Weeksly on the good, bad and in-between of the new TV pilots

tvpilots

As always at this time of year, you have to ask yourself that incredibly vital question of “What am I going to watch this season?” (is there anything more important?) – given that “Breaking Bad” is nearly gone for good (until “Better Call Saul” comes to fruition), and that you’re likely already getting into the new season of “Boardwalk Empire”, there are also a fresh bunch of new shows coming during the next few months – some starring comedy legends long since gone from the small screen (Robin Williams in “The Crazy Ones”) to the return of legends (Michael J. Fox in “The Michael J. Fox Show”) – and then there are also those shows desperately seeking to capitalise on the success of some recent ventures in prime-time….

So what do you watch & what do you avoid?  It’s a good question – and one I devote a looootttt of time to – because generally I’m an extremely fussy / fickle viewer.  It doesn’t take a lot for me to drop a show from my viewing schedule as a result of one or two mediocre / bad episodes back to back.  I wrote a couple of pieces a few years ago for Moviehole talking about how awful I thought two upcoming pilots were – which ended up being the U.S. version of “The Office” & “30 Rock” respectively.  I stand by that today – they were terrible pilots (in fact the majority of the first season of “The Office” was pretty awful), but thankfully “30 Rock” got quickly into a groove, and I stuck with it until the end.

From the last couple of seasons – I can tell you that I’ve stuck with as many shows as I’ve dropped – I love “The Newsroom”, “Breaking Bad”, “Top Gear”, “Game of Thrones”, “The Bridge”, “Hannibal”, “Archer”, “Justified”, “Sons Of Anarchy”, “The Killing”, “Bates Motel” & even get some very guilty pleasure from watching “Arrow” – but I’ve dropped “Once Upon A Time”, “Dexter”, “Ray Donovan”, “True Blood”, “The Walking Dead” (yes, it’s bad now, get over it), “The Following”, “Nashville”, “Elementary”, “Person of Interest”, “Community” (until the new season starts with Dan Harmon back in charge), “Grimm”, Hell On Wheels”, “American Horror Story” & “Girls” from my starting line-up, with very little chance of ever being called back up to “must see TV”.

So the bottom line is – I watch a lot of TV, but I’ve become a lot more discriminate about what I continue to watch over the years. Although I try & watch at least every pilot that comes my way – it has to be one hell of an intriguing concept at this point to get a second viewing – I’ve been fortunate enough to see several of the new pilots from this season – and I can say that some were truly excellent, some were a pleasant enough distraction, and some were shameful rip-offs of already tired ideas – but there were just enough nuggets of Gold in there that I may need to make some more room for – so with that in mind – consider these general impressions of these shows, not reviews – those come later…..

 

The Best:

 

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – ABC

Who’s in It?

Clark Gregg, Ming-Na, J. August Richards, Cobie Smulders (Spoilers! But not really seeing as how ABC have released promo images with her in them…)

Why watch this & not that?

Because, Duh.

OK – because Joss Whedon, because it’s the Marvel Universe on TV, because Coulson Lives! Because of any of those things, but mainly because it’s a Whedon driven show back on the air & the potential of cross-over into the film universe is very real here, which is an exciting prospect for an event like this.  Remember how they’ve been trying to pitch Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series for the last few years of Film / TV / Film / TV / Film / TV? I was really excited by that unique approach, and ABC have beaten the others to the punch by getting on with this concept first – I doubt we’ll be seeing Robert Downey Jr. pulling regular cameo duty on the show, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a lot of tie-in scheduled around “Thor: The Dark World” & “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” when they launch – exciting times ahead.

The verdict?

Haven’t seen it personally (ABC have been extremely cautious / paranoid about screening this for good reason), but I’m told it plays like classic Whedon, and doesn’t feel significantly scaled down from the movies.

 

“Sleepy Hollow” – FOX

Who’s in It?

Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Clancy Brown, John Cho, Orlando Jones

Why watch this, and not that?

Because it’s a fun idea – Ichabod Crane & the Headless Horseman resurrected in modern times with some slightly “end of the world” type drama at play.  Because it very quickly gets the quaint “stranger in a strange land” stuff out of the way just fast enough that it doesn’t become a running joke for the entire pilot, and because it’s different enough from “Once Upon A Time” that it doesn’t feel like a retread.

The verdict?

I really enjoyed it.  I also really enjoyed the “Once Upon A Time” pilot, which quickly fell on the scrap heap for me, but I’m a big fan of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, and their involvement in this makes me believe that it can be a great show if it sticks with the pacing (“Star Trek” love & hate aside, “Fringe” was one of the best TV shows of the last decade).

