Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Or have they? That's the question facing several high-profile series entering their sophomore seasons this year. Is New Girl as charming as when we first met her? Did Simon Cowell's complete X Factor overhaul actually pay off? Read on to find out how the sophomore class is shaping up thus far, and what some shows need to do to get back on track:
What's Working: (Almost) as quickly as she crept onto the scene, Emily's completely unhinged yet boring mom Kara (Jennifer Jason Leigh) bid adieu this past week. One down. How many lame, unnecessary secondary characters to go? Speaking of Aiden, seeing him bring out Daniel's ruthless side at Grayson Global has been a pleasant surprise and we can't wait to see these two come to blows over Ems.
What's Not: Where do we begin? The show has been extremely short on actual revenge-ing and heavy on story lines involving the confusing and super-shady organization called "the Initiative" (paging Sydney Bristow!) and the Stowaway, which we couldn't care less about if we tried.
Grade: C+ We've come too far with Emily Thorne to just toss the revengenda out the window and off our DVR, but the writing staff needs to be more liberal with the red pen when it comes to all that Initiative mumbo jumbo.
The X Factor
What's Working: New judges Demi Lovato and Britney Spears, and her dazzling array of facial expressions, have breathed new life into the judges table, but the best addition is the rankings of shame, a surprising twist which changes the game in a big way and makes the oft-forgotten results shows a must-see.
What's Not: Unfortunately, one of the few things left unchanged since Season 1 are the over-the-top live performances, including crazy costumes, distracting dancers and blinding light set-ups.
Grade: B- So far, the positives outweigh the negatives, but someone has got to tell Simon that not everything glitters is gold. And here's hoping new co-host Khloe Kardashian hits a big learning curve.
What's Working: TV's most adorkable leading lady has left fans extremely divided. Where some see a strong comedic ensemble not afraid to walk on the weird side, others see repetitive story lines and an increasingly grating protagonist.
What's Not: See above. Also, can we please get Schmidt and CeCe back together like yesterday? His Fifty Shades of Grey-esque relationship with his boss feels forced (and not in the good S&M-sort of way).
Grade: B+ It's hard to tell if New Girl will ever able to please everyone, but should it even try? From where we're standing, the weird is working.
Once Upon a Time
What's Working: Once seemed primed to fall trap to a classic TV Season 2 problem — adding too many new characters. However, the much-ballyhooed introductions of beloved characters like Hook and Mulan have been seamless in the midst of doling out answers to fans' burning questions.
What's Not: The only dip came this last week when the focus was put squarely on Red. She's good in small doses, but slowed down the narrative considerably. Next!
Grade: A- As long as this show keeps embracing its fantasy roots, as well as its funny bone, the sky's the limit.
What's Working: After a rocky first couple of episodes, Homeland has found its sweet spot again: putting Carrie and Brody back together..
What's Not Working: That whole hit-and-run story line with daughter Dana and the VP's son. It's finally hitting close to home, and to Brody specifically, but no mopey teenager deserves this much screen time when the country's safety is at stake.
Grade: A Is the bar higher for Homeland? You bet. But so far the producers' big bets have paid off.
What's Working: Like The Good Wife before it, Scandal has managed to balance intriguing one-off cases with the juicy serialized stories. The "Who Is Quinn Perkins?" mystery seemed an odd closer for Season 1, but the real focus on Season 2 has, thankfully, been on just how Olivia made it disappear so quickly.
What's Not Working: The recent reveal that the Quinn saga is tied to a batch of rigged voting machines in the last election is interesting, but risks delving into overly complicated Revenge-Initiative territory.
Grade: A- Scandal has definitely proven its strong — but brief — must-watch first season was no fluke. But how long can it keep up with its own rapid pace?
What's Working: The show's producers finally got the memo that they're working on a campy, fantasy series. That means a lighter tone in Season 2, thanks to scene-stealers like Nick's big bad wolf friend Monroe and Nick's cop partner, Hank, who finally knows Nick's big secret.
What's Not: Juliette, Nick's boring girlfriend, is still in the picture. But at least the fallout from her memory loss has mixed things up?
Grade: B+ Much improved, but can we just all take a magic potion and forget the girlfriend exists?
Up All Night
What's Working: The comedy solved its identity crisis by ditching The Ava Show. Now the series is a much more cohesive look at adults still trying to find themselves as parents and as people.
What's Not: We still miss some of those larger-than-life Ava Show scenes that fully utilized Maya Rudolph's comedic talents. But we know it's for the best.
Grade: B So far so good, but it's best to reserve judgment on this until the comedy comes back this spring as a multi-camera show shot in front of a live audience.
American Horror Story
What's Working: After earning 17 Emmy nominations this past year, the Ryan Murphy thriller wiped the slate clean for Season 2, minus a few surviving cast members. So far, Asylum is just as scary, gory, and completely out-there as Season 1 but with what critics have been calling a more solidified sense of self.
What's Not: Nazis, aliens and amputees, oh my! American Horror Story is all about the shock and awe, but some say this season has been too outrageous to believe, and not in a good way.
Grade: B- It's harder to get emotionally invested in AHS the second time around, but it sure still knows how to make fans jump.
What do you think of the TV season's sophomore class? Which shows are you digging? Which are you ditching? Sound off in the comments below!
- Arts & Entertainment