Your TV GPS, Globe critic Matthew Gilbert’s guide to what’s on television, appears at the beginning of each week at BostonGlobe.com. Today’s column covers Sept. 9-15.
We’re accustomed to watching an episode or two of a new show, judging it’s worthiness, and deciding — like in “Dinner With Cupid” — whether or not to have a second date. But occasionally, a show actually does get better after a rough, or semi-realized start. Recently, two series have surprised me by improving significantly.
The first is “Mindhunter.” The first season of the Netflix drama, which is set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was just fine. The concept — the story of the FBI team that developed the art of profiling serial killers — was intriguing, and so were the interviews with jailed serial killers such as Cameron Britton’s Ed Kemper. But the central characters were underdeveloped, particularly Jonathan Groff’s Holden Ford, who was frustratingly vague for a leading man.
The second season, released over the summer, is a remarkable improvement. There are even more serial killer interview sequences, all of them riveting in different ways, depending on the killer’s style of confession and — more important — the interviewer’s own triggers. Listening to the descriptions of the murders — but not seeing them re-created — can be disturbing.
And then Holden has been given a more specific identity — he’s the boy genius — while his two teammates, Holt McCallany’s Bill Tench and Anna Torv’s Wendy Carr, have been given more screen time. They are a trio of leads now, each with their own personal struggles. McCallany is particularly engaging as a man with a troubled young son.
This summer, Netflix’s “GLOW” also returned as a much-improved show. The first two seasons were thin, never quite digging into the ensemble of fascinating characters. But season three was a lot more character-driven, and most of the ensemble got some critical backstory material. Rather than a task for a TV critic, season three was a pleasure.
As the fall TV season approaches — look for my overview later this week — I try to keep this late-bloomer phenomenon in mind. While, generally speaking, TV shows tend to weaken the longer they run (I’m looking at you, “Homeland” and “Ray Donovan”), some just need a chance to gather momentum.
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. It’s all about the viral moments — and then it’s all about a candidate jumping on one and riding it as long as possible. There are going to be 10 candidates on the debate stage for the third Democratic Debate, which will take place on one night — Thursday at 8 p.m. on ABC. George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, and Linsey Davis will moderate, and the candidates will appear onstage in the following order, from left to right, with the top-polling candidates in the middle: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, businessman Andrew Yang, former US representative Beto O’Rourke, and former HUD secretary Julián Castro.
2. It cost him his job at NBC, but it didn’t cost Donald Trump much of anything. In 2016, a tape from 2005 emerged of Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” engaging in misogynistic talk with Trump, including the “grab ‘em” comment that inspired a millinery trend. Bush was fired, and he has spent the past three years trying to rehab his image with various TV and newspaper appearances. Now he’s coming back to TV on Monday, on the syndicated newsmagazine “Extra,” and he told the Daily Beast he thinks he is “an improved person, because that’s what adversity does to a human being.” He’ll talk about it in the premiere, at 7:30 p.m. on WHDH-7.
3. Here’s the story: For Generation X, “The Brady Bunch” was “Friends.” They were obsessed with the blended-family fantasy. But will they watch the latest twist on the 1970-74 sitcom, called “A Very Brady Renovation”? HGTV has transformed the North Hollywood home used by the show back into its original TV-set design. Now you can watch the renovation process and all the meticulous set re-creation. It premieres Monday at 9 p.m.
4. On “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” the music star, “Voice” coach, and “American Idol” winner will get to do her favorite things — sing and chat. The show premieres Monday at 3 p.m. on NBC Boston, with Dwayne Johnson among the guests. Coming this week: Ellen DeGeneres and John Legend (Tuesday), Jennifer Garner (Wednesday), Jay Leno (Thursday), and Chance the Rapper (Friday). Coming later in the season: A reunion with former “American Idol” judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson.
5. This sounds like “Lost,” except it’s from Neil LaBute, so I’m picturing some Mamet and men’s issues in the mix. The blurb for “The I-Land” on Netflix: “Ten people wake up on a treacherous island with no memory of who they are or how they got there,” and “they set off on a trek to try to get back home.” The seven-part miniseries, starring Kate Bosworth and Alex Pettyfer, is available on Thursday.
6. “Undone,” which arrives Friday on Amazon, is an adult animated series about a 28-year-old Texas woman who is looking to find out the truth about her father’s death. Oh yeah, and she can time travel. The series, whose voice cast includes Bob Odenkirk, Daveed Diggs, Jeanne Tripplehorn, John Corbett, and Rosa Salazar, was co-created by “BoJack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg.
7. Toni Collette and Merritt Wever? I’m totally, completely, utterly in. They star as odd-couple cops in “Unbelievable,” an eight-episode Netflix series based on a true story about tracking down a serial rapist. Interestingly, the pair aren’t in the first episode; it’s devoted to the story of a woman who is victimized twice, first by the rapist and then by the system. The first season is available on Friday.
8. “Hello Privilege, It’s Me, Chelsea” isn’t stand-up. It’s Chelsea Handler doing a documentary on white privilege, both her own and the way it manifests across the country. She talks to Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, and W. Kamau Bell, among others, and she pays a visit to her high school boyfriend, who is black. It’s Friday on Netflix.
9. Alec Baldwin has been pretty open about his feelings regarding impersonating President Trump on “Saturday Night Live.” Most recently, on the YouTube series “Hiking With Kevin,” he told Kevin Nealon that there are times when he’d sit in his “SNL” dressing room and think, “I hope a meteor hits this building and kills me because I don’t want to do this ever again. I hate this.” So we’ll see what happens when “SNL” returns on Sept. 28 (alas, without Leslie Jones). Meanwhile, Baldwin is going to be roasted, with Robert De Niro, Caitlyn Jenner, Joel McHale, Chris Redd, Jeff Ross, and others making fun of a man who is ripe for being picked on. Oh, public enemy No. 1, Debra Messing, will also be on board. Sean Hayes is the host when the “Comedy Central Roast of Alec Baldwin” runs on Sunday at 10 p.m.
The third and final season of David Simon’s porn drama premieres. HBO, Monday, 9 p.m.
“Bill Burr: Paper Tiger”
The former local comic delivers another stand-up set. Netflix, Tuesday
“In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11”
A documentary about how it felt to be a young person at Ground Zero. HBO, Wednesday, 9 p.m.
The first-season finale of the revival. Fox, Wednesday, 9 p.m.
The second-season premiere of the charming-thug series. FX, Thursday, 10 p.m.
“Murder in the Bayou”
A five-part true crime docu-series about the murders of eight women in Louisiana. Showtime, Friday, 9 p.m.
OTHER SHOWS THAT GOT BETTER
This is the most famous example of a series that started out with only a hint of what it would become. By season three, it wasn’t just a stand-up-based comedy; the four main characters were clearly defined and the storylines converged brilliantly.
“Parks and Recreation”
I liked the first season all right, but I had no sense that the comedy would develop into such a warm, sharp ensemble drama. The biggest factor: Making Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope smarter and more likable.
I know, I know. I’m in the minority here. But I do feel that, while the first season was intriguing, it was poorly paced and too conceptual. For me, the drama began its ascent to greatness in season two, when Michael Slovis took over the cinematography and gave the show a distinctive look that worked intimately with the narrative.
OK, it was never a high-quality show. But it became so much more addictive and fun after the first season, when the writers decided to stop trying to be issue-driven and went all-in for the camp (i.e. Heather Locklear).