Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: Week 2 of TV's Midseason 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.

Bitten (Syfy, Mondays at 10:00 PM)
Based off of a book series of the same name, Bitten feels like a change of pace from the usual depiction of werewolves on the screen.  For one, it focuses on Elena Michaels, who is the only known female werewolf in the show's universe.  Though we've seen female werewolves before (Buffy, Almost Human, etc.), we normally associate lycanthropy with men, and the pilot of Bitten uses that to explore how Elena relates to all of the male werewolves around her.  Like many works of werewolf fiction, there's a pack, but the one here is less like a family and more like a loose collection of outcasts.  It's not clear why Elena is reluctant to return home when she's called upon, but the strained dynamic between her and the rest of the pack is one of the most intriguing aspects of the first episode.  Bitten also smartly forgoes starting its story from the beginning, showing Elena first becoming a werewolf.  Instead, this is something she just lives with, and the drama comes from her trying to manage her affliction in the midst of personal changes in her life.  Naturally, there's a bit of a "main character has a horrible secret that he/she is hiding from the people close them" aspect, as we see Elena struggle to keep the fact that she's a werewolf from her boyfriend, but Laura Vandervoort is so good at selling Elena's emotions that she breathes life into a tired trope.  Overall, Bitten is a surprisingly engrossing show so far, an atmospheric and stylish look into the middle section of life as a werewolf.
Grade: B-

Chozen (FX, Mondays at 10:30 PM)
In my opinion, FX is the best and smartest network on television.  President John Landgraf has a deep understanding of how TV works, and under his reign the network has fostered some of the best shows of the last few years (Louie, Justified, The Americans).  Even their shows that I don't like very much, such as American Horror Story, often do very interesting things.  So despite its sketchy premise -- a gay, white rapper tries to get his career back together after serving some time in jail -- and awful promos, I wanted to give Chozen the benefit of the doubt.  After all, John Landgraf is an intelligent guy, and he wouldn't pick up a show that was actually as bad as this looked.  The executive producers are a murderers row of hilarious people: Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, Adam Reed, Danny McBride.  "There's no way that this show won't be at least a little bit funny," I kept telling myself.  But no, Chozen is just as painful as it looks and sounds.  It mostly avoids being offensive about any of its gay jokes, but that doesn't stop the show from being annoying and grating, particularly when it comes to the titular character (voiced by Bobby Moynihan).  The jokes just aren't very funny, always choosing to go for the most vulgar and over-the-top punchline it can find.  Even the animation is crude, taking Archer's clean, thick-lined style and somehow twisting it into something garish.  Simply put, there's very little to like about this show based on its first episode.  I don't even know if it's worth checking out a second episode to see if it improves.
Grade: D+

True Detective (HBO, Sundays at 9:00 PM)
There's something very exciting about the idea of True Detective.  Like American Horror Story, it's going to feature a new story and setting every season.  But True Detective dives deeper into the concept of anthology television, promising to use completely different actors, as opposed Ryan Murphy's repertory company style.  Creator Nick Pizzolatto even said that the central mystery in upcoming seasons doesn't always have to be based around a murder, which is such a relief in our serial killer-obsessed world.  All of that, plus the prospect of seeing Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson bounce off of each other for 8 episodes, made this one of the most hotly anticipated shows of 2014.  Luckily, the show mostly delivers on that excitement, and the first hour is a wonderfully deliberate, moody affair.  This season is set in Louisiana, and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga (who will be directing every episode, along with Pizzolatto writing each one) gives it a haunting, derelict look.  If there's one complaint, it's that it's hard for any kind of emotion to rise above the show's thick, swampy surface.  But even the cold, subdued nature of the pilot begins to sink in as it goes along.  This first episode is very much a long setup to the case that will take up the rest of the season, but the final scene is a declarative statement that promises we're in for a fascinating journey.
Grade: B+

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