Report Card: Grading This Season’s Drama Premieres

by | October 1, 2010 at 2:50 PM | TV News

(ABC/CW/FOX/CBS)

(ABC/CW/FOX/CBS)

The television audience has spoken.  While this season’s new shows got all the hype, a lot more people tuned in to the season premieres of the shows they already know and love.  So which drama series came back better than ever and which need to do a little extra credit?  Grades were assigned based on how well the premiere lived up to each show’s potential.  That means some lowbrow series received high marks while some of television’s most acclaimed shows received some tough love.    Check out our report card.

Vampire Diaries
Vampire Diaries‘ continues to pack as much story into each act as most shows do in an entire episode.  So much happened in the premiere!  In her first full episode, Katherine lives up to the hype, pitting brother against brother. It turns out that Katherine has come back to Mystic Falls because she wants another chance with Stefan.  He tells her that he never loved her.  He was only with her because she compelled him.  Damon figures out that he kisses Katherine,not Elena, when Elena stone cold rejects him.  Katherine finds Damon brooding in the Salvatore mansion.  There’s a scorching scene of fighting as foreplay that comes to a screeching halt when Katherine tells him that she never loved him.  Jeremy wakes up alive and human after overdosing on pills in the finale.  John gives him his Gilbert ring for protection before leaving town.   When Elena rejects Damon one more time, he snaps Jeremy’s neck, but he is protected by the ring.  Stefan saves Caroline’s life by giving her some of his blood, only to have Katherine smother her, thereby turning her into a vampire.  ‘Vampire Diaries’ set the bar for all returning shows. It was poignant.  It was funny. It was sexy. It was epic.
Grade: A

‘Vampire Diaries’ Ian Somerhalder: Hell Hath No Fury Like A Heartbroken Vampire

The Good Wife
Alicia challenged Will to make a plan in the season finale.  In the season premiere Will declares his love for Alicia via voicemail — but Eli erases the message.  It’s too bad Alicia is not tech savvy enough to have a program like Google Voice which would have sent a transcript of his message to her e-mail.  Actually, it probably would have said something like, “I cove juice.  We’ll make clams.”  But she would have known he sent a message and talked to him about it.  In the case of the week, she is assigned to work with an accused murderer who insists on representing himself. Her savvy defense strategy turns Peter on so much that he gives her a persuasive oral argument in their bathroom.  The law firm merger brings two hot new men into the office: a suspiciously congenial partner and a P.I. who steps on Kalinda’s turf.  ‘The Good Wife‘ upped the ante in this premiere, complicating every single relationship on the show.
Grade: A

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Castle
The ‘Castle‘ season premiere was a masterclass in how to write a character-driven, sexual tension-filled procedural.  The episode started off with a literal bang, as Castle appeared holding a gun in a hall of mirrors.  A second later he and Beckett were shooting at each other. The episode then flashed back to a few days earlier.  Everyone at the police station is irritated that Castle has not called all summer, though Beckett will not admit that she cares. She investigates a murder scene involving a body that fell out a window.  The victim turns out to be holding a piece of paper with an address written on it.  When Beckett goes there, she finds Castle holding a gun and standing over another dead body.  She promptly arrests him for murder. After numerous twists and turns, Castle is cleared and the victim turns out to be part of a counterfeiting ring.  A shootout at the club ensues, which brings us back to the beginning image, of Castle and Beckett shooting at each other.  The camera pans to reveal they were actually shooting past each other, at the killer and her accomplice.This was a great premiere that brought Castle and Beckett back together while delivering a well constructed mystery with plenty of twists and turns.
Grade: A

‘Castle’s Back With Hot Hook Ups, Gnarly Kills, Goofing On ‘Grey’s

Gossip Girl
The premiere of ‘Gossip Girl‘ showed that TV’s smartest guilty pleasure is back.   The show wisely refocused on what has always been its strongest hook: Serena and Blair’s friendship.  It also set up new storylines that seem a lot more promising than last year’s college freshman woes. Sending Serena and Blair to Paris was a great idea. Serena spent the summer dating waiters with Vespa’s, while Blair visited museums. The meatiest part of their story concerned Blair’s fears that she will be overshadowed when Serena joins her at Columbia.Putting these two back into the same orbit will restore the dynamic that was lacking last season. It turns out that saddling Dan with Georgina’s baby makes the pretentious, self-righteous wannabe writer a thousand times more interesting. Rufus is as skeptical of the baby’s paternity as the audience but stupid Dan signed the birth certificate when she produced a possibly forged paternity test. The show cast Katie Cassidy, the best thing about the canceled ‘Melrose Place,‘ as Juliet, a woman Nate meets in a restaurant. She turns out to be a schemer who shoplifts fancy clothes, reads Gossip Girl, and has a stalker wall of newspaper clippings about Nate. After Chuck was shot last season, he was rescued by a beautiful blonde who for some reason nursed him back to health instead of taking him to the hospital. When she asks him his name, he takes the opportunity to shed his Chuck Bass persona and calls himself Henry Prince. Rebuilding after a disappointing season is one of the most difficult tasks a television series can face. ‘Gossip Girl’ passed the test with honors.
Grade: A-

