Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pilot Talk 2016: 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.

High Maintenance (HBO, Fridays at 11:00 PM)
High Maintenance already existed as a web series on Vimeo, releasing 19 episodes between 2012 and 2015 (all of which are now available on HBO Go), so technically it's not a new show.  But the new HBO series can be watched and enjoyed if you, like myself, have never seen the Vimeo episodes.  In fact, this pilot might even be more enjoyable if you have no experience with the show, because its vibe and structure feels so alien that watching it for the first time is a thrilling thing to behold.  It's about a nameless pot dealer -- credits refer to him as The Guy -- in New York but that premise, based on what I gather from this first episode and stuff I've read about the web series, is just a jumping off point to tell small stories about the people whose lives he briefly intersects with.  If you add it up, the "main character" probably appears in less than half of this first episode, which is pretty crazy and fascinating.  And this approach to storytelling adds for a tonal variation that other shows can't achieve as naturally.  The first half of the episode is a wildly funny interlude about a weird and aggressive client who won't let The Guy leave after he's delivered his weed, while the second is an ultimately tragic tale about a client who almost escapes his cycle of drug abuse only to be dragged back by the toxic people in his life.  I'm not even sure if I truly have a handle on the shape of High Maintenance, but I already know I love it.  Time to go back and watch the web series.
Grade: A-

Son of Zorn (Fox, Sundays at 8:30 PM)
There's something inherently funny and silly about seeing an animated character in the middle of a live-action world.  Fox seems to think so too, since they've brought the idea to life with Son of Zorn, a show about an animated warrior (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) who returns to Orange County in order to reconnect with the live-action family he abandoned.  Unfortunately, this feels like an Adult Swim series without the aggressive weirdness that occasionally makes those shows pop.  What we're left with is a kind of bland comedy that trades on the old "screw-up tries to win his family back" idea.  This is one that could go either way -- it can either stay in this safe mode or shake off the shackles of its pilot-ness.  The interesting reveal at the end has me hoping for the latter.
Grade: B-

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