Second Opinions: TV Critics Re-Evaluate the Summer Shows

  • Publish Date: September 17, 2014
  • Comments: ↓ 8 user comments

Sometimes, it pays to stick with a new program after a so-so start, and sometimes that optimism never gets rewarded. Below, we gather recent opinions from critics who have re-evaluated some of this summer's notable shows. In some cases, they've discovered gems that they dismissed when the shows first debuted.

Shows are listed in no particular order, and individual scores are given only in rare cases where the entire season was graded by a publication after the season finale.

Notable new shows

You're the Worst
FX | Comedy | Premiered July 17, 2014

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Original Metascore
65 from 20 critics
(based on 2 episodes)
Where to watch it
On TV: FX, Thursdays at 10:30p
Streaming: FX iTunes Amazon

What it is:
A single-camera comedy centering on two rather unlikable and self-centered people who decide to enter into a relationship with each other despite their aversion to romance. The season finale airs Thursday night (though all episodes can be found online), and FX has yet to renew the series.

Who's involved:
Stars Chris Geere (various UK series but little known in the US) and Aya Cash (The Wolf of Wall Street). Created by Stephen Falk (a writer for Weeds).

What critics said then:
Critics found instant chemistry between the leads, but found the material given to them in early episodes lacking. Many reviewers did see potential for improvement down the line. Two months later, Worst has become critics' favorite show of the summer ...

Recent comments from critics

 

Louis Peitzman
BuzzFeed

Great characters and plotlines aside, You're the Worst is consistently, darkly funny.

 

Jason Lynch
The Daily Beast

The best, and most surprising, new series of the summer. ... It's masterful work from creator Stephen Falk ... In just a few episodes, he's already turned the quartet into the funniest group of TV pals since Happy Endings (yes, you heard me correctly).

 

Joanne Ostrow
Denver Post

This summer's best comedy ... It's a masterful non-rom-com. Every beat plays against established TV conventions.

 

Andy Greenwald
Grantland

No comedy in recent memory has filled me with happiness like You're the Worst.

 

Alan Sepinwall
HitFix

The writing has turned out to be really sharp, at times evoking the brutal zingers of "Happy Endings" ... But ultimately the show works because the relationship isn't just treated as a joke, nor are any of the characters.

 

Maureen Ryan
Huffington Post

Looking for a comedy that's actually funny? Want one with precisely calibrated yet organically complex characters? Want to watch a well-constructed story full of wit that is equal parts scathing, smart and silly? ... If you want to do more than merely tolerate a comedy -- in other words, if you want to fall in love with one -- try binging on FX's "You're the Worst."

 

Emily Nussbaum
The New Yorker

After more than a decade of caustic masterpieces like the British version of "The Office," "The Thick of It," "Eastbound and Down," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," I thought I was ruined for cynical sitcoms. ... Then came “You’re the Worst,” a new sitcom on FX, to make me fall in love all over again by reinventing the form entirely, merging it, miraculously, with romantic comedy. ... Both actors are fantastic ... Even better, the show is legitimately funny—at its best, it's both daffy and acrid, appealingly willing to test the boundaries of its own comedic method.

 

Ryan McGee
Screen Crush

Admittedly, I wasn't a huge fan of the first two episodes ... To be honest, however, what really pushed the show from good to great lay in the program's work in developing ancillary characters.

 

Michelle Stark
Tampa Bay Times

You're the Worst is the rare sitcom that feels like it's taking place in the real world. The characters feel like versions of people you could know: A wild woman-turned-unhappy house wife, an affable Iraq war vet struggling with PTSD, a caustic writer whose big break led nowhere. And none of the relationships are black and white; Worst thrives in that gray area. ... Its refusal to lean into romantic comedy cliches makes Worst fresh and original, a standout compared to the gimmicky comedies debuting this fall.

 

Vox staff
Vox

Among other things, You're the Worst is a spot-on consideration of mental illness, as well as a defense of the idea that everybody deserves to be loved. And its remarkable faith in that idea keeps it spinning.

 

Maggie Furlong
Yahoo TV

You're the Worst was not an obvious frontrunner for best new show of the summer right out of the gate, but it quickly became just that.

 

Matthew Gilbert
Boston Globe

I liked the first two episodes ... But everything I've seen since then has been disappointing, for a few reasons. British actor Chris Geere is good enough, but he's hard to take in large doses. ... And the editing of scenes is sluggish.

The Leftovers
HBO | Drama | Premiered June 29, 2014

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Original Metascore
65 from 42 critics
(based on 4 episodes)
Where to watch it
On TV: (none; will repeat in Oct.)
Streaming: HBO GO

What it is:
A bleak drama (based on Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name) set in a world where 2% of the population mysteriously vanishes. The series finale aired on September 7th, and it will return next year for a second season despite lackluster ratings.

