Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pilot Talk 2013: Week 4 of Fall's TV Pilots

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

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC, Thursdays at 8:00 PM)
I had a bit of a meltdown while watching the pilot for Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.  I was a substantial way through the episode when I realized I didn't have any thoughts on it.  And it's not like I was so wrapped up in the experience of watching it that I forgot to think about it.  In fact, I was wracking my brain trying to come up with something, yet churning out nothing of value.  The episode was just kind of...there.  It made me get stuck in this spiral of depression where I worried that I would never make it as a professional television critic (where they often have to write 1000+ words about a show weekly) if I couldn't even come up with a paragraph's worth of thoughts on this.  Then I panicked even more when I realized that I was going to write one of these insufferably meta reviews about the review.  Maybe I'm a talentless hack.  Perhaps Pilot Talk has broken me and I've run out of ways to call bad pilots "shapeless" and good pilots "promising."  Or maybe I don't know what to make of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland because it doesn't know what to make of itself.

At times, the pilot feels very pilot-y -- what with the first half's too-rigid structure of constantly jumping between Alice undergoing a psychiatric evaluation and her actual time in Wonderland -- and not pilot-y enough.  It's often a good thing when a pilot feels more like the fourth or fifth episode, a signal that the show isn't afraid to plant you in the middle of a world, but Once Upon a Time in Wonderland feels all over the place.  It's almost as if the writers were trying too hard to check all of the boxes in the Alice in Wonderland lore (one that never really did much for me as a child).  Nonetheless, the overstuffed story still isn't enough to distract from the very, very bad CGI.  I don't know if it's worse than the CGI in Once Upon a Time, or if it only seems so because there's more of it, but there are times when the episode looks like a Saturday afternoon show from the 90s.  That's not to say there isn't anything good to be found here.  For one, it has Sophie Lowe, who's such a great find as Alice.  Over the course of the episode she's able to show so many shades -- loneliness, despair, lovelorn vulnerability, steadfast determination, and insatiable curiosity.  With her help, the pilot manages to have way more of a sense of fun than Once Upon a Time, which is often very dull and drab (full disclosure: I quit that show after about 13 episodes).  After a while, the loopy rhythm of the episode just overtakes you and I found myself sort of going along with it.  Yet despite all of these thoughts that I've shared -- some positive and some negative -- I still don't really know how I felt about this pilot.  This one's a head-scratcher.
Grade: ?

The Tomorrow People (The CW, Wednesdays at 9:00 PM)
The Tomorrow People commits the worst sin that any pilot could ever commit -- it's not particularly memorable.  Things happen in it -- some of those things are good and some of those things are bad -- but none of them really leave much of an impression.  Even shows like Dads, Super Fun Night, and Hostages allowed you to think about their mediocrity.  The Tomorrow People is just bland.  Like Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, this pilot just sort of throws you into the world.  It turns out that that's the mode the show works best in, when it's presenting you with ideas, because it becomes very inelegant once the explaining begins.  Much of the middle of the episode is bogged down by scenes where characters sit around and deliver globs of exposition to the main character, who's just discovering that he possesses Jumper-esque abilities.  From there it's the standard formula for these kinds of stories, complete with the rote refusal of the call to action before the hero decides to put his powers to use.  I admire its ability to dive headfirst into sci-fi, and it should be a good fit for the CW's gradual change in branding, but The Tomorrow People is too unremarkable to give a second episode.
Grade: C


  1. I wouldn't worry about being a talentless hack. Alan Sepinwall only wrote around 650 words for the Walking Dead premiere (although AV Club wrote 1,500+ words); but I do have a recommendation.

    Pick a show within the next year to write weekly reviews about, and start getting in the habit of it. My personal recommendation would be Game of Thrones because it has so many characters that it would be relatively easy to start with.

    1. If anything I'd probably do Mad Men, since it's the easiest/most fun show to write about in my opinion. Or maybe The Carrie Diaries. I have a surprising amount of thoughts on The Carrie Diaries.

    2. Never seen The Carrie Diaries, but alright.

      Mad Men is good too, I just figured that the different character storylines would make weekly reviews for Game of Thrones more dynamic, but Mad Men certainly has a lot of characters as well.