 

“Trophy Wife” – ABC

Who’s in it?

Malin Akerman, Bradley Whitford, Michaela Watkins, Marcia Gay Harden

Why watch this and not that?

Because it’s essentially a sitcom, but a genuinely sweet & funny one that doesn’t go for over the top laughs (“Modern Family”), or cater exclusively to Gen Y (“2 Broke Girls”).  Because Malin Akerman has been good in even the biggest turkeys (“The Heartbreak Kid”), and pairing her with the always excellent Bradley Whitford results in some of the most surprisingly believable chemistry I’ve seen on TV in a while.  Because “Trophy Wife” reminds me of Bill Lawrence’s dilemma with “Cougar Town” – a funny show that has an ill-fitting title.  Because Marcia Gay Harden & Michaela Watkins as the ex-wives are PERFECT.

The verdict?

Genuinely one of my favourite pilots of the current season – a nice, well-paced sitcom that manages to stay funny & intelligent at the same time without feeling the need to pander.

 

“The Michael J. Fox Show” – NBC

Who’s in it?

Some guy you may have heard of before  – MICHAEL J. FOX!!!!! Oh, and Betsy Brandt.

Why watch this and not that?

Really?

No, seriously?

*ahem* OK, because it’s MICHAEL J. FOX! Because NBC knew to give this a put pilot / 22 episode order commitment blind based on the history of “Back To The Future”, “Family Ties”, “Spin City”, “The Good Wife” & everything else this guy has ever been in.  Because if you enjoyed his memorable guest part on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, you’re going to be in pretty comfortable territory here – but mainly because this is one of the most beloved Actors of modern times back on your screen on a weekly basis.

The verdict?

I’ve seen decent portions of, but not the complete pilot – what I saw was enough to convince me that this has all the heart of Fox’s previous shows, and also that he’s lost none of his comedic timing.  I’m told that the complete pilot is good – not great, and can feel a little one note – but that wasn’t my experience with what I saw. Really looking forward to watching this.

 

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – FOX

Who’s in it?

Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti

Why watch this and not that?

Because you already know by now whether or not you like Andy Samberg, and this pilot will do absolutely nothing to convince you to change your mind from one camp to another. Because it reminded me in many ways of “Barney Miller” in the sense that this could easily have taken place in the 70’s and I don’t think much would have changed. Because Joe Lo Truglio continues to be one of the funniest “Hey, it’s that guy!” supporting Actors working today.

The verdict?

Very funny – if you like Samberg & wanted more of him on SNL, then this is for you – if you weren’t a fan before, you won’t be now.

 

“Almost Human” – FOX

Who’s in it?

Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Lili Taylor, Mackenzie Crook

Why watch this and not that?

Because series creator J.H. Wyman played a big part in making “Fringe” what it was, and this feels like the closest thing that could become my replacement for “Fringe” shy of Netflix bringing it back in the future…. Because Karl Urban deserves your sci-fi hearts after “Dredd” & “Star Trek”. Because large parts of “Almost Human” have a very keen “Blade Runner” feel to it without feeling like a pale imitation. Because Minka Kelly.

The verdict?

Not an amazing pilot – neither was “Fringe”. That was good, not great, and “Almost Human” falls into that camp – what it has in spades is layers of backstory & mythology ripe for discovery – like “Fringe”, I’m really looking forward to getting into the depths of this world. Notice I compare this one a lot to “Fringe”? One word for you – “Fringe”.

 

The Worst:

 

“The Blacklist” – NBC

Who’s in it?

James Spader, Megan Boone

Why watch that and not this?

Because it’s a shameless rip-off of the already weak “The Following” & a pale imitation of “The Silence of the Lambs”.  Because the pilot fails in spite of the scene chewing James Spader & Direction by Joe Carnahan.  Because this is the disappointing “situation of the week” show with a great cast of this season a’la “Person of Interest” & “Elementary” that could have so much promise but instead becomes formulaic in the first episode – but like those shows, will almost certainly find a home on the schedule for at least a couple of seasons.

The verdict?

So much potential, so much talent, so little follow-through – think this season’s “Last Resort”.

 

“The Crazy Ones” – CBS

Who’s in it?

James Wolk, Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar

Why watch that and not this?

