Friday, September 19, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: Week 1 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.

Though it's become a year-round feature, Pilot Talk first got started last fall when I challenged myself to watch and review every network pilot, along with the major cable ones.  Despite the time it took to view each of them (and the mental fortitude required to get through the worst of them), I succeeded.  And because I'm nothing if not a masochist, I've given myself the same goal once again.  Luckily, with networks putting more pilots online early ever year, it should be a little easier this time around.

According to a few critics, this new slate of shows is the best fall in a few years (though the two I'm reviewing this week don't bear that out).  There are a few that I'm excited for -- The Affair, The Flash, Marry Me, Mulaney -- so hopefully they won't disappoint.  Either way, I'll be here to grade them.  Cheers to another fall!

The Mysteries of Laura (NBC, Wednesdays at 10:00 PM)
For a while, I was wondering why so many critics were excoriating Mysteries of Laura so much, with some even going as far as saying it's the worst new show of the fall.  And sure, its premise of a woman (Debra Messing) who struggles with being a cop while also being a mom, is pretty dated.  But for the first few minutes, the pilot mostly feels pretty harmless.  Once it started rolling, however, I began to see just how awful this show was.  Mysteries of Laura is pure dreck -- full of horrible characters, a myriad of tones, and tired plotting.  We frequently see Laura being a terrible cop, using her resources to blackmail a pre-K teacher to get her children enrolled in the right school.  Later in the episode, she breaks into a suspect's car to gain evidence illegally.  But she's an even worse mother.  Look no further than the scene of her drugging her monstrous children in order to get them to behave during an interview.  It doesn't help that this is all played for laughs, and people tell her that she's a good at her job and at motherhood.  The show itself seems like it can't handle the burden of being about a mom and about a cop at the same time.  As a police procedural, it's pretty generic.  As a family dramedy, it's execrable.  Can Laura -- and by proxy, all women -- truly have it all?  I won't be tuning in to find out.
Grade: D

Red Band Society (Fox, Wednesdays at 9:00 PM)
Red Band Society feels quite a bit like Glee.  You've probably heard that from a few people and have greeted it with a degree of skepticism.  But really, it wouldn't be surprising if this pilot was ghost-written by Ryan Murphy.  It takes the panoply of singing outcasts at a high school and swaps them out for sickly angst machines residing in a hospital.  There's the same kind of overwritten, faux-snappy dialogue that Glee was known for (in the first minute alone, the nauseating portmanteau "manstruating" is thrown out) and it's just as insufferable.  It's the kind of show where a teen reveals he's missing a leg and it's played like an edgy punchline, and the term "YOLO" is used unironically.  Not to mention the fact that the show features narration from a child in a coma, who -- despite his lack of consciousness -- is the worst character on the show.  That narration is where we get some of the show's worst writing: it's repetitive (take a drink every time a sentence starts with "when you..." to try to give perspective), intrusive, and cringeworthy.  These people aren't characters so much as they are archetypes.  The tone is completely cloying.  There's an unbearable sequence set to a Coldplay song.  (Can you feel the "and yet..." coming?)  And yet, when the show stops being arch and glib, it can really nail the emotional moments.  There's something interesting buried very far down into Red Band Society, so I'll stick around long enough to get a better sense of whether that will ever get unearthed.
Grade: C+

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