Be Excited: The Chair
Starz, In Progress, Saturdays at 11 p.m.
This 10-part documentary series is not for everybody; it definitely tilts toward film nerds. Its conceit is that two first-time directors, Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci, each get the opportunity to direct a feature from the same script (that they can change) on a $600,000 budget. In Pittsburgh, in the middle of winter. The competition aspect is hazy to me — somehow, one of them will "win" based on audience feedback and will get $250,000. But that is irrelevant. Having watched the first half of the season (Starz has made five episodes available On Demand), I'm obsessed with this show! The two directors' sensibilities are opposite: Martemucci has a traditional indie background, and went to NYU for screenwriting; Dawson is a self-made YouTube star, with an early John Waters grossout sensibility. Seeing their different artistic choices is fascinating, of course. But there's so much more to love here, like watching the crazy gender dynamics at play in Martemucci's deferential, consensus-building approach (especially when her filmmaker husband is around), and wondering whether Dawson is so reliant on the fans he already has that he'll never get out of the YouTube bubble. The Chair also breaks the fourth wall often, with both directors talking about how the show's cameras make their jobs more difficult. And if you have seen the show's creator, Chris Moore, on the similar Project Greenlight, you know that every time he talks, it's fun to listen. If I have one complaint about The Chair, it's that, because the city of Pittsburgh and some of the city's businesses are funding both the show and Martemucci and Dawson's films, it sometimes comes off as … well, a weird ad for Pittsburgh. (Even though everyone is clearly so freezing all the time that they wear coats and scarves indoors.) But that complaint is strange and unique, and I've never had that thought before while watching a TV show, so it's almost a compliment. Love you, The Chair!
Avoid: The Mysteries of Laura
Be Excited: Red Band Society
Be Excited: Madam Secretary
Give It a Chance: Gotham
Give It a Chance: Scorpion
Give It a Chance: NCIS: New Orleans
Give It a Chance: Black-ish
Be Excited: How to Get Away With Murder
Be Excited: Transparent
Give It a Chance: Selfie
Avoid: Manhattan Love Story
Give It a Chance: Gracepoint
Give It a Chance: A to Z
NBC, Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. (Starting Oct. 2)
This show! It confuses me. The pilot made me laugh a genuine laugh several times as it tracked the twee courtship of Andrew (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Cristin Milioti). The two leads are endearing, and I liked the whole ensemble. On the other hand, I have no idea why the show is bending over backward to make itself so complicated. There's a damn voiceover, and the pretense that somehow their relationship is some sort of case study? No! Why can't it just be a romantic comedy? Still, I'm voting a qualified "yes" on A to Z, at least for now. Writers, just scrap the whole framework now that NBC picked up the show. We won't tell anyone.
Be Excited: The Flash
Be Excited: The Affair
Be Excited: Jane the Virgin
Give It a Chance: Marry Me
Be Excited: Death Comes to Pemberley
Give It a Chance: The McCarthys
Be Excited: Olive Kitteridge
Give It a Chance: State of Affairs
Note: I included on this list only shows I've watched, which means I wasn't able to consider a few cable shows that have not yet sent out screeners, such as Syfy's Ascension, Bravo's Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, and several others. You may also notice that there are a few network shows missing from this list. We wanted the post to serve as recommendations, and with shows such as ABC's Cristela, and NBC's Bad Judge and Constantine, I felt that watching the pilot alone had no bearing on how the show itself might end up being. So I excluded them. For BuzzFeed Entertainment's thoughts on every pilot that was sent out by the networks, which includes those shows along with midseason offerings, click here.