Who's involved:
Creators Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Perrotta (Election), stars Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Ann Dowd, Christopher Eccleston, and Liv Tyler.

What critics said then:
It was divisive then, and it remains divisive now. Some critics wrote glowing reviews at the time of the premiere, while others dismissed it as incoherent and overly grim, slow, and uneventful. Even those who liked the show called it difficult to watch.

Recent comments from critics

75

Sonia Saraiya
A.V. Club

The Leftovers can't really see the forest for the trees. It's offering up interesting little nuggets—sometimes absolutely captivating ones, like Nora Durst walking into the tableau of her missing family, or the last look of desperation Christine gives Tommy before she abandons her baby and runs away. What it all means? That is something the show is leaving up to the viewer.

 

Nick Harley
Den of Geek [U.S.]

The Leftovers hasn't always been good, but it has been compelling.

 

Alan Sepinwall
HitFix

Love it or hate it — and 50-odd savage minutes of [season finale] "The Prodigal Son" absolutely affirmed my love for it — "The Leftovers" isn't really like anything else on television, past or present. ... In terms of tone and substance, as well as its focus on the emotional and spiritual health of its characters far ahead of any questions of plot, it's an original. ... "The Leftovers" has been one of the absolute highlights of this year, and I imagine that this season, and the events of "The Prodigal Son Returns," will sit with me much longer than so much of what I've been privileged to watch in 2014.

 

Tim Goodman
The Hollywood Reporter

One of the more interesting experiments in recent TV history. As a fan of existentialism and compelling television, I'm going to miss The Leftovers when it's gone. ... To write a show that is essentially documenting what happens to people when they find out truth doesn't really exist, faith is a vacuum, life may not have a purpose (do well and go to heaven, etc.), logic is a mug's game and our time on earth is not just fleeting and unpredictable but meaningless, well hell — that's truly bold. That's worth watching.

 

Phil Maciak
Los Angeles Review of Books

If this show is too bleak for a bunch of critics who, just a few months ago, couldn't stop gushing over Breaking Bad's orgy of death, mayhem, and dread, well then, just Rapture me up. ... I would like to maybe suggest that, even if this show is bumming you out, it's not necessarily because the show itself is a bummer. Let's suppose instead that maybe what's so unsettling about this program isn't its lack of a heart but its lack of a plot. ... If the new classic serial dramas of the 21st centurymade us sacrifice our humanity for charismatic anti-heroes and plots we couldn't let go of, The Leftovers is trying valiantly to do the opposite. It's asking us to let go of plot to discover humanity. And I don't think that's too bleak at all.

91

Verne Gay
Newsday

"The Leftovers," in fact, turned out to be strangest, saddest, gloomiest -- and most addictively watchable -- TV success story of the entire summer.

 

Kevin Yeoman
Screen Rant

It is unfiltered Lindelof as much as it is straight from the tap of Tom Perrotta's mind. And that combination has resulted in a series that is more a looping orchestration of raw emotion than it is a tried-and-true television narrative. If nothing else, the series should be appreciated for its dogged determination to usher in such strong emotions. It certainly doesn't resonate the same with everyone, but for those who are in tune with it, The Leftovers is strong stuff.

 

James Poniewozik
Time

I've never really gotten the criticism that The Leftovers is a show where nothing happens. It's a show where a huge thing has happened–the biggest thing, maybe, ever to happen to humanity. It just doesn't take the approach that many shows might have given the same premise: sleuthing out whatever alien invasion, supernatural force or government conspiracy was behind the Departure. ... Instead it asked, given the demonstration of a staggering power and no scientific or religious explanation, what do you believe? The Leftovers was at its finest addressing the question on an individual level. ... This show lingers with me the way few TV series do. The last half of the season did a remarkable job paying off setups from the first. ... I didn't always get The Leftovers, but I always felt it, and that would have made it a success even if it were canceled.

 

Brian Lowry
Variety

Few TV shows turn the corner creatively speaking quite as quickly as "The Leftovers," which with its fifth and sixth episodes has significantly raised the bar from where the show began, becoming a far more engrossing experience.

 

Andrew Wallenstein
Variety

Those who braved the darkness were treated to something Lindelof only showed shades of on "Lost": incredible depth. "Leftovers'" wallop of a premise could easily have been reduced to a simple existential whodunit following its protagonists as they race to unravel the mystery of the Rapture. Instead Lindelof sets up viewers for a keenly observed meditation on the human condition that asks big questions about grief and morality. ... That's the thing about "Leftovers" though; when you take apart the narrative machinery and ask yourself how it works so well, you start to confront similarities to "Lost." ... Make no mistake: "Lost" collapsed under the weight of a mythology so intricately built that it simply imploded. If "Leftovers" isn't careful, the same fate could await it.

