Last week, leading up to the upfronts — that’s the time when the networks pat themselves on their backs and announce their new series — news about television was all about what shows had gotten the axe.
Last season I watched a half dozen or so shows on the networks. Here’s what I enjoyed, in rank order:
1. The New Normal
Ryan Murphy’s smartly written comedy about a gay couple who want to start a family. This show got some unfavorable reviews from gay outlets, but I found it simply lovely. Truth be told, this surprised me because I find Murphy’s Glee the most inconsistent show on TV. However, this one was a love note to the celebration of difference. Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha were wonderful. NeNe Leakes was hilarious and I found the whole thing refreshing. I particularly liked the way Ellen Barkin’s strident conservative grandmother was allowed to change and still hold to her own truth. It was smart. Very smart. No, it was not everyone’s gay experience — we’re not all wealthy Californians with a perfect house and perfect teeth — and maybe you couldn’t quite relate to it, but hey, at least it WAS a gay experience on network television.
2. Happy Endings
The quirky, oddball non-linear new take on Friends full of fast dialogue and underplayed pop culture references to keep you on your toes. The show grew over its time on the air, but it never gelled the way I think it should have. I think Adam Pally was poised on the brink of being a breakout star, but no one seemed to know how to write for his character, which is a shame because I think there was a lot there to be mined. There’s talk that this may end up on some cable network or another. I hope so. It deserves a second time around. Zero bad apples in this gang of six.
3. New Girl
Three guys and a girl share a loft apartment. Zany antics, deftly drawn characters and a healthy dose of heart. And this is on Fox? Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson have really shined this season. Max Greenfield is insanely funny and a fearless performer. The show is smart, has grounded itself in a unique worldview and is starting to emerge as more than “just a sitcom.” It’s a delight AND one of the few sitcoms that understands how to maximize its (terrific) guest stars. Two words: Julius Pepperwood.
NBC’s paean to Broadway. Shot in New York and chock-a-block with actual theatre performers. Theresa Rebeck created the show, adapting Garson Kanin’s novel. A writer, Rebeck was also the showrunner and by all accounts the first season was a train wreck backstage and the novel show became nearly unwatchable at the end of season one. Brought back for a second season with a seasoned showrunner who severely retooled it, the storylines got tighter and more interesting to watch, but the network buried it and ratings fell through the floor. A shame, really, because there was some great stuff going on here. Andy Mientus, Jeremy Jordan and Megan Hilty showed great range, Christian Borle made the jump from stage acting to screen acting look utterly effortless and Debra Messing showed a fantastic grounded, dramatic side that we never got to see on Will & Grace.
An odd little nut of a show featuring interesting comedic performances from some not-so-stereotypical performers. Comedienne Whitney Cummings had her hand in two shows that debuted in 2011: her self-titled one and the CBS diner sitcom 2 Broke Girls. Whitney was a lovely little show with interesting performers while 2 Broke Girls was one extended dick joke. Guess which one is still on the air? Chris D’Elia and Rhea Seehorn were refreshing additions to the landscape.
6. Modern Family
Because it’s consistently funny when you least expect it to be. There’s a lot of talk about the over-the-top performers on this show — like Eric Stonestreet and Ty Burrell — but the real heart of this show is Ed O’Neill who delivers a consistent, grounded, underplayed performance week after week. He’s not recognized for this anti-Al Bundy turn, but he should. Critics who know better should realize that he’s the glue that’s holding the whole damn thing together. Every time I think that MF is close to jumping the shark, it pulls itself back from the edge. Also, as the children have grown, all of them have gotten better and better, particularly Nolan Gould, who plays Luke Dunphy.
And not on the network any longer:
Courteney Cox leads Bill Lawrence’s band of wine-swilling crazies through an odd Florida town. Axed as an underperformer after two seasons on ABC, it’s found new life on TBS with two 13-episode seasons — one just concluded and one upcoming. If you understand Penny Can, Dime Eyes and Big Carl, you’re onto the shenanigans in the cul de sac. It’s devilishly clever in a truly oddball sort of way. It’s to group-of-friends comedies what Scrubs was to hospital comedies. Makes sense, because they were created by the same warped mind.
Last week, the networks axed numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5. So, I’m done with TV now. The cable company gets a call on Monday and the hundreds of channels with nothing on them but five-year-old reruns of Paula Deen deep-frying bacon-wrapped lard balls in butter and Housewives of (fill in a place) and Kardashians and hoarders and Honey Boo Boo and rednecks in swamps can all go away and I’ll save thousands of dollars over the next year and it will make me ecstatic not to have to pay that money to hellish Comcast!
Besides, most of the stuff that I watch comes from abroad. I watch A LOT of stuff from the U.K. on the computer. I watch a number of excellent independent Web series and even the back-from-the-dead All My Children. With the possible exception of losing out on new episodes of The Big Bang Theory and NCIS (because sometimes you just don’t want to have to think), why do I need cable if I have Hulu and Netflix and Amazon and YouTube and enough minor technical knowledge to sneak behind the occasional poorly built firewall?
And that’s my new normal.
Besides, NBC, any network that pays Matt Lauer millions of dollars to stay ON television certainly does not want me watching.