The Good Wife
Amazon, first three seasons available free for Prime members
After a few years as the hit network critics loved to hate, CBS has quietly been building up a stable of hit shows that garner more critical respect than its monster crime procedurals like CSI. The Good Wife (CBS 2009-present) is probably the network's best show. Good Wife follows Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Margulies, whose husband has been forced to resign after a sex scandal and who now has to use her long-neglected law degree to provide for herself and her family. At first Good Wife seemed like a typical legal procedural with a ripped-from-the-headlines twist, but over its first season it evolved into a show dense with character relationships that intelligently tied Alicia's personal and professional problems together.
Netflix, season one available
So let's get this out of the way: TNT's revival of Dallas (TNT, 2012-Present) isn't that good. It isn't a disaster by any means, and when it's firing on all cylinders it can be dumb fun in the same vein as the original Dallas, but it's not great. It is, however, an incredibly interesting and odd experiment since the new Dallas is, ostensibly, the same show as the original, picking up almost 30 years later. The CW's 90210 tried a similar gimmick, but dropped most of its connections fairly early in favor of a mostly separated world of a new generation of sexy teens in occasional communication with cast members from the original show. Dallas, on the other hand, feels at times like it's been beamed in from an alternate universe where Dallas has stayed on the air this whole time and the studio just forgot to tell us. Sure, there are a host of new characters and many others have disappeared, but that's not that dissimilar from watching two soap opera episodes 20 years apart from each other. It isn't an entirely successful experiment, but the idea of just picking up where Dallas left off like the audience had never left is such an odd and ballsy move it deserves at least some respect for trying.
Hulu, pilot now streaming
If reviving Dallas is an odd but ultimately somewhat nobel project, then Bates Motel (A&E, 2013) seems more like the product of a diseased mind. Ask Darth Vader, prequels are tricky beasts in general. Creating an unasked-for prequel to Psycho--one of the most iconic films of all time--as an ongoing series was pretty much doomed to failure from the get go. Thinking of everything the show had wrong with it before a single word of the pilot script was written, I'm tempted to say it's a minor success for being a coherent attempt at a TV show. There are even some grace notes around, the show's visuals are strong, and the horror can be genuinely horrifying (even if it does lean pretty strongly on violence against women in some pretty icky ways) but ultimately there's just too much to overcome here to keep Bates from being a minor disaster. The decision to position a young Norman Bates (at top) as the protagonist, forcing you to sympathize with him while knowing he will eventually grow up to be a, well, psycho, is a hurdle the show ultimately can't get past. If it were an original program with some similarities to the film, or more of an anthology show with a few sly homages to Psycho, you might be able to overlook the flaws. Instead, the show is forced to do five impossible things and only pulls off two or three of them. I almost wish I could grade on a curve against how bad the show might have been, but it still means the final product is sub-par.
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