 

Todd VanDerWerff
Vox

See, The Leftovers isn't really a show about how 2 percent of the world's population disappeared, or about living through grief. It's not about post-traumatic stress disorder, or even the mysteries at the center of its conceit, really. No, The Leftovers is a show about depression. And it might be the best show on that topic in television history.

 

Kelly Braffet
Vulture

Looking back on this first season of The Leftovers, so much time has been spent world-building, and in showing us that unthinkable event — the Departure — from as many sides and perspectives as possible in ten episodes. Now the world is built, and I still want to know what happens there, to these people. For all of the season's lulls and frustrations, this show has accomplished what it came here to do. It's dark and ugly, but it is beautifully conceived, written and executed. Well done.

 

Michael M. Grynbaum
The New York Times

This series took far too long to decide what kind of show it wanted to be: a probing examination of grief, or a "Lost"-style enigma punctuated by shock-and-awe horror. There is surely an argument that it can be both. But looking back, those rambling, symbolism-laden episodes from midseason seem like so much unnecessary noise around a core story that, on its own, was quietly compelling: a close-knit town riven by tragedy, a twisted Thornton Wilder play focused on despair and family and loss and rebirth. ... I credit the writers for their clever foreshadowing, but there were whole episodes I could have done without.

 

Vinnie Mancuso
New York Observer

A show that flip flops between depressingly terrible and pretty amazing ... this show is consistently bleak to the point of being un-entertaining.

 

Hank Stuever
Washington Post

What we're left with is a true puzzle: How can one of the best shows on TV this year also be one of the worst? Make no mistake – I look forward to season 2 next year. But I expect many would-be viewers will be among the missing.

 

David Sims
The Wire

The Leftovers was a fascinating, largely well-made show with a lot of good actors in it and a lot of frustrating nonsense that it failed to resolve. And it will never resolve. What hope does a second season bring us? Well, we have enough interesting characters and an interesting enough world that maybe we'll make progress towards something newer and more streamlined. But the best thing I can say about The Leftovers this season was that it was an intriguing, and at times wonderful, mess of an experience. And for now, I'm pretty glad it's over.

 

Melissa Maerz
Entertainment Weekly

That's it. I quit. No more. ... I refuse to watch another minute of this show.

 

Andy Greenwald
Grantland

Through seven weeks, I still had no idea where I stood with this show. Until last night, I found it to be the single most confounding series I'd encountered since starting this job — and it wasn't close. ... But the show is undeniably wrenching, even as it flirts with boredom and outright badness. ... But recognizable human emotion isn't enough to make exceptional television. Plausible human behavior has to go along with it. And here is where The Leftovers falters. ... Again and again, The Leftovers reaches for ideas on the highest shelf but only ends up knocking things over. ... The show wields a club when what's required is a scalpel. Every character here is suffering the effects of loss, but not one of them appears to be actually living — not in any recognizable way.

 

Tim Surette
TV.com

I've spent most of The Leftovers' first 10 episodes rolling my eyes at its melodrama and seeing the bad outweigh the good. ... Imagine what would happen if one of your friends said, "Oh man, I was abducted by aliens about a month ago, and they took me to their planet for testing. But I'm better now, I've been seeing a therapist, and the doctors say I'm okay." And then he went on and on for hours about the therapy sessions and his daddy issues instead of telling you about the frickin' aliens. That's what The Leftovers did with its premise.

BoJack Horseman
Netflix | Animation/Comedy | Premiered August 22, 2014

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Original Metascore
58 from 12 critics
(based on 6 episodes)
Where to watch it
Streaming: Add to Netflix Queue

What it is:
Netflix's first animated original series for adults centers on a washed-up 1990s TV star (who happens to be a talking horse) as he tries to rebuild his career in Hollywood. All 12 episodes are available to stream on Netflix, and the show will return for a second season next year.

Who's involved:
The voices of Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins, Alison Brie, Patton Oswalt, and many more.

What critics said then:
Critics actually liked some of the background humor in the early episodes sent for review, but many were unimpressed by the series, finding it too strange and unfunny. (It skews toward the Adult Swim crowd, which historically hasn't much overlapped with the critical community.) BoJack has actually escaped the notice of many critics, but the few who have watched it all the way through to the end note that it builds considerably as it progresses, and several wound up loving it. Consider it an under-the-radar gem.

Recent comments from critics

 

Alan Sepinwall
HitFix

Given how the world of the show seems designed, like certain Adult Swim comedies, to be best appreciated while stoned, it's amazing how three-dimensional the characters become, and how poignant so much of the season's second half is, even while it's packed with absurd gags.

 

Steven Fouchard
Sound on Sight

BoJack Horseman demands binge watching simply because it's so very, very good.

