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The Television Upfronts: Revisting 2013-14, Looking Ahead to 2014-15

May 8, 2014

Last year, as part of myWhat’s Making Me Happy This Week” weekly feature, I wrote about the announcement of the 2013-14 television schedules for the four major networks, aka, the upfronts. If you need a primer about what the upfronts are, please go back and read that post. From where I sat, there were a lot of reasons to be excited about the 2013-14 television season. This year I just don’t feel comfortable putting it forth as what’s making me happy this week. That’s because, though the upfronts haven’t happened yet (they’re scheduled for next week) and the networks’ schedules haven’t been announced, preliminary reports aren’t giving me goose bumps. Over on Grantland, Andy Greenwald gives one of those preliminary reports, analyzing each network, its strengths and weaknesses, and where it’s likely to go in 2014-15. It’s a nice read, one I recommend. Here at 2bitmonkey, I want to focus on a report card for 2013-14 (looking only at those shows I listed as “excited for” last year) and then a look forward at 2014-15. So, without further ado, let’s see how the networks did in light of my expectations:

1. What I liked: Michael J. Fox is back on television.

What I wrote: This makes me happy for the obvious reasons, but also because I grew up on Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly. More Michael J. Fox can only be a good thing.

How it went: The Michael J. Fox Show was pretty terrible. I gave it about five episodes before bailing on account of a sappiness and predictability level not seen on sitcoms since … the days of Alex P. Keaton. NBC pulled the show for good in February despite having a full season ready to air.

2. What I liked: The Goldbergs, courtesy of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company.

What I wrote: Per Greenwald, it “fast-forwards The Wonder Years into the VHS era and replaces the family Christmas tree with a bright and shiny menorah.” What’s not to love?

How it went: The pilot was rocky – it seemed to be a show where Jeff Garlin yells and calls everyone in his family a moron over and over again. But the show got its footing pretty quickly – Garlin yells less and uses the word “moron” only about twice per episode – to the point where I now think it’s become my favorite sitcom currently airing. I’m as surprised as you are.

3. What I liked: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

What I wrote: Michael Schur (of The Office, Parks & Rec and Fire Joe Morgan fame) has created a new show starring Andy Samberg. I have a feeling that in true Schur tradition, it will take half a season to find its voice and then be a hit for the next five years at least.

How it went: On second thought, this is my favorite sitcom currently airing. A dynamite show right out of the gate (and winner of a Golden Globe), Samberg is terrific in a less ridiculous role than he’s normally known for and the supporting cast is extraordinary.

4. What I liked: Mom and Trophy Wife.

What I wrote: Two funny, talented and underrated (not to mention beautiful) female actresses, Anna Faris and Malin Akerman, each have their own show. Finally. I don’t care that Faris’s is called Mom and Akerman’s is called Trophy Wife, and therefore I am obviously not the intended target audience for either. Now I can watch and enjoy Faris without paying $15 to see a terrible movie and I can watch and enjoy Akerman without the inanity of Childrens Hospital.

How it went: I never saw a single episode of Trophy Wife. I’ve seen Mom here and there. It’s fine, but nothing special.

5. What I liked: About a Boy being adapted into a sitcom.

What I wrote: As a Nick Hornby fan, I’m intrigued.

How it went: I’m on the fence on this one. Started at mid-season, it’s got decent enough characters and Minnie Driver hasn’t completely turned me off like she normally does. (I’m still trying to find a way to watch Good Will Hunting without any Driver scenes.) I still have a season pass but I don’t see this show having much of a shelf life.

For what it’s worth, I also wrote this, which is interesting mostly because of the third item (which I’ll come back to):

And a few notable things that I’m not particularly excited about but could surprise me:

  • Robin Williams is back on TV for the first time since Mork & Mindy. Will Arnett is also back with another new show, which feels like an annual tradition.

  • 24 is back, but for only 12 episodes. It will still take place over 24 consecutive hours, but we will only see the 12 most meaningful ones. Seems like someone was desperate to get this show back on the air by any means necessary.

  • SNL writer John Mulaney created a show called Mulaney that was not picked up. Every year there is one of these, a show that could be great yet doesn’t even air, while Two and a Half Men enters season 73. I’m hopeful though that this means that Mulaney is finally on people’s radar screens and that one day he’ll have his Louie.

So what has me excited for 2014? Sitcoms, only sitcoms:

  1. Mulaney! After NBC foolishly passed on Mulaney, Fox did exactly as I’d hoped and expected, snapping up the show and already ordering 16 episodes. And with more time to work out the kinks (and a more supportive network) I’m sure Mulaney – the show and the comedian – will be better for it.
  2. Tina Fey, free from 30 Rock, has her hands in two new sitcoms – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtand Cabot College. Forget the premises – It’s often difficult to read a show description and know what will work and what won’t, which is why I bet my money and hopes on a person like Fey. Anything she touches seems to range from funny (Baby Mama) to insanely funny (30 Rock).
  3. How I Met Your Dad. I was a fan of How I Met Your Mother from the beginning, and a controversial finale to that show isn’t enough to drive me away from the spin-off starring Greta Gerwig.
  4. Speaking of HIMYM, the lovely Cristin Milioti (i.e. the Mother) has her own starring role alongside Mad Men’s Ben Feldman (Ginsburg, if you’re wondering) in the sitcom A to Z. I liked Milioti so much that I really want this to work.

I’m sure there will be some other pleasant surprises that come from the big four networks. Or maybe not. Offhand I can’t think of a single show from the networks that wasn’t on my initial watch list that caught my eye over the course of the year. It’s never NBC that comes up with an Orphan Black, for example. Alas, the 2014-15 television season may be bleak. Oh well, more time for Thursday night football I guess.

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