Welcome to Part 2 of a round up of this Fall's new pilots. Part 1 can be found here.
Accidentally on Purpose
The Pitch: Knocked Up meets Prime meets Suddenly Susan meets a Pop Culture Reference Machine
The Set Up: Jenna Elfman plays a 36 year old woman who has just dumped her boss at the newspaper she writes movie reviews for because he doesn't want to get engaged. So naturally she goes to bed with a young guy she meets in a bar and ends up pregnant. Thinking that this might be her last good chance to be pregnant, she decides to keep the baby and this leads her to keeping the kid as well. He moves in to her place. They fight and almost break up except he painted the nursery purple and got his buddy to draw teddy bears on the wall so they stay together. Thank god there's a little realism on TV this fall.
The San Francisco small newspaper premise is so similar to Suddenly Susan that I'm pretty sure they're using the same set for this show. Also, hasn't anyone told the writers that newspapers are dying? I wonder how funny this show will be when Jenna Elfman gets bought out.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: A character who just got out of prison (out of nowhere) is called "Shawshank" at one point and later someone is supposedly talking to Kate Moss during a party scene. Like she would ever be in San Francisco. Also, before potential fisticuffs, one character says to another, "you should be aware, I know Krav Maga." And the other guy says, "I'll fight him too." Good times.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 8. Bad jokes, poor performances and a Scottish sidekick make for a pretty dismal effort here.
Over/under for Cancellation: 12 episodes.
NCIS: LOS ANGELES
The Pitch: NCIS meets every other CBS procedural meets every Joel Silver action movie from the 90's meets a Pop Culture Reference Machine
The Set Up: Chris O'Donnell comes out of hibernation to play a guy who, I don't even know. They investigate things, I think, in LA (as the title suggests) and there's a team of nerds who help out and LL Cool J is there too. Really, this was super confusing. NCIS: LA is a spin-off of a spin-off and is seemingly so entrenched in the world that has already been established by the two previous shows, NCIS (obviously) and JAG (the show that started it all), that there is about zero exposition here. Apparently, O'Donnell's character is just coming back to work after a mission that went bad and he got shot a few times and also he has no home and sleeps in the office. Maybe this incident was covered in the episode(s) of NCIS that introduced the character, but I don't watch that show so I'm unsure. Anyway, the team is assembled, a Navy officer whose brother-in-law is a drug lord gets killed and a Special Ops mission over the Mexican border gets compromised all en route to maybe the most obvious supposed twist I've ever seen on one of these second-rate CBS procedurals. Just awful.
Also, O'Donnell's character doesn't have a first name, just a first initial. I know, so lame.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: O'Donnell says that something reminds him of "a movie that starred Pacino. Or maybe it was De Niro." LL Cool J says, "Do you feel lucky?" Also, these lines are back to back. Maybe the characters think Robert De Niro played Dirty Harry?
Cringe factor (out of 10): 10. This show is like an inside joke that is really painful to listen to and isn't remotely funny. No amount of "you had to be there" logic will change my mind.
Over/under for Cancellation: 2 seasons. CBS loves procedurals (all but one of their hour long shows are procedural) and spin offs (total of four) and since NCIS does well for some inexplicable reason, this show is poised to stick around. Hopefully I'm wrong.
The Good Wife
The Pitch: Silda Spitzer's life meets Ally McBeal meets a Pop Culture Reference Machine
The Set Up: Julianna Marguiles plays the wife of a disgraced politician who, in order to make ends meet, goes back to practicing law after fifteen years. She deals with her damaged kids, her willfully ignorant mother-in-law, and much younger competition in the firm where she's given a junior associate position from an old friend. All this while solving a case which happened to feature David Paymer as a wise-cracking judge and Josh Charles strutting through as a senior associate who totes a baseball around because he used to be on Sports Night or some other reason. The details, which range from a photocopied staple which leads to the discovery of a suppressed second page of an evidence log to fun with video surveillance duplication, play out pretty well and the result is only semi-obvious.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: When Marguiles' cell phone rings in the first post-scandal scene we hear the theme from the Twilight Zone. Symbolism! Also: Funny or Die and Faces of Death get mentioned.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 1. A great pilot. It sets up the series well, both on the procedural one-case-per-episode side and the continuing narrative of Marguiles and her family recovering from the scandal, not to mention having a good mix of those things, a myriad of potential plot elements and a surprisingly great effort by Marguiles. I was legitimately shocked by how well this came off.