 

Liz Raftery
TV Guide

The rare show whose execution lives up to its ambition. ... In this fall's stale comedy landscape, BoJack is like a breath of fresh air.

 

Margaret Lyons
Vulture

This show is radically sad. I love it. ... There are so many background jokes and one-liners and silly animals that the show's emotional depth caught me by surprise, and I didn't pick up on it in the first few episodes. Over the course of the 12-episode season, though, the pattern emerged over and over; jokes and sorrow, jokes and sorrow.

 

Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian

It's an intriguing departure for Netflix ... But beyond the novelty animal vibe, what remains is a joke-heavy critique of celebrity that it's hard to give a monkey's about. ... That said, season one ends intriguingly.

55

Amy Ratcliffe
IGN

While there are some laughs to be had, there's more eye-rolling and possibly some groaning. The humor is just okay, and not many of the jokes are fresh.

Halt and Catch Fire
AMC | Drama | Premiered June 1, 2014

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Original Metascore
69 from 30 critics
(based on 1 episode)
Where to watch it
On TV: (none)
Streaming: Amazon iTunes

What it is:
A 1980s-set drama that finds a tiny Texas start-up attempting to develop a rival computer to IBM's PC. The first season has concluded, and AMC shocked observers by renewing the show for a second season despite miniscule viewership levels.

Who's involved:
Stars Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy), Scoot McNairy (Argo), Mackenzie Davis (Smashed), and Kerry Bishé (Scrubs).

What critics said then:
Critics were only provided one episode at the time (unusual for a cable drama), and they found it a bit tentative and underdeveloped, though it was a solid enough beginning that they were cautiously optimistic that it could turn into a good show. That did indeed happen for some critics (see below), who felt that it finally came into its own in the last few episodes. Others, however, never warmed to the series.

Recent comments from critics

81

Cliff Wheatley
IGN

The pacing of the show is quick and rarely lets any one moment linger for too long before moving on, and there are plenty of threads left dangling. ... [But] despite its shortcomings, Halt and Catch Fire is an engaging new drama that tackles one of the most interesting periods in modern history with a reverence and wonder that's hard to pull off.

 

Mark Rozeman
Paste

It's probably safe to say that Halt and Catch Fire has been a bumpy road. There were fantastic moments that will no doubt resonate with audiences for the rest of the year, but they are intertwined with the frustration of having misguided ideas like the "Joe mystery" take up such a large chunk of the season. Yet, through it all, I do hope Halt and Catch Fire gets its second year. For all its problems, it's a show that did seem to learn about its strengths and weaknesses throughout its limited run and could very well turn into a much sharper show if given the chance to continue.

 

Rodrigo Perez
The Playlist

Perhaps what "Halt And Catch Fire" conveys best is the thrilling spirit of innovation, of being on the ground floor of something new and potentially special, and the intoxicating nature of taking big, possibly fatal risks to create something that could be groundbreaking. So deeply invested in this world are its characters that the stakes for everything become extremely high and personal. ... I'm fascinated to see where it all goes. "Halt And Catch Fire" isn't perfect. If I had to grade the show overall, I'd probably give it a B or a B+, but it's that type of B student you really care for and root for their success.

 

Colin McGuire
PopMatters

The first season of Halt And Catch Fire was not perfect, not by any stretch of any imagination. The low points were many. Pace's MacMillan became somewhat predictable. Nobody quite knew what direction it wanted to go. There may have been two or three more absurdities than there should have been (what's down with that hole in the backyard?). And at the end of the day, everything felt exactly like two people who have never previously written a television series got together and wrote a television series. ... [But[ the series had a worthwhile cast that did far more than enough to bring the occasionally spotty narrative to life. ... As it stands now, Halt and Catch Fire has as much or more potential than any other new series around to be the type of engaging, slow-burning, fresh and invigorating television program that some of us see it can be. The groundwork for something special is there, imperfections and all.

 

Willa Paskin
Slate

Halt and Catch Fire ... got off to a confounding start. ... But despite its clunky, mystifying beginnings, I stuck with Halt and Catch Fire ... After its season (and maybe series) finale last night, I'm glad that I did. For all the early technical bells and whistles, Halt has a straightforward, pleasing story arc—a ragtag team that against long odds and many obstacles does the near impossible—that toward the season's end ran into a genuinely thought-provoking hurdle: capitalism.

 

James Poniewozik
Time

One major problem ... was what I'd call "Yeah… so?" syndrome. It asked us to invest in the struggles of its characters, frustrated in one way or another by the computer business, to create something of their own. That something, however, was just a fast, cheap IBM clone. Yeah, they're putting everything on the line, but all they're doing is making a knockoff. So why the hell should we care? ... Halt didn't solve all its problems over the course of 10 episodes. ... But with the finale, "1984," and the few episodes that came before it, Halt showed that its "Yeah… so?" issue was, as they say, not a bug but a feature.

