Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pilot Talk 2013: Week One of Fall's TV Pilots


Every TV season, networks bring out a new crop of shows, in hopes that they'll be the next big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

Ahh, another year, another season of networks delivering their (mostly mediocre) new shows.  For the past few years, I've been trying to watch as many pilots as possible, which is always pretty tortuous, and I end up mostly just watching all the comedies and skipping out on the dramas that I don't care about.  Sitting through a half-hour sitcom that isn't very good is one thing, but a terrible hour-long drama is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  Apparently, I hate myself though, because I figured I'd try to watch and review almost every pilot in this fall season now that I've got this blog.  Who knows whether I'll make it to the end, because the rigors of college are calling and early screener buzz doesn't bode well for my enjoyment of this process.  I'm planning on putting one-paragraph reviews of all the pilots that air in a given week all in one post.  This first one is being posted in the middle of the week because Whedon Week pushed my scheduling back, but expect the rest of this series to release at the end of every week.  So let's start out by taking a look at the three Fox pilots that aired last week.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, Tuesdays at 8:30PM)
The most refreshing thing about Brooklyn Nine-Nine was how well-structured it was.  The pilot hits all of the notes that it should, introducing you to these characters you're going to be watching in the first act, showing you they're funny in the second, and deepening them in the third, all while telling a story that gets wrapped up by the end of the episode.  It seems like such a simple, bare-minimum requirement, but so many pilots fail to do so (see: the show below).  Luckily, Brooklyn Nine-Nine's got more to it than mere competence.  Not only is the police department setting (which we haven't seen in a network comedy since 1982 with Police Squad! and Barney Miller) refreshing, but the cast is surprisingly diverse.  Most network shows are determined to fill their ensembles with as many white people as possible, but this cast has two Hispanic actors and two African Americans (whose characters are the two highest on the chain of command), and feels like it more accurately reflects the way a police precinct in Brooklyn would look.  It certainly isn't perfect, but pilots rarely are.  Andy Samberg is one of those guys who can be very funny when properly managed, but in the wrong hands his silly charm can easily transform into grating immaturity.  There were times where he ventured into the latter territory, and in the future he'll need to dial it back, or else his character will become tiresome.  The first act also probably spends a bit too much time with the set-up and is largely laughless, but the episode becomes much sharper when the pace picks up and the laughs increase in the second act.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine's got all of the necessary pieces -- great cast, writing staff with a high pedigree, the dynamic between Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher -- and I can easily see the show finding a way to put those pieces together perfectly and becoming one of my favorite comedies.
Grade: B+

Dads (Fox, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM)
Much has been said about the apparent racism in the Dads pilot, and yeah, it certainly is racist.  There's a joke about the size of an Asian man's penis, one of the titular dads mistakes Vanessa Minnillo for a maid just because she's Hispanic, and Brenda Song is forced to dress up in a Sailor Moon outfit to impress Chinese businessmen.  But aside from that, the show is more offensive simply because of how terrible it is.  Throughout the course of this episode's 30 minutes, I found myself thinking that the show felt like it was made by somebody who doesn't understand how to make television, despite there being many TV veterans involved behind the scenes.  The whole thing just seems so poorly constructed, shuffling along for an interminable half hour, without a laugh to be found.  A scene between the two dads trying to pass the check off on one another at a diner is the closest scene that comes to being funny, but even that's pretty dismal.  And maybe the racism would be slightly more tolerable if there was any kind of perspective to it.  Instead, we're just supposed to automatically love these characters and laugh at every offensive thing that they say, but they're all vile human beings.  Dads isn't even an entertaining kind of terrible, the kind you can sit back and hate-watch.  This pilot wore me out, and left me more depressed than any episode of a "comedy" should.
Grade: F

Sleepy Hollow (Fox, Mondays at 9:00 PM)
Based on the logo at the top, the inane trailer, and the fact that it's got three of the biggest peddlers of schlock in Hollywood (Len Wiseman, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci) at the helm, I was expecting Sleepy Hollow to be the worst new show of the fall season.  But it's surprisingly got a few good things going for it.  Like all Fox shows, the pilot is absolutely gorgeous, and there's an atmospheric sense of wonder in the early scenes.  It also doesn't wait around to get to the point, strapping you in and telling you "There was a guy who cut off another guy's head once and now they're both back.  You know the drill."  It doesn't stop there either, seemingly throwing everything at the viewer: magical priests, a glowy eyed horse, mystic birds, mysterious white trees, a police file labeled "occultism," a woman burnt for witchcraft revealed to be an actual witch, a head in a jar, a headless man with a machine gun, and some sort of ram demon.  And yet, my biggest problem with Sleepy Hollow is that it's just not crazy enough.  Sure, I just listed a bunch of things that seem to make it pretty bizarre, but all of those ludicrous elements are presented with such a bored shrug.  It's a show that tries to be campy but falls flat, especially when it attempts to derive humor from Ichabod Crane's fish-out-of-water situation, despite Tom Mison's agreeable charm.  I don't see how this show can last very long based on its premise, particularly when the first episode burns through about 40 ideas, but the writers need to find one brand of crazy and turn the dial up to 11 if there's going to be any hope that it gets better.
Grade: C+


  1. I have yet to watch any of these.

    All I'd heard about Dads prior to this was that it was a show with a lot of good people attempting to pore into Always Sunny territory, and apparently it's failing miserably.

    Sleepy Hollow has confounded me from the start, and you're right that logo is stupid.

    The one I've heard the most buzz about is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which I made check out since I'm missing my Andre Braugher fix because Last Resort got cancelled (Probably my second favorite show that started (and ended) last year next to Hannibal.

    Did you watch Last Resort?

    1. I don't really get much of an It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia vibe from Dads, but it is important to bring It's Always Sunny into the conversation because part of the reason why it works is because it's a show with a very distinct perspective. It's fully aware of the fact that it's about awful people doing awful things, and much of the comedy derives from the gap between the characters' way of going about things and the way normal people would go about things. But with Dads, it's like the writers want us to watch these people say sexist and racist things and just be like "look at those lovable dudes!"

      I watched Last Resort. The pilot was great and there was an episode or two that reached those same heights but overall I thought it never really found its footing.

    2. Like I said, I haven't seen Dads, it was just described as Fox attempting their hand at "gross humor" or something to that extent.

      And yeah, one of the primary reasons that Sunny works so well is because these awful people never really get anything their aiming to achieve too.

      Per Last Resort, my personal favorite episode was "Another Fine Navy Day" with the chemical attack. The hallucinations at the end worked really well in my opinion, and that was when the show was firing on all cylinders (after the great "Skeleton Crew").

      Really wish it hadn't been cancelled. It was definitely on the wrong network.