Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: Week 1 of TV's Midseason 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.

Chicago PD (NBC, Wednesdays at 10:00 PM)
The pilot of Chicago PD starts out nauseatingly hard-boiled and over-the-top, as we see some gravelly-voiced crook intimidate another man in a car.  I've never watched Chicago Fire, of which this show is a spinoff, or else I would've known that said gravelly-voiced is actually a dirty cop(!)  Despite the disadvantage that comes from not having any frame of reference for some of the characters on this show, Chicago PD doesn't exactly do itself any favors either.  It assaults you with its grit and grime, as if it's attempting to be the Low Winter Sun of network television.  There's nothing inherently wrong with the excessive violence on display in this pilot, but going to that well this soon is indicative of a show that doesn't have much else to lean on.  Basically, it falls into the same problem that many other network cop dramas do: retreading ground that better, cable cop dramas covered, but scrubbing them clean of any real moral complexity.  (In Chicago PD's hands, everything is morally light gray.)  Somewhere in an alternate dimension, there exists a version of this where Jason Beghe's character isn't the lead, and it's a much better show.  Everything without him has much more life to it, even if the material is just as hoary as the ersatz Vic Mackey that he represents.  While there's an effective shock or two near the end of the episode, it's immediately negated by the lame thud that the episode ends on.  It was enough to talk myself down on the overall grade.
Grade: C-

Enlisted (Fox, Fridays at 9:30 PM)
One of the biggest problems facing Enlisted, Kevin Biegel's new comedy about three military brothers, is finding a way to make war and the military funny.  The opening scene, which is set on the battle lines of Afghanistan, fails at this, but luckily things get less dicey once the episode moves to the main setting of the Fort McGee military base.  Much like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox's other successful pilot of this television season, the unique setting of Enlisted -- in terms of recent television, I can only recall the latest season Childrens Hospital being set on a military base -- gives it a certain edge over the competition.  What results is a fusion of what Biegel learned on his two previous projects: the workplace antics of Scrubs and the hangout nature of Cougar Town.  It's a very silly pilot, but very agreeable, thanks to the solid brotherly chemistry of Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, and Parker Young.  Most of the time, comedy pilots have alot of room for improvement, but this feels well-structured and fully-formed in the same way that Brooklyn Nine-Nine did.  That's not to say that it won't ever get better, but it also doesn't feel like there are any significant pieces missing.  I look forward to watching this sweet, delightful little comedy for as long as we get to have it.
Grade: B+

Helix (Syfy, Fridays at 10:00 PM)
Since the end of Battlestar Galactica, Ronald Moore hasn't had much luck as a creator and executive producer.  Despite being one of my favorite pilots of the last 5 years, Fox decided not to pick up Virtuality, and later projects like 17th Precinct and The Wild Wild West never made it out of development hell.  Enter Helix, Syfy's new outbreak drama, which was created by Cameron Porsandeh, but features heavy input from Moore.  Whether or not Moore's unlucky streak has finally ended remains to be seen, because I wasn't very impressed with the two-part premiere.  The nature of this virus, which makes those infected spew pitch black blood, is suitably intriguing, but there's very little flair to the pilot, and it all feels a little too workmanlike for me.  For being a show about contamination, everything about it is so antiseptic.  I appreciate the show's faith in its viewers by choosing to have no audience surrogate characters, but having a team full of self-serious scientific experts distances the viewer from the story.  So far, Helix just features flat drama and even flatter characters, but there are enough tense and suspenseful moments that I'll stick with it for a while.
Grade: C+

Intelligence (CBS, Mondays at 10:00 PM)
Many of the great actors from Lost have been wasted since that show ended, but none more than Josh Holloway, who seems primed and ready to be a leading man.  (Even Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol dispenses him after a killer opening setpiece.)  Finally he's gotten his own show, but I fear that Intelligence is below his talent level.  It opens up with a good-for-TV action sequence, which is a good way to kick things off, but much of the episode struggles to maintain that energy.  The show faces the same problems that many CBS shows have -- stiff and bland dialogue.  Characters in this pilot tend to just speak at one another about a character's credentials.  At one point somebody even utters the line, "He's a hero!"  On the plus side, the central concept of the show seems extremely lame at first, but the pilot finds many cool ways to use it.  Unfortunately, the mission for the episode -- there's a second chip! -- is employed far too soon to have any stakes.  It's an over-explanatory episode of television, yet I still feel like I don't know anything about these characters, particularly Holloway.  Intelligence bears alot of similarity to the early stages of Person of Interest -- great action, bad everything else -- so who knows, maybe it can become a great show.  I'm just not going to stick around to find out.
Grade: C

Killer Women (ABC, Tuesdays at 10:00 PM)
I've learned by now not to trust network promos, but the commercials for Killer Women were so terrible that it seemed like there was no way that it could be any good.  The show isn't Justified or anything, but it's actually a fun, network alternative to FX's entertaining modern western.  Part of the success of Killer Women's pilot is its slickness -- you're thrown right into the story and it moves quickly from start to finish.  Trisha Helfer was solid on Battlestar Galactica, but here she proves that she's talented enough to carry her own show, displaying steely toughness and great dramatic chops.  Of all the shows this TV season that skew procedural, this is one of the most entertaining.  It's the one that makes me feel the least weary about seeing cases similar to the one in the pilot every week.  While not mandatory watching, Killer Women is a good choice if you want fun, light pulp; full of western music, car chases, and big explosions.
Grade: B

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