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Fab Five – The Best Freshman Seasons From the Past Year

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. This past year of television has been the greatest of my life. I love TV. Probably an unhealthy amount. But never have I been bombarded all year long by consistently good shows. Evidently it’s just a good time to be in the entertainment business. The box office has seen tremendous growth over the past two years and it looks like it will only continue to grow over the next two. It seems that television is following suit, as we are seeing more and more high budget and high shows.

Over the past year, not only did shows that were already running raise the bar to new heights, we were treated to one of the greatest crop of new shows ever. Almost always, more than half the shows I start are disappointing and most of the ones I like get cancelled. I only had three shows get cancelled on me this year and of those only one could I make an argument for that it should have stayed. That folks, is unheard of. For those of you that don’t know, the TV year is different from the calendar year. The TV year runs from September to September. And that is what this list is for. Trey, Josh, and I (Evan) present to you our favorite new shows from the 2012-2013 TV year.

 

Revolution5. Revolution (NBC)

What happens when the power goes out? Things get awesome evidently! Brought to us by the ever popular J.J. Abrams, this show found an instant spot in my rotation. It’s a story about a family that is heavily involved with the reason the power went out and with the way the world has ended up almost two decades later. The pacing on the show was wonderful, as they gave me just the right amount of information from the past each and every week. The suspense and action the “present” brings is some of the best you will find on network TV. The acting is up and down but the characters are so great and compelling that it’s easily forgivable. The Miles Matheson and Sebastian Monroe characters are two of my favorites on TV.

The show, quite unapologetically, draws from Stephen King lore. Anyone that knows me, knows that this is a huge plus in my book. Most notable similarities can be traced back to The Stand. One main difference? In this future, everyone becomes quite proficient with a sword! Season one took the story farther than I thought it would, but I’m really glad it did. The end of the season was perhaps the biggest cliff hanger of the year! My main problem with the show was how NBC handled it. The show debuted to a great audience and held those numbers. Then the dreaded Christmas break came and the show didn’t start again for nearly four months. It was far to long and the show lost all its momentum and a large chunk of its audience. The show has been moved to Wednesday night for its new season and I don’t know how much a future it has, but I hope it makes it. This show is great!

 

The Following4. The Following (FOX)

Probably my most anticipated show for last year, and not for one second did it disappoint me. The show is about a convicted serial killer who is obsessed with Edgar Alan Poe and the FBI agent that caught him. Both are expertly played by James Purefoy and the great Kevin Bacon respectively. It was an interesting premise to say the least but I must say that I was afraid it would be horribly cheesy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The show managed to feel extremely gritty and realistic. The idea that there could be this cult and entire network of serial killers became completely believable and thus, terrifying. I pride myself on knowing where shows are going to go, and while the end was pretty predictable, the twists and turns along the way were brilliant.

Hated on by some critics because of its sometimes shocking violence, I never felt that it was to over the top or unnecessary. The sometimes over-the-top violence made the show real for me and kept the viewers on their toes. People you expect to die make it, and people you expect to live get axed. It was one of the few shows that has me texting Trey each week desperately wanting to talk about what had just happened. Despite its predictability, the show ended on a great note. I’m not positive where the show will go from here but I think I have a pretty good idea. And hey, more Kevin Bacon is always a good thing. The Following will return in 2014.

Check out the Free For All review for The Following

 

Bates Motel3. Bates Motel (A&E)

Full disclosure, I am a bit biased when it comes to this show. I adore classic horror movies and Psycho is one of my favorites. I, at the very second, have a flashing Bates Motel sign in my house. I had heard rumblings of a show based on this American classic and I always knew I would check it out, but I never dreamed it would be as good as it is. I wrote months ago to watch out for A&E as the new “it” network and I stand by that. AMC is slowly coming back to Earth from their non-stop run of success and if A&E continues to put on this quality of shows, it is definitely going to be in contention.

What surprised me about this show was how early they started it. I knew they was going to be the story of Norman Bates and how he became a serial killer but I didn’t know that it was going to be about him as a teenage kid in high school. The show is brilliantly acted and Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore have some of the best chemistry on TV. It’s a slow burn as we, so far, have only occasionally been given hints and glimpses of what turns poor lovable Norman into a raging murderous lunatic. The relationship between Norman and Norma is wonderfully creepy and the amount of complimentary content was both unexpected and exceptional. I was worried that when they made the town they lived it have all kind of secrets and be kind of crazy that it would take over the story and distract from what was really important on the show. My fears were quickly eased as the show runners found the perfect balance and the town storylines were wonderfully complimentary. Bates Motel will return in 2014 and I can’t wait to see Norman’s continued slip into madness.

