Capsule TV Reviews: Give These Shows a Second Chance

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We weren’t so sure about this crop of five new fall series — but to our surprise, they’ve ripened quite nicely.

When they debuted, we thought we might hate them. The ditzy blondes. The malevolent horsemen. The cranked-up-to-11 scenes of Robin Williams’ improv. But as these fall TV series we doubted developed beyond their pilot episodes, they began to grow on us: We laughed at uterus jokes and rooted for telekinetically gifted teens. Here’s what changed our minds.

The Crazy Ones
Thursdays, 9P.M., CBS
Why We Doubted It
Watching Williams wind all the way up and riff his way through a Scotsman-impersonating, silly-face-making tizzy while Sarah Michelle Gellar force-smiles her way through the whole thing? It sounded exhausting. Also, we’ve already seen The Crazy Ones‘ James Wolk on Mad Men, and if you can watch only one show about an ad agency, this ain’t gonna be it.

How It Surprised Us
Gellar makes an unexpectedly good straight woman as Sydney, the uptight daughter to Williams’ berserker executive. What Williams spews forth in ad-lib overdrive she makes up for in restraint, with silent, pained grimaces that say much more than Daddy’s tirades. Plus, considering her weirdo slow dance to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” we’re just starting to plumb Sydney’s neuroses. “I’m nuts,” she admits, shrugging. “Who knew?” B

Mom
Mondays, 9:30 P.M., CBS
Why We Doubted It
It was another conventional comedy from conventional-comedy mogul Chuck Lorre — except about a recovering wild-child alcoholic (Anna Faris) with a still-wild alcoholic mother (Allison Janney), a pregnant daughter (Sadie Calvano), and a married-man boyfriend/boss (Nate Corddry). Hilarity from such heavy stuff seemed unlikely.

How It Surprised Us
By minimizing the workplace affair and focusing on the complex mother-daughter relationship at its core, Mom produces poignant, character-driven laughs. Janney is sensational, especially in recent relapse and menopause episodes, and Faris is an effortlessly appealing, versatile comedian. You can easily see the next-gen Roseanne it wants to be. Hopefully it’ll get there. B+

Sleepy Hollow
Mondays, 9 P.M., FOX
Why We Doubted It
From the start, Sleepy Hollow was full of polished, poppy lunacy. The Headless Horseman with a machine gun! George Washington, Apocalypse Slayer! But the premise — buddy cops battling the end times in a small town — seemed limited. How long before the fish-out-of-water humor of man-out-of-time Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) got old? And the Headless Horseman with a machine gun? That’s not a villain with legs, let alone a brain.

How It Surprised Us
Two words: Nicole Beharie. Her turn as Ichabod’s partner/modern-times tutor grounds the gonzo with humanity, and her chemistry with Mison makes them pure fun to be around. A team of compelling Armageddon resistance fighters is emerging — John Noble’s sin eater is a nice addition — and the mythology is harebrained fun. The Boston Tea Party was really about stealing a portal to hell?! Revolutionary indeed. B+

The Tomorrow People
Wednesdays, 9 P.M., The CW
Why We Doubted It
The network’s gloss on young mutants fighting forces bent on exterminating them played like store-brand X-Men. The outsider/double-agent protagonist (Robbie Amell) was intriguing, but the archetypes felt formulaic.

How It Surprised Us
The Tomorrow People fleshed out its world with episodes spotlighting interesting characters and allowing a strong supporting cast — especially Mark Pellegrino as the conflicted villain — to shine. Big themes (racism, sexism, otherness) have been handled sharply and subtly. The powers are used imaginatively, enhancing the fights and even the love triangle: Why wouldn’t Cara (Peyton List) want to have superintimate telepathic/telekinetic supersex with emotionally available Stephen (Amell) when her haunted boyfriend, John (Luke Mitchell), keeps shutting her out? You didn’t see that on Gossip Girl. B+

Trophy Wife
Tuesdays, 9:30 P.M., ABC
Why We Doubted It
That title! Not only does it sound like some vengeful-ex-wife movie from the ’90s (starring Goldie Hawn), it’s also just sexist. Why should we root for Kate (Malin Akerman), the third Mrs. Harrison to her husband (Bradley Whitford), if she’s a “trophy”? It didn’t help that Kate grabbed her own breasts in the pilot, calling them “peaches.”

How It Surprised Us
The whole cast is funny, and not in a catfight-comedy way. Marcia Gay Harden could ice-pick you with her coldness as wife No. 1, and Michaela Watkins brings transcendent hippie weirdness to wife No. 2. And despite the title, the previous wives have developed a begrudging respect for Kate. If nothing else, watch for scene-stealer Albert Tsai as Bert, the only boy ever to make lines like “Ouch, my uterus!” sound witty. B
(Original Grade: B-)

– By Jeff Jensen and Melissa Maerz

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