Every two weeks or so I give you a preview of upcoming premieres on TV, but rarely do I follow up on those shows to let you know which you should or should not be investing your time in. Because obviously if I don’t weigh in you’ll just stare at a blank screen, helpless… right? Here’s a few of the recent new batches of shows that I recommended. How have they been panning out?
Hap & Leonard (Sundance Channel, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.)
I had high hopes for this new series from the team of Damici and Mickle, a film-making team who brought us Stakeland (2010), We Are What We Are (2013), and Cold in July (2014), three of my favorite genre films of the last decade. The cast looks strong and the subject, an adaptation of the quirky series of dark pulp action novels by Joe R. Lansdale (who also wrote the book Cold in July) is right up my alley. But so far, something isn’t quite hitting.
James Purefoy, a fan favorite from HBO’s Rome and a long list of other credits, stars as Hap, a down-on-his-luck, approaching-middle-age, itinerant laborer in late 80s Texas who spends basically all his time with his best friend. Michael Kenneth Williams, also a fan favorite from HBO, this time as Omar on The Wire and Chalky on Boardwalk Empire, plays the best friend, the titular Leonard. They’re both mysterious, enigmatic gents—Leonard is gay, a plot point that could be used more effectively than for rote soapboxing—who both know karate and seem to know their way around firearms, being veterans.
In the first two episodes, Purefoy is not quite selling his role as Hap, either in his face or voice. Williams is great as Leonard, but the writing is missing a certain… lack of eye-rolliness. And the plot, based around some sunken stolen cash, is just good enough to keep me watching. I’m predicting a strong turnaround for this show in the middle episodes, mostly because I want it to work. So far… not so much.
American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (FX, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.)
From the team that brought you American Horror Story, Crime Story is another anthology series. This time tackling true life cases and dramatizing them with all-star casts. The first season went for gusto with the OJ trial. And I’m loving every second of it. I can’t get enough.
For those who haven’t been following, you can still catch up On Demand, and if you remember living through it the first time, this is nothing but a fun stroll down memory lane. Cuba Gooding Jr. is show-stopping as OJ and John Travolta (Robert Shapiro), Courtney Vance (Johnny Cochrane), Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clarke), and David Schwimmer (Robert Kardashian) are all superb in support. I remember sitting on my parents’ living room floor as a kid watching this all unfold. Seeing it again with a little dramatization and some backstory I never had then is just a treat.
There are some obnoxiously unnecessary panders to young audiences, like the constant representations of the Kardashian kids (Kim, Kourtney, Khloe and what’s-his-name). But overall the show is a fun and surprisingly well put together look at the trial that changed the justice system and our media.
Baskets (FX, Thursdays, 10 p.m.)
Zach Galafianakis’ new show is an absurdist pastiche of an artsier form. And it’s glorious. But it is complicated and sometimes hard to enjoy. Co-created (with Louis C.K.) and starring Galifianakis as Chip Baskets, a down-on-his-luck professional clown who has to return to America, from clown school in France, to live with his mother and work as a rodeo clown. His existence is spiraling into darkness and he lives one cruel metaphor for the inanity of life after another while never tasting the fulfillment he feels he deserves. It’s awful. Delightfully so.
Martha Kelly plays Martha, Chip’s best friend/insurance adjuster and possible paramour. She’s odd, affecting, and totally likable. Louie Anderson plays Chip’s mom, who is delusional and trapped in a world of denial just like her son, and steals every scene he’s in. It’s that kind of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse casting that makes the show work. That and the overwhelming bleakness of reality.
Resist suicide along with the rest of us and Chip Baskets, every Thursday night.
Outsiders (WGN, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.)
If you were worried what you would do for your weekly dose of backwoods/gnarly stereotype drama now that Justified and Sons of Anarchy both finished their runs, I found it. Welcome to Outsiders.
The WGN series follows a small Kentucky town that has a problem: their mountain is full of coal, which can bring jobs, economic prosperity, and possibly also ecological ruin and economic despair. Their other problem is the clan of mountain people that live on their potential coalmine who won’t leave. It’s Sons of Anarchy mixed with Justified. If you don’t love this, I don’t know what to say. The cast is serviceable and sometimes great, especially the always scene-stealing David Morse as Foster Farrell and Ryan Hurst (Opie from Sons) as his son.
There’s good guys, bad guys, sort-of-in-between guys, sexiness, racial tension, a Romeo and Juliet story between a young mountain family member and an African-American girl in town. There’s also a heaping helping of stereotypes and stereotype-smashing characters that mark a modern TV drama.
WGN has already proven their chops with Manhattan, and now Outsiders marks their most polished TV achievement yet, and a sure thing to get renewed for a second season. Get in on the fun.
By Ygal Kaufman