Monday, May 21, 2007

Pilot Watch 2007: NBC

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...

"Bionic Woman"
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.

"Chuck"
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?

"Journeyman"
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."

"Life"
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.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

The resemblance of the Chuck actors to The O.C. actors is really uncanncy.

Supposedly Adam Brody turned down a pretty high profile pilot this year. I wonder if this was it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Even moreso on video than in that photo. Strzechowski (thank the lord for cut-and-paste) looks kinda like Wilde in the picture, but during the actual pilot, I had to keep checking NBC's press site to confirm that it wasn't Wilde.

cms said...

so that's Adam Brody, not Baldwin?? (The first line says Adam Baldwin.) I thought maybe there was another Baldwin brother I was unaware of.

Alan Sepinwall said...

No, that's Adam Baldwin (no relation to Alec or the others) on the right. Zachary Levi is just a dead ringer for Adam Brody from "The O.C."

EzekielRawlins said...

I'm very much looking forward to Bionic Woman.

cg said...

Alan-Katee Sackhoff in a pilot? I don't like the sound of that. She has to come back to BSG.

Anonymous said...

Too bad they never picked up the "Zero Effect" pilot.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Katee Sackhoff in a pilot? I don't like the sound of that. She has to come back to BSG.

And she will. It's easy to work such things out when both shows share an executive producer.

David J. Loehr said...

A San Francisco newspaper reporter begins traveling back in time for reasons unknown to help improve the lives of strangers.

How long before we can break out the "Quantum Goodman" jokes?

Anonymous said...

So interesting that all of them have that fantasy/sci-fi element as their main hook. As a fan of that genre myself, I'm loving it, but... it seems more than a bit short-sighted, doesn't it? I'm sure most people who are not me are just fine with only one or two superhero dramas on their schedule.

-ella v.

Bret LaGree said...

"Bionic Woman"
Who's in it: Michelle Ryan, Ann from "Arrested Development" (aka Mae Whitman)


Who?

Dark Tyler said...

Her?

Alan Sepinwall said...

You've both met her several times.

And I meant to write "Egg."

Anonymous said...

Since we're talking about NBC, did anyone see Zach Braff's monologue on SNL this week?

Genius: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms-vW-2vZN0

Brian said...

Someone at the goldderby.com forums said ABC's pilots blew those of NBC away. ABC's pilots sound good, because well done shows about rich white people and their problems are alwayd entertaining, but NBC's shows sound pretty interesting, too. It just seems like the network needs to try something that nobody is doing, like a show about politics, instead of relying on the sci-style programs. Perhaps the network is suffering from being in the dumps in that nobody wants to do business with it. Either way, it shouldn't fall into a trap of trying to repeat success, something ABC is doing with "DH"-style programs, or CBS has done with crime procedurals.

Alan Sepinwall said...

So interesting that all of them have that fantasy/sci-fi element as their main hook.

"Life" has absolutely zero sci-fi content, unless you consider the ability to do a flawless American accent some kind of superpower. (In which case, "House" is also skiffy.)

Anonymous said...

Well then CSI's Louis Lombard is Lex Luthor. Because her American accent is AWFUL.

BF said...

It just seems like the network needs to try something that nobody is doing, like a show about politics

West Wing II: Electric Boogaloo? No thank you. Nor Commander in Chief: Die Harder

And with the new campaign season now underway, I've got a hunch that people are going to be sick of politics, real and imagined.

Alanna said...

Overall, the show seems a less-compatible fit with "Heroes" than either of "Chuck" or, especially, "Bionic Woman."

I've heard that NBC is confident enough in Bionic to let it essentially anchor Wednesday nights, and that they plan to promote the heck out of it. However, it does seem like a natural (genre) fit with Heroes. I have a feeling that if the Journeyman ratings don't hold up post-Heroes, they might move it to Mondays at 10pm in November or January. Fortunately for all these shows, NBC proved last season that they're willing to be patient with a show as it builds an audience.

And, since Trainspotting is one of my all-time favorite movies, I'm quite amused that both Kevin McKidd and Jonny Lee Miller are heading new series this season. Now all we have to do is lure Kelly McDonald and Robert Carlyle across the pond....

Filipe said...

"Life" has absolutely zero sci-fi content, unless you consider the ability to do a flawless American accent some kind of superpower. (In which case, "House" is also skiffy.)

Life sounds like a USA show. Actually, what mostly impress me by te trailers to these shows is how much they all look like stuff one expects in cable. They all feel very much like niche shows.

Gish said...

I'm surprised you are so high on Bionic Woman. I loved Sackhoff but I found Michelle Ryan way too mopey. I guess she has