They come, they go. The shows, that is. The gushing optimism of early September gives wait to dismay as series roll out and the episodes aren't as compelling as the pilot that caught everybody's attention. It's the way it is.
Now it's November and we're halfway through the fall TV season. Already, there are cancelled shows and other calamities. And there are shows that just keep going, no matter how appalling. Has anybody had enough of the bombast of Simon Cowell and The X Factor yet? Is there anybody who is actually thinking, "Say it ain't so, Kim Kardashian?" Never mind all the noise. Here's a short list of shows that are succeeding, some of the time.
Glee (tonight, Fox, Global 8 p.m.) is, in general, a maddening show. Episodes vary wildly in quality, substance and wit. At the start of this season the show seemed to disappear into an inside-Broadway world, and evolve into a ceaseless homage to Broadway musical culture. Then it picked up, shook off some of the narcissism and got weirdly smart again. After disappearing for a while when Fox aired baseball, Glee returned recently with an absurd new character, Rory, an Irish kid whom Brittany believes is a leprechaun and could grant wishes. (Rory: "I love everything about America, especially NASCAR, your hot black President and the Victoria's Secret catalogue.") Sue Sylvester went on a rant about the funding of the Glee club, a rant that ended up a send-up of some right-wing platitudes in the United States.
She declared that math teachers make $2,000 a year and that West Wide Story both glorifies gang violence and a gay lifestyle. Tonight, it's one if those must-see Glee episodes. Two McKinley High couples will lose their virginities – Rachel and Finn, and Kurt and Blaine. High-school kids engaging in gay sex. Bring on the retribution of the Parents Television Council and its allies.
New Girl (Fox, CITY-TV, 9 p.m.) disappeared, like Glee, for a while. Could the charm and zest of the terrific pilot episode be replicated, week after week? Well, somewhat. It's even more maddening than Glee. Main character Jess (Zooey Deschanel) is too often infantile. Even though she is in her late 20s and a school teacher. Plus, last week's episode amounted to an absurd plethora of penis jokes. The show's writing can exhibit great wit about the idiocies of the male characters but declines to use Deschanel's charm in any grown-up manner.
Grimm (Fridays, NBC, CTV 9 p.m.) finally debuted, late into the season and perhaps that was a good thing. It's an original-concept show – a fairy-tale crossed with a police procedural, visually exciting – and treads a fine line of horror and wit. The gist is that cop Nick Burckhardt (David Giuntoli) is puzzled when he begins seeing glimpses of monsters around him. Turns out he's a descendant of the Grimm brothers who, of course, can spot evil beasts lurking everywhere. The pilot was exceptional and the second episode was no letdown. Check it out.
Revenge (Wednesdays, ABC, CITY-TV, 10 p.m.) began as an overcomplicated pilot but has found its feet and is a potential hit. Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) returns to the Hamptons to wreak revenge on people who caused the death of her father and destroyed her life. She was a kid when her dad was arrested on phony terrorism charges, and he died in jail. Loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo, the plot has become simplified a little in ensuing episodes and, mainly, the attraction here is Canadian Emily VanCamp as Emily, a young woman with a multitude of motivations, who's so solitary that she cries out for sympathy. An unusual example of a muddled pilot leading to a much stronger series.
American Horror Story (Mondays, FX Canada, 9 p.m.) puzzled many viewers. And irritated more than a few. Are the events real? Is it all some camp exercise in horror fetishes? Who knows. The relentless beat of its horror-surprise twists make it near-unwatchable if you want linear TV plotting with an occasional twist. And if it makes you uncomfortable, it is meant to.
The race for the Republican presidential nomination in the U.S. (every day, multiple channels) has more lurid drama, shocking turns of events and colourful characters than any fictional drama airing right now. Seriously. It could run forever.
ALSO AIRING TONIGHT
The Scotiabank Giller Prize (bold, 9 p.m.; CBC, 11 p.m.) is an exclusive event. No riff-raff. You're allowed to watch on TV. Consider yourself lucky. That's the attitude that usually emanates anyway. It's all so cute, the smugness and delusions of people in the Canadian literary and publishing rackets. May the best book win.
Check local listings.