Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pilot Talk 2015: 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.

12 Monkeys (Syfy, Fridays at 9:00 PM)
I've never seen Terry Gilliam's (cult?) classic film, 12 Monkeys, so I went into this episode with no preconceived notions.  It's a cool concept, but the execution doesn't feel fresh or lively though.  The pilot just lacks personality, which is something I imagine Gilliam's film had a ton of.  I like Amanda Schull as virologist Cassandra Railly -- she's seen crazy things and gone through trauma, but it didn't make her dour.  Unfortunately, the same can't be said about Aaron Stafford, who is kind of dull as James Cole, a time traveler attempting to save the human race.  For the show to completely work, he needs to be more magnetic, and right now he's just not cutting it.  Still, it's a solid pilot, one that exceeds expectations, given the network it aired on.  For now, there's not much to say, it's the kind of show that needs more episodes to prove itself.
Grade: B-

Eye Candy (MTV, Mondays at 10:00 PM)
Oh joy, another show involving a serial killer!  Stalker Jr. Eye Candy is about a young hacker -- yes, a young hacker -- named Lindy, who uses her "l33t hax0rz" skills to help people find their missing loved ones.  She's inspired by her own missing sister, who was kidnapped in front of her eyes three years ago.  As Lindy, Victoria Justice is about as dead as a pile of characters probably will be by the end of this show's first season.  There is truly no line she can't suck the emotion out of.  But I shouldn't give her a hard time when everybody else is delivering dull performances too.  Maybe, just maybe, this would be good if it felt like anybody was trying.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Not even Emmy winners could make this stuff compelling.  Eye Candy is just reheated leftovers of every other show about killing and stalking, but with some high school sophomore level observations about technology and the way we interact these days.  You see, the killer in this story goes after people who lie about themselves on social media, because that'll teach them.  This is just bad all around.  Avoid it at all costs.
Grade: F

Man Seeking Woman (FXX, Wednesdays at 10:30 PM)
Wow, I was not into this one either.  FXX's new comedy Man Seeking Woman is about a guy (Jay Baruchel) who's on a quest to find his true love after his girlfriend dumps him.  The premise is extremely hoary, but what gives it some originality is the surreal approach it takes to the story.  Man Seeking Woman is very surreal.  The problem is that it's surreal, but it doesn't do anything with that surreality.  Take the troll bit at the beginning of the pilot, for example.  The show thinks that it's just funny to have the girl Josh goes on a blind date with be an actual troll.  There are no funny jokes, no clever spin, just a troll being a troll.  Two other big surreal setpieces follow -- a Hitler bit that's mildly funny because of Bill Hader's performance, and a escalating montage at the end that's dreadful -- and they both stretch out for so long.  Maybe these bits would be funnier if they were punchy, but they just drag and drag, sucking out what little comedy was there in the first place.  I get them from a character perspective -- Josh is the kind of guy who lives inside of his head so much that if we're seeing things from his persepctive, of course we're going to see this outsized fantasy.  Unfortunately, that's just not enough to make the show work.
Grade: D+

Togetherness (HBO, Sundays at 9:30 PM)
We're beginning to reach critical mass when it comes to laid-back indie dramedy type shows about upper middle class white people and their various sources of existential ennui.  Togetherness, the new show from the Duplass brothers, is another one of those laid-back indie dramedy type shows about upper middle class white people and their various sources of existential ennui, but if HBO was going to tread familiar ground, at least they got the best men for the job.  Though this is their first foray into television, Mark and Jay Duplass are no strangers to this genre, cutting their teeth making relaxed indie films like The Puffy Chair, Cyrus, and Jeff Who Lives at Home.  So while you may want to shoot yourself in the head at the idea of the pilot's storylines -- the married couple that doesn't have the time and energy to have sex anymore, the wife who feels unfulfilled, the free spirit who needs to get her life together -- Togetherness handles them with a level of humor and confidence absent from lesser shows of its ilk.  It helps that the cast, which includes the likes of Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet, and Steve Zissis; is terrific.  They're all giving performances that lend themselves well to Duplass Brothers' naturalism, and the best scenes in the pilot are the ones where everyone is bouncing off of each other.  Most critics -- who've seen the whole season already -- are even more positive about this than I am, so I'm very excited to see further episodes, especially episode six, which is directed by the great Nicole Holofcener.
Grade: B

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