Welcome back to “Don’t Touch That Dial,” a seasonal series in which I, your friendly neighborhood television addict, break down some of the shows screaming for your attention. I already told you what’s new this fall, so now we’re diving a little deeper. In this very special episode we’re covering an immortal medical examiner (Forever), a shady attorney (How to Get Away with Murder), and sexy stalkers sexily stalking sexy stalkers (Stalker).
The Road So Far: Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) can’t die. Well, that’s not technically true. He does die, repeatedly and frequently, but he always comes back (and in a welcome nod to fans attracted to men, he always resurrects naked and in the water). He’s spent the last two plus centuries trying to understand his situation, and at present that means working as an ME in a New York City morgue. A seemingly random and deadly accident pushes Morgan and Det. Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza) together as unofficial case partners, but also reveals a more sinister force. Someone else out there is just as immortal as Morgan, but is even more grumpy about it. With the help of adopted son Abraham (Judd Hirsch), lab assistant Lucas (Joel David Moore), and Martinez, Morgan solves NYC’s oddest cases. ABC, Tue 10p.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Look, I’m not gonna lie and tell say this is the best show of the season, ‘cause it’s not. I wouldn’t even put it in the top ten. The show is more trope than plot—if you’ve seen a procedural in the last decade and a half, then you’ve seen everything Forever knows how to do—and it’s fairly lazy with already lazy clichés. Morgan is Sherlock Holmes as filtered through a network television exec’s production notes. Martinez isn’t much better, complete with a tragic backstory that will come back to haunt her by season’s end. It has very little to say, and is content to say it in the most palatable way possible.
Nevertheless, it’s still my one of my favorite new shows. It’s not a guilty pleasure—Forever is far too tame for anything that shamefully salacious—but it does make for a pleasant way to spend 42 minutes. Put it on while cooking dinner, folding laundry, cleaning house. It’s not deep enough to require your undivided attention, but is entertaining enough that every now and again you might find yourself hooked on the screen, your other task forgotten. There’s a lot of good meat on its bones, but two episodes in and there seems to be no impetus to reach for greatness. It’s a lightly diverting bit of television I am already profoundly obsessed with. Gruffudd and De La Garza have a delightful platonic chemistry (that I hope never crosses over into romance), and Henry and Abraham’s father-son relationship is sweetly quirky. At it’s heart is a creative, inventive story just aching to be told, and I hope season 2 will get around to being the kick in the pants it’s meant to be…if it lasts that long.
TL;DR: If you adore the “immortal/magical male teams up with an attractive female partner detective to solve crimes in a metropolis” trope (New Amsterdam, Moonlight, The Dresden Files, etc.), then this is right up your alley.
How to Get Away with Murder
The Road So Far: Defense attorney Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) isn’t known for her cheerful demeanor and motherly patience. She’s sharp, biting, and has no tolerance for stupidity. She’s also having an affair with a homicide detective (Billy Brown) while she and her husband Sam (Tom Verica), a psych professor at Middletown University where she teaches law, struggle to conceive a child. But no worries because her husband might have also had an affair of his own with one of his students who was recently found dead in very suspicious circumstances. Annalise selects five students (Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Matt McGorry, Aja Naomi King, and Karla Souza) as protégés at her firm, and as they go through the case-of-the-week they learn to be just as ruthless and conniving as their mentor. Interspersed are flash forwards to several months down the line where four of the students deal with disposing a corpse. Mixing up the action are Annalise’s two coworkers, Frank (Charlie Weber) and Bonnie (Liza Weil), and here’s hoping it’s the latter who has the affair with Laurel rather than the obvious flirt Frank. Also: sex, and lots of it. ABC, Thu 10p.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Until HtGAwM, I was always fairly indifferent to Shonda Rhimes joints. I watched the first few seasons of Grey’s Anatomy before it jumped the shark, but was never desperate for it, and Scandal is the kind of show I’ll randomly run into in about twenty years as basic cable reruns and get hooked, but I couldn’t care less about it now. I already went through my turgid soapy melodrama phase, and have little interest in going through it again, no matter how great Kerry Washington is. But HtGAwM isn’t a soap. I mean, it kinda is—two episodes in and we’ve already been graced with four (and a half?) sex scenes, not to mention the constant high tension dialogue just in case you forgot that dramatic things are happening all the time—but it’s mostly a crime drama with some sex draped around it.
