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Every September brings an insane demolition derby of new TV shows vying for your attention, and with so many airing on major networks and trying to ape the handful of existing hits, a lot of them start to blur together. Is the one with Margo Martindale farting also the really racist one with Seth Green? Is it Anna Faris or Malin Akerman on the one that's supposed to be good? Comedies in particular become impossible to follow around this time, with so many similar premises (on the Anna Faris show she's dealing with her mom, on the Malin Akerman show she's dealing with her husband's ex-wives) and so many that won't even make it past three episodes before getting axed.
So… what's the point of paying attention? There are wonderful TV critics out there, ours included, who will tell you which TV shows are worth watching, but at this early stage even the positive reviews come with an asterisk. I check out the pilot of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and wrote a glowing review, while still acknowledging that it's a frantic, table-setting 22 minutes that only hints at the strong show that could come. So many eventual hits, from The Office and Parks & Recreation to Scandal, have first seasons that even fans will eventually deem skippable. Unless you're laying out a massive mythology, like Lost, or are at your best in your first season (also like Lost, as it turns out), the first season is a time to work out kinks and grow into something good, if viewers will give you the chance.
The paradox here, of course, is that these shows need you to watch them in order to get that second, stronger season, and we can't only leave it to hearty TV critics to stick with shows and eventually let us know when it's actually worth watching them. And TV shows, let's face it, are not that big a commitment. You're probably going to be at home and in front of your television on a Tuesday night, so why not check out Trophy Wife (that's the Malin Akerman one). Network TV is free, in your house, and bound to be at least a little entertaining; network executives are counting on you seeing a show with an actor you like (welcome back, Sean Hayes!) and sticking with them even if the early results aren't so promising. After all, what else do you have to watch?
But the way we watch television is changing rapidly, and the same people that NBC and ABC are hoping will tune into their gangly new shows are the ones who spent the summer binge-watching Orange is the New Black or catching up on Parks & Recreation. (And many of them, like me, are in that lucrative 18-49 demographic so appealing to advertisers, but so famously fickle for tuning in every week). Why wouldn't we just set the DVR pass for the full season, leave it alone for a few weeks, and then catch up on a random Sunday if people tell us the show improved? It's no longer a matter of flipping channels to find something that catches your attention, but finding something that catches your attention or else turning off the TV entirely and pulling up something on Netflix, Hulu, iTunes or from your own terribly crowded DVR. After all, nobody's paying you to follow Dads through its awkward period, right?
The only reason to watch a comedy through a rough start is out of loyalty for something on that show, and that's a really tenuous draw for multi-million dollar series to rely on. I'm sticking with Brooklyn Nine-Nine because the pilot made me laugh a few times and because I'll follow Parks & Recreation veteran Mike Schur (who also created this one) anywhere. But I can't be the only viewer lingering in the shallow end before willingly diving in after most of the other new offerings-- and that hesitation ought to have most networks in a panic as a new, bloody fall premiere season begins.