Friday, February 6, 2015

Pilot Talk 2015: Allegiance and Fresh Off the Boat

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.

Allegiance (NBC, Thursdays at 10:00 PM)
Network television has a long and storied history of ripping off ideas from its cable counterparts.  Due to the long gestation process of the network development cycle, we usually get these cable knockoffs a few years after the genuine article, which just makes it even more laughable.  Who can forget the year we got The Playboy Club and Pan Am, two shows that tried to attack the Mad Men formula from different (and ultimately unsuccessful) angles?  But you don't even have to reach that far back in the memory bank -- just a few months ago, NBC gave us a diet version of Homeland in the form of the Katherine Heigl-led State of Affairs, which may or may not still be a show.

Well the network is back with Allegiance, another imitation, this time of FX's Cold War spy drama The Americans.  There are so many watered down elements from the latter in the former: the marital difficulties between Russian spies Katya (Hope Davis) and Mark (Scott Cohen) O'Connor aren't nearly as gripping as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings', the sexual intrigue is more soggy than steamy, and the plotting is more simple and direct.  This show adds its own awful, unneeded factor to the equation with the O'Connors' CIA analyst son Alex, who is gifted with a Sherlock Holmes-level intellect.  The setup is bad enough, but nothing else surrounding it helps, neither the stiff dialogue nor the downright awful score.  This is just a really bland episode of television -- they couldn't even make the mid-episode car chase exciting.
Grade: C-

Fresh Off the Boat (ABC, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM)
From the period specificity of The Goldbergs to the lower class nuance of The Middle to the clever and incisive racial observations of Black-ish, ABC has been getting quite good at developing comedies with very distinctive voices.  They have another personality-driven sitcom with Fresh Off the Boat, which is loosely based on the life of chef Eddie Huang (played as a middle schooler by Hudson Yang).  Specifically, the pilot picks up in 1995, just as the Huang family moves from Washington D.C. to Orlando, when Eddie's father Louis (Randall Park) opens up a failing steakhouse there.  Whenever the show goes ultra specific is when it resonates the most, as many of the best moments deal with the details of being an Asian American in the suburbs.  Young Eddie's love of rap music, which is drawn directly from Huang's real childhood, also shades his character nicely.  (Not to mention it allowing for the show to have a great soundtrack: Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G., etc.)

Fresh Off the Boat is run by Nahnatchka Khan, whose previous show Don't Trust the B... was a minor cult classic in certain corners of the internet, and she fits in some very good jokes and odd touches, like Eddie's classmate whose best friend is a 40 year old man.  The first episode is a setup-heavy premise pilot, but the second episode that aired an hour afterward gives a little more evidence of what the show will be like going forward.  Thankfully, the quality doesn't flag between the two.  Overall, this is a very cute and charming show.  Who knows whether it'll grow to be anything beyond that, but for now it's nice to have another edition in ABC's effort to acknowledge that white people aren't the only ones who inhabit this country. 
Pilot Grade: B
Second Episode Grade: B

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