Grey’s Anatomy
It’s about a month after last season finale’s shooting spree.   The hospital has hired a therapist to decide when each of the characters is ready to return to the operating room.    Through a combination of flashbacks and their counseling sessions, we learn how badly everyone has been coping.  Bailey left town for a month and returns to break up with her anesthesiologist boyfriend.   Lexie has a nervous breakdown, then recovers after a few days in the psych ward. Alex is now a crass womanizer who decides not to have his bullet removed because it is a chick magnet.  Derek has become an adrenalin junkie who keeps getting arrested for speeding. On his first day back to work, he quits the Chief of Surgery position, giving the job back to a delighted Weber.  The two doctors who are not cleared for surgery are Meredith (and Christina.  Meredith still has not told Derek that she had a miscarriage during the shooting.  Christina marries Owen, despite their numerous relationship issues.  This premiere delivered everything one expects from an episode of  ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ soliloquies, heavyhanded metaphors, and a wedding that happened largely off-camera.  Here’s the thing: it all worked.
Grade: A -

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Brothers & Sisters
The season premiere of ‘Brothers & Sisters‘ was the darkest episode in the usually upbeat serial’s history.The show picks up a year after the car accident in the season finale.  The only character whose life is not appreciably worse is Sarah’s.  She is living with Luc and has just closed a $55 million dollar deal to sell Narrow Lake.  Kevin has gone back to law, representing juvenile delinquents.  He’s given up on having a child.  Holly has suffered brain damage and thinks William is still alive.  Robert has been in a coma for the past year but Kitty can’t bring herself to take him off life support. Justin returns home from the army to find that Rebecca has left him.  Nora is actually leaving her kids alone.  Justin confronts everyone at the most unpleasant Walker dinner ever,inspiring Sarah to put the money from Narrow Lake in a family trust and Kitty to finally let Robert go.  It was bleak, but heartfelt, and shook up the dynamics of a show that had been becoming stale.
Grade: A-

One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill‘ is the show that refuses to die. In the season premiere, Hayley told Nathan she’s pregnant.  He is thrilled. Her depression is gone.  Their biggest problem is that their annoying son wants to know where babies come from.  Of course, on OTH happiness is always shortlived.  Luke’s NBA physical ends with the ominous words, “We’re going to run a few tests,” as does Hayley’s pre-natal exam.  Brooke is arrested for financial fraud and loses her fashion company.   Alex asked out Chase and coolly told Mia that despite her history of man stealing,Mia screwed her relationship up on her own. In the weirdest storyline of the night, Quinn shooting Clay in the finale turned out to be a dream.  They spent the day frolicking on the beach until suddenly she shot him again.  Actually, they were both lying on the floor of their house, bleeding.  By OTH’s own less than high brow standards, this was an unbelievably cool twist.
Grade: B+

Desperate Housewives
Desperate Housewives‘ season premieres always lay out the season-long arcs: the annual villain, the new romances, the scandals. This year the show is revisiting it’s earlier, most successful, seasons.  Paul Young is back and seeking revenge for events that few viewers remember.  Even fewer remember Felicia, the woman who faked her death to frame him, but she apparently has friends on Wisteria Lane who will help her go after Paul.  Carlos learns that Juanita is not his and Gabi’s biological child, thanks to a hospital mix up.  Bree tells Gabi that Andrew mowed down Carlos’s mother with his car back in season one.  Each decides to keep the news a secret.  Bree acquires a hunky house painter played by Brian Austin Green, while Lynette’s bitchy sorority sister, played by Vanessa Williams, moves into her house.  In the most ridiculous plot, Susan decides to earn extra cash by becoming a PG-13 web cam girl.  This is a better debut than last season’s but bringing back Paul serves as a reminder of how far the show has fallen from the glory days of season one.

