The best and worst new TV shows of spring

Kroll Show

★★★★½

Hulu, first episode now streaming

You’ve probably never heard of Kroll Show (Comedy Central, 2013), but you may know its star Nick Kroll from his role as the conniving Ruxin on FX’s fantasy football comedy The League. Kroll has been working his way up the comedy scene for the past few years however, quietly amassing a cast of hilarious personal characters and seemingly befriending the entire alt-comedy world. Now he’s taking all of those ingredients and unleashing what’s not just the best sketch show of the spring, but probably the best new comedy of the year in Kroll Show.

Its main strength is how fully formed the pilot feels. There’s no awkward sense that the pilot is still feeling itself out, instead the show jumps right in with a short (less than a minute) sketch about college relationships and just keeps rolling. Throughout the entire episode, the comedy has a self-assured quality most other shows are lucky to find anywhere in their first season.

Newsreaders

★★★½

AdultSwim.com, first episode streaming now

The spring’s other impressive comedy show is a little bit stranger and, as a result, comes with some caveats. Newsreaders (Cartoon Network, 2013) is technically a spin-off of Adult Swim’s equally insane hospital drama parody Children’s Hospital. Newsreaders is instead a parody of news magazine shows like 60 Minutes that exists in the universe where Children’s Hospital is a long-running and totally serious drama. If that all makes the show sound aggressively, almost off-puttingly weird well…it is. Like a lot of Adult Swim shows, the weirdness is part of the appeal. And if that’s not working for you, then you probably won’t be a fan of the show in general. When that weirdness does work, however, the show can be hilarious. In one of the episodes earliest and best jokes, the anchor promotes an upcoming interview with Dan Rather about his new career in the dirty south hip-hop scene. If the thought of Dan Rather hanging out with Bun B makes you laugh, then you’re probably *Newsreader*’s target audience.

The Following

★★½

Hulu, pilot available now

The Following (Fox, 2013) is the best new network drama of the spring. Mostly, though, that’s because it’s practically the only new network drama of the spring. Though James Purefoy does his best with the part, the deranged serial killer at the heart of the show never gels into the Hannibal Lecter-type figure the show clearly wants him to be.

The show’s hook, the serial killer’s titular following willing to carry out murders for him, never becomes anything more than a way to extend the premise either. Fox has thrown a lot of money at the show however, enough to lure Kevin Bacon away from film. And Fox has started marketing the show as a mini-series, implying a definitive end that might make it a more interesting show than it lets on in its pilot.

1600 Penn

★★

Hulu, first three episodes now streaming

It’s rare for a terrible sitcom to have so much going for it. At its core 1600 Penn (NBC, 2013) is a show about a president and his buffoonish son. Not the most promising premise in sitcom history, but the show did manage to land Bill Pullman (who has some experience playing the president) along with Josh Gad (fresh off of playing the lovable buffoon in the Broadway hit Book of Mormon) as the president and his son. Instead of elevating the material though, the otherwise solid actors somehow turn the show into a disaster.

Bill Pullman plays the president with such seriousness that it seems like a West Wing episode that keeps getting interrupted by a bizarre sitcom. While that could be funny if it was intentional, that would mean the show is instead about the president’s son Skip, played by Gad. Unfortunately, despite being essentially the same character Gad played brilliantly on Broadway, Skip is somehow the worst sitcom character in years. Something (the more serious setting, or the switch to television, or maybe just that Skip isn’t written as well) makes Gad’s performance cross the line from irascible scamp to insufferable idiot. *1600 Penn* is worth watching once to see that even really talented people fail sometimes. Just once though. More than that seems cruel to yourself and the cast.

The Carrie Diaries

★★★

Hulu, pilot now streaming

For a prequel to Sex and the City airing on the CW, The Carrie Diaries (CW, 2013) could be a lot worse. Don’t get me wrong, this still isn’t must-watch television, and if you’re not in the market to see how Carrie Bradshaw became a successful relationship columnist in New York in the 1980s well…there’s not much here to convince you that it’s worth your time. If you do want that however (or if you’re just morbidly curious) you’ll find a show that’s better than it has any right to be. The show has solid performances—Annasophia Robb (at top) manages to make teenage Carrie seem vaguely charming instead of a nightmare like a lot of CW wish-fulfillment characters I could name. And it provides a family life for the teenage Carrie that actually adds some depth to her character.

What’s new

  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) Seasons 1–7: Netflix
  • Ultimate Spiderman (Disney XD) Season 1: Netflix
  • Garfield & Friends (CBS) Seasons 1–4: Netflix

Expiring soon

  • Skins (BBC) Seasons 1–2: Netflix (12/15)
  • Excel Saga (Syndicated) Various specials: Netflix (12/15)

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