Imagine a world in which the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball all decided to move their seasons to the same time of year. It would be chaos, for fans and the professional sports business alike. And yet, in television, that's essentially what happens during pilot season.
The broadcast networks traditionally order pilots during the first few months of the year. From there, it's a race to find the best actors, hire a crew, build sets and produce a show before May, when the upcoming fall schedules are announced. The field has always been crowded, but this spring, several cable networks and online retailer-turned-programmer Amazon are also developing new shows that they hope will go to series (cable networks typically produce pilots throughout the year, usually avoiding the spring).
What kind of family must it be where slacker bartender Nick Miller (Jake Johnson) is seen as the responsible one? That answer becomes clear in a sporadically amusing road-trip episode of Fox's New Girl (9/8c) that takes the roomies to Chicago to lay Nick's scoundrel of a dad (former guest star Dennis Farina) to rest. The formidable Margo Martindale (Justified, The Americans) presides over the ridiculous antics as Nick's gruff but needy mom, and cable clown Nick Kroll hams it up as his emotionally volatile brother. As usual, Schmidt (Max Greenberg) hijacks the proceedings with his death neuroses, and while he wonders "What's with this open casket thing?" it's his encounter with said coffin and its contents that provides the episode's biggest laughs.
ABC has been running a series of ads lately for The Neighbors quoting TV critics who trashed the show when it premiered in September but have since changed their mind or at least lightened up about this harmless time-waster. I was not among those quoted, for good reason. I'm hardly a fan, but even back in the fall, I knew there were far worse sitcoms to get riled up about — including elsewhere on Wednesday (NBC's DOA Animal Practice and the presumably soon-to-vanish mediocrity Guys With Kids) — and my main objection, then as now, is its occupation of prime real estate between two infinitely better comedies, The Middle and Modern Family.
The King is alive... at least when a Miller family funeral is concerned.
At the Paley Festival panel for Fox's New Girl, moderated by TV Guide Magazine's Rob Moynihan on Monday, the cast and producers gave some scoop about the upcoming March 26 episode in which Nick (Jake Johnson) travels home to Chicago because of a death in the family. "Nick's father passes away," executive producer Brett Baer explained. "And then Elvis shows up?"
Drama, comedy, reality: This is one of those nights where TV is firing on all cylinders.
Let's start with the heavy lifting. One of TV's most encouraging survival stories returns with the fifth-season premiere of TNT's uncommonly gritty police drama Southland (10/9c), a network reject (from NBC's darkest period) that thrives on cable, with a sharper focus and a determined avoidance of procedural cliché.
Each episode is like a graphic tour of duty on the streets of Los Angeles, and in the opener, it's not always immediately clear if the patrol cops and detectives in the line of fire are witnessing a real crime or make believe or some other sort of scam. (One vignette involving a brawl between naked men in a sauna looks like an outtake from Spartacus.) "Treat it like a circus," seasoned training office John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) advises his latest ride-along, an Afghan War vet with too much attitude. The media circus threatens to consume Cooper's former partner Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), newly decorated and enjoying the attention a bit too much. Grounding these characters in the mundane distractions of unblemished real life, Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) is adjusting to single motherhood with...