50

Dennis Perkins
A.V. Club

After a promising pilot followed by a run of alternately humdrum and ludicrous episodes, the latter half of the season has seen the show get better without ever getting very good.

 

Alan Sepinwall
HitFix

There were stretches in the early and middle parts of the season where the show seemed as lacking in direction as the computer project it was dramatizing. ... It wasn't until the last couple of episodes ... forced the characters to work in unison that "Halt" actually began to feel like a TV show, and not just a collection of oblique character sketches. ... I'd be happy to watch more if it got renewed ... That said, AMC made its reputation in the first place on shows that felt much more original than this.

 

Farhad Manjoo
The New York Times

As I look back on the finale and on the whole season, it's clear that despite its many flaws, "Halt and Catch Fire" managed to hit on a profound idea about the tech industry, one that is often glossed over in most analyses of the business. That big idea goes like this: In the tech business, there's no such thing as thinking too big. The real danger, in tech, is casting your dreams too narrow, aiming for the achievable rather than the extraordinary. Again and again in this industry, the founders that aim for the impossible emerge victorious over those that purse the merely difficult.

 

David Zurawik
Baltimore Sun

I am glad "Halt and Catch Fire" caught no cultural mojo — as punishment to AMC for cheapening the first season of "Mad Men" by comparing it to such superficial fare. I hope the people who run AMC know the vast difference between these two series and were only trying to trick viewers into watching the new series with their outrageous comparison.

 

Joanne Ostrow
Denver Post

It was a dreary imitation of the network's gold-standard drama, "Mad Men." ... Pace's excellent performance was not enough to make the show rewarding. ... It's not that "Halt" didn't have its charms. The era was a time of great social and industry upheaval. The deeply damaged Joe and the bitter Gordon Clark, his chief hardware engineer (played by Scoot McNairy), had stories to tell. The thinly drawn female characters began to take shape as the season progressed. But the brooding, secretive loner guy was a tad too familiar, yet not as moving as that earlier slick-suited version.

 

Vinnie Mancuso
New York Observer

In no way should AMC have kept this show around.

Tyrant
FX | Drama | Premiered June 24, 2014

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Original Metascore
54 from 33 critics
(based on 4 episodes)
Where to watch it
On TV: (none)
Streaming: FX Amazon iTunes

What it is:
An Arab Spring-themed political thriller focusing on the exiled son of a dictator who returns to his war-torn Middle East nation (along with his American family) for the first time in 20 years and becomes caught up in his country's turbulent politics when his father dies. The first season wrapped up a few weeks ago, and the series has not yet been renewed.

Who's involved:
Creators Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff (both from Homeland) and Craig Wright (Six Feet Under); director David Yates (Harry Potter films); star Adam Rayner (Hawthorne).

What critics said then:
About a third of critics liked the premise (sort of a Middle Eastern take on The Godfather), but the rest complained about the acting and writing. Unfortunately, those problems only seemed to get worse as the season progressed ...

Recent comments from critics

75

Verne Gay
Newsday

It initially -- which is a key word here -- seemed flat, cliched, or worst, a bald-faced stereotype of Arab "bogeymen" who speak in thick accents, have shifty eyes and hair-trigger tempers. The pilot featured a pair of sickening rapes, and a child who blew a man away. I hated it. So consider this appraisal a redo, or second look: "Tyrant" has actually turned out to be a reasonably good freshman series. Not flawless by any means (that pilot) . . . but good, and here's why: Gordon and Caron have carefully backed their way into a big, interesting idea.

42

Dennis Perkins
A.V. Club

It's tempting to lay the blame for Tyrant's pervasive flatness on Rayner, and his performance as the series' protagonist is certainly a crippler. ... But the problem doesn't entirely reside in Rayner's performance.

 

Terri Schwartz
Zap2it

If "Tyrant" gets a second season, there's a lot to be fixed. The actors should step up their game, the politics should feel more pointed and every line of script and moment of screentime should be considered valuable.

 

David Zurawik
Baltimore Sun

It's an intriguing idea, and the pilot was steeped in action and violence, but the leap of faith the viewer was asked to make with this return-to-the-tribe premise was too large — and Raff never made us care a whit about the primary American character, the prodigal son, played with clenched jaw and not much else by Adam Rayner.

 

Kevin Yeoman
Screen Rant

After 10 episodes of Tyrant, it was not the plodding nature of the show, the ultra minimalist performance of its lead, or the children who were used only as plot devices that wound up becoming the most disappointing aspect. Instead, it was the fact that after 10 episodes, the series barely suggested it could become what it had billed itself as from the get go.

