Win: Comic book adaptations and superhero narratives
For all the talk about superhero fatigue, so many comic adaptations are actually killing it on television. Marvel’s Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. both got renewals on ABC. Not only is Arrow going strong on The CW, but its spinoff The Flash was the most fun superhero series on TV all year; both got renewed and even spawned another spinoff to debut next season. The series complement each other perfectly, providing two sets of contrasts that work extremely well together — especially during the network’s smartly planned crossover episodes: Arrow likes to go dark and rely on the lonely vigilante narrative, while The Flash enjoys the lighter side of having cool powers. (Because they’re on The CW, both also deal with quite a bit of kissing.) iZombie, another comic book adaptation, is gunning for Jane the Virgin as both the weirdest and the most delightful series on The CW — and got an early Season 2 renewal.
Over on Fox, Gotham started off strong and darkly beautiful but lost its focus as it went on — though it was still renewed because viewers can never let go of Batman’s world. Superheroes are even all over streaming sites: Hulu’s The Awesomes (an original series, not an adaptation) was renewed for a third season halfway through its second while both Netflix’s Daredevil and PlayStation Network’s Powers will get second seasons next year. (There is one notable exception: Constantine, which never found the proper balance while telling its story, was canceled by NBC but is still being shopped around to other networks.)
Lose: Rom-com sitcoms
One of the biggest trends during this television season were romantic-comedy sitcoms, most of which were trying to capitalize on the success of How I Met Your Mother’s nine seasons — and hoping to fill the void left by the series finale — but none of which came even close. NBC’s A to Z was the most similar to HIMYM, right down to the voiceover provided by a former ’80s/’90s sitcom star (Katey Segal took the Bob Saget role) and shared female lead Cristin Milioti (who played the mother on HIMYM). Unfortunately, it was a poor imitation, canceled about a month after it aired.
NBC’s other sort-of rom-com was Marry Me, about a couple who were already committed but dealing with the transition from long-term relationship to engagement. In February, it was removed from the schedule and replaced with The Voice; four episodes have remained unaired in the United States. ABC premiered two rom-coms: the deplorable Manhattan Love Story was the first cancellation of the season, while the much better Selfie was canceled in November, with the remaining six episodes being released on Hulu. Even existing rom-coms weren’t safe. The Mindy Project, which wears its rom-com influences on its sleeve, was axed by Fox at the end of its run (but has since been picked up by Hulu).
Win: Reboots, adaptations, sequels, and prequels
The 2015-16 television season will be crowded with lots of familiar material, but that’s no surprise considering how well this stuff performed this year. The baffling Odd Couple reboot on CBS was boring, painfully unfunny, and predictably unoriginal, but it was also, as predicted, the best shot Matthew Perry had at actually getting a second season for one of his sitcoms — and he did. Another confusing move was Syfy’s television adaptation of the great Terry Gilliam film 12 Monkeys. There was no way the network could pull it off, yet the show actually worked and will return next year.
In fact, many cable networks are finding success with the familiar. TNT spun off The Librarian films into a popular series that was renewed for a ten-episode second season, while AMC’s Better Call Saul prequel was much better in execution than in concept; it was renewed months before the first season even premiered.
Lose: Overdone spies, boorish detectives, and other prestige knockoffs
The Americans is one of the best shows on television right now, and Homeland is certainly one of the most talked about, but all of the series looking to follow in their footsteps have been disappointing. Both of NBC’s series about CIA analysts, Allegiance and State of Affairs , have been canceled; American Odyssey (also on NBC) has yet to be canceled or renewed, but its future doesn’t look promising. Covert Affairs finally got canceled after five seasons due to a dramatic drop in ratings — interest in spy narratives is fading quickly.
Fox’s Backstrom was basically a retelling of House if House were an irascible detective instead of an irascible doctor (and only succeeded in proving how necessary Hugh Laurie was to making that character feel human). Gracepoint (also on Fox) was a replica of the successful Broadchurch — David Tennant starred in both — but set in California instead of England. CBS’ Battle Creek was every cop drama you’ve ever seen, but with David Chase and Vince Gilligan’s names loosely attached. All three series were canceled.
Win: Diverse casts and narratives
Sure, it’s a little screwed up that most networks tend to look at diversity as nothing more than a “trend” that ebbs and flows, but at least these networks are finally learning that diverse series are necessary — and, as it turns out, successful! Who knew! The renewals of so many of these shows seems to point in a more promising direction, provided that they keep getting renewed for seasons to come. The biggest success was, of course, Empire which not only got renewed but paved the way for more hip-hop-centric series: BET’s The Label is a docuseries about classic record labels (Motown, Bad Boy, etc.); Vh1’s The Breaks is a TV movie (based on the book The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop) that looks at three hip-hop fans and friends who are trying to enter the rap industry — if the movie does well, it will become a series; and Netflix’s Baz Luhrmann hip-hop drama The Get Down.
Shows with diverse casts are going strong — Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Survivor’s Remorse, and so on — but an even bigger, and better, trend this year was series that focus specifically on a particular culture. We saw Black-ish‘s measured portrayal of a black family trying to reconcile their suburban life with their African-American culture and Fresh Off The Boat‘s focus on an Asian-American family in Florida. Jane the Virgin is refreshingly Latino, brilliantly blending Jane’s culture with her current problems — you know, being a pregnant virgin. (On the opposite end of the family-comedy spectrum, The McCarthys centered on a white, Irish-Catholic family and was canceled.)
Lose: The majority of Fox’s decisions
Gracepoint and Backstrom were far from Fox’s only first-season failures and cancellations — Hieroglyph was canceled before it even aired. Mulaney was easily the most promising new sitcom on paper (because that paper just said “John Mulaney”) but was met with poor reviews and ratings. Red Band Society was pulled from the schedule for almost two months before airing three final episodes. Reality show Utopia and midseason comedy Weird Loners barely lasted.