Check out the Free For All review for Bates Motel

 

 

The Americans2. The Americans (FX)

I am writing this list as my favorite shows, not the best (although for the most part the two go hand-in-hand). The Americans is still number two on my list regardless so you know that I love it, but if I was ranking them as the most well made new shows, this would undeniably be number one. FX just flat out does good TV people. I would compare the level of writing and acting on this show to that of Showtime’s Homeland. And if any of you know me or have watched the Emmys for the past two years, you know that is pretty damn high praise.

This show takes us back to the early 80’s and the height of the Cold War. We follow the lives of two undercover Soviet spies living in secret in America. Ever think a show could make you root for two foreign spies against your own county? I didn’t. I was really, really wrong. While wonderfully understated and subtle, the amount of suspense on this show is incredible. I have never been a Keri Russell fan and this show single-handedly changed that. Matthew Rhys shines the brightest in his break out role for what I think is going to be a wildly successful career now. While the ups and downs of the main characters relationship can be taxing at times, it’s totally authentic. Everything on this show seems authentic. The clothes, the hair, the cars, and the dialogue are all spot on and keep you fully immersed in the show. The show had an amazing finale and set up what is going to be an incredible second season. Do yourself a favor. Catch up and this show and watch the second season coming to you in 2014.

Check out the Free For All review for The Americans

 

Arrow1. Arrow (CW)

Surprised this is my number 1?!? Me too! I have never liked the CW. I have never seen Smallville and everything else I have checked out, like The Vampire Diaries, has been complete crap. Not to mention, I am admittedly a Marvel fan boy and a vocal DC critic. I tell you all of this so you can understand, THIS SHOW IS THAT DAMN GOOD. Stephen Amnell owns the role of Oliver Queen more than I could have ever expected. The show has taken the perfect amount from the comics and expertly blended it with their own take for TV. Every single week, I was absolutely glued to my TV. The writing is spot on. All of the characters are giving wonderful depth and the acting was surprisingly great, with Jessica De Gouw’s unfortunate recurring role being the only low point.

You can probably tell that pacing is a big issue for me with shows and I will say this about Arrow that I rarely say. The pacing is PERFECT. The progression on the show and the slow reveal of his time on the island couldn’t have been handle even one bit better. I’m not usually a fan of the 20+ episode season format, but Arrow handles it perfectly and makes wonderful use of its time. The finale of season 1 is probably my favorite season finale of all time. I just flat out did not see it coming. I truly believe that anything can happen on this show now. And that my friends is a wonderful feeling. My only complaint about Arrow is that the CW gave it a bit of Revolution syndrome, as they draw it out forever. It took a really long winter break and even when it was currently airing, it often skipped weeks. Sometimes multiple. It can get a bit annoying and I’m afraid it may take some viewers out of the story. Despite that, this show is brilliant. Not only was it the best new show, it was one of the best shows period. With loads of new characters announced for season 2, including The Flash, who will get his own spin-off (!!!!!!!), my anticipation for this show could not be higher. I’m like a kid waiting impatiently for Christmas. It’s almost here! My suffering ends Wednesday October 9!

Check out the Free For All review for Arrow

 

Honorable Mentions: Ray Donovan (Showtime), Banshee (Cinemax), Hemlock Grove (Netflix), Under the Dome (CBS), The Bridge (FX)

 

 

This has been quite the year for me in the world of television. Since starting both this wonderful site you’re on (thanks for visiting!!!) and the podcast we do week in and week out, I’ve been given the opportunity to become much closer friends with someone I’ve known since I was in high school, Mr. Evan Swafford. As it turns out, a close friendship with Evan comes with his love and passion for TV, and let me be the first to tell you, it’s contagious. I have watched more new television this year than in any other year to date, and I don’t see the momentum slowing down any time soon. So with that being said, I proudly present for your approval, my top five new shows of the past year. Enjoy!

