Can ABC's Better Off Ted produce laughs as well as far-out inventions? Is Parks and Recreation worthy of Amy Poehler's talents? Does Harper's Island slay us? Now that TV's new spring shows have had a few weeks to strut their stuff, TVGuide.com's senior editors gauge their areas of excellence — and how they can improve.
Better Off Ted, ABC (Wednesday, 8:30 pm/ET)
HIGH MARKS: Jay Harrington makes for an affable protagonist, nobody does hottie ice queen better than Portia de Rossi, and the supporting cast is spot-on. And Ted's walking-and-talking-to-the-camera narrative is a fresh twist to the office comedy that, say, NBC's Parks and Recreation could have used.
LOW MARKS: Veridian Dynamics' far-out and almost always ethically unsound inventions are funny, but ... we'd prefer just a bit more there.
Castle, ABC (Monday, 10 pm)
HIGH MARKS: Nathan Fillion's mystery novelist lead, Rick Castle, is easily the show's biggest asset: charismatic, rakish, intelligent, charming, and rightly full of himself. He finds himself solving crimes alongside a sexy NYPD detective upon whom he plans to base his next series of books.
LOW MARKS: The show makes sometimes queasy shifts between two genres, romantic-comedy and homicide procedural, with little apparent empathy for the people who have to die amid all the leads' flirting. We're all for genre-blending, but not when it feels this calculated.
Cupid, ABC (Tuesday, 10 pm)
HIGH MARKS: Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame) remade his Jeremy Piven cult favorite with two talented, capable leads: Sarah Paulson and Bobby Cannavale. It's a charming premise: A man who calls himself Cupid has to make 100 couples fall in love in order to make it back into the good graces of Mount Olympus. Is he telling the truth — or just crazy?
LOW MARKS: Call us jaded, but the show's romantic stories are a little slow and a lot earnest — they lack a modern edge. The show's depiction of psychotherapy is also a little sunny.
Harper's Island, CBS (Saturday, 9 pm)
HIGH MARKS: The inherent concept — a short-run, closed-end murder mystery — is a winner, because it means (meat-)hooked viewers won't get (thumb-)screwed in the end. As for the actual content, the murders have been sufficiently grisly, the setting is plenty moody, and the cast is rather pretty to look at.
LOW MARKS: Alas, some of the acting is pretty mediocre, and the characters are blatant stereotypes, if not outright cartoons. (The foppish Brit! The scorned ex!) Being exiled to Saturday night has got to hurt too.
In the Motherhood, ABC (On hiatus)
HIGH MARKS: It has a promising cast of comedy veterans, including Megan Mullally (Will & Grace), Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and a slimmed-down Horatio Sanz (Saturday Night Live).
LOW MARKS: Though it's based on a popular web series that drew from the true, funny stories of real moms, Motherhood's outlandish plots and cartoonish characters look nothing like reality. Instead, the show covers two extremes: shrill, overenthusiastic (and thus, annoying) moms, or slacker moms who appear to be ambivalent about having reproduced. Ha-ha?
Kings, NBC (Returns Saturday, June 13)
HIGH MARKS: Kings may have the best production values on television, and the highest concept: a retelling of the David and Goliath story set in an alternate-reality kingdom ruled by the cagey and controlling King Silas (Ian McShane). The characters are compelling, the cast convincing, and the look exquisite.
LOW MARKS: The show's setup requires a suspension of disbelief, and many plot turns require a suspension of cynicism. Audiences have been sadly unwilling to provide either.
Parks and Recreation, NBC (Thursday, 8:30 pm)
HIGH MARKS: Cast with seasoned improvisers from Amy Poehler's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and anchored by Poehler herself, Parks and Rec features some of the best comedians on television. Their spontaneous-feeling riffs (including Aziz Ansari's very public attempted pick-up of Rashida Jones in the premiere) outshine the plots. The egos, petty disputes and pointless feuds within local government provide rich comic fodder, as do the flawed romantic ideals of Poehler, Ansari and Jones' characters.
LOW MARKS: Because we don't know the characters very well yet, Parks and Rec needs better stories to make us care about each episode's outcome. The show does an excellent job of capturing life in a not-very-interesting town, but that isn't very visually appealing. And the mockumentary format, borrowed from the American The Office, which borrowed it from the far-superior British The Office, which borrowed it from Christopher Guest films, is stale.
Southland, NBC (Thursday, 10 pm)
HIGH MARKS: A cop drama that focuses on beat officers working realistic cases, instead of glamorous detectives solving the strangest crimes ripped from the headlines, Southland benefits from an empathetic cast and tight, smart dialogue. Somehow it also manages to be funny. It captures perfectly the bright but congested, smoggy feel of Los Angeles at its worst.
LOW MARKS: The show sometimes sacrifices drama for realism, which can make some storylines feel a little slow.
Surviving Suburbia, ABC (Monday, 9:30 pm)
HIGH MARKS: Forget Full House. Bob Saget is a funny guy.
LOW MARKS: But this is not a funny show. Everything about it — the smart wife-dumb husband couple, the wacky neighbor, the laugh track — lacks originality. You've already seen this show, when it was called According to Jim. Or maybe you didn't. Good for you.
The Unusuals, ABC (Wednesday, 10 pm)
HIGH MARKS: From the bow-chicka-wow-wow opening theme to the "alerts" squawked over the police radio by the unseen dispatcher throughout each episode, The Unusuals proudly wears its quirkiness like a badge. It's as if NYPD Blue and Police Squad! had a strange little crime-solving baby.
LOW MARKS: We like Joan of Arcadia, Walt's dad, Jesse James' killer and Adam Goldberg, sure, but a part of us wishes this cast had another "name" or two. What's Abe Vigoda doing these days?
Get the latest on the fall TV season:
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Fall TV Scorecard: Which Shows Are Returning? Which Aren't?
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Crave scoop on your favorite TV shows? E-mail senior editors Matt, Mickey and Tim at email@example.com.