 

Mitch Salem
ShowBuzzDaily

Tyrant wasn't the summer's worst show, but it's been the most piercing disappointment of the mini-season, wasting a potentially thrilling premise. ... Instead, Tyrant was a banal muddle that managed a compelling hour here and there but never came together.

 

Cory Barker
TV.com

Tyrant's biggest problem was that it didn't really have any energy or momentum. The premise—self-exiled son of a tyrannical dictator returns home to the Middle East and naively tries to clean up multiple generations' worth of messes—suggests one heck of a juicy story, but throughout its first season, Tyrant struggled with the question of what it wanted to be.

The Strain
FX | Horror/Sci-fi | Premiered July 13, 2014

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Original Metascore
72 from 38 critics
(based on 4 episodes)
Where to watch it
On TV: FX, Sundays at 10p
Streaming: FX Amazon iTunes

What it is:
A modern-day vampire thriller (about a mysterious viral outbreak) from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, based on their own book trilogy. Three more episodes remain this season, and the series has already been renewed for a second season.

Who's involved:
Writer-director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth); producer Carlton Cuse (Lost); star Corey Stoll (House of Cards).

What critics said then:
Critics found the opening episodes genuinely creepy, though some found it silly or too superficial and uneventful after the opening hour. We'll know more about where critics now stand after the season finale in a few weeks but, judging from those writers covering the show on a weekly basis, recent episodes (well, maybe not the last one) have shown improvement compared to the first half of the season, even if the show as a whole still is far from great.

Recent comments from critics

 

John Doyle
The Globe and Mail [2 Sep 2014]

The Strain is ridiculous on many levels. The dialogue is cheesy, and the scenes of chaos are goofy. ... It's summertime fun. We all know that the handsome and clever (and absurdly named) hero Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), a Centers for Disease Control expert, will make things right. We laugh at the jokes when they pop up. ... [But] the best kind of escapism does not let us escape at all. It obliges us to be as aware of our fears as the daily TV news does. That's what The Strain achieves, just as much as some more lauded and plainly serious cable TV dramas.

 

Alan Sepinwall
HitFix

It's pokey in spots — particularly anything involving Stoll's personal life — but picks up steam as it goes, and Bradley, Durand and Richard Sammel (as the ex-Nazi face of the vampire invasion) are all a lot of fun to watch.

 

Vinnie Mancuso
New York Observer

Though it pains me to admit it, I still like this show. It's not a good show by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time it doesn't really pretend to be.

 

LaToya Ferguson
A.V. Club

The second half of the season (from "Occultation" on) is certainly better than the first half.

 

Tim Surette
TV.com

Reading my episodic coverage of The Strain must be like reading the ramblings of a bipolar lunatic who alternates between "happy drunk" and "sad and depressed drunk." But it's not my fault! The show can't seem to sustain a continued upswing, peaking and bottoming out with such regularity that watching is like playing a game of (admittedly less dangerous) Russian Roulette. ... There are simply too many unnecessary scenes, too many repetitive info dumps, and not enough plot progression to call the show great. I'll keep watching for the gore and summery fun, but my brain might take a nap while I do so.

 

Rob Bricken
io9

All right, I'm through trying to give The Strain the benefit of the doubt. "Loved Ones" [Episode 10] isn't the worst episode of The Strain's inaugural season, but I think it's the one that infuriated me the most. That's because it so perfectly demonstrates The Strain's two main flaws — basically, being dumb and boring.

 

Note that second opinions on Outlander or The Knick have yet to arrive, since critics received an unusually large batch of episodes for each show prior to the start of the season, and we haven't yet reached the point where reviewers are seeing new episodes for the first time. And while critics seem to be disappointed by CBS newcomer Extant (which concludes tonight), they generally haven't been writing about that show.

A few notable returning shows

Masters of Sex (Season 2)
Showtime | Drama | Premiered July 13, 2014

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Original Metascore
89 from 17 critics
(based on 3 episodes)
Where to watch it
On TV: Showtime, Sundays at 10p
Streaming: Showtime

What it is:
An acclaimed period drama about pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. A few episodes remain before the season finale on September 28th, and the show has been renewed for a 3rd season.

Who's involved:
Stars Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, and Teddy Sears; creator Michelle Ashford (The Pacific).

What critics said then:
Critics mostly loved the first few episodes of the season, which they felt surpassed last season in quality. Those high marks haven't necessarily held up, however, as some reviewers feel that the subsequent episodes have been far more uneven—especially in the moments spent away from its two leads.

Recent comments from critics

 

Gwen Ihnat
A.V. Club

There are two episodes left in this season, and I've liked enough about season two to give MOS a pass until next week to see how these Bill and Gini elements play out. There are other elements, however, that I just can't get on board with.

