You know what I realized? There’s very little reason for me to exclude spoilers if I’m publishing this post nearly a week after some shows are airing. Add that to the fact that I’m writing these reviews either as the show airs or the next day (most of the time) and the fact that I can edit and update posts after their initial posting, and I’m going to be posting this at the beginning of each week and just updating as I go. So forget Saturday release days for these posts – they’re going to be updated all week. Though I suppose the final version will come every Saturday once Community starts up again.

Anyways, we’ve got three premiers this week, which means all the shows but Community are getting up and running for the season. So without further ado, the reviews:

Community – Premiers 10/19

Go On – “Bench-Clearing Bawl” – 3.5 out of 5

This episode gets the elusive half point rating because while it was probably the weakest so far, this show has undeniable charm. Matthew Perry is perfectly cast as the egotistic Ryan King, and it seems every week we learn a little bit about one of his support group members. The fertile ground there seems endless at the moment, and I’m anticipating future episodes just to learn more about some of the ancillary characters.

Although the show continued to deftly balance comedy with the serious dramatic nature of its premise, this episode was perhaps a bit lacking in the comedy department. There were some laughs, but the episode was more generally amusing than downright funny.

I’m beginning to worry a little that the cast is too big for its own good. I’ve seen Go On likened to Community in that it centers on a group of misfit characters who are thrown together, and I think in general this is a fair comparison. But whereas Community centers on its group, and specifically Jeff, with just a couple of clearly defined outlier characters who appear regularly, Go On is all about Ryan. His support group is bigger than Community‘s study group, and he has a couple friends at the office who are being set up as major characters too. After a few episodes of Community we knew that the show was about all of them, and we had a good sense of the niches they occupied. The supporting cast of Go On, on the other hand, is still very, very nebulous. I expect this to change significantly over the next five episodes or so, but it’s certainly something worth keeping an eye on. If the show can successfully introduce and maintain such a large cast, it will be a good thing long term, as there will be loads of plausible storylines for Ryan to interact with. 

How I Met Your Mother – “Farhampton” – 3 out of 5

At least for the fan, what an episode was this! We got the most complete view of the elusive mother ever.

All mini-freakout-inducing things aside, this was a decent episode. There weren’t a ton of great laughs, but there was a lot of story development. It’s  as thought the show runners realizes what the biggest thing wrong with last season was. People will forgive a lack of funny if the characters they’ve fallen in love with make interesting progressions in their dramatic arcs. Humor is just the spice that makes the show grab you in the first place.

In fact there was almost too much going on in terms of major plot threads. Ted and Barney both had major developments with their arcs (again, I’m trying to avoid major spoilers here) while Marshall and Lilly did almost nothing to accommodate these bits.  Either Ted’s arc or Barney’s would have been plenty to fill an entire “A” story arc for the episode; having them both made it overcrowded, and we didn’t really get anywhere with either of them. We wanted to see more of one of them. Specifically, we wanted to see more with Ted and Victoria. Ted is the driving force for this series. Barney and Quinn can wait.

The premier also perpetuated the big flash forward that’s been going on since the beginning of season six. I guess the show’s kind of backed itself in a corner at this point, but I really don’t like the flashing forward from a dramatic perspective. I’d rather wonder if Ted and Victoria are going to end up together. We already know they probably won’t, as future Ted is telling his kids the story of how he met their mother. If Victoria was the mom, the kids would have known their mom when she first entered the story, way back in season one. That’s the other reason the flash forward doesn’t work for me. The story’s already being told in frame. And it’s a frame we saw zero of this episode.

All told, this was a decently executed season premier with a few laughs scattered through the episode. It”s better than most of what we saw last season, but not quite a return to form; longtime fans with enjoy the episode, but it’s not going to win any new converts.

Modern Family – “Bringing Up Baby” – 4 out of 5

Oh, goodness, I love this show. As I mentioned last week, I don’t know how long they’re going to be able to keep it rolling, but it’s fantastic to see that at least for now they are.

The premier opens the day after last season’s finale, which means Alex and Haley post prom, Mitch and Cam still hurting from not getting their baby, and Gloria fresh on the news that she’s pregnant with Jay still to be told, before jumping forward to “now” at the end of the episode. The ensuing minor bouts of chaos lead to plenty of good laughs, although the episode felt like just a check-up on some of the characters (as some episodes in this show do, as large as the cast is). Luke, for instance, basically gets one moment. Good thing it’s classic Luke and quite funny.

But there’s also plenty of heart. This is a family, after all, one that cares very deeply about each other. I’m happy to report that Modern Family is still a standout show. If you’ve never seen the series before, this isn’t a bad spot to jump in; the episode does a good job of refreshing us on all pertinent situations. Better yet, go watch the other seasons first, but if you want to cannonball into the deep end you can. I’ll be interested to see where the season goes from here. (MINOR SPOILERS!) Jay dealing with being a father again will certainly be interesting, as will Cam and Mitch’s continued attempts to get another baby. Oh also, Haley should be moving out soon, shouldn’t she? She did get into college. I’ll bet that’s the “A” plot of one of the next two episodes. I look forward to seeing how the series handles that and how much screen time she’ll get.

