Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pilot Talk 2015: Week 3 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.

Blood & Oil (ABC, Sundays at 9:00 PM)
ABC's Blood & Oil, its new Dallas-meets-One-Tree-Hill series, is a soap opera without the soap.  Or maybe it's the opera that's missing.  I can't tell, but either way this pilot left a whole lot to be desired.  It tells the story of a young couple (Chace Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse, as beautiful as they are boring) who move to North Dakota after the biggest oil discovery in American history occurs in the area.  Not long after they arrive, they get caught up in get rich quick schemes, simmering family squabbles, and tumultuous local politics.  Unfortunately, this feels like the story of a two-hour movie that got stuffed into the one-hour pilot of an ongoing TV show.  Everything seems so rushed, and hey show feels like it's burning through plot as the main couple get rich and become broke about six different times in the episode.  But for all the things that are going on in the pilot, none of it is particularly interesting.  The one saving grace is the handsome direction by Jonas Pate, who delivers what is far and away the best looking pilot of the fall so far.  He gives this North Dakota town a very real texture, showing the open plains with a grand, cinematic scope.  Ultimately, Blood & Oil is like its two leads at the center: pretty, but also pretty boring.
Grade: C-

Code Black (CBS, Wednesdays at 10:00 PM)
There is so much good in this pilot that it makes me sad that there is also so much bad in it.  The show's namesake comes from a term used to denote when a hospital has too many patients and not enough resources to go around.  An average hospital in America is on code black about five times per year, the opening title card reads.  In the hospital where thus show takes place, it occurs 300 times per year.  So that's an over-the-top premise to set a series up with, and the pilot opens on a scene that's so grim and graphic that it's almost comical, but there's a beautiful workmanlike quality to Code Black.  In times of crisis, characters talk quickly and over each other, and the script doesn't seem to care if you pick up on the nuts and bolts of it all.  That's keeping in tune with the show's whole goal, which aims to present the hospital drama without an flash or adornment.  Most television hospitals are lit very brightly, but this pilot has a grungy, claustrophobic feel to it.

Though the setting and tone feel very unlike what we see on TV, this episode is bogged down by some horribly cliched dialogue.  Characters regularly spout generic lines like "I'm going to kill save his life" and "I'm not the doctor he wants, I'm the doctor he needs" and "You know what that sounds like to me?  A typical night in this hospital."  And though the medical situations the show presents are gripping at first, everything eventually starts to feel a little too claustrophobic.  More moments to breath would've been nice, but we don't get that.  Instead, it's a monotonous pounding of bleakness that becomes numbing pretty quickly.
Grade: C

Dr. Ken (ABC, Fridays at 8:30 PM)
Remember when Ken Jeong felt like a revelation?  He was once just that hilarious guy who popped up in movies like Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, did his thing, and exited before it became tiresome.  But Hollywood has never been an industry of restraint, so Jeong quickly became too much of a good thing, and his extended presence brought down The Hangover trilogy and even the frequently brilliant Community.  So what did the powers that be decide to do with a man whose talents are best suited for very small, supporting roles?  They gave him his own show, of course!  Much of Dr. Ken's lameness comes from Jeong's exhausting, hammy performance at the center.  He's already so broad that the theatricality of the multi-cam format causes him to overdo it, playing to the rafters of a venue down the street.  But the writing doesn't do him any favors either.  Usually, even bad pilots get an accidental laugh or two out of me.  However, I watched Dr. Ken with a stony expression the entire time.  That bit where he's trying to find his daughter Molly in a club, but everyone thinks he's talking about the drug?  Excruciating.  I didn't think I'd have to break out the coveted F this fall, but Dr. Ken more than deserves it.
Grade: F

Grandfathered (Fox, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM)
More and more these days, network comedies attempt to throw a great cast together and hope everything catches up later.  Such is the case with Fox's Grandfathered, which examines what happens when you toss people like John Stamos, Josh Peck, and Paget Brewster in a pot together and let them cook.  The result is a warm, winning comedy that may not deliver nonstop laughs, but is pretty enjoyable to watch.  I'm glad that they didn't make Stamos' character into as much of an aggressive prick as many other shows would, because I'm very sick of the "jerk learns how to not be a jerk" arc.  At times, though, the pilot feels a little too gentle.  Maybe that's just because I hate babies, and thus was not a fan of any of the baby hijinks that occurred in the middle of this pilot.  Less of that, more of the adults please.
Grade: B

The Grinder (Fox, Tuesday at 8:30 PM)
When all of the trailers for the upcoming network comedies came out a few months ago, The Grinder's was the only one that made me laugh, so I had high hopes for this show.  Now that I've seen the whole pilot, I'll say that my expectations weren't fully met, but this has the ability to grow and become a great comedy.  The Grinder stars Rob Lowe as Dean Sanderson, a Hollywood who moves back to his hometown after his hit legal drama ends.  Thinking that he gained enough knowledge from years of being a TV lawyer, he tries to work at the law firm run by his father (William Devane) and brother (Fred Savage).  It's a premise that asks quite a bit of the viewer, but The Grinder gets away with it by being as wacky and high energy as possible.  Given my enjoyment of this and Life in Pieces, I seem to enjoy wackiness this fall.  Anything is better than all of the personality-free dreck we've been getting.
Grade: B

Quantico (ABC, Sundays at 10:00 PM)
Critics have been joking about Quantico, calling it Grey's Academy and How to Get Away With Terrorism, because it feels like it's trying to ape the style of Shonda Rhimes' hit shows on the network.  But although it has the ingredients of a Shonda show, it just doesn't have the intangibles.  The premise is very How to Get Away With Murder, introducing the audience to a group of smart and sexy recruits at the Quantico academy for the FBI, and then flashing forward to some cataclysmic terrorist event that occurs at some point in the future.  But unlike Murder, Quantico isn't nearly as fun, and it doesn't have the energy to make the switching between present and future work.  There's a great show about a team of FBI prospects learning the ropes at Quantico buried in this pilot.  There's also a great show about an FBI agent trying to clear her name after she's falsely accused of being involved with a terrorist attack buried somewhere in here too.  But when they're smashed together like this, both sides suffer, the latter more so than the former.  At least the material at the academy has a nice, tense plot where the recruits are charged with finding out a secret about their assigned partner.  The flash-forward scenes are all mystery and vague plotting, so it's hard to really get invested in.  Still, Quantico has the potential to work out these kinks.  You should give it a shot if you're into the shows this one is clear trying to mimic.
Grade: B-

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