 

The Americans5. The Americans (FX)

Let’s just get this out of the way up front, for full disclosure… It’s possible I’m in love with . Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about how awesome FX’s new hit The AMericans is! The show follows the aforementioned Ms. Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and the astounding lesser known  as her husband Phillip. The two are Soviet spies planted in the United States during the height of the Cold War in the 1980’s, and as you can imagine, the drama runs high. I had a few issues with the show about mid-season as the ups and downs that Phillip and Elizabeth take are much too often and pull much too hard in one direction or another. This is corrected after a while though and aside from this one complaint, the rest of the show is solid.

The show is wonderfully acted both by Rhys and Russell as well as the FBI agent next door Stan Beeman (I love this name with all my heart), played by . The drama is second to few as show creator  masterfully intertwines the issues of a married couple with more secrets than they known what to with and a team of spies that must decide how far they’re willing to go to stay true to their homeland.

Check out the Free For All review for The Americans

 

The Following4. The Following (FOX)

 is back! Starring as Ryan Hardy, a retired FBI agent who is brought back into the business by a deranged serial killer he put away a decade before.  plays Joe Carroll, the aforementioned killer, and is for all intents and purposes, the antithesis of Hardy. The show began as what seemed like your basic crime drama mixed with a bit of a thriller. Where the show really takes its turn though, is with what Carroll has in store for Hardy and the rest of the FBI team hunting him, and it’s where the show gets its name. Carroll has built up a cult around his earlier crimes, and the fanatical followers he has recruited will do literally anything to please their leader. It makes for some amazing turns and shocking surprises as the first season progresses.

WHile Bacon and Purefoy are both great, the supporting cast of this show is one of the best on TV.  plays Hardy’s supervisor Agent Parker,  is one of the best parts of the show as Agent Weston, and  plays Jacob Wells, one of Carroll’s followers with an occasional conscious. Lastly we have  as Emma. Emma may be my favorite part of the show. She’s equal parts crazy, sadistic, sexy, and innocent and Curry plays them all wonderfully. If you’re a fan of a good thriller at all, catch up on The Following before its sophomore season begins.

Check out the Free For All review for The Following

 

Banshee3. Banshee (Cinemax)

Banshee kicks an enormous amount of ass. I don’t know of a better way to phrase it than that. It has all the trappings of summer action flick and then adds in a dash of relationship drama and a pinch of cop drama and the end result is a show that in all honest probably ties for my number two spot on this list. Antony Starr makes an epic debut as leading man, playing Lucas Hood, an ex-con who stumbles into a brand new job as the sheriff of a little town called Banshee. It just so happens that Banshee is full of shady characters, and it’s up to Hood to deal with him as he does best, by punching dudes in the face!

It also happens that Carrie (Ivana Milicevic), Hood’s former lover and partner in crime, also lives in Banshee. As the season progresses, their past continues to catch up with them, making for what is maybe the greatest fight sequence I have ever seen on the small screen. Again, a great supporting cast including Hoon LeeFrankie FaisonUlrich Thomsen, and Ryann Shane make this show one of the best you can watch. It has me excited for what Cinemax can do in the future with its original programming.

 

Bates Motel2. Bates Motel (A&E)

I am not nearly as familiar with Norman Bates as our TV Editor Evan Swafford, but I had a general knowledge of the character and his twisted ways. In Bates Motel, we get to see how Norman become the monster we know so well from Psycho. The show is so good at showing the disturbing relationship between Norman () and his over protective mother () that at times it’s almost hard to watch. The uncomfortableness of many of the scenes are strangely also the most memorable to me.  They are what set the show apart from any other show on television.

As Norma Bates becomes smitten with Officer Shelby () and Norman tries to juggle his crazy mother with his half-brother Dylan () and his sometimes girlfriend Bradley (), the duo heads straight down the path towards the inevitable. I’m excited to see what awkward and terribly uncomfortable situations A&E and the Bates family have on store for me next year!

Check out the Free For All review for Bates Motel

 

OistNB 1. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Orange is the New Black was a show that I’d been looking forward to since its announcement months before I saw a single episode. but I still had no idea what I was in for. This show is more or less a masterpiece in just about every aspect from cinematography to performances, from character development to emotional depth.  plays Piper Chapman, a new age, strong and spiritual woman who, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, is sentenced to spend a year in a low security women’s prison.

As her journey progresses through the first thirteen episodes of this fantastic series, not only will you get to see Piper change, but you get to meet an incredible cast of women from all walks of life that help her along the way… some more than others. , and even  make up the more than all-star supporting cast. If you love TV in any way, shape, or form then do yourself  favor and tune into Netflix as fast as you can, all thirteen episode are there for the taking.

