One of the trickier aspects of reviewing TV during a new fall season is judging series based solely on their pilot episodes. It's better to have more in advance, but not always an option. So while I was pleasantly surprised that two of my favorite new shows, The Flash and Jane the Virgin, were on The CW, I was also a bit nervous that they might not be able to sustain.
Happily, they're still delivering the goods in successive weeks. The Flash (Tuesday, 8/7c) remains a delightful and by necessity fast-paced celebration of heroism, with the supremely likable Grant Gustin continuing to charm us with his enthusiasm and vulnerability as Barry Allen. His speed-freak alter ego is not invincible, as he quickly discovers going up against this week's "meta-human" villain "The Mist" — and how much fun does S.T.A.R. Labs' tech-geek sidekick Cisco (Carlos Valdes) have each week nicknaming the new Big Bad? But even as he's being lectured by his mentor/surrogate dad Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) that "putting on that suit doesn't make everybody safe," Barry's not about to give up the fight. Nor should he.
I'm even more enchanted by how Jane the Virgin (Mondays, 9/8c) keeps spinning its dizzying web of telenovela-style soap-operatic delirium while remaining grounded in the emotional complexities of a good girl trying to do the right thing in a bizarre and fraught situation. This week's "Chapter Two" is another sensational showcase for the wonderful Gina Rodriguez to display all of Jane's many conflicting moods — romantic, despairing, proud, generous, courageous, confused — as she tries to honor her family, her conflicted fiancé, and the man whose baby she is accidentally carrying. The balance between outrageousness — epitomized by the show's mellifluous can-you-believe-this narration — and good-hearted earnestness is beyond endearing, and I laughed out loud more frequently during Jane's second episode than I have during all of the other networks' new so-called romantic comedies combined. I won't discuss any of the wackier twists out of respect for those who might want to search out Jane on its repeat airing this Friday (8/7c), which I can't recommend highly enough.
Want more TV news and reviews? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!
JACK'S BACK: "Nothing puts off my appetite quite like being murdered." Dialogue like this is a reminder that the more fantastic ABC's Forever allows itself to be, the better. This whimsy-laced procedural about an immortal medical examiner who can't be killed — no matter how many times he dies in the line of duty — is at its best when projecting its charming hero, Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), into his past — as in his latest case (10/9c), featuring a copycat killer who's mimicking classic killers like Jack the Ripper.
And guess who was there during Jack's heyday? "Enough to make you nostalgic," taunts the mysterious "Adam," the so-far-faceless stalker who shares Henry's gift of immortality (although his age is the thousands, compared to Henry's mere hundreds) and who always seems to be ahead of Henry every step of the way. As Henry flashes back to being on the scene during the original London investigation into the Ripper murders, which helped bring credibility to his specialty of forensic science, we are reminded, "What are doctors but detectives?" So far so good, and when another victim reminiscent of the 1940s Black Dahlia case emerges, with a sly visual shout-out for James Ellroy (who wrote a terrific Black Dahlia novel), even better.
But as often happens on this show, the case of the week is so perfunctorily solved it seems more of an afterthought, even with this terrific premise. The trappings of Forever go so far beyond the routine — Gruffudd's charisma, his rapport with police helpmate Alana De La Garza, the sinister enigma of "Adam," who makes a welcome and significant return appearance — that it's a shame when the whodunit part of the show plays like elementary-school Sherlock Holmes.
THE ROAD TO RUIN: We're now in the backstretch of the bloody final season of FX's Sons of Anarchy, with a body count so extreme you may wonder why the networks haven't sent a war correspondent to the mean streets of Charming. And as the pivotal seventh episode unfolds (10/9c), Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is yet again plotting a takedown of a rival operation, this one being "more than just another street beef." There's no way his vengeance-fueled vendetta will end well, but the real suspense in this episode involves the fates of club outcast Juice (Theo Rossi) and Jax's lying liar of a wife-killing mom Gemma (Katey Sagal), the latter fretting over any sign that her son might make her pay for what happened to his beloved Tara. She's a paranoid mess, but who could blame her.
My sympathies for now lie with Nero (Jimmy Smits, excellent), who's understandably desperate to get out of this mess, although no amount of tearful pleading will budge Gemma. "We deserve something better," he says, declaring his "serious love" for this woman. Seriously, dude, get out before it's too late. Because whatever's coming next isn't going to be pretty. It's already downright ugly, with the episode ending on an image that seems better suited for The Walking Dead.