Over/under for Cancellation: 18 episodes. The lesson, as always, is that quality is no predictor for success. Especially on television.
The Pitch: CSI meets Without a Trace meets the Lovely Bones meets the A Team meets Minority Report
The Set Up: Christian Slater leads a crew of civilian Jane or John Doe-hunters, which means that when the cops give up on a case where they can't identify the victim, Slater and his crew take over. He's an ex-cop who's kid has been kidnapped and the case remains open (so predictable), the other members of his team also have little reasons for joining up, one has a hero complex, one lost her husband, one wants to be meaningful, and one is doing court-mandated community service, he's the new guy of course.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: A photo-shopped picture of one character with Andy Sipowicz is the only one.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 8.5. This seems like a pretty straight ahead Jerry Bruckheimer-producer procedural with the extremely overwrought twist that the episodes are narrated by the dead person, who conveniently doesn't get around to mentioning who killed them until after Slater and his team have discovered it; thanks for keeping up the suspense, Jane Doe. It's by far the most self-serious pilot of the season (that I've watched so far), there's literally one joke in the entire hour (a crack about the phone company), mostly the dialogue is really dramatic and pseudo-dark. Slater answers the new guy's question, "what happens then?" with the quip, "a murderer goes free;" he later muses at the crime scene, "this is where it ended for her, this is where it begins for us" as a steady diet of hard rock stock music guides us from one dissolve-filled montage to the next.
Over/under for Cancellation: 5 episodes. I doubt many people will want to watch Christian Slater smirk his way through empathy for an hour each week.
The Pitch: ER meets Nurse Jackie meets Jarhead meets Sex and the City meets a Pop Culture Reference Machine
The Set Up: Some actress who has one other credit to her IMDB page plays a nurse just returning from duty in Iraq with PTSD and a wicked love triangle to boot - just when she gets back together with her ex, her boyfriend from the war shows up. Whoops. Her super hot best friend is also a nurse with a love triangle and the triumvirate is completed with a young, naive nurse on her first day of work.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: "You should have seen her in high school during her Gwen Stefani phase."
Cringe factor (out of 10): 8.
Over/under for Cancellation: 5 episodes.
The Pitch: The Witches of Eastwick meets Desperate Housewives meets Practical Magic meets Charmed meets Lipstick Jungle meets Sex and the City meets a Pop Culture Reference Machine.
The Set Up: Three women struggling in different cosmic ways are witchy and call the Devil to their little town. Once he was played by Jack Nicholson, now he's played by some guy who was in the Canadian show "Slings and Arrows."
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: A vibrator is named after Will Ferrell, less than three minutes in.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 11.
Over/under for Cancellation: 3 episodes.
The Pitch: Married...with Children meets Arrested Development meets Big Brother meets a Pop Culture Reference Machine.
