1) Your use for AMC’s new “Hell on Wheels” (premiering Sunday and reviewed by Brian Lowry here) will likely boil down to whether you were a fan of HBO’s “Deadwood” and, if so, whether you can put that fandom in an Al Gore-style lockbox. Otherwise, this fresh “Hell” doesn’t offer enough that’s new or better than “Deadwood” to require your viewership. But if you can ignore “Deadwood” — and the over-the-top nonsense of Colm Meaney’s railroad baron character — you should find yourself continuing to watch.
2) How bad does it get with Thomas “Doc” Durant, played by Meaney? There’s a scene in the pilot where he finds that one of his lieutenants, so to speak, has made a mistake. A significant mistake, but one that can be repaired with little long-term consequence. Durant’s response is pure insane theatrics, emphasis on the insane. So yeah, it’s dramatic — but is it good storytelling? Not for me.
3) “Hell” is also part of a trend of really unspeakably violent, gory television that HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” is at the forefront of. You’ve heard this song all too many times before, but the fact that basic cable values allow AMC to show those kinds of scenes, but not nudity, is more than a little deranged.
4) Speaking of “Boardwalk” … Do you prefer the show’s bootlegging storylines or its relationship storylines? Sunday’s upcoming episode puts them in pretty strong contrast, and I found myself realizing how little I cared about who controlled the illegal liquor trade compared to what was happening in everyone’s personal lives. Which I guess makes “Boardwalk,” for me, a soap. (You’ll need to continue to have a high Paz de la Huerta-Michael Shannon tolerance, though — the most bizarre, yet strangely engrossing, couple on TV today.)
5) CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” had another episode Thursday in which its female characters and a female point of view took over — and all to the good. It was Mayim Bialik’s best episode on the series today — she showed a terrific and entirely real range of emotions. That show’s evolution continues to amaze and please me.
6) It was another solid night creatively for NBC’s three single-cam comedies, with “Parks and Recreation” again leading the way. Not even 4 million people watched “Parks” on Thursday — “Big Bang” is super, but does it really deserve an overall viewership that’s nearly four times as much as “Parks?” There needs to be an “Occupy” movement to whip this TV nation into shape.
7) Insiders and outsiders who care debated whether the nearly 20% ratings drop for Tuesday’s “New Girl” came as a result of the show being sidelined during most of the baseball playoffs. My feeling is that the mini-hiatus probably made the decline steeper than it otherwise would have been, but it also partly reflects those who sampled the Zooey Deschanel starrer and found they didn’t need more. People who can learn to live without “New Girl” were going to do so anyway. Long after the 2011 World Series is a receding memory, “New GIrl” will sink or swim on its appeal.
8) It’s fascinating to watch “New Girl” in part just to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s such a fine line how sometimes, Deschanel’s Jess hits just the right off-kilter note, and other times she just thuds. The show is new enough that during the thuds, you can start to worry whether it will get back in tune again. But as more time passes, perhaps the roller coaster will smooth out in a good way.
9) Similar to the art of walking that line between quirky and jerky is the art of creating the goofball supporting character that populates so many shows — the Kramer, if you will. ABC rookie comedy “Man Up,” for all its flaws, has some grounded-but-fun personalties, but Dan Fogler’s Kenny seems too often to exist just for “insert zany scene here.”
10) Sunday’s episode of “Homeland,” which has former “Rubicon” exec producer Henry Brommell as a consulting producer, included a mention of “Truxton Circle.” Was this an homage to “Rubicon” villain Truxton Spangler?