The brass tacks of it, however, aren’t as sparkling. Structurally, the show is all over the map. It’s half Scandal and half House, and fingers crossed they go for the latter. Peter Nowalk may have intended the show to be a sort of ensemble with Annalise at the helm, but Davis steals scenes she’s not even in. Most of the audience’s time spent with the other fairly dimensionless characters is spent wishing Annalise would pop up. Television has straight white male antiheroes up the wazoo. What I want is a woman of color antihero; what I want is Annalise screwing with everyone and getting knocked down every now and again when her bastardly deeds come back to bite her in the ass. The only thing that worries me about HtGAwM’s long-term potential is whether the writers will soften her over time, like Dexter, or refuse to let her evolve for so long she stagnates, like House. For now, though, Thursday night can’t come soon enough.
TL;DR: Don’t take my word for it. HtGAwM had the biggest live + 3 ratings in history, with 14 million tuning for the live viewing and another 6 million catching up on it through DVR over the next few days.Give me all Viola Davis all the time.
The Road So Far: The cops assigned to the LAPD Threat Assessment Unit deal solely in stalking cases. Running the show is Lt. Beth Davis (Maggie Q doing her best), a victim of stalking herself, and interloper Jack Larsen, who likes to stalk his family when not investigating cases of stalking. Irony! Apparently there are also four other cops, but they’re such non-entities that I couldn’t tell you who they were if my life depended on it. Jack is an awful human being who thinks he’s funny, and Lt. Davis fluctuates between her looking like she either wants to punch him or suck face, depending on how much creator Kevin Williamson wants the audience to bond with Jack. There’s no plot to speak of outside the egregiously violent cases-of-the-week. Stalker hails not from the Kevin Williamson who created Scream, Dawson’s Creek, and Vampire Diaries, but who I assume must be Evil Twin Kevin Williamson, the malevolent force who spawned the equally hellish The Following. CBS, Wed 10p.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I watched Stalker for the same reason I sat through The Following, because I love my job as much as I hate to see a crime go unpunished. And Stalker isn’t just a crime against television viewers, it’s an affront to humanity. Christ, it’s a terrible show, not just in concept but in its very execution. I can’t tell what I’m more offended by: its innate offensiveness or the half-assed hackwork that created it. I take it back, I’m more offended by its misogyny and exploitative and gratuitous violence.
Stalker isn’t a show about people being stalked. It could be. The show could have something to say about how cops’ hands are often tied by a legal system that is failing those it is supposed to protect, about what goes on in the mind of a stalker, about what it’s like to be a victim, about how victims fight back. Instead it’s 42 minutes of Dylan McDermott being creepy-charming and victims being attacked in skin-crawling ways. Stalker has as much to say about stalking as The Following does about cults.
Lt. Beth Davis isn’t a person. She’s a collection of horror movie tropes wrapped in a scowl. What a tremendous waste of Maggie Q. Someone send an airlift to get her the hell out of there. But it’s McDermott’s Jack Larsen that is the real crux of the problem. How can you even begin to care about a creature like that? It doesn’t make it better that the people he’s stalking are his divorced wife and his only child. HE’S STALKING THEM. He drove them out of their home and across the country, and then HE FOLLOWED THEM TO CONTINUE HIS STALKING. He objectifies Det. Davis, and then tells her that her opinions about her own body are wrong. Yet he does it with smarmy sarcasm meant to make the audience like him as an antihero. As I’ve said many times before, the reason I enjoy Criminal Minds isn’t the crimes—they can get a little too graphic for my taste sometimes—but the characters. Ten years in and I feel like I know the BAU agents because the writers have made a conscious effort to ensure the audience spends as much time getting to know them as we do untangling the murders. Stalker doesn’t give a shit about its characters or its plot. It wants to watch things burn and rake in the cash. Ugh. The whole thing makes me want to vomit.
TL;DR: It is a garbage show made by garbage people.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.