Grade: B

First Canceled Show Of The Season: ‘Lone Star’

90210
90210‘ launched it’s third season with a minor earthquake that had no impact on any of the characters. Naomi is still reeling from her rape by her pervy teacher in the finale. She  decides to press charges, then realistically learns that months later, she does not have much of a case.  So she goes overboard pretending nothing’s wrong, culminating in a strip tease at the beach club for several of her classmates.  Annie anticlimactically dealt with her hit and run over the summer, doing probation and community service.  She is back to sunny, perky, annoying mode.  She makes out with Liam, then decides she cannot be with him because he used to date Naomi.  She manages to score an internship at a theater company despite prattling on about her hit and run during the interview.  Her new boss tells an unseen person that she hired Annie because she seems desperate enough to do the job. Teddy tears his ACL and has to give up tennis for at least a year.  Spoiler alert: quitting tennis makes you gay!  Adrianna’s summer as a pop star did not go well.  The label, and Javier, are about to dump her.  When their limo crashes, Javier dies instantly but Adrianna does not even get a bruise.  She uses his death as an opportunity to steal his song book and pass the lyrics off as her own.  Dixon is still chasing after Ivy, who is pining after her new Aussie housemate, Oscar.   It turns out he is also sleeping with her Mom. ’90210′ has embraced the role of guilty pleasure.  It’s a million times more entertaining than it was when it was attempting to be a serious teen drama.  As forgettable fluff, this premiere delivered.
Grade: B

Life Unexpected
The season premiere picks up with Cate and Ryan returning from their Vegas honeymoon.  Their happiness is shortlived.  Cate is fired from the radio show and replaced with Kelly, a prissy born again virgin. Ryan makes no effort to save her job. His halo is further tarnished when he places a call to a mysterious woman named Julia who sent them a wedding gift.  Lux reluctantly accepts Bug’s proposal, but ends up kissing a cute guy she meets at the bar.  Bug breaks up with her, then she learns that the bar cutie is an English teacher at her high school. In an attempt to get over Cate, Baze hooks up with his new bartender, Paige.  She tosses her cigarette in a trash can and accidentally burns the bar down. It turns out that Paige is Ryan’s sister.  Nice twist.The premiere did a good job of setting up a bunch of new characters and storylines, but ‘Life Unexpected‘ still is a sweet, well written show that falls a little short of must see status.
Grade: B

Second Canceled Show Of The Season: ABC’s ‘My Generation’

Parenthood
About three months have passed since we last saw the Bravermans.  They are still as earnest and likable and co-dependent as ever.  The ‘Parenthood‘ premiere featured a bunch of nice moments that did not add up to an actual plot.  Zeke and Camille are seeing a marriage counselor.  It would be fascinating to probe the dysfunction that simmers below the surface of their relationship, but we never see them in counseling.  Zeke spent the episode fixing a leaky roof with Joel.  It’s not as exciting as it sounds.  The upshot was Joel found the courage to tell Zeke he knew nothing about home repair. Julia realizes that she’s ready to have another baby.  Joel, who is clearly dying to get back to work, seems less enthusiastic. Adam and Kristina have hired Gaby, who is an expert at working with children with Aspergers, to be Max’s nanny. Crosby is eager to see Jasmine and his son, who have spent the summer in New York, but she cancels the trip. Sarah makes an off-handed joke to Adam about how there should be a lojack for kid’s shoes. His boss loves the idea, so she persuades Adam to get her an internship at the company. Every scene was well written and well acted, but the lack of actual story was grating.
Grade: B

House
For years ‘House‘ showed viewers just enough sexually charged sparring between House and Cuddy to convince everyone that they belonged together. The bulk of the series was House and his team solving medical mysteries. The season premiere opened with them having a steamy sex scene that involved the television cliche of a woman cleaning a man’s wounds.  Then they woke up together the next morning and it all went to hell.  They spent the rest of the episode basking in their romance. Meanwhile, chaos was afoot at Princeton-Plainsboro.  Due to a series of contrivances, the one neurosurgeon on the schedule went home sick and the hospital was at risk of being decertified as a trauma center. House convinced Cuddy to play hooky, hiding the problem from her. This was the least House-like episode of ‘House’ ever.  The acting was terrific, but it felt more like ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ Huddy shippers may have been delighted, but it was enough to make this viewer long for the good old days of bizarre ailments that were caused by people lying about their sex lives.
Grade: C+

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Private Practice
At the end of last season Dell died and Maya had her baby.  Those facts are barely relevant to the season premiere.  Pete asks Violet to marry him.   Instead of the lengthy engagement that they sorely need, they decide to get married right away. Violet asks Cooper to be her maid of honor.  He has all sorts of issues with her quickie wedding to her baby daddy and Charlotte has all sorts of issues with her fiancee’s relationship with Violet.  Did she not notice how codependent they were before?  The cases of the week involve the typical ethical dilemmas.  A selfish man asks his developmentally disabled brother to donate his kidney.  A husband and wife want to have a baby with a surrogate because their first child suffocated when the husband accidentally left him in a hot car. Violet almost pulls a runaway bride at her wedding, but Cooper calms her down.   At the end of the episode, Addison and Sam have sex because Addison was inspired by the couple with the dead baby to give him a second chance.This season premiere was a reminder of why ‘Private Practice‘ is often irritating: all of the characters are self-absorbed and neurotic.
Grade: C+

What do you think of our grades? Agree? Disagree? Let it out in the comments!