Catching up on links: Back on Thursday, I made some half-serious (Mickey Rourke) and some not-so-serious (Matt LeBlanc) suggestions for new "Law & Order" actors, plus a breakdown of Katie Couric's final "Today" show. The day before, I did a quick look back at Katie's morning career.
Ordinarily, anything Katie would have been written by Matt, our TV news expert, but he's slowly easing himself back. Today he has another column, this time on what he think is the greatest show in TV history, "Deadwood." (Starting today, Matt's blog begins "Deadweek," with one or two entries every day about the show and its characters by various contributors.)
And now onto the pilots. The usual caveat: these are not reviews. Too many things are going to change between now and when these things air. These are just first impressions. Thoughts on "The Black Donnellys," "20 Good Years" and "'Til Death" after the jump...
"The Black Donnellys"
Who's In It: Olivia Wilde, Kirk Aceveda and a bunch of young unknowns in the title roles.
What It's About: Four Irish brothers move in and out a life of crime in a drama created by "Crash" screenwriters Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco.
Pluses: "Crash" and "Million-Dollar Baby" had their detractors, but Haggis and Moresco were also responsible for one of the great unsung crime dramas of all time: "EZ Streets." While some of the details have changed, this is essentially them redoing it with Haggis' new Oscar clout. Same use of Celtic music on the score, a wildly unreliable narrator who could be the idiot kid brother of Sammy Feathers, same grand, gothic command of fairly dense material. (Though overall, the show's much easier to follow than "EZ Streets" was.)
Minuses: "EZ Streets" had Joe Pantoliano giving the performance of his career (even better than his Ralphie Cifaretto) at its center, plus great supporting turns by people like Carl Lumbly, Debra Farentino and Jason Gedrick. The four newbies playing the Donnelly brothers could turn out to be big stars in time, but they're not there yet. (Making it harder to judge is a big twist at the end suggesting the performances we see from episode two on will be very different from the ones in the pilot.)
"20 Good Years"
Who's In It: John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor
What It's About: When an arrogant surgeon (Lithgow)turns 60, he realizes he needs to enjoy life while he can and recruits his nebbishy best friend (Tambor) for a lot of carpe diem'ing.
Pluses: Lithgow and Tambor, two of the funniest, hammiest human beings alive. (Much as Spinal Tap was called "one of England's loudest bands," this is one of NBC's loudest sitcoms.) They sell a lot of material that probably shouldn't work, and they're fearless in pursuit of a laugh. Lithgow appears several times in a banana hammock, and it's as horrifying and funny as you might imagine. Plus, Tambor's playing a judge again, like he did on "Hill Street Blues." Any chance he'll wind up in drag within a few episodes?
Minuses: You need a real tolerance for loud, broad comedy, and even then, I wonder how far the two leads can carry this show on their back. A bit disappointing to see Tambor back to playing a dweeb after showing so many different sides on "Arrested Development."
Who's In It: Brad Garrett, Joely Fisher, Eddie Kaye Thomas, some young woman playing Eddie's wife.
What It's About: A bitter long-married couple befriend the newlyweds who move in next door.
Pluses: More evidence that comedy is about salesmanship. Garrett and, to a lesser extent, Fisher, manage to milk several laughs from fairly hacky material, sometimes with just the right grimace or sigh before delivering the punchline.
Minuses: Much, much much selling is required. Thomas' character is named Woodcock, and if you don't find that hysterically funny at face value, you're going to have to suffer through a half-dozen or so Woodcock jokes in the pilot alone.