Because despite the sense that James Wolk (formerly of “Mad Men” & the criminally cut short “Lone Star”) is supposed to be the leading man (and should be), this is 100% a vehicle for Williams brand of manic energy.  Because all that’s missing from said manic energy is Rainbow suspenders before the transformation into Mork is complete – worked in the 80’s, not so much now. Because Sarah Michelle Gellar deserves better than this after 7 seasons of “Buffy” and one semi-decent season of “Ringer”.

The verdict?

With Williams toned down significantly, this could prove a better offering – the cameos are genuinely funny, but the main story isn’t. I think CBS is way, way over-estimating Williams modern comedic appeal.

 

“Super Fun Night” – ABC

Who’s in it?

Rebel Wilson, Lauren Ash, Liza Lapira

Why watch that and not this?

Because this is the show that has been worked, re-worked and re-re-worked so many times that I’m told it no longer even semi-resembles the original pitch.  Because despite ABC’s determination to get on board or push start the Rebel Wilson train, she has so far been much better in her supporting roles (“Pitch Perfect”; “Bridesmaids”), and was never an exceptional drawcard on Australian TV in the first place (the dismal “The Wedge”), let alone headlining an exceptionally unfunny US sitcom.

The verdict?

Where a show like “Trophy Wife” manages to avoid clichés, “Super Fun Night” falls into the first pothole it comes across and never manages to get out –based on the significant portions of the pilot I’ve seen, and not even the completed episode, I very much doubt this one is going to stick around long.

 

“Intelligence” – CBS

Who’s in it?

Josh Holloway, Meghan Ory, Marg Helgenberger

Why watch that and not this?

Remember a year or so ago when Josh Holloway was strongly linked to a reboot of “The Rockford Files” & how perfect that would have been? Yeah, that would have been great…. Because if CBS liked “Chuck” so much, they should have just bought it from NBC and kept it going rather than trying to make this decidedly uninteresting “serious” attempt.  Because if Holloway had (reported) concerns about moving from one similar character to another (Sawyer to Rockford), then this was definitely not the move to make.

The verdict?

Another show like “The Blacklist” where you can see potential ready to break through at any given moment, but ultimately fails to happen.

 

 

The In-Between:

 

“Reign” – The CW

Who’s in it?

Adelaide Kane, Megan Follows (“Anne of Green Gables”!!!!), Ashley Charles, Torrance Coombs

Why possibly watch this and not that (maybe)?

Because I don’t know – I’m genuinely torn on this – the pilot does not do the concept justice (think “The Tudors” crossed with “Gossip Girl” – trust me, it’s not as gag-worthy as it sounds), but there is something interesting about this show – I just don’t know what it is. Because it feels very much like a Baz Luhrmann modern take like “Romeo & Juliet” or “The Great Gatsby”.

The verdict?

I want at the very least to watch another episode – the pilot has just enough of a fresh feeling to have me come back for another go, but that will probably be it if it doesn’t fully take off.

 

“Mom” – CBS

Who’s in it?

Anna Faris, Allison Janney, French Stewart

Why possibly watch this and not that (maybe)?

Because the cast is great – Faris & Janney together have some great moments, and the return of French Stewart is a welcome sight. Because in the extended portions I’ve seen of the pilot, there is definitely promise, but it struggles to fit comfortably with Chuck Lorre’s other prime-time offerings.

The verdict?

I haven’t seen the complete pilot, but what I have seen is interesting enough.  From what I’ve been told by people who have seen the full deal, it works a lot better than the extended pieces I’ve seen – worth another shot.

 

“Dracula” – NBC

Who’s in it?

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jessica De Gouw, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Katie McGrath

Why possibly watch this and not that (maybe)?

Because it’s enough of  a twist on Bram Stoker’s classic story that it’s worth watching at least the first two episodes.  Because the supporting cast manage to make you forget Rhys Meyer’s awful attempt at an American accent.  Because Renfield.  Because despite NBC trying to convince everyone this is like a network driven “True Blood”, it’s nothing like it – and that’s a good thing at the moment.  Because the setting, costumes & general artistic touches are AMAZING.

The Verdict?

Probably the closest one on the fence for me between Best & In-Between – definitely worth viewing the pilot alone, and almost a guaranteed lock that I’m on board for subsequent episodes….

 

So there you go – my thoughts on just a handful of the new shows on their way to your screens in the coming months.  I’m also very much looking forward to “True Detective” with Woody Harrelson & Matthew McConaughey in January as well as Frank Darabont’s “Mob City” this December, but one thing is for sure – you’ve got some tough choices to make over the coming months…..