There are television seasons that bring Lost, The Good Wife, and The Good Place.
This, my dear, dear TV viewers, has not been one of those seasons. Mediocrity has reigned on network TV. Perhaps, in trying to find a way to compete with new streaming channels being introduced seemingly every day, network TV decided to play it ultra safe. They need to take the same risks their digital counterparts do.
But now, at the midpoint of the season, we wanted to check in on four of the more high-profile network series that debut this fall to see how they were doing.
Airs: Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC
Rating (Season So Far): 7.5
Perhaps no show has had a more dramatic backstory and more to overcome. It’s hard to watch the show and not know why the beloved Grandma Rose is dead. Although Roseanne Barr released an angry statement after The Conners premiered (“I AIN’T DEAD, BITCHES!”), she’s been relatively quiet since. If the show hasn’t completely come out of Roseanne’s shadow, at least a little sunshine is beginning to seep in. That’s mostly due to the stellar cast. In this week’s episode, Dan (John Goodman) is stunned to find out that an old friend (guest star Katey Segal) might be interested in him romantically. “I still have a thing for my wife,” he tells her mournfully. Goodman is a terrific actor and brings such heartfelt nuance to the line reading that for a moment you forget the real-life controversy that led to his wife’s on-screen demise. As in the original series, Sara Gilbert remains terrific as Darlene, and the comedy made the smart choice to give Darlene a romantic interest (Jay R. Ferguson) just as sardonic as she is. The rapport between Darlene and Becky (Lecy Goranson) is great, especially in the more recent scenes where the two bickering sisters realize they need each other. Laurie Metcalf is still excellent as Jackie, and Matthew Broderick is clearly having a blast as Jackie’s intellectually tedious boyfriend, Peter. All this doesn’t leave a lot of room for D.J. (Michael Fishman), who has yet to nab a story line of his own. (How’s D.J. dealing with his mom’s death? Who knows?) This also means D.J.’s wife, Geena (Maya Lynne Robinson), and daughter, Mary (Jayden Rey), have nothing to do. The writing is often as sharp as ever but the show is still emerging from the chaos that created it.
Airs: Thursday at 9:30 p.m.
Rating (Season So far): 6.9
If you ever needed proof of the cliché “you can’t go home again,” this comedy is it. Although reports of its cancellation appear to be exaggerated (CBS has made no official announcement on a second season of the revival, and the first was always planned on being just 13 episodes), the comedy has not lived up to its former glory. And, in fact, it has proven my theory that the greatest risk of all these beloved shows coming back is that their legacy will be diminished. When we talk about Murphy Brown, it will no longer just be about her iconic Dan Quayle moment or how the series changed the TV landscape; there will now always be a footnote about its mildly successful and creatively disappointing return. The crux of the issue remains the show’s sanctimonious tone: I’m on the show’s side politically and it still comes across as patronizing. Whether it’s Frank (Joe Regalbuto) getting beaten up while covering a Trump rally or taking on a Steve Bannon-like character named Ed Shannon (David Costabile), the series likes to lecture its viewers, mostly via tirades from Murphy (Candice Bergen). None of the stars who returned to reprise their roles seem that comfortable, like they’re still trying to find the character they haven’t played in decades.
Perhaps that’s why it’s the scenes with Murphy’s son, Avery (Jake McDorman), that really stand out. There’s an ease and a relaxed humor to Avery’s interactions with the other characters. He’s got nothing to prove. No agenda. I’m a little worried that last week Avery quit the Wolf Network (yes, that’s actually what it’s called). I hope the show isn’t angling to bring Avery to Murphy in the Morning. Although over the top, it’s good to have Avery working elsewhere and have something completely different. Additionally, Peter Gallagher was a hoot as conservative Wolf network host John Haggerty. (It’s almost like being in school. What name does John Haggerty sound like kids?) And you can see the sparks of where the show could go if it wasn’t so weighed down with an agenda.
Airs: Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC
Rating (Season So far): 6.3
I think my love of 9-1-1 is proof enough that I adore a ridiculous, over-the-top show. But here’s the thing: A show has to know that it’s ridiculous and over the top. New Amsterdam hasn’t gotten that memo yet, and takes itself so, so seriously. To me, the epitome of this came when maverick medical director Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) attended a big fundraiser for the hospital and had to keep leaving for different medical crises. I mean, this must have been a ten-hour fundraiser. Max would go to the hospital, consult, see patients, get germs all over him, and return to find everyone still eating canapés. At the end, the deep-pocketed donor told Max how impressed he was that Max put his patients ahead of money, and the dramatic music swelled. For the first half of the season, Max has also been keeping his cancer diagnosis a secret from everyone but Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman), and it hasn’t been affecting him at all until—let the dramatic music play once again—he collapsed at the end of the midseason finale. I want to get on board with all these shenanigans. Really, I do. I just need the show to be in on the joke with me. One note in particular: More of Tyler Labine, who is great as the psychiatrist Iggy Frome.
Airs: Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC
Rating (Season So far): 7.1
As the saying goes, I liked this show the first time it was on, when it was called Castle. OK, the show is actually very different from Castle, with Nathan Fillion playing not an author-turned- detective, but rather a fortysomething contractor-turned-rookie cop named John Nolan. But Fillion, a bona fide TV star, has a certain charm that he brings to all his roles. The Rookie feels like a throwback to a late-1970s cop drama in the best possible way. Yes, there’s the new technology, but the beats of cops working the streets and solving cases is a time-tested formula that works. Where this series has truly shined, though, is in the supporting cast. As training officer Talia Bishop, Afton Williamson shares a great rapport with Fillion and I’m really liking the story line of Tim Bradford (Eric Winter) dealing with his estranged wife, Isabel (Mircea Monroe), who was an undercover narcotics officer before she became a drug addict herself. Monroe has been terrific, rising above the clichés often involved in playing that kind of role. This week’s winter finale found John shooting and killing a suspect and dealing with the all the repercussions of that, including an internal affairs investigation and his own guilt.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .