Last night was the most intense night of television so far this season—not necessarily because of the nature of the content, but because there was simply so much of it. Five shows had their season premieres last night, and ABC unveiled its last Sunday night soap, the supernatural devil mystery 666 Park Avenue. Plus there was Boardwalk Empire, still glooming along in its third season. That's a lot of TV to watch! But one mustn't panic. There are options, there are strategies to manage it all. One strategy is, of course, to turn off the television and go for a walk or read a book or call your loved ones or something, but that's just silly. You're gonna watch the damn shows, so how best to do it? Here's how we broke down our big Sunday night. This strategy necessitates having a DVR, which, good God, if you don't have one, what are you even doing with your life?
Once Upon a Time, 8 p.m. — Yes, yes, this show is deeply corny and really only for kids and weird Disney 'shippers who lurk in bright-colored corners of Tumblr, but it is, despite all that, pretty damn entertaining. Especially last night, with a cliffhanger-resolving episode about the residents of Storybrooke remembering their fairytale origins and a glimmer of magic appearing on the edges of town. Plus we met some new characters—Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, her seemingly now-departed prince (played by the shoulda-been-Finnick Julian Barnes). It was a fun, goopy way to start the evening and was an easy choice to watch live because, well, there was nothing else on in that time slot that we were interested in. (Some of you may have watched The Amazing Race on CBS, which is more respectable and also worth watching live.) Mind you when we say live we mean "on a 20-minute delay," because who can deal with commercials.
Dexter, 9 p.m. — Our reasons for giving this precedence over, say, Revenge on ABC, had largely to do with last season's unresolved finale. Normally we'd be more likely to watch something like Revenge live because it's the newer, more talked-about show (for the purposes of writing about TV it's helpful to have watched the TV that people like to talk about), but it was just so important to find out what happened in the aftermath of Deb seeing her brother Dexter kill a dude that watercooler consideration had to take a back seat. And it was well worth it and then some. The show more than delivered, thrillingly reaching back to story lines from seasons one and two, totally revitalizing a show that had seriously sagged last season. Dexter has a sneaky way of doing that from time to time, which is why we keep watching. And letting it win out over slightly more urgent programming.
Homeland, 10 p.m. — One thing to point out about watching these two Showtime shows live is that, duh, they don't have commercials, so it makes way more sense to sit through them without fast-forward capabilities than doing that with something like 666 Park Avenue. Other than that, yeah, Homeland is a good show that just won a bunch of Emmys and seemed to require immediate viewing. The show has big spoiler potential, especially when we're talking about a season premiere, so watching it at the earliest possible moment (beyond, I dunno, screeners or something) seemed to make the most sense. And again it was worth it, providing answers to questions left hanging last season while moving the story forward in intriguing ways. Like Dexter, this is a show that doesn't forget much of its own mythology, and it was rewarding to see smaller bits from last season mushroom into bigger problems and snares last night. This show demands your attention, and thus earns its live viewing.
RECORDED, WATCHED THAT NIGHT
The Good Wife, 9 p.m. (watched at 11) — This was a major question for the evening: Follow the head or the heart? Revenge is, again, the buzzier show, one probably worth knowing about in a cultural conversation sense, but The Good Wife is just so darn, well, good. Ultimately we figured that three helpings of ABC soap was too much for one evening, and decided to throw CBS, and ourselves, a bone and go with the fourth season premiere of this consistently smart and sly legal drama. We think we made the right choice, as last night's episode treated us to a pair of scary/sexy fight scenes with perpetual badass Kalinda and plenty of bespoke legal maneuvering from the rest of the well-tailored gang at Lockhart/Gardner. It's never terribly exciting when one of Alicia's dopey kids gets a big storyline, but even that they pulled off respectably well. There was one perhaps unavoidable error in our plan, though: The Amazing Race ran five minutes over, and because we were recording two things at 10 (we recorded Homeland even though we planned to watch live, just in case) The Good Wife's last couple of minutes got cut off. This is a constant problem with its Sunday night post-Race slot, which may eventually drive us to saving the show for On Demand viewing later in the week. (Or, realistically, the very next day.)
666 Park Avenue, 10 p.m. (watched at 12) — The new kid of the evening, this demanded watching night-of, even if it was getting late, because what if something crazy happened and we missed it? Well, nothing crazy did happen, but it was a perfectly serviceable, if derivative (Devil's Advocate, anyone?) and cheesy (that aspiring writer is awfully hunky) bit of entertainment. Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa L. Williams are, as expected, cold-eyed delights, while the requisite Young Unsuspecting Couple (YUCs) is predictably milquetoast but pretty. This show will probably end up getting the treatment that we gave Once Upon a Time last year, meaning we'll shamefully watch it on Hulu some time during the week when no one's looking and only publicly admit to liking it toward the end of the season. Or it'll get canceled, and that will solve that problem for us.
SAVED FOR ANOTHER DAY
Revenge — We watched this on Hulu this morning (it wasn't On Demand yet for some aggravating reason) because we felt we couldn't go too long without knowing what was up with Emily/Amanda and her Hamptons hoedown. To be honest, we sorta lost the thread of Revenge about halfway through the first season (once we found out who got shot on the beach everything went a bit screwy, no?), so we weren't quite as excited as some others seemed about the show's return. But this will likely move into same-night territory once 666 Park Ave. gets demoted, though it probably won't ever get live-viewing status. We like you, all you Graysons and Porters and Clarkes and whoever else, but we don't like you that much.
Boardwalk Empire — Sorry, Nucky. Boardwalk is a great show that's so far this season been fascinating, but amidst all the clutter and noise of the rest of the Sunday night lineup, its quieter tones and themes might get a bit lost if we tried to cram it in night-of. So we're saving Boardwalk Empire for some evening this week when we can give it our undivided attention and not get antsy about tuning over to something else that's, well, a little more exciting. Boardwalk is like the article that needs to be read carefully and thoughtfully, not between refreshes of Twitter and email for the 10th mindless time. (Homeland and Dexter merit some degree of that same kind of attention, but as they're faster-paced thriller series, it's easier to stay engaged.)
SORRY WE DON'T WATCH THAT
What even is The Mentalist?