The Set Up: Three vignettes of different families are woven together: a suburban family of five featuring a trying-way-too-hard-to-be-hip dad; a second marriage between a man and his much younger wife; and a gay couple who have just adopted a baby girl. The suburban family, parented by Julie Bowen and some guy I recognized from about thirty commercials, contends with pretty typical family stuff, mostly centered around the Dad's attempt to be cool and the Mom's attempt to make sure her eldest daughter, suddenly of interest to boys, doesn't get into trouble. The marriage of the older guy and younger girl features Ed O'Neill back in the family sitcom genre after all this time, but I never watched Married...with Children so I don't really care that much. The gay couple, Mitchell and Cameron, are pretty funny. The show seemingly attempts to misdirect as a show about different marriages, but as the title reveals, is really about family: in the last scene it's revealed that they are all related as well - Ed is the dad of Mitchell and Julie Bowen's characters. Pretty predictable.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: Cameron announces the new baby's presence with a spotlit re-enactment of the iconic "presenting Simba" scene from the Lion King complete with "Circle of Life" playing in the background. Actually, this wasn't ridiculous so much as hysterical. There also is one High School Musical joke. And a joke about internet-ese getting parentalized.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 4. Here's the issue with this show, there are funny jokes and generally not bad characters. The reveal of how everyone is connected was predictable, but not ridiculous. However, from a critical standpoint, it's incredibly frustrating to watch a show where the characters are aware of the camera crew filming them, giving us sideways glances as well as confessionals, without any mention of who the crew is and why these people are being filmed. This sort of self-conscious filmmaking without any hint of exposition is complete cognitive dissonance and is also really annoying. Arrested Development used a similar technique, but it made jokes about the technique: the "archival" Bluth photos, Ron Howard's wacky narration, and the "footage not found" joke explained and expanded the post-modern narrative technique; maybe Mitchell Hurwitz would have even explained the nature of that narration, but he never got the chance and we don't know. However, in Modern Family, the characters answer questions that we don't hear being asked, and that's a different story. One gets the impression that, while there are plenty of jokes within the context of the show, at some point the decision was made that a one camera situation wouldn't be good enough or something. But it's not as if the show has anything to say about reality tv or seems like it would ever explain why these people have been chosen to have a documentary made about them. And that's just a little intellectually lazy, even for a sitcom. (By the way, I feel similarly about the Office and Parks and Recreation.)
Over/under for Cancellation: 12 episodes.
The Pitch: Prime meets Desperate Housewives meets a Pop Culture Reference Machine.
The Set Up: In this ridiculous half hour sitcom, Courteney Cox (also an exec producer on the show) plays a semi-recently divorced forty year old out to prove she can get younger men, because, honestly, I have no idea. It might be because her tall, dark and handsome (and potential love interest) neighbor fucks twenty year old bitches and Courteney finds this unfair. And then for some reason her son walks in on her blowing a dude. Good times.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: Too many to single one out.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 9.5. Seriously, this whole show might just exist so that the guy who brought us Scrubs, Bill Lawrence, could get his wife, Christa Miller, another gig on tv.
Over/under for Cancellation: 3 episodes.
The Pitch: Kinda Lost-y with some other sci-fi tropes mixed in.
The Set Up: You probably know already since this has been by the far the most "anticipated" and "hyped" new show of the year, but if you don't, here's the short version: at 10 am on a random day, the entire world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds and in that time has a memory of their future. Everyone's consciousness jumps ahead to the same date and time (conveniently, they all see a vision of April 29th, 2010 which is Thursday and seems like a great day to kick off May sweeps) and now our characters are contending with what that means. I don't really want to say more since, if for some reason you haven't seen it yet, you should.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: Not a one.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 2. That is if you buy the premise. I'm much more interested in how something works rather than picking apart the sci-fi MacGuffin so I thoroughly enjoyed the entire hour. This means that I'm also not bothered by certain elements of the pre-determination metaphysics which work to put the show on its track; for example, the lead character is assigned to investigate the cause of the blackouts because in his vision he sees himself investigating the cause of the blackouts and his supervisor goes, "that's good enough for me." Other than that, though, great stuff.
Over/under for Cancellation: 1 season.
The Pitch: Arrested Development meets the Fox NFL Sunday Pre-Game Show meets the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air meets the front page of a newspaper.
The Set Up: Ex-NFLer Michael Strahan plays Mike Trainor, an ex-NFLer who moves into the house he bought for his parents and disabled brother now that his manager has run off with all his money. There's lots of fighting between the brothers and life lesson-y speeches from the parents.
Ridiculous Pop Culture References: I'm doing my best to forget this show.
Cringe factor (out of 10): 9. Strahan's character is struggling with his recent money issues, his brother is still grappling with his limitations (he's played by Daryl "Chill" Mitchell who was paralyzed in real life after a 2001 motorcycle accident) and their father is suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, though it's yet to be named, and yet the show can't turn a single one of these issues into a viable place for comedy. We all know that comedy derives from tragedy, and the show handles these darker parts of the characters' lives well, but it literally cannot muster up one good joke. Every joke is followed by a ridiculous laugh track and what should be poignant is just horrifically awful.
Over/under for Cancellation: 6 episodes.
Come on, Eldrick.