Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Week in TV, where we cull through the glut of new and returning shows, watch 'em in advance and let you what's worthwhile and what isn't.
This week: English crime procedurals, bawdy comedy, blind taste testing and a Sex and the City prequel series.
Airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. CST on BBC America
From the first shots of grimy London alleyways replete with flickering gas lanterns, tattered townspeople in Victorian garb and crumbling cobblestones, Ripper Street feels immediately familiar. The new series, set in the impoverished 1880s East End of London in the throes of Jack the Ripper-induced hysteria, piggybacks on the recent successes of the BBC’s modern crime drama Sherlock and on Guy Ritchie’s own Holmes film adaptation (with which Ripper Street shares a similarly steampunky aesthetic), as well as the massive popularity of Downton Abbey’s melodramatic period goodness.
If the first two episodes are any indication of its direction, Ripper Street is essentially a crime procedural, albeit a lightly serialized one that’s heavy on the bowler hats and waistcoats.Though the idea of a British crime drama centered on the Ripper murders seems potentially tired or derivative, Ripper Street presents an interesting twist on the well-tread material: rather than following the actual Ripper case, the series actually picks up six months after the last confirmed Ripper murder.
In an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, copycat killers abound, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFayden), is under fire for not having caught the legendary struggles to keep the sensationalist press and frightened people of East London from breaking out into a panicked frenzy. The show’s cast is strong (especially MacFayden, who’s a familiar face for fans of costume drama and a solid leading man), and as every period piece should be, it’s visually charming.
Though it contains the seeds of a greater show, however, Ripper Street simply doesn’t wield the instant addictiveness or juiciness of peers like Downton and Sherlock. C+ — Katie Stroh
The Carrie Diaries
Airs Mondays at 7 p.m. CST on The CW
I couldn’t help but wonder: How revisionist does an origin story have to be before it no longer resembles its source material? This prequel series, set against Carrie Bradshaw’s high school years in the early 1980s, is not at all for fans of Sex and the City — but that doesn’t stop it from ghoulishly trying to reappropriate the series’ touchstones.
Young Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb, whose ability to mimic Sarah Jessica Parker’s mannerisms is uncanny) starts an internship at a law firm in Manhattan and bumps into the wild-spirited Larissa (Freema Agyeman, Doctor Who), an editor at Interview, who introduces her to New York nightlife and assisted shoplifting.
All the while, she takes on some edgy, DIY fashion choices and gabs with her high school besties about losing their virginity, in a vague homage. Where the transposition of SATC’s threads (including Carrie’s twinkly, sing-songy narration) are too literal and generic, the show as a glossy period teen soap is unremarkable. C — Aleksander Chan
Premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. CST on ABC
Cooking competition shows seem to have nearly matched the level of fascination in American culture that singing contests have in the past 10 years: Top Chef, MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen, The Next Iron Chef, Iron Chef America, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star and others still can’t seem to satiate America’s appetite for watching people sweat it out in the kitchen, even if audiences at home aren’t able to experience the fruits of their labor.
The Taste distinguishes itself from the pack by relying entirely on the food; contestants are judged solely on a blind taste test, regardless of experience or past performance. Each judge recruits four team members to mentor throughout the competitions from a pool of hopefuls — a pool that includes both highly trained chefs and restaurateurs as well as humble home cooks and food bloggers — based only on the food they’re presented, with no knowledge of each cook’s history or background.
The celebrity judges include food TV personalities Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain, their respective goodnatured bawdiness and salty cantankerousness on full display. The Taste’s judges’ charm and its fresh twist on the cooking competition formula makes for a fun, fluffy show that goes down easy. B — KS
Airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. CST on Comedy Central
For comedy fans familiar with Nick Kroll’s standup, sketch and TV work, there’s nothing particularly surprising about his new scripted sketch show. The half-hour consists of a rapid-fire collection of snappy, irreverent clips in the vein of Chappelle’s Show, most of which mock TV shows and commercials and feature Kroll’s tried-and-true sleazy, self-obsessed and outrageous characters.
The effect is that of channel surfing through a particularly odious slate of programming, including shows like “Sex In the City — For Dudes” and “Dr. Armond: Canine Plastic Surgeon,” as well as a brilliant spoof of teen soap Degrassi set in the most Canadian high school imaginable in “Wheels Ontario.” In particular, Kroll Show excels especially at skewering vapid, E!-style reality shows in the same way 30 Rock does.
Kroll also cannily stuffs each episode with delightful guest stars like Jenny Slate, Kathryn Hahn, Andy Milonakis and Chelsea Peretti, which dilutes the intensity of Kroll’s scummy, famewhoring characters. With such a solid start, Kroll Show should earn its place on the weekly TV rotation for any comedy devotee. B+ — KS
Airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. CST on FX
You have to hand it to FX, perhaps one of the few networks that truly understands its audience. FX has cornered the Man Cable Show market with the scruffy (Justified), manic (Charlie Sheen and Anger Management) and risible (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) brand of male antiheroes and lovable schmucks. How odd then, that this new comedy starring Australian stand-up comedian Jim Jefferies, which is by no means any less black in its humor and chummy in its actors rapport than its other shows, comes across so cold.
Maybe it’s that Jefferies, who plays a version of himself trying to become more virtuous by helping his friend’s wheelchair-bound brother, is just too droll — his riffs lash out at marriage, family, death and sex, but they never land quite right. Because for a show that portends to tackle male friendship and the odd ways they form and behave, particularly one that uses disability as its centerpiece, it has to be funny. Legit, then, is just crude, a rare misfire. D — AC
Also on this week:
Returns Monday at 8 p.m. CST on The CW. With special guest star Rita Ora. Winter premiere.
Ramsay Behind Bars
Premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. CST on BBC America. The blowhard Hell’s Kitchen Brit teaches prisoners how to cook.
Series finale Tuesday at 9 p.m. CST on ABC. The Grey’s Anatomy spin-off comes to an end.
Season finale Tuesday at 9 p.m. CST on NBC. The most tearful season of the Braverman family signs off.
Spartacus: War of the Damned: Enemies of Rome
Premieres Friday at 8 p.m. CST on Starz. The crazy bloody and violent ab-tacular kicks off season three.