Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: Bad Teacher and Black Box

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.

Bad Teacher (CBS, Thursdays at 9:30 PM)
Bad Teacher doesn't feel like a CBS sitcom.  That's not a knock against the network -- after all, How I Met Your Mother had some great years and I liked the Mom pilot -- it's just that this show is much more in line with creator Hilary Winston's previous work on Community and Happy Endings.  It has the fast-paced, joke-based style of those two shows as it quickly introduces us to the story, which the handful of people who saw the film of the same name a few years ago already know.  Here, Ari Graynor plays the Cameron Diaz role, while character actors like Ryan Hansen and David Alan Grier fill out a few of the supporting roles.  Graynor is an actor who's always seemed deserving of more than the roles that she's given and she finally gets to display her comedic talents here.  Her dynamic with the students at the school she decides to teach at in order to pick up divorced dads is fun, and it's easy to see a show built around this premise.  Like all pilots, this one feels very setup heavy and the broadness of its jokes suggest that there are still some kinks to be worked out in the foundation of the show.  As of now, Bad Teacher finds itself at the same fork in the road that all comedy pilots with potential start at.  It could go the way of Trophy Wife and continue coasting at its current level, but it could steadily improve just as easily and become one of the best network sitcoms like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Grade: B-

Black Box (ABC, Thursday at 10:00 PM)
ABC's Black Box is my favorite kind of bad show.  It's not Hostages, Resurrection, or Betrayal; shows whose badness manifested in the most boring ways possible, making sitting through an entire hour a difficult prospect.  No, Black Box is Crisis and Zero Hour bad.  It's bad with such a verve and a zest that it's almost good.  But make no mistake, Black Box is not a good show at all.  One strike it's got against it is that it's another one of those "occupational irony" shows, centering around Catherine Black (Kelly Reilly), a brilliant neuroscientist who happens to suffer from bipolar disorder.  The show is like a combination of Enlightened and Homeland, and at its core there's something very moving about this portrait of a mentally ill woman in the midst of a severe breakdown.  Unfortunately, the show goes two steps too far.  The rhythm is supposed to reflect Catherine's mental state, but its spastic nature reaches comic levels and eventually grates.  The special effects used to depict her hallucinations are bad, the dialogue is uniformly terrible amongst the ill and neurotypical alike; there's just not much going for it.  However, the last 10 minutes are where the episode really spirals out of control, as Catherine goes off her medication and deep into a destructive breakdown, causing the show to amp up all of its haphazard stylistic elements.  Then it drops an awful (and predictable) twist in the middle of it.  Then it's even got one more terrible thing after that.  On top of all of that, it tries to shoehorn a procedural medical drama in there too.  Black Box's problem is that it's just as frenzied as the mind of its protagonist.
Grade: D-

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