NBC’s “Chuck” isn’t as good as the hype suggests it is (there was a recent grassroots campaign where fans ate at show sponsor Subway to show their undying support). But the series is strong enough and different enough from most of what network TV offers to make its return necessary, and it’s certainly one of NBC’s best scripted series (even if that is a small group). “Chuck” debuted at the same time as The CW’s “Reaper,” which shared a basic premise: an everyday man found himself in extraordinary circumstances. But “Reaper,” which followed a main character who literally had to do the devil’s work, nearly instantaneously squandered its characters to its concept. The reverse happened with “Chuck,” as the characters grew inside the implausible but entertaining context, which focuses on Chuck’s brain being a repository for the CIA’s most important secrets. That alone couldn’t power a series, but all of the characters have grown in that context, making it easy to watch week after week. (Current status: Renewed).
NBC’s epic series that starts with a modern-era but alternate universe retelling of the biblical David versus Goliath story was something unexpected on network television, and something network TV needs more of. Unfortunately, few people watched — probably because NBC gave it a bad Sunday timeslot. From grand sets to stunning acting — particularly by the always-amazing Ian McShane, whose King Silas character echoed his “Deadwood” role in more than one way — the series had a lot going for it. It also became its own thing, deviating from biblical stories and interpretations of those stories, but the pedigree gave it extra weight. The show would probably do better on HBO or Showtime, where its content could be grittier and its audience more appreciative of its nuances, but NBC could give it the support it deserves and make it a signature show like “The Office.” (Current status: Canceled, remaining episodes air Saturdays starting June 13.)
“Harper’s Island” is a murder mystery masquerading as a reality series: Just like on a reality show, some people get eliminated each week, except here their exit is permanent, and usually pretty graphic. The mystery will be resolved at the end of the first season, and that closed-ended nature of the show ensures it won’t devolve into an incomprehensible mess. The problem is that “Harper’s Island” seemed more like a parody of a soap opera than a prime-time drama; from the acting to the writing, a lot of it feels thin, trite, and cliché. Thus, it lost viewers, and the show was kicked to Saturdays. The show’s format — and it’s stunning northwestern location — deserve a second season, but only if CBS can hire some people who can act and write. (Current status: Canceled)
In ABC’s single-camera sit com “Samantha Who,” Christina Applegate is a revelation: funny, smart, sexy and endearing. It’s even more impressive when Applegate plays another version of her character, Samantha: pre-amnesia Samantha, who was pretty much a terrible person. Applegate shines among a strong supporting cast, especially around Melissa McCarthy (who plays her bubbly childhood best friend) and Jennifer Esposito (who plays her grouchy and shallow pre-amnesia best friend). The series is often ridiculous, but it’s a throwback to older, 1980s-era sitcoms that just reveled in great characters. They might not grow or change, but at least they’re consistently funny. (Current status: Canceled)
The last thing television really needs is another procedural drama. And the last thing procedural dramas need is another version where a quirky outsider helps law enforcement do their jobs more effectively, making law enforcement seem pretty incompetent. So let’s just say “Castle” is the last one. There are shows that are similar but better — CBS’ “Numb3rs” and “The Mentalist,” Fox’s “Lie to Me” — but “Castle,” which follows a crime novelist who follows an NYPD detective around, has its own charm that makes it deserve to stay. Most of that is due to the fantastic chemistry between Nathan Fillion, as Richard Castle, and Stana Katic, as Kate Beckett. They’re not on the verge of falling in love (yet), but have enough tension, sexual and otherwise, to keep every scene moving. And unlike other similar shows, the supporting characters have more to do here than just stand around. It’s altogether fun to watch, and as the “CSIs” age, it’s a solid replacement as a weekly guilty pleasure. (Current status: Renewed)