 

Andy Greenwald
Grantland

The subtle Masters of Sex has quietly elevated itself to another level. "Fight," the season's third episode, in which Michael Sheen's Bill and Lizzy Caplan's Ginny were locked in a hotel room, watching boxing on TV and sparring with each other, was as good an hour of television as you'll ever see.

 

Bonnie Stiernberg
Paste

This week saw the show once again cramming in goofy, unnecessary storylines in order to get its tertiary characters some screen time.

 

Rob Sheffield
Rolling Stone

Masters of Sex is on a historic roll this season – it was far and away last year's best new drama, yet it hits even harder the second time around. It's the most shocking, incisive and honest portrait of American sexuality in 2014 – except it's set in the Fifties.

 

Michelle Stark
Tampa Bay Times

Masters has found the perfect vessels for such material in stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, whose on-screen relationship crackles in all the right places.

 

Alan Sepinwall
HitFix

[The most recent episode] is, like much of season 2, uneven but with some fantastic material related to Bill and Virginia.

 

Brandon Kirby
Indiewire (/Bent)

I love "Masters." I really do. But I'm struggling here and have been for several episodes now. There's just SOMETHING missing, an absence of thematic oomph that's been taking this entire season down a notch.

 

Ryan McGee
Screen Crush

There are few shows I enjoy more than 'Masters Of Sex' when Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan are acting against one another, and few shows that are more of a chore than 'Masters Of Sex' when the two aren't onscreen simultaneously. I'm dangerously near the point of giving up on that show.

 

Todd VanDerWerff
Vox

At the end of "Mirror, Mirror," this season of Masters of Sex is two-thirds over, and it's time to start seriously worrying about whether the season is going to cohere in any way, shape, or form. It's getting harder and harder to imagine that all of the elements of the show are going to stick together in a way that makes sense, come the finale. ... None of this is unfixable. The show is still staffed with talented writers and directors, and it maintains the fun, playful sense of style that made season one such a treat. ... But for any show to work, it needs a center, and Masters of Sex will need to find one soon — or at least use the center it could have in Bill and Virginia's pairing more frequently — if it's not going to write its entire second season off as a wash.

 

Lauren Hoffman
Vulture

I've cut Masters of Sex a lot of slack over the past several episodes, because when the show's writing, acting, and direction are on point, it's easily among the best on television. Unfortunately, [the most recent] episode lumped together so many of the show's wobblier elements that it was impossible not to notice.

 

David Sims
The Wire

For all of its noble goals to confront how sexuality interacted with the social issues of the time, Masters of Sex is still a biopic bound to the personal stories it's trying to tell. The more it tries to veer off from that course, or add more storylines around its central pair, the more it struggles.

The Bridge (Season 2)
FX | Drama | Premiered July 9, 2014

Image
Original Metascore
68 from 13 critics
(based on 2 episodes)
Where to watch it
On TV: FX, Wednesdays at 10p
Streaming: FX Amazon iTunes

What it is:
A cross-border crime drama based on a Danish-Swedish series (though here, the setting is Texas and Mexico). Last year's serial killer story is long gone, replaced by a multitude of interconnected storylines in the same setting. FX has yet to announce a season 3 renewal, and very low ratings suggest that announcement isn't coming anytime soon.

Who's involved:
Stars Diane Kruger, Demián Bichir, Annabeth Gish, Matthew Lillard, and Emily Rios.

What critics said then:
Critics felt that the first episodes of season 2 were unfocused and overly complicated, though there was some praise for the show's attention to detail and ambition. Since then, a few reviewers have noticed that the show has quietly become one of the best dramas now airing on TV; at the very least, it's a definite improvement over the problematic first season.

Recent comments from critics

 

Andy Greenwald
Grantland

I'm not going to compare FX's The Bridge, which last night turned into the homestretch of its exceptional second season, to a book. But I will say this: If you are a fan of crime fiction, of the way it alone is capable of looping together strands of journalism, social commentary, humor, heart, and guts and then tying them all together into savage knots, then you really ought to be watching. There is nothing else on TV that will provide the same sort of engagement and thrill. After a wildly promising, wobbly first season that seemed to be pulling in two directions at once, showrunner Elwood Reid has transformed The Bridge into a delirious, unique border-noir.

 

Alan Sepinwall
HitFix

The current belt-holder for Best Show You're Not Watching. ... For the most part it's a new show that, at its best, resembles "The Wire" in both its sprawl and its patience. ... It was slow going at times in the season's early weeks, but by the mid-point, all the set-up began to pay off in thrilling and/or poignant fashion. The show is on a fantastic run of episodes right now.