NCIS – “Extreme Prejudice” – 2 out of 5

I’m not sure this episode really merits a two rather than a three, but it just felt too much like a retread. NCIS is beginning its tenth season. That’s nine prior season cliffhangers. We’ve had our share of terrorist plots with this show. Sure, the situation is a little different, but it doesn’t really set itself apart. In fact, with the exception of Ducky’s heart attack it’s less emotionally engaging than many of the others we’ve seen. I though Palmer assuming the M.E.’s mantle, no matter how temporary, should have been a bigger deal, and being locked in an elevator could have been an even greater pressure cooker for Tony and Zive. On the other hand, the episode did do a good job of giving attention to the characters while moving the major plot arc into conclusion. Me wanting more is on some level just a little selfish. Not entirely selfish, but maybe a little.

I’m a huge fan of Richard Schiff’s, going back to his days on The West Wing, but I’ve felt from the beginning of his storyline that he’s been vastly marginalized. Schiff is a phenomenal actor, but he never had much space to go as Harper Dearing. Dearing was always a one dimensional character, and I would have loved to see Schiff given more of a range and complexity to play.

And then there was the ending. I may have missed something (spoilers ahead!) but how did Gibbs know where to find Dearing? How did he know Dearing would be there, and why did he have to go in alone? It makes zero sense to me.

I know that’s a little disjointed, but that’s all that really stuck out to me in the episode. We’ve seen this before way too many times. Technically speaking, it wasn’t a bad episode. It just did nothing new, and I can’t reward that.

The Office – Airs 9/27

This episode scores high on its dramatic strengths, while having just enough humor sprinkled in. This, far more than last week’s premier, felt like the true set up for the season (although it needed the premier to get to this point).

The one thing that was very odd was the under utilization of Roy’s wedding. It’s hard to make it an episode dominating event, I guess, because Jim and Pam are the only characters from the office there. But it’s only used to spur on some of the later action; it has little consequence on its own, and is only relevant for the first, oh, third of the episode.

On the other hand it does lead into an interesting progression between Jim and Pam. It’s a little crazy to think about, but at this point in the series they have been together longer than they’ve been apart. It all feels very true to Jim’s character, as well. He’s very secretive. Just think back to when he bought the house for Pam. Jim likes to hedge his bets until he feels it’s safe.

Andy is certainly headed new places this season, but I’m not sure yet whether I like it. It works from a story perspective, but from an I’m-rooting-for-Andy perspective, his new, more assertive self is wading into dangerous waters. We know that he cares deeply about Erin, but we’re a little less sure about her commitment to him, and that shows in this episode as well.

Finally, Dwight and Nelly’s subplot, while ridiculous, turned out to be an interesting diversion (much like the cold open, which was quite amusing), and I like the way it opens up for the characters to develop together as the season goes on.

There were a lot of little things going on in this episode, and some not so little, that the longtime fan of The Office is likely to appreciate, but kudos to the writers for not making it feel bogged down. Roy’s wedding was wasted a little, maybe, but our connection to that character has long been severed, and on the whole this was a very successful episode.

Revolution – “Chained Heat” – 3 out of 5

I think I’m beginning to place exactly what it is that hasn’t clicked with me yet with these characters. They’re all the same. They’re all hard-ass survivalists, and that makes sense I guess, but it’s just not that interesting. The character that makes a joke out of everything wouldn’t be unique in its own right, but it would be a welcome break from the constant apocalyptic seriousness. The trouble is, none of the characters have been set up in a way for that attitude to make a lot of sense. Nora is as close as we get to someone being drug along for this little adventure, but she’s not really the sarcastic or comic relief type. The things that separate these characters are minute. It makes the whole cast seem just a little monochromatic.

Revolution continues to be interesting in an I-wonder-what-happens-next sense, but I still want more. Plot isn’t enough. Action isn’t enough. Those are standouts of the series (Who is Randall, by the way and what’s he after? That was an interesting little twist), but there’s too little in the way of character to form a good backbone. Two episodes into a series, that’s still something I’m willing to forgive, especially because there are conscious efforts to sprinkle in motivation and personality by way of some flashbacks. But I don’t yet care about these characters enough to sustain a series and that has to change soon. Nora was a step in the right direction. She was different, hinted at a different facet of this world, and had a little bit of an attitude to her. The leading characters really need to step it up now. Come on, writers, give your actors some meat! (And yes, I know they’ve already written and filmed at least the next few episodes).

This is a show that clearly wants to be the next big drama that everyone watches and talks about, but it feels like it’s still figuring out if it can really pull that off.

Survivor – 4 out of 5

I’m not sure how I feel about having only one challenge per episode, or about the way they’re divvying up challenge rewards. The challenges are half the reason I watch Survivor and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I get that there are three tribes that they need to spend at least a little time getting to know, but really. I think they’re wasting a great opportunity to have so many more three way challenges.

If they’re not going to do more than one challenge an episode, though, at least they could get creative with the allocation of immunity and reward. Just imagine, for a moment, if there was only one immunity that went to the first place tribe, and only one reward that went to the second place tribe. Can you imagine the internal discussions in tribes where there are strong alliance? Like the yellow tribe, they could have intentionally thrown first place to get a great reward because they knew who they wanted to vote out. Even if they don’t do anything that extreme, I don’t think they should be giving the second place tribe any reward (flint last week doesn’t count because the last place tribe got flint, too).

Challenge gripes aside, this was a really enjoyable episode. I still don’t feel like I really know the red or yellow tribes (no, I don’t remember their names), but watching Jonathan find the hidden immunity idol was fun. And the blue tribe has been interesting to watch. Roxy was a little annoying, sure, but provided some good drama. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them turn it around in the challenges now either. I really hope the show delays merging into two tribes as long as possible, and some of that is going to depend on the blue tribe avoiding tribal council.

If you’re a Survivor fan I think this season is going to be worth holding on for.

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