I’ve done “first episode impressions” of the noteworthy new shows this season, and many TV critics have done the same. We do this because it’s fun and quick-hitting more so than because it’s an accurate and fair way to judge a show. Indeed, my views of some shows have changed quite a bit in the month or so since the pilot episodes aired, so here’s a rundown on where I now stand with these series, ranked in order of quality. (All times are Central.)
1. “Ringer” (8 p.m. Tuesdays, CW) — I knew from the almost-boring previews that this show would take a while to get good, if it ever did; I promised myself I’d stick around a while out of loyalty to Sarah Michelle Gellar and because I like the noir style.
Six episodes in, this has become a pretty great show with all kinds of delicious twists. Here’s an example from this week: It looks like Bridget is framing Henry for the murder of Gemma when she makes the anonymous tip about the bloody rags and debris. But no, she had actually put her own fingerprints on the garbage in order to frame herself! She’s off the hook because Detective Machado thinks Bridget is actually Siobhan, so now (Bridget hopes) he’ll go after Siobhan, thinking she’s Bridget. Oh, and by the way, no one knows who actually killed Gemma, or if she’s actually dead. (I hope she’s not; I like Gemma.)
The Internet was buzzing about how horrible the ocean scene looked in episode one, but I never minded it too much. Although set in present day, I don’t mind when “Ringer” takes on a rough-around-the-edges, innocent feel like 1940s noirs, where rather than complaining about the stark cinematography and broadly drawn characters, cineastes revel in it. The all-star cast (especially SMG, who hasn’t made me think of Buffy once) have easily carried the show through such moments. And with Jason Dohring — a veteran of another neo-noir, “Veronica Mars” — joining the cast as Juliet’s teacher, “Ringer’s” future looks bright.
2. “The Secret Circle” (8 p.m. Thursdays, CW) — Whereas I vowed to give “Ringer” a fair shake, I didn’t even plan to tune in for Kevin Williamson’s latest teen genre entry. It looked like Britt Robertson was reprising her “Life Unexpected” role, and the pain of losing that show was too fresh.
But I tuned in after Entertainment Weekly gave “Secret Circle” a positive review, and I’m amazed each week how much I enjoy the show. Granted, Cassie is similar to Lux; I like her, but Robertson is one of those actresses whose limitations are exposed with each new role. It was telling that a recent arc featured Nick and Melissa (the fifth- and sixth-string witches in the circle) getting possessed by a demon (acting required) rather than Cassie (who just went to her generic shocked or annoyed looks).
That having been said, I like the witches and the way their personalities pop: Adam is broody (that, rather than any claims of “destiny,” is probably why he has chemistry with Cassie); Diana is so nice that I root for her to stay with Adam, even though she’s the odd girl out by the rules of TV love triangles; Faye is a sexy wild card; and Melissa is depressive. The mythology should continue to build — this week introduced charismatic Jake, who is both a witch and a witch-hunter, whom Adam despises and whom Cassie kinda likes.
3. “Terra Nova” (7 p.m. Mondays, Fox) — After buying into the pilot hook, line and sinker, I’ve found the subsequent three episodes to be steps backward. I still think it’s a beautifully realized world, and I was fairly engaged by the second episode, where our heroes were faced with solving the scientific mystery of flying beasts’ migratory patterns.
Episode three, though, was an amnesia episode, and I’m not a fan of those, especially this early in the series. And this week, I knew that little girl who looks like Newt from “Aliens” was a spy for the Sixers the minute she appears on screen. I don’t like feeling smarter than the show I’m watching. The next episode looks promising though — someone is using a dinosaur to commit murder! — and “Terra Nova” will have to sink a lot lower for me to give up on it. I consider the last two weeks to be growing pains.
4. “Revenge” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC) — The concept is wild (young woman gets revenge, one by one, on the rich beachfront jerks who framed her father), yet the details are smart. Emily VanCamp’s Emily Thorne does not intend to accept help in this mission, yet the most compelling characters are two potential allies: Nolan, a dot-com millionaire and tech genius who respected Emily’s dad; and Jack, a blue-collar bartender/sailor who adored Emily when they were both kids, but doesn’t realize Emily is indeed Amanda, the girl he named his boat after.
The next episode ostensibly is the one where Jack finally realizes who Emily is, although I’m a little worried the preview is playing a fast one on us. Still, “Revenge” will have to spiral into stupidity (something it shows no signs of so far) for me to drop it; it’s not as deliciously twisty as “Ringer,” but it’s smartly plotted and seems to know where it’s going (indeed, the series began with a flash-forward to a moment it is now building toward).
5. “American Horror Story” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, FX) — As I expected, since this is from the creators of “Glee,” “AHS” is completely insane; it makes the four high-concept shows I’ve listed so far look like procedurals. A bit too often, the nutso elements — the crazy, nasty neighbor and the glum (and dead!) maid who both seem to be mystically trapped in the vicinity of the house — drown out all the potentially good stuff, like the often-scary episode-opening flashbacks showing the tragic lives past residents.
Still, I’ve stuck with it through three episodes and I’m still intrigued. This week’s entry smartly addressed the problem so many people have with the concept (Why the heck would the family stay in the house?) by getting into the dirty reality of the housing market — it’s gonna be a hard house to sell and they don’t have the money to buy a second home. Next week’s installment looks to be a real corker, as glassy-eyed Tate takes Violet downstairs again and ostensibly lets her in on the history of the mysterious basement.
6, 7 and 8. “Pan Am,” “New Girl” and “Hart of Dixie” — Sometimes I have to cancel shows before the networks do. Turnabout’s fair play; they’ve canceled many shows before I was ready to quit watching them. “Pan Am” has the 1960s touchstones, but not much narrative momentum; it tries too hard with the international-spy stuff. “New Girl” could’ve been quirkily brilliant, but after a few episodes, I could tell the writers had no interest in leaving the safe zone of standard sitcom tropes; Zooey’s cute, but it’s not enough. I dropped “Hart of Dixie” after the awful pilot episode; I’ve heard it has improved (and I’m not surprised, since the bar was set so low), but I don’t feel like I’m missing much.
A couple more new shows will launch soon. I have almost no hope that “Once Upon a Time” (7 p.m. Sundays, ABC, starting Sunday) will be any good — but then again, I felt the same way about “The Secret Circle.” And my expectations are also pretty low for “Grimm” (8 p.m. Fridays, NBC, starting Oct. 28) — although the previews keep pushing the fact that a couple “Buffy” and “Angel” producers are behind this show, the previews are bland; then again, not all hidden depths come out in the previews.
What are your favorite new shows of the fall season, now that we’ve had a chance to take in a handful of episodes?