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Mediocre TV Proves To Be Good Enough For Audiences


In today's era of peak TV, Fans have access to more great TV shows than ever before. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says there is a downside to all that content - lots of shows are just OK or what he calls good-enough TV. Here's his look at three new shows that illustrate that idea.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: The CW network's new hipified (ph) version of "Nancy Drew" might not be recognizable to fans of the wealthy put-together character from the books. Shattered by the death of her mother, this Nancy Drew has given up solving crimes and works as a waitress in a diner, a caricature of the damage-reluctant antihero. She is a bit of a mess, as she explains while describing a co-worker, a dishwasher named Ace (ph).


KENNEDY MCMANN: (As Nancy Drew) Ace, no last name that I know of. But at least he doesn't judge me for tanking my grades last year and bailing on my college applications. Maybe he forgot I told him about that during one of his smoke breaks.

DEGGANS: We see her hooking up with her boyfriend in the first five minutes of the show. And there's more, including an actual ghost, which makes Nancy Drew feel like an odd combo of "Riverdale" and "Supernatural" with a sprinkle of "Fleabag." It's a show that doesn't seem sure about why it exists beyond creating a Gen Z version of a classic character. It's good-enough TV.

A lot of people love shows like this, the gussied-up cowboy soap opera "Yellowstone" on the Paramount Network or the tear-jerking drama on ABC, "A Million Little Things." But for me, they are shows with some promise that kind of go wrong, often because of a central flaw. Sometimes, like with "Nancy Drew," the show flounders in a mishmash of ideas. Other times, an appealing, talented cast is trapped in a terrible concept, like on Fox's new show "Almost Family."

"Almost Family" features TV veteran Brittany Snow as the daughter/assistant of a famous fertility doctor. He secretly uses his own biological material to get results for couples struggling with infertility. Timothy Hutton plays the doctor. Here, he explains what he did to a young woman who recently found out she was the result of one of those crimes.


TIMOTHY HUTTON: (As Leon Bechley) I knew my material would work. That's why I used it and only until other technology made it unnecessary. But I stopped years ago, not that anyone would believe me. I only wanted to help.

BRITTANY SNOW: (As Julia Bechley) I believe you.

DEGGANS: I have a feeling we'll eventually learn the doctor isn't telling the whole truth. But critics have rightly pointed out that the show's first two episodes make someone who committed serious, invasive crimes look like a lovable eccentric, which just doesn't work. Sometimes a show comes along that's interesting and well-executed, but it's centered on a trope.

That's a problem for ABC's "Stumptown," which features "Avengers" movie alum Cobie Smulders as Dex, an ex-soldier with PTSD who becomes a reluctant unofficial private eye in Portland. The pilot begins with a pretty cool fight scene where she battles two guys while riding in a cheap car with a tape deck stuck on a Neil Diamond song.


COBIE SMULDERS: (As Dex Parios) Car.

DEGGANS: But later in the series, Dex winds up explaining to a great guy why she just can't get into a romance with him.


SMULDERS: (As Dex Parios) You seem like a really nice guy. And this is nice, you know? I like - but I can't cross the line because if I do, I mess it up. I kill everything.

DEGGANS: We've seen the tough-as-nails antihero female cop/private investigator many times on series like "CSI" and "Law & Order: SUV." On "Stumptown," that character makes the show feel predictable and conventional. At a time when so many series are bending and breaking the rules of television in innovative ways, these shows are a reminder of the danger that comes from settling for good-enough TV.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF A-HA'S "THE SUN ALWAYS SHINES ON TV") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.