Check out the Free For All review for Orange is the New Black

 

Honorable Mentions: Ray Donovan (Showtime), Arrow (CW), The Bridge (FX), Under the Dome (CBS), Defiance (SyFy)

 

 

I’ve always been a big fan of television and the long-form storytelling it affords.  Some of the best writing and acting in Hollywood can be found on the small screen, and the 2012-2013 season was no exception.  However, it was also a very unique year for me, as I spent more time visiting older series than experiencing new ones, which makes this list a bit more difficult for me.  Were I afforded more time during the season, I would have been able to fully experience the new shows I wanted to; shows such as The Following, Bates Motel and The Americans would all, I’m sure, be considered for my list if I had been able to watch them.  As it stands, The Americans nearly did crack my list, based solely off of the first two episodes I was able to watch.  This does, however, allow me to add a slightly more varied perspective than normal with some different types of shows on my list than my Free 4 Geeks colleagues.

 

Ray Donovan S1 copy5. Ray Donovan (Showtime)

It’s Entourage meets The Sopranos meets…the Black Donnellys but don’t hold that last one against it.  Ray Donovan came out of nowhere for me, I only heard about it about 2 weeks prior to its first episode.  However, in the few short weeks since its premier, the Liev Schreiber-led Showtime drama has made quite the impression on me.  Schreiber takes the lead role of the head of a Hollywood household with Boston roots and runs with it.  Equal parts cool and dangerous, the character of Ray has turned his Hollywood publicist lifestyle into his own personal west coast mafia, leaning on his considerable power and resources throughout the entertainment industry to keep his high-profile clients secrets out of the public eye, while protecting his family at all costs.

The intrigue factors in when Rays long incarcerated father Mickey (Jon Voight), who was put away thanks to his son framing him for murder 20 years ago, is released from prison and seeks out his four sons on the west coast with a plan that is equal parts reconciliation and revenge.  Voight is brilliant in the role of Mickey, both hilarious and intimidating as the former patriarch trying to bring his family together while still harboring the desire to pay Ray back for his wrongful imprisonment.  Equally strong are the performances of Ray’s brothers, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), Daryll (Pooch Hall) and especially Terry (Eddie Marsan), who are all unique and believable in their performances.  However, the show still suffers from inconsistencies, while a few down episodes blemish it’s freshman outing, as well as being severely hindered by the performance of Kerris Dorsey who plays Rays daughter Bridget.  Despite some middling reviews, the shows popularity has already ensured a second season from Showtime and I think I can speak for the entire Free 4 Geeks crew when I say we look forward to what comes next for Ray and the Donovan family.

Check out the Free For All review for Ray Donovan (Coming Soon)

 

Go On4. Go On (NBC)

Didn’t expect this one, did you?  Well, you should have.  I have made my love of Matthew Perry quite well known since the start of both Free4Geeks.com and the Free For All Podcast, as well as my propensity to get way too attached to doomed shows.  Go On fits both of those needs.  Perry starred as Ryan King in the short-lived half hour drama, which has already been cancelled following it’s 22 episode first season.  King is a sports radio host who is forced to join a support group following the death of his wife to remain on the air.

The series was possibly a bit too slapstick for its own good, or at least in the public eye.  As on the surface, you could look at Go On and it’s cast of emotionally scarred group members and think it’s just a regurgitation of stereotypes and clichés, but the show held much more value than that.  Over the course of just 22 episodes the character of Ryan took huge strides, and the potential for emotional growth was easily there for anyone to see.  In the end, a sitcom about a grieving widower laden with sports star cameos and slapstick characters might not have ever had a future, but I will continue to hold out hope for Matthew Perry’s successful return to television.

 

Revolution3. Revolution (NBC)

Is there a bigger name in sci-fi television than JJ Abrams?  I challenge you to come up with one.  Not only does the director/producer attach his name to an alarmingly large portfolio of television projects, but nearly every one of them are great.  Revolution is yet another one to follow that long lineage of television success.  Though Abrams only produces Revolution, his influence can be seen throughout it.  Similar to his best known property, Lost, Revolution gives its viewers a heavy dose of flashbacks each episode which focus on a single character, in order to give them a stronger back story and more character development.  Why flash back, you ask?  Simple, it’s because Revolution takes place in a post apocalyptic America, 20 years into the future following an inexplicable event in which the entire world went dark, losing all electricity presumably forever.

