Three drama series premiere tonight: The first shows promise in its third season, the second is generic and the third takes an interesting storytelling approach but saddles it with a claustrophobic environment and miserable characters.
'American Horror Story: Coven'
FX's "American Horror Story" (10 tonight) tells a new story each season with much of the same cast carrying over year to year, and viewers never quite know what they're going to get when they tune in.
Season one was a ghost/haunted house story with a family at the center. Season two was set in a mental asylum in the 1960s and told a diffuse story of myriad characters that jelled way too late in the season.
The show's writers and producers seem to have learned from their season two missteps. The first episode of season three, "Coven," suggests a more linear, coherent plot as it introduces a central character, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga, returning to the series after sitting out season two), who sometimes narrates the story of her enrollment in Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in New Orleans.
After Zoe's boyfriend dies in what doctors conclude is a freak accident, her mother lets her in on a family secret: She's a witch. And Miss Robichaux's, though it appears to be a finishing school, is actually a witch sanctuary run by Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), daughter of Supreme witch Fiona (Jessica Lange), who is obsessed with restoring her youth.
Fiona is a hot mess who also gets the best lines in the premiere: "Don't make me drop a house on you," she says to Cordelia after a mother-daughter spat.
A theme of female empowerment runs through "AHS: Coven," especially after a terrible incident at a frat party involving Zoe and her Hollywood starlet classmate, Madison (Emma Roberts).
Written by series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk and directed with lots of swooping camera movement by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon ("Glee"), tonight's premiere also introduces a historical backstory involving a racist society matron, Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), who tortured slaves and tore out their pancreases to make some sort of youth cream she spread on her face. At first it seems like LaLaurie will play a background role in the season but by the end of the first episode, "AHS: Coven" upends viewer expectations.
It's always hard to tell how any series will go, especially one as reliably twisty and turny as "American Horror Story," but in its first hour at least, "Coven" offers a clear entertaining setup for a potentially strong season.
'The Tomorrow People'
A fairly generic sci-fi drama, The CW's "The Tomorrow People" (9 tonight, WPCW) is actually a reboot of a 1970s British sci-fi series of the same name that executive producers Greg Berlanti ("Arrow") and Julie Plec ("The Vampire Diaries") were fans of; they bonded over their shared memories of the series in college.
Now they're remaking "The Tomorrow People" and the results are just kind of meh.
Robbie Amell, cousin of "Arrow" star Stephen Amell, stars as Stephen Jameson, who has had bouts of sleepwalking. He even tries to prevent the sleepwalking by going to bed in leather restraints -- shirtless, of course, to best show off his well-defined abs -- but he still wakes up in his neighbors' bed.
Turns out he's not having a mental breakdown, he's part of another species, the Tomorrow People, who are capable of "the three Ts": teleportation, telekinesis and telepathy.
"We didn't choose the name, I swear," says Cara (Peyton List), one of the Tomorrow People who first communicates with Stephen via telepathy. It's a relief to Stephen that he's not hearing voices, but learning that he's not human is also a lot to swallow.
Cara works with her boyfriend John (Luke Mitchell) in trying to recruit Stephen and let him in on the secret of his father's identity. But there's another group that opposes the Tomorrow People, called Ultra, and they want Stephen to join them in exterminating his species as part of a "shadow war."
This is where "The Tomorrow People" starts to get especially squishy: Why does Ultra see them as a threat? It seems to simply be a fear of the other, which doesn't do much for logically raising the dramatic stakes on a TV show.
Stephen's family history eventually comes into play as he tries to reconcile his home life with his mother and brother, his school life with friends like Astrid (Madeleine Mantock) and his new fellow homosuperiors ("We didn't pick that name either," Cara says).
It's all overly earnest with most of the humor relegated to Tomorrow Person Russell (Aaron Yoo), who introduces Stephen to a talking supercomputer, saying, "He's kind of our HAL, just not evil."
It's a much-needed moment of levity, never mind that a "2001" reference is probably going to be lost on the show's target audience of teens and 20-somethings.
Writer Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men") tries his hand at television with the interestingly constructed but not entirely entertaining drama series "Full Circle" (9 tonight, DirecTV's Audience Network).
It's a character-driven, interior drama with each episode taking place in the same restaurant. Each episode features two characters at dinner, often facing off in some sort of dispute. One of the two characters carries over to the next episode presumably until the series comes, wait for it, "Full Circle."
It's an interesting construction; "La Ronde"-style storytelling is not something seen regularly in prime time so for the uniqueness of the form viewers can be grateful. But the same setting and two-character focus in every episode makes for a somewhat stifling viewing experience compared to the typical prime-time drama. Also, the male characters, at least in the first two episodes, are bullying jerks in keeping with Mr. LaBute's misanthropic style of writing.
In the premiere, British exchange student Tim (Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" films) bids farewell to Bridgette (Minka Kelly, "Friday Night Lights"), whom he's been having an affair with while studying abroad. Tim has been living with Bridgette and her husband, Stanley (Julian McMahon, "Nip/Tuck"), who dated Tim's mom once upon a time.
Each episode is broken into three acts with the too-cute titles "Appetizer," "Main Course" and "Dessert."
In the first episode, the "Main Course" turns out to be that Bridgette is pregnant and Tim might be the father.
"You know we have the National Health Service," Tim tells Bridgette, trying to convince her to come back to England with him. "They'd take good care of you!"
It's not the only melodramatic revelation in the hour with the most uncomfortable reveal saved for "Dessert." No spoilers here, but it's daytime-soap level silly.
Episode two finds Bridgette dining with Stanley. She tells him she wants a divorce but only after ordering a spite appetizer she knows he won't eat.
"You better be nice to me or you're in for a long and nasty go of it," threatens Stanley, a lawyer who takes a phone call from his comedian client (David Boreanaz, "Bones," the co-star of episode three) during their meal.
There's a lot of back-and-forth and bad behavior (Stanley hits on the waitress in front of his wife just to be a jerk), but as interesting as the show's structure is, "Full Circle" asks viewers to spend a lot of time with a lot of nasty characters. That may be entertaining to some viewers but probably not to the majority of the audience.
Taking a page from Netflix, all 10 episodes of "Full Circle" will be available tonight via DirecTV Everywhere; two individual episodes premiere 9-10 p.m. Wednesday for the next five weeks.
A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM