Saturday, October 15, 2016

Pilot Talk 2016: Week 5 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.

American Housewife (ABC, Tuesdays at 8:30 PM)
Yikes.  Formerly known as The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport -- although with the amount of times that phrase is uttered  in the pilot, they might as well have kept that name -- American Housewife feels like flat soda comedy.  You can kind of recognize a version of this show that's much better, but everything about its current incarnation feels off.  There's a causticness to main character Katie (Katy Mixon) and her quest to not fall too far down the social ladder in her upper crust suburb, but there's no voice or point of view to it.  I'm an eternal optimist and I was planning to stick with this show no matter what, given the fact that creator Sarah Dunn is a Bunheads alum and I've liked Katy Mixon in the past, but this was so bad I can't continue watching.  Where were the laughs in this pilot?
Grade: C-

Divorce (HBO, Sundays at 10:00 PM)
Sharon Horgan has already showed that she knows her way around the ins and outs of marriage with her and Rob Delaney's hilarious and sweet comedy Catastrophe.  In her new HBO show Divorce, it looks like she's trying her hand at fast forwarding things a bit, examining the dissolution of the marriage between Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her husband Robert (Thomas Haden Church).  The pilot has a healthy dose of funny moments, largely from the same kind of acerbic dialogue that Horgan does so well on Catastraphe, but it feels a little too flabby and airless as a whole.  Part of that comes from the fact that it's hard to be too invested in the end of a relationship when we're introduced to it at the point right before it all crumbles.  Still, the final moments indicate that we're in for some delicious, acidic material, not just a story about a post-divorce self-discovery.  I would expect nothing less from Horgan.
Grade: B

Insecure (HBO, Sundays at 10:30 PM)
This has been a great fall for unapologetically black TV.  In just a span of a few weeks, we've gotten Atlanta, Queen Sugar, and Luke Cage -- shows that aren't afraid to exist outside of white spaces, offering a perspective on the experience of being black in America in ways that we rarely see.  HBO's newest comedy Insecure, partially based on creator Issa Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl, is another example of this refreshing trend.  In some ways, it's in line with the bounty of slice of life comedies that this television age has given us.  Much of first episode "Insecure As Fuck" centers around Issa and her best friend Molly, as they navigate the choppy waters of their professional and romantic lives.  But Insecure is also a slice from a completely different pie, and the new ingredients and flavors it brings are what make it special.  There's a livewire, offbeat sense of humor to the writing by Rae and co-writer/executive producer Larry Wilmore.  When it comes to the more dramatic and thoughtful moments, the show handles those deftly as well, examining the nuance of what it means to be an educated black woman in 2016.  HBO has been an embarrassingly white network in the past, so hopefully quality programming like this will represent a sea change for them.
Grade: B+

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