The premise alone was enough to sell me on the show, indeed it’s the premise and storytelling that carries Revolution, as its lead character is also its biggest drawback.  I’m not sure Tracy Spiridakos, who plays Charlie Matheson, is a bad actress, but she certainly has yet to show us any evidence to the contrary.  Her delivery of dialogue is painful and the character decisions do nothing to help her become likable either.  Luckily, the supporting cast is among the strongest on TV, with Billy Burke being the standout, playing Charlie’s uncle with a dark history, Miles Matheson.  Additionally, the pair of antagonists Major Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) and General Sebastian “Bass” Monroe (David Lyons), both of the empirical Monroe Militia are intimidating and powerfully performed.

It took me the entire run of the first season to get back to Revolution, as I watched the first episode the night it debuted, and didn’t get to the second until months after the season had come to a close, but it took me less than a week to get through the entire thing.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, after all, as I’ve stated Abrams doesn’t attach himself to bad projects, and with the cliffhanger at the end of season one I’ve been marking off the days on the calendar until season two premiers.

OistNB2. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

I’ll admit it, I was caught completely off-guard by Orange is the New Black.  I was skeptical before ever seeing so much as a trailer.  The premise wasn’t something that I was interested in, a former drug mule sent to prison, where she would live out her sentence in complete fear of her fellow inmates.  Not that it sounds bad, just not something I would immediately gravitate to.

However, at the consistent urging of every friend and colleague I know who’d watched the series, I gave it a chance, and I am pleased to say I have never been more surprised by a series.  Excellently acted, with a particularly strong performance from Taylor Schilling as the main character of Piper Chapman.  It’s smart and intense, gritty and more important than anything else, believable.  Obviously that’s due to the fact that it’s a true story with the real Chapman (real name: Kerman) being an adviser.  At the end of the day, if you’re a subscriber to Netflix you owe it to yourself to see this series as soon as you humanly can, I find it hard to believe you’ll be disappointed.

Check out the Free For All review for Orange is the New Black

 

Arrow1. Arrow (CW)

If you listen to the podcast, you would know that this show is universally adored by us here at the site.  Coming out of nowhere, Arrow is the best thing to hit the CW Network since the final season of their last DC Comics inspired show, Smallville.  In fact, as big a fan of Smallville as I am (Having watched all 10 seasons as they aired), I would go so far as to say that the first season of Arrow is not only better than any season of the Superman origin series, but gives us a glimpse at something that has the potential to blow the entirety of Smallville out of the water.

Stephen Amnell has the enviable honor of stepping into DC Comics vigilante The Green Arrow’s boots, and does so with vigor.  As Oliver Queen/The Hood, Amnell plays the role of Millionaire Playboy better than most men who’ve stepped into the similar DC Comics role of Bruce Wayne.  Amnell brings a believable smooth nature to his portrayal as Oliver, and an even more believable physicality to the action when he is on the streets as the vigilante Hood.

But, it’s with the format of the show that Arrow truly shines.  More than the action or acting, the fact that it’s a grounded adaptation of one of the middle-tier DC Superheroes, is in the brilliant decision on how to handle Queen’s origin story.  Rather than giving us a one or two episode debut that showed Oliver becoming shipwrecked on a mysterious island, having to survive over the course of five years while coming to the realization that only he could save his city when he returned home, the shows creators decided to control that flow of information and entertainment by providing each episode with just bits and pieces of back story in the form of flashbacks, set throughout the five years he spent on the island, and giving it a nice, slow progression to Oliver developing his crime fighting archery skills.  With Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. coming out in just a few weeks, a show that is more than probably going to be a monster, it was important that DC and WB put their best foot forward with Arrow last year, and they certainly did that.  Comic fans should be ecstatic with their television options this winter.

Check out the Free For All review for Arrow

 

Honorable Mentions: Whose Line is it Anyways (CW), Under the Dome (CBS), The Americans (FX)

 

 

 

 

About Evan Swafford

Evan Swafford
Evan is a semi reluctant insomniac, who has used his extra time to watch way more TV than is healthy for a normal human being. All his other time is devoted to movies, gaming, and being a sports fanatic and stat geek. Evan has a degree from MTSU in Electronic Media Journalism which he now uses to grow some of the best trees and shrubs money can buy. You can hear his useless knowledge every week on the Free For All podcast.