Stupid razzafrazza Blogger. I hit the Publish button a few hours ago when I only meant to save a draft of this post. So apologies for any confusion engendered by the incomplete version that briefly got out there.
Anyway, I'm going to continue the tradition started last spring, wherein I share my first impressions on the network pilots as I get a chance to watch them. The same caveat as always applies: these are not reviews, because too much can and will change between now and when these things air. (For instance, the version of "30 Rock" I wrote about at this time last year still had Rachel Dratch in the Jenna role.) I've seen bad pilots make significant improvements over the summer -- and, of course, I've seen shows with great pilots fall apart as early as week two. (See "The Nine.") This is just something to get the conversation started.
NBC actually overnighted their pilots to critics for arrival the morning after their upfront, so they're obviously first in the queue. No idea when the next batch will arrive, or which network it'll be from. Thoughts on all four NBC shows after the jump...
Who's in it: Michelle Ryan, Ann from "Arrested Development" (aka Mae Whitman), Miguel Ferrer, Molly Price and, in a recurring role, Katee Sackhoff
What it's about: Smarter, more serious remake of the '70s campfest, this time about a San Francisco bartender badly injured in a car crash and made better, stronger and faster by her supergenius boyfriend and the team of military scientists he works with.
Pluses: Looks good, moves well, feels credible in the same way the new "Battlestar Galactica" (which shares exec. producer David Eick) found the gravitas of another cheesey '70s show. Ryan and Whitman have nice chemistry as the bionic woman and her rebellious, hearing-impaired sister (and casting a non-deaf actress in the part suggests to me that big sis won't always have a family monopoly on bionic ears). As a previous bionic woman gone bad, Sackhoff is so much fun that they quickly expanded her role to something semi-ongoing.
Minuses: Sackhoff pretty thoroughly upstages Ryan, though of course the badass villain role is easier to make a quick impression with. Special-effects don't look too special yet, though that's something I'm sure will be improved between now and fall.
Who's in it: Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strzechowski, Sarah Lancaster and more. More importantly, Josh Schwartz is the creator.
What it's about: Underachieving nerd who works at a big box electronics store unwittingly turns his brain into a supercomputer when his college roommate-turned-spy e-mails him a database packed with government secrets.
Pluses: Schwartz's sense of humor applies well to a James Bond/"Alias"/"Greatest American Hero"-type world. Some tongue in cheek action and some serious stuff (including a clever use of parking barriers). All three leads are well-cast, and it's especially amusing to notice the uncanny resemblances between Levi and Adam Brody and between Strzechowski and Olivia Wilde; it's like "The O.C." season two, but with guns and explosions!
Minuses: Can Schwartz maintain this tone long-term? There's more precedence for this kind of series than there was for a self-aware soap opera, but how long does Chuck's knowledge prove useful? Doesn't the database get outdated after a season or two?
Who's in it: Kevin McKidd, Reed Diamond, Moon Bloodgood and Gretchen Egolf
What it's about: A San Francisco newspaper reporter begins traveling back in time for reasons unknown to help improve the lives of strangers. In the present, his wife and brother think he's crazy or on drugs; in the past, he keeps bumping into his long-missing ex-fiancee.
Pluses: McKidd's a strong leading man (albeit not nearly as insane as he was on "Rome"). Nice use of San Francisco landmarks to help create McKidd's feeling of dislocation each time he finds himself in the past. Diamond is so well-cast as McKidd's brother that you have to wonder if there's a biological connection in the real world we don't know about. There's an especially lovely moment at the end where McKidd figures out a way to convince his wife that he's not losing his mind.
Minuses: McKidd's first "mission" in the past, or whatever it is, isn't that interesting. I'll forgive that in a pilot where establishing the characters and the premise is more important, but not long-term, especially not if Dean Stockwell isn't going to be popping up to crack one-liners and walk through walls. Overall, the show seems a less-compatible fit with "Heroes" than either of "Chuck" or, especially, "Bionic Woman."
Who's in it: HBO and Showtime's finest: Damian Lewis from "Band of Brothers," Sarah Shahi from "The L Word" (and Tony Soprano's peyote trip), Robin "Calamity Jane" Weigert, Melissa Sagemiller from "Sleeper Cell" and Adam Arkin from, um, "Chicago Hope."
What it's about: After spending 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, a cop is exonerated and reinstated to the LAPD (along with a multi-million dollar settlement), where he applies the lessons of Zen he learned in the can.
Pluses: Lewis' American accent is at least as good as fellow Brit Hugh Laurie, and he makes a better "House, P.D." than whatserface on "Bones." Some nice interplay 'twixt Lewis and Arkin, playing his former cellie and current financial advisor. Always nice to see Robin Weigert cleaned up.
Minuses: Lewis' punchlines aren't as funny as Laurie's, and the pilot mystery isn't that involving. I'm not sold on Shahi as a tough cop. The writers need to find a more interesting way to illustrate their hero's newfound nature than his love of fruit. There's a massive conspiracy thread behind his incarceration, and I've been burned out on TV drama conspiracy theories for at least two years now.