Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: 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 big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

Cristela (ABC, Fridays at 8:30 PM)
Cristela bears a few superficial similarities to a couple of other comedies premiering this fall.  Like Mulaney, it's a multi-camera sitcom based around the personality of a popular stand-up comedian.  Though I'm not familiar as familiar with Cristela Alonzo as I am with John Mulaney, her big, infectious personality makes a strong impression in this pilot.  And like Black-ish, the show has a distinct cultural identity, which proves to be its greatest asset.  Many of the show's best jokes are centered around Cristela and her family's status as Mexican-Americans, the joys and difficulties that come with it.  It's too bad, then, that the comedy falls flat in so many other respects.  Many of the jokes are too easy, too similar.  There just aren't many surprises when it comes to the comedy, with every other joke falling back on the same structure of somebody saying, "[statement]" and another character, usually Cristela, responding with, "No actually, [exact opposite statement]."  The multi-camera format lends itself well to the theatricality of the show, but also contributes to those problems with its obviousness.  Cristela is a flawed show, for sure, but it's easy to see it falling into a solid, comfortable rhythm just as its lead-in Last Man Standing did.
Grade: C+

The Flash (CW, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM)
The CW's latest effort in superhero programming, The Flash, has the benefit of built-in goodwill from its sister series, Arrow.  In the latter's second season, we were introduced to Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), a bright-eyed forensics analyst from Central City, but better known as the guy who would eventually become The Flash.  There are even a few moments in the pilot of The Flash that we already saw in Arrow, depicting the catastrophic event that led to Barry getting his gift of super speed.  The first 10 to 15 minutes of this episode blaze through the origin story, often clumsily.  It's saddled with not-so-great voice-over, forced exposition that sets up his relationship with best friend Iris (Candice Patton), and an overall sense of familiarity.  Thankfully, things get much better after they're able to move past that, cutting to nine months later when Barry wakes up from his coma.  So much joy and wonder is infused in the scenes of Barry's discovery of his powers -- something that many superhero shows are lacking.  All of this is very goofy, no doubt, but deliberately so.  It certainly embraces its inherent comic book sensibility with greater success than Gotham, that's for sure.
Grade: B

Mulaney (Fox, Sundays at 9:30 PM)
I feel like now is as good of a time as ever to introduce a concept that I like to call "negative laughter."  It's the idea that bad jokes actually take away laughter, so that when a good joke comes around, you're not even in the mood to respond accordingly because you still have a bad taste in your mouth.  Mulaney's pilot has good jokes -- albeit very few -- but the episode builds up so much negative laughter that you'd be hard pressed to find the energy to enjoy the funny moments.  At this stage, the show is just way too broad, with hacky jokes and characters who amount to nothing more than vaguely offensive stereotypes.  Sitcoms are always more of a work in progress than dramas, so the show will most likely become funnier, but Mulaney has a bigger problem: its titular star.  John Mulaney simply can't act.  Multi-cam comedy requires a bit more of a heightened delivery, but Mulaney's style is just stilted and uncomfortable.  He's a funny guy, and I like his stand-up, but even those portions of the pilot don't work.  They're mostly just setups for more thin plotlines.  Surely, this is the most disappointing new show of the fall so far.
Grade: D+

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