On surprised me. I decided to watch the pilot the other day just because I like Matthew Perry and wanted to see if the show was decent. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of it. But I really enjoyed it, and I watched the other two episodes that have already aired. So this is my catch up, and a general review for the first three episodes.

For fans of Friends, Perry plays Ryan King very similarly to the way he played Chandler Bing (Did they do that on purpose? King, Bing?), but Ryan is very much his own character. Some of the mannerisms are definitely the same, but Ryan is already a unique, interesting, complex character in his own right. The pilot episode, in fact, is phenomenal. Ryan King is a sports radio talk show host returning to work following the death of his wife. We don’t know how she died, but he swears up and down that he’s doing fine and he seems like he is. His boss makes him go to group therapy, though, and there are some really funny shenanigans as he cons his way through that. But then at the end of the episode we get a really raw, powerfully human moment that rips back the veil. Ryan King may be a fast talking, laugh-it-off, sarcastic kind of person, but he’s also been deeply hurt by the loss of his wife and he’s having trouble dealing with that.

The subsequent episodes move into the meat of what the series will likely be – explorations of the misfits that comprise Ryan’s support system both in and out of his therapy group, their problems, and the way honest community and friendship makes life livable. The first three episodes show an adroit mix of comedy and very human drama, and I dearly hope that the series will continue to toe that line.

Long term, I’m not quite sure where I see this show going. There’s a lot of room to dig into the problems of the people in Ryan’s support group, but I hope that they don’t grow stale. It’ll all depend on the show runners continuing to grow the characters, adding to the dimensions we’ve already seen. The show is premised on people who need to grow and/or heal in very dramatic ways. If they lean too heavily of farce or melodrama, the show could fall apart fast. Thankfully, this has not been the case at all through three episodes, and Go On has been a delightful little show to watch.

How I Met Your Mother – Premiers 9/24

This was another recent discovery. I happened upon it last summer and quickly chewed through all of the seasons. Unfortunately, last season (season seven) was easily the worst yet. It failed to move its characters forward in interesting ways for most of the season, and most of the character development we actually cared about was crammed into the last five or so episodes. There were still a few standout episodes (the first two or three of the season) but if you re-watch those you can see that even they were leaning heavily on series convention. This is a show that needs to be moving to a conclusion, and should have been doing more of that before now. It cannot rush to a conclusion, but it needs something to spice it up a bit. I haven’t been a fan of the flashes forward to Barney’s – and now we know, Robin’s – wedding as they killed most of the tension for Ted’s character as well as Barney’s and Robin’s (it essentially makes the episodes too much of a prequel, even thought the whole series is set up that way to some extent. Quick digression: for a fast explanation about why that makes it difficult to tell a good story, not to mention a great review of the movie  Prometheus, check out this video).

This show holds a place close to my heart, and I dearly hope they can recapture the magic of earlier seasons.

Modern Family – Premiers 9/26

Ah, Modern Family. I keep waiting for this show to burn out, and it keeps surprising me. I say that not because I hope it fails, but because it just doesn’t seem like they can keep it interesting for too many seasons. The kids have to age naturally, and once the family gets too spread out (kids off to college and such) it makes it very hard to find excuses for everyone to get together (which is where a lot of the strongest moments of the show seem to happen). As it is, this show is a treat to watch every week, and I dearly hope they manage to keep it fresh and interesting for seasons to come. If nothing else, Gloria’s pregnancy is certainly an great attempt to do just that.

NCIS – Premiers 9/25

I haven’t ever watched NCIS consistently. It’s always been watching through seasons after they came out on iTunes or DVD. Add that to the fact that this show is stale and overly formulaic, and it’s the one I’m least sure I’ll keep up with this season. Yes, they’re going to solve some murders, probably stop some terrorists. Really the only thing I’m very curious about is if Ziva and Tony will ever actually get together.