 

Kevin Yeoman
Screen Rant

That sense of understanding the value of morbid humor is something the show has had with it from the beginning, but under the guidance of season 2 showrunner Elwood Reid, The Bridge feels more confident about how and when to use it. ... It's a valuable quirk that goes beyond being quirky. When The Bridge is being funny and weird, it's not tonally inconsistent or off-putting; there's no sense that you should distance yourself from what you're seeing as quickly as possible. Instead, it gives the series and its characters an oddly endearing quality, like talking to someone whose thinking is slightly askew, but manages to surprise and entertain nonetheless.

What do you think?

Have you been watching any of these shows this summer? Do you agree with the recent critic comments? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Comments (8)

  • JRath  

    What to say about The Leftovers?

    I initially watched the first three episodes and found myself bored with it so I stopped watching.

    But then a curious thing happened. My friends continued watching after I had quit and they urged me to get back into it. I asked for their reasoning and why I should.

    Long story short, I got back into The Leftovers and it was immensely thought provoking. What I needed to do was change my mindset. I needed to care less about what actually happened to those who disappeared and care more about what was CURRENTLY happening to those left behind.

    As I read many of the red and yellow critic blurbs above I immediately recognized that they had all been watching it with the incorrect mindset that I had started watching the show with. This is sci fi right? What aliens took the people? Is it government conspiracy?

    The Leftover's answer to all of those is: it doesn't matter. What matters, and this is what the show displays and studies so well, is how the rest of the world tries to move on after the most catastrophic event in world history.

    In the show, one character in particular loses 3 of her 3 family members (husband and two children)...something the show makes clear is VERY against the odds given there was no pattern to the 3% that disappeared. Ask yourself, if 3 of your family members just disappeared, would you care more about why? Or would you care more about how to actually handle the immense grief you're left with?

    TL;DR version: The Leftovers definitely isnt the best show on television right now, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the most thought-provoking and haunting.

  • Duke_Challenger  

    Masters of Sex: Season 2 is really great. I like the critics started growing tired after a bit, but the show gets back on track. Episode 8-9 were some of the best of the series.

    What about the show Married? I watched the first episode of that and You're the Worst and left both feeling very unimpressed.

  • NeoBasch  

    I came here to see Metacritic's coverage of The Leftovers after all the extremely positive reviews I've read throughout the latter half of the season. Needless to say I was surprised by the poor reporting here. Clearly not a lot of research has gone into this as they have done a terrible job representing critical reaction at large of the full season. I have read nothing but unabashed praise for the finale from dozens of journalists and critics as well as the preceding episodes before it. How could you possibly miss these? I also noticed a lot of the extremely positive reviews are glossed over and don't show their proper reflective ratings like it would do for the first couple episodes.

    Don't believe me? Please do your own research and see for yourselves. Here's a start: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/news/1931533/mobile/

    Don't stop there though, check your usual sources. They are also missing the AV Club and IGN, as well as many others. On top of all that, the finale is currently the highest rated episode of the summer on IMDB, just so you know.

    Just take this with a grain of salt, and honestly I couldn't believe how ridiculous Tim's review was on TV.com, and the poll of the community in that very same article just goes to show how off he was from general reaction.

    I guess this just goes to show not to believe everything you read here.

  • urkobg  

    Outlander, Penny Dreadful and the Leftovers have been the 3 stand out dramas of the summer for me. All three are unique, well made, thought provoking, well acted and beautiful to watch. 3 of the best new shows I have seen in some years.

    You're the Worst is the best comedy of the summer as its actors have so much chemistry. A funny and thought provoking show.

    Legend of Korra delivered a phenomenal season, story telling at its best!
    Legend of

  • maridanilidou  

    Outlander's last episode received rave reviews, you should add the show as critics only received the first 6 episodes.

  • johnstonedlove  

    Rising Star is superb

  • msdamgoode  

    You're the Worst is far and away the best 30 minute comedy investment. They manage to squeeze so much into that show, and the side characters are just as dynamic and horribly-wonderful as the leads.
    In comedy, I'm also being very pleasantly surprised by MTV's (of all places!) Faking It.

    As far as dramas...well, if you're not watching The Knick, then you're missing out on something truly spectacular. As I read somewhere else, it's more like a 10 part movie. The acting, the cinematography, the laser precision of the whole thing. I squirm after every episode. Pirate it or get Cinemax, or hang out poaching a spot at a friends on Friday nights-- whatever it takes, but WATCH it

    But The Knick is in a category of it's own. As for the rest of the Dramas that have been pleasant surprises...Halt and Catch Fire, Masters of Sex (tho no surprise) were both good to excellent.

    I dumped The Leftovers, and Extant. The Strain is my biggest disappointment but I'm still slogging along hoping for it to stop being ridiculous.

  • moviemitch96  

    I actually really enjoyed BoJack Horseman's 1st season. It had a lot of witty humor to it, as well as funny, intriguing and entertaining characters and situations. Also, Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, and Alison Brie are all undeniably amusing and funny voice talents.

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