Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pilot Talk 2015: Week 2 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.

Blindspot (NBC, Mondays at 10:00 PM)
Here's the beginning of the plot description for this show on Hulu: "A vast international plot explodes when a beautiful Jane Doe is discovered naked in Times Square, completely covered in mysterious, intricate tattoos with no memory of who she is or how she got there."  It's a hooky premise that promises a "CRAZY" mystery, but really, who cares?  This is such a convoluted setup that there's no way it's leading anywhere satisfying, so why even be invested in the plot machinations?  Unfortunately, none of the characters provide any reason for you to be invested either.  "Beautiful Jane Doe" is an apt description, given where the show's interests seem to lie, with the pilot often feeling like everyone is trying to find any reason to show off as much of Jaimie Alexander's skin as possible.  I like Alexander, but she's playing a woman who literally has no identity.  It's hard for her to stand out.  People are pegging Blindspot as a Blacklist clone, but at least that pilot had some verve and a great setpiece in the middle.  It took at least three episodes for it to become as tedious as Blindspot already is.
Grade: C

Life in Pieces (CBS, Mondays at 8:00 PM)
One of the things that I liked the most about the pilot of CBS' Life in Pieces is also the thing that makes me worried about its future.  The series is centered around one extended family and each episode will chronicle their lives in four short stories.  In the first episode, there's a zaniness to the show that I appreciate in this era where even the good family sitcoms feel a little soft, and part of that can be attributed to this short story gimmick.  That wacky energy wouldn't be sustainable with the common A-B-C plot structure, but these short, snappy, somewhat self-contained segments cut off before a line is crossed.  As a result, I laughed at this much more than I do at most pilots.  Sure, there's some overly broad stuff (all of the material about the state of Zoe Lister-Jones' vagina post-baby delivery), but there's always a chuckle or two to be found in even the most shtick-y moments.  But can this show really do this short story structure every episode? Will it start to feel tiresome soon?  What the pilot gave us makes me interested enough to find out.
Grade: B+

Limitless (CBS, Tuesdays at 10:00 PM)
Limitless shares a few superficial similarities to Minority Report, another pilot that premiered this week.  They're both based on films, and they both start off by fast-forwarding through the premise of the film to catch up viewers who haven't seen the source material, refresh those who have, and completely bore both parties.  Like Minority Report, Limitless is pretty bland.  The difference between the two is that Limitless is bland in a less interesting way.  This is pretty much a CBS procedural with a little bit of salt and pepper; the premise is just a doorway to the network's usual style.  On one hand, there's some fun to be derived from Brian's (Jake McDorman) discovery of the new skills he has after taking a drug that allows him to use his mind to its fullest potential.  On the other, much of that fun is completely sucked out by the excessive narration from Brian.  Limitless reaches the point of too much narration at about 10 minutes in and then it just keeps going.
Grade: C

Minority Report (Fox, Mondays at 9:00 PM)
You would think that Fox would have given up on sci-fi by now, given its failure with the genre in recent years.  But here they are again with another offering in Minority Report, which feels less like the Steven Spielberg film upon which it's based and more like the network's last blandly competent "It's the future!" show, Almost Human.  Except this is a little more bland and a little less competent.  Kudos to creator Max Borenstein, I guess, for wanting to set the show apart from the film, but it's hard to know why this was named Minority Report at all.  Sure there's still the element of Precrime, the idea that crime can be predicted by precogs before it even happens, but the pilot doesn't do much exploration of the nature and justice of Precrime.  Who knows what this series is really interested in so far.
Grade: C+

The Muppets (ABC, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM)
To be honest, I don't really get The Muppets.  It's likely a generational thing, given that most people who do have affection for them were born were born in the 70s and 80s, and my biggest exposure to the characters was watching episodes of Muppet Babies on Nick Jr. when I took sick days in elementary school.  Given my stance, I wasn't poised to love or hate this as much as the diehards were.  Consequently, I thought this pilot was merely okay.  Kermit and Miss Piggy's breakup has been dominating the press cycle surrounding the show, and it forms the backbone of the premiere, but I can't really generate the energy to care about it.  It turns out that when you apply common storytelling setups and tropes to Muppets instead of humans,'s still boring.  However, I generally like some of the more adult shadings they've given these characters, which has seemed ruffle a few feathers among critics.  Overall, I don't think I'll be tuning in past this pilot, but it did make me chuckle a few times.
Grade: B-

The Player (NBC, Thursdays at 10:00 PM)
The premise of The Player is so ridiculously stupid and complicated that I'm not even sure I can describe it well.  It involves a Person of Interest-esque mysterious system that can predict crime in a style akin to Vegas odds, or something?  Philip Winchester stars as a man recruited to be a "player" in this game of odds, but not before being put through the Standard Protagonist Motivation spin cycle that leaves him with a dead ex-wife in the first few minutes of the episode.  At times, the pilot feels like it's directed by a teenage boy with ADD.  It's all fast cuts and zoom-ins on cars whipping around the road and kicking up smoke.  So far, The Player is a very wacky experience, but everyone involved seems to be acutely aware of how silly it all is.  It turns out knowing is more than half the battle, because the end result is pretty fun.  With the creator, actors, and audience all on the same page, it's easier to strap in and enjoy the ride.  There are times where the pilot gets to be a little exhausting, but it makes up for that with some truly great, kinetic setpieces.  We don't see many breezy actioners of this vein on TV -- probably due to budgetary restrictions -- so I hope The Player is able to keep up the pace.
Grade: B

Rosewood (Fox, Wednesdays at 8:00 PM)
This fall has been pretty dreadful so far.  Not only has there been a lack of great shows to premiere, but there also hasn't been anything that's entertainingly awful.  Rosewood, Fox's new show about a man (Morris Chestnut) who runs a private pathology business in Miami, Florida, is the worst kind of bad pilot.  There isn't much to outright hate in it, but there's absolutely nothing to enjoy about it either.  This is white noise television.  It's derivative -- a little bit of CSI: Miami here, a large chunk of Bones there -- and it's filled with lame banter between Chestnut and the female detective (Jaina Lee Ortiz) he pairs up with and will eventually fall for.  The show is so flavorless that it has to play dramatic music while Chestnut is doing the most boring examination possible.  Of course, they attempt to drum up some long-term drama amidst the case-of-the-week easy viewing, but the way they choose to do it -- by giving Chestnut a congenital heart disease that may kill day -- doesn't have much stakes.  Nothing in Rosewood does.
Grade: D+

Scream Queens (Fox, Tuesdays at 9:00 PM)
Only on a Ryan Murphy show can terrible and brilliant rest so comfortably beside each other.  There are so many moments in Scream Queens, his new show with Glee co-creators Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk, that are stupid and annoying.  But then there will be a clever, self-aware scene or a character will say a hilarious line and you'll be back on the show's side again.  After a while, you just accept that you have to sit through some "white mammy" stuff to get to "I got my first boner watching Faces of Death."  Scream Queens is a fascinating animal.  It's hyperactive and grating in the way that all Ryan Murphy shows are.  It's full of characters who are supposed to be awful in an ironic way, but wind up being just awful.  It takes big swings, and sometimes you wonder why, because the pitch it's working with is nowhere near the strike zone.  And yet...I had so much fun watching it.  This is how most people describe American Horror Story, which I can't stand, but something on this show clicks for me.  There's no way Murphy and company can sustain this -- the entertainment levels already started flagging in the second half of the unnecessary two-hour pilot -- but let's enjoy this Glee on cocaine for as long as we can.
Grade: B

No comments:

Post a Comment