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.
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.