Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pilot Watch 2007: CW

Sonuva... for the second time in a row, Blogger published my Pilot Watch post early -- this time before I had written anything but a subject line. Apologies to any RSS readers who are confused. Maybe this is a sign I shouldn't be doing these things. Nahh...

Anyway, the CW was the next network to send out their wares. (Fox arrived late today, but they have 29 new shows or something, so it may be a few days before I get to them all. Maybe I'll split it up like last year.) Usual disclaimer applies: these are not reviews, just initial impressions. Too many things can and will change between now and September to make any kind of final judgments on any of these shows at this early stage.

"Aliens in America"
Who's in it: Dan Byrd, Amy Pietz, Patrick Breen, and Adhir Kalyan
What it's about: A high school loser's parents try to give him an instant friend by opening their home to an exchange student, only to be horrified when the boy turns out to be a Pakistani Muslim.
Pluses: No laugh track, as it's shot in the same low-key, one-camera style as "Everybody Hates Chris." Some potential for social satire with the school's tone-deaf reaction to the exchange student. Pietz doesn't in any way invoke memories of "Caroline in the City," to the point where I was surprised it was her when I checked the credits.
Minuses: Not funny, though I acknowledge I'm a couple of decades past the target demo.

"Gossip Girl"
Who's in it: Kristen Bell's voice, a bunch of parental types played by Kelly Rutherford, Sam Robards and Matthew Settle (awesome as Capt. Speirs in "Band of Brothers"), Penn Badgley (late of 12 failed WB series) and a bunch of relatively unknown kids.
What it's about: Josh Schwartz adapts Cecily Von Ziegesar's series of young adult novels about the drama at a fancy Manhattan prep school.
Pluses: I don't know anything about the books, but Schwartz has either found the hidden "O.C." analogues in them or imported them on his own, because there's an outcast guy with a crush on a popular girl, a fistfight at a black-tie party and one-liners aplenty. Badgley (the best thing about the otherwise forgettable "Bedford Diaries") is very appealing as the not-quite-Seth Cohen, and Settle has some nice moments as his washed-up rocker dad. Good soundtrack and a clever use of text-messaging as the 21st century grapevine. (When a scandal happens at a party, everyone's noses are glued to their Sidekicks instead of the traditional "watermelon, canteloupe" crowd murmur noise.)
Minuses: It feels like Schwartz split himself into two this year, with "Chuck" incorporating most of the adult-appeal qualities from "The O.C." (especially the humor), while "Gossip Girl" more directly embraces the teen angst stuff. Doesn't make it a bad show -- it's already light-years better than "One Tree Hill" -- but I'm gonna need some persuading to believe it's something I would watch long-term.

"Life Is Wild"
Who's in it: Brett Cullen and a bunch of unknowns.
What it's about: A New York City teenage girl is horrified when her veterinarian father man moves their entire blended family to a South African game preserve.
Pluses: Like "Lost," shoots in an exotic location that adds a whole lot to the presentation. Even when I wasn't that interested in the family angst, my attention was kept by the scenery and the wildlife. (Though it's hard to beat something like "Planet Earth" for that.)
Minuses: I'm thinking my "inessential to my life" description of the "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off may be a go-to phrase for me in this pilot season. I'm not the target demo, and unlike some other CW/WB/Fox shows about teens that held my interest, this one feels far more narrow in its appeal, like a show for The N. I don't object to its existence, but I can't imagine watching episode 2.

Who's in it: Brett Harrison, Tyler Labine, Nikki Reed and Ray Wise
What it's about: Slacker who works for a big box hardware store discovers that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was born, and now he has to work as a bounty hunter recovering souls who have escaped from Hell.
Pluses: Harrison is just as much fun here as an underachiver as he was as an overachiever on "The Loop." Wise is having himself a ball as Ole Scratch and Tyler Labine makes a fine sidekick. The tone is just on the right side of tongue-in-cheek, with gags like Satan giving Harrison a souped-up Dirt Devil to nab the old souls, yet there are moments that feel genuinely scary and even, on occasion, touching. (Suffice it to say, the parents feel awful about what they did.) A worthy successor to the WB/CW's tradition of wisecracking supernatural action shows. So far, this and "Chuck" have been my two favorite pilots. And speaking of which...
Minuses: As Fienberg (who's working his way through the pilots himself over at Check the Fien Print) warned me, this show is almost identical to "Chuck," save that the hero is recruited by Satan instead of the U.S. government. (Hair-splitting for some, I know.) The tones are the same, both guys have day jobs at big box stores, dorky sidekicks, disapproving siblings, etc., etc. So, naturally, both have been placed in the same timeslot, which is no good for anyone.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the Gossip Girl books either, but I assume they cast Kristen Bell because the narrator is never seen. Still, you'd think it would be wise to cast someone younger just in case they ever wanted to have her appear on the show (May sweeps, anyone?) Personally, I think Willa Holland would have been great. Then again, maybe they should save her for something bigger.

Carrie said...

The only CW pilot I've seen so far is Aliens in America, and even though I'm pretty much out of the demo as well I thought it was fairly amusing. Not a show I'd watch on a regular basis, but I'm not angry I spent 22 minutes on it, either.

I'm really interested to see Reaper. Ray Wise as Satan is brilliant casting.

Matt said...

FWIW, I've read several of the Gossip Girl books (they're like crack both in the low quality and addictive nature). Interestingly, your summary sounds like they've abandoned or limited the major through-line from the series, which is the rivalry/friendship between "good girl" Blair and "bad girl" Serena. There's also A LOT of sexual stuff and even more drug use. I'm assuming they've toned that down.

Anonymous said...

The trailers for the show on the CW website definitely make it seem like a rivalry between the two girls is a major part of the show.

Not sure about the sex and drugs, though.

Anonymous said...

Actually, slight revision to my above post: the trailers made it seem like Serena was the good girl and Blair the bad girl. So either they have changed at least some aspect of their story, the trailers are very misleading, or they're planning a surprise reversal of character.

jim treacher said...

Matthew Settle was also really good in that awful Natalie Wood TV-biopic a few years back. He played a young Warren Beatty, and his voice and mannerisms were uncanny. He should be a bigger star.

Matt said...

Well, the "good girl"/"bad girl" dichotomy is a gross oversimplification. Blair is the girl perceived as having it all, but who has major issues with self-destructiveness, body image, etc. (Lohan level.) Serena got tossed out of school, but has largely reformed herself, though she's still got certain...er...sluttiness issues. Both are, of course, impossibly wealthy.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Matt, Serena and Blair are absolutely the heart of the show. I was just drawn, by dint of age, gender, personal taste, whatever, to some of the male characters off on the fringes.

R.A. Porter said...

Reaper sounds like a blast (much more so than Chuck for some reason) and I'm happy Brett Harrison's got a gig for the fall, but I will sorely miss The Loop.

Anonymous said...

I hope when you write your official review of Gossip Girl you'll make note of the bad soap opera names...of the actors. Blake, Leighton, Chace, Taylor, Penn, and Connor?

What were parents in the '80s smoking?

Adam said...

Matt, you're being way too reductive here. That's Alan's job.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ohh... Adam... now you've gone and done it and given me a complex.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Fienberg's not-surprisingly similar take (since we talked about these shows ahead of time) can be found here.

Adam said...

My goal is to give you a multiplex.

Kate said...

having also sadly read the first gossip girl for a class (young adult literature in case anyone is wondering why they would assign total trash in graduate school) those plot lines are all from the first book so the similarities to the OC are just coincidental. And I say sadly because I find it like crack in that it's cheap and kills your will to live, sorry matt.