Well, that sneaky bastard Dan Fienberg has stolen my idea of stealing his idea of doing trailer reviews and applying it to pilots -- not to mention adding the twist of suggesting potential roles for Eric Balfour in each show -- but I'm going to go ahead with my own takes anyway, starting with CBS. I've also seen most of the Fox dramas and got the full stack of NBC pilots today, so I'll try to do these as I go.
One caveat: these are not reviews. Many, many things about these shows will change, from music (the "Jericho" pilot uses The Killers' "All These Things That I Have Done" and I'll bet my house it doesn't make it to air that way) to casting (Eric Balfour?) to deleted and added scenes. These are just early impressions, keeping in mind that I've seen many shows get better or worse between now and when the final version debuts in the fall.
Who's in it: Jason Ritter, Andrea Anders, Lizzy Caplan, that British guy who was in the bad WB sitcom with Harold from "Harold and Kumar" and Finch from "American Pie," plus other people I don't recognize.
What it's about: Former third-grade classmates reunite as late twentysomethings, all with their own problems.
Pluses: Like his dad, Jason Ritter is enormously likable and looks really comfortable standing next to a fake living room couch. Lizzy Caplan has my eternal loyalty for taking Jason Segel disco dancing in the "Freaks and Geeks" finale. David Crane, the co-creator, also co-created "Friends."
Minuses: A lot of characters -- eight regulars plus at least as many spouses/girlfriends/parents/sidekicks who will be recurring -- get introduced in a very short period of time, which means every one -- and every joke -- is really very broad so you can keep track of who's trapped in the bad marriage, who's the type-A overachiever, who's secretly gay, etc., etc. Very sitcommy, but not as funny as the "Friends" pilot -- or the "How I Met Your Mother" pilot, for that matter.
Who's In It: Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker, Amy Smart, Jonny Lee Miller, Franky G
What It's About: A master thief and his crew try to pull off a few more jobs so he can retire before his ex-con wife figures out he hasn't gone straight yet.
Pluses: Have you looked at that cast list? Okay, subtract Franky G and add Shoreh Aghdashloo, who has what I hope will be a recurring role as Liotta's fence, and that's as talented and pedigreed an ensemble as I've seen in a while. (Then again, ABC has a show that somehow features both Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, so maybe this is just a season where a lot of indie character actors got mortgages.) Cool setting and some nice moments, particularly an early scene that establishes Baker's sniper as the kind of amoral sociopath you usually don't see on network TV. (Fienberg is convinced it will be cut before September; I'm more optimistic.) Smart is also really strong as a damaged woman of a thousand identities, all of them involving low-cut tops.
Minuses: It's by John Wells, so you know it's going to be competent but glum. What's there so far isn't nearly as much fun as an "Ocean's 11" and not nearly as stylish as a Michael Mann caper story. However, the pilot runs almost 60 minutes without commercials, so there's plenty of room to add some scenes to tip it one way or the other. (Either they pad it out to two hours or they cut off all the fat.)
Who's In It: James Woods, Jeri Ryan
What It's About: Celebrity criminal defense attorney has a come-to-Jesus moment and joins the DA's office after one of his clients goes bad after acquittal.
Pluses: It's James Woods chewing scenery for 41 minutes. Really, do you need to know anything beyond that? Sort of a flip side of "True Believer," my favorite Woods movie.
Minuses: The producers clearly want to do "House" in a courtroom, but by the end of the pilot, they've softened Woods' character in ways that the "House" producers haven't felt the need to do in two seasons. Woods is a great enough actor that we're going to like him even when he's being a bastard, so let him be one -- please. Also, Ryan (as Woods' disapproving boss) has less to do than Lisa Edelstein and the eager beaver prosecutors learning dirty tricks from Woods are all interchangeable.
Who's In It: Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney, Sprague Grayden, Pamela Reed, Ashley Scott
What It's About: After a series of nuclear explosions cuts a small Kansas town off from the rest of America, residents don't know what's happened, how much of the country (or world) survived, how to deal with dwindling supplies, etc., etc.
Pluses: An intriguing concept, though skiffy fans hoping this will be another "Lost" are going to be disappointed, since there are no hints of any kind in the pilot that this will involve monsters, psychics, Skinner's Boxes, cursed numbers or anything the least bit paranormal. (That part's a plus for me, too; there's enough potential in dealing with the reality of a situation like this that they could get years out of it without having to tease the audience with half-baked mysteries and clues.) Either McRaney has gotten much better with age or I've just appreciated him more since he's been on "Deadwood," but he's really strong. There's a nice disaster movie-style sequence with a wounded Ulrich and Grayden trying to take care of a busful of scared kids. Of all the pilots I've seen so far, this was the one where I most wanted to see a second episode.
Minuses: Skeet Ulrich. I was hoping he could pull a Matthew Fox and develop some charisma as he got older, but 'tis not to be. Other than McRaney, all the other characters are types at best so far. But there's plenty of time to add in some shadings.
Off to watch "Studio 60" and write about "Rescue Me." More late tonight or early tomorrow.