The thing is, even thought the plotline isn’t very interesting anymore and the characters are more or less locked in their own little habits, I like the characters. And so I shall watch.

The Office – “New Guys” – 3 out of 5

It feels like I’m coming to The Office fresh this year. I watched every episode of last years dismal season as it aired (well, on Hulu a day or two later, but basically the same thing, right?) and although I do remember it getting a little better towards the end of the season, I honestly don’t remember what happened in the season finale. The Office hasn’t been great since season five and hasn’t been consistently pretty good since season six. But this is the final season of the office. There’s a Dwight spinoff, sure, but much like Michael’s departure in season seven we need closure for some of our key characters, particularly Jim and Pam.

Jim’s character progression has always been subservient to comedy, and I think that was the right decision. They tried to bump him to manager for a while, a move that made a lot of sense given his likable nature and smarts, but that killed his ability to be a funnyman and they wisely sent him back to sales with the Sabre takeover of Dunder Mifflin. But at some point he has to grow, and this episode hinted that there’s a lot of that to come. I’m excited to see where they take it, and it seems it’s going to lead to some interesting relational tension between Jim and Pam. In fact, they may have over-played that note a bit.

As far as humor goes, there were some funny elements here and there, but way too much of what was supposed to supply the comic meat to this episode felt like so much of the office has over the last year or two: forced. Andy’s decision to torture Nellie wasn’t that funny, and neither was yet another of Dwight’s failed attempts to prove his own superiority or Angela’s attempts to find a home for her cat.

Look, The Office is going to focus on Jim, Pam, Dwight, and probably Andy, and it needs to. Those are the characters we want to see (and in that order). But the cast has become bloated. Phyllis maybe has one line all episode. Same for Stanley. These were never big characters, but they are great flavor. They need to see enough time to actually be spicy. Erin is active early but completely disappears. I would have liked to see what she thinks of Andy being so obviously men.

Oh, and Toby is skinny!

Survivor – 4 out of 5

Ok, so I haven’t watched a season of Survivor in quite a while. But from all the promos it seems like the show is trying to re-brand itself a little by going back to some of its roots, and the first episode of this season does some of that while still trying to add new wrinkles to the tribes.

Unlike many of the more recent seasons in which castaways picked their own tribes and then were marooned with little to no supplies for their camps, this season pre-divides teams and hearkens back to the very first season wherein the tribes have a minute to grab as many supplies as they can from a boat before putting out to sea on rafts. I think it’s a fun touch because I like seeing the ingenuity people bring to the table. If you have nothing, there’s a limited amount of work you can do to, for example, build a shelter. But with just a few basic tools, some people are able to build very cozy looking structures. The show is more fun to me when people are trying to live “tribally,” meaning that there’s definable work everyone can do to make camp life quite manageable rather than just languishing in lack (I don’t mean the term in any sort of derogatory manner, so please no one take it as such).

The new wrinkles come in two main flavors. First, there are three tribes instead of the typical two. They’ve done some stuff like this before, and I think it’s a good decision. It allows the challenge creators to get a little more inventive, and it will make the eventual merge less likely to be a raw numbers game. At merge, these people will have to form alliances all over again.

As with any season of Survivor, however, its success will depend primarily on how interesting the people are in the game. I’ve got hopes for this season; there are a lot of people who seem quite likable. In fact, I’m a little worried that having three tribes will divide the editorial attention too much, and that some of the people we’ll want to see more of won’t get enough screen time. That’s a limited worry, however.

Survivor is a difficult show to review because, unlike the rest of the shows on this list, it’s unscripted. There are some things that work or don’t that I can talk about, but it boils down more to “Is this the sort of thing you like?” If so, the episode to episode particulars usually covered in a review format won’t matter so much, so look for this weekly “review” to be less review-ish and more a collection of thoughts and impressions regarding that week’s episode and where I think the season is going. Which almost certainly means spoilers. You have been warned.

And, damn, Zane might be the most memorable first person voted out of the game ever.