We’re now in upfront season, the time of year in which the networks and streaming outlets preview their fall lineups. These announcements are usually preceded by some bloodletting, so as we await the decisions from on high—and the inevitable petitions to save this drama or that comedy—The A.V. Club is checking in on several new series we reviewed to see if they delivered on their early promise, or squandered their potential. From good girls to bad teachers, we hand out our midseason grades.
Black Lightning (The CW)
Since making its assured debut back in January, Black Lightning has edged out The CW’s other costumed offerings to become the most exciting and vital show in the network’s superhero lineup. And because it’s only Arrowverse-adjacent, it’s done so entirely under its own power. The drama, from Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil, tweaked the DC Comics origin and CW template, introducing a more mature crimefighter who’s still every bit the hard-bodied hero we’ve seen on The Flash and Arrow—only more charismatic.
Black Lightning’s impressive run began with Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning (Cress Williams), still fighting the good fight, albeit in the more genteel environs of a private school. But it’s since expanded to include the origin stories of his fellow metahumans—and daughters—Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain). The show offers many wonderful intimate moments among the family, but is even more ambitious in its themes, exploring activism, the fraught relationship between the black and medical communities, and respectability politics. The execution hasn’t always been flawless; Black Lightning has occasionally fallen prey to some rote storylines and heavy-handed dialogue. But the beyond-personable cast, led by Williams as the compelling and conflicted hero, and the work of dynamic directors like Rose Troche and Oz Scott helped clear what were ultimately minor hurdles. The season finale brought a satisfying end to several major arcs, while teasing new and thrilling opportunities, which, thanks to a renewal, we’ll see play out soon enough. [Danette Chavez]
Season grade: A-
Read our reviews of Black Lightning.
Good Girls (NBC)
Even as someone who isn’t keen on calling things guilty pleasures, Good Girls still feels like it falls under that classification. Despite constant comparisons to Breaking Bad, Good Girls’ first season was a more dramatic (especially as the season went on), network version of Weeds—one that naturally raised questions of just how much of a shelf life the show can possibly have. The network aspect specifically became Good Girls’ biggest hurdle to climb; despite the interesting, dark comedy elements and potential behind the show, it immediately became clear that it could only do so much under the banner of the peacock network. (And with all the logistical questions about the ladies’ crimes.)
From the rigid structure of the ladies engaging in a crime-of-the-week to the episodic need to reset—which at least lessened toward the end but made the first half of the season particularly frustrating—the sheen of NBC actively stifled Good Girls at times. Which is why the star trio of Christina Hendricks (whose descent into the world of crime as Beth is chilling at times), Mae Whitman (whose Annie is the most comic relief, despite being the victim of the most traumatizing moment of the season), and Retta (who gives quite the heartbreaking performance throughout as Ruby) is so integral. (A tip of the hat as well to Allison Tolman as Mary Pat—a thorn in the titular good girls’ side and a good girl gone bad in her own right—toward the end of the season.), Good Girls is an overall decent 10 episodes of television. Now with official confirmation for a season two, it will be interesting to see where it goes and if it will be willing to break away from its bad habits. [LaToya Ferguson]
Season grade: B-
Read our reviews of Good Girls.
Final Space (TBS)
If the first half of animated sci-fi series Final Space was an overeager puppy dog, rushing frantically forward with no pauses to breathe, the back half was a surprising pivot into emotional melodrama, with breaks coming as often for dramatic beats as for comic timing. After the everything-plus-several-kitchen-sinks approach to humor led the series smack into a midseason death that felt wholly unearned, the TBS series seemed to take a moment, calm down, and reassess.
That adjustment to the frantic tone improved the show, as it steadily dropped the hyperactive need to drop a one liner with every other sentence, and instead found a sturdier pacing that relied far more on character development and narrative momentum to carry it along. Creator Olan Rogers and showrunner David Sacks tended to a steadily evolving Gary Space, making the protagonist less of an irritating jerk with each subsequent episode. By the final arc, he’s matured from an obnoxious kid into a semi-obnoxious teenager, maturity-wise, which is a definite step in the right direction. (Though his profound hatred of Fred Armisen’s KVN remains a delight, as does the question-and-answer patter of unexpected show MVP Tribore.) And while the last installment ends on a surprisingly unsatisfying cliffhanger, the slow improvement over the course of season one suggests that with continued refinement, a second season could deliver on the potential of this talented voice cast and distinctive characters. Slower and steadier is definitely a winning look for this space race. [Alex McLevy]
Season grade: B-
Read our pre-air review of Final Space.
Rise still hasn’t figured out how to effectively split focus between the students and the adults in the series—and the musical. Rise prioritizes romantic drama over anything else. Sasha (Erin Kommor), finds herself pregnant and Michael comes to her rescue. I found myself asking “Which one is Sasha?” Gwen and Gordy’s relationship seems like it’s supposed to be a thorn in the side of their parents but keeping the relationship secret robs us of that narrative potential. The show loves romantic drama so much that Gail’s relationship with Maashous has begun to feel like romantic tension instead of a familial relationship.
There are some developments regarding the musical but they still rely on the tension between football and the theater department or unrealistic plot twists. Talk radio hosts trash talk Lou on air and Coach Strickland continues to bench Robby. Lou realizes that maybe the kid can’t act without sports victories. …Sure. Lou and Tracy are forced to make the show family-friendly days before opening. The question to censor the show or present it in its entirety would have been a valuable theme to explore throughout the season. Without a clear focus and smart pacing, the show feels overstuffed and misguided. [Ali Barthwell]
Season grade: C+
Read our reviews of Rise.
When last we checked in with A.P. Bio, the Glenn Howerton-starring NBC comedy was still struggling to reconcile its pitch-black sentiments and bizarro undercurrent with the narrative structures of the network sitcom. The bad news is that the intervening episodes, as well as last week’s finale, operated similarly, feeling scattered and underdeveloped from a narrative standpoint. Perhaps unsurprisingly, A.P. Bio’s memorably nihilistic premiere hurt the show more than it helped it. By self-awarely announcing everything it wouldn’t be, creator Mike O’Brien set an expectation of subversiveness that the writers just couldn’t achieve via vulgarized plots culled from the sitcom playbook. Meanwhile, the show’s declared antagonist, philosopher Miles Leonard, routinely serves as little more than an afterthought until the season’s penultimate episode, making one wonder how the character was originally envisioned (actor Tom Bennett is in the main credits, after all).
The good news, is that A.P. Bio has continued to refine those in Howerton’s orbit, with Patton Oswalt’s Principal Durbin taking on more agency and fellow teachers Stef, Michelle, and Mary being worked more organically into overarching storylines. The students, too, remain a reliably amusing chorus, a teenage version of The Office’s supporting players (Nick Peine’s Marcus makes a perfect Toby Flenderson). Their relationship with Howerton’s Jack is still a touch static—they want to learn biology, he doesn’t want to teach it—but the season finale reveals that that particular dynamic is slated for exploration in the series’ second season, which it was just recently granted. That renewal came as something of a surprise, what with the show not generating much in the way of buzz or ratings, but this is good news: Howerton’s comic gifts are reason alone to look forward to a sophomore outing, and a fresh focus on the classroom (and a jettisoning of the Miles storyline) should help highlight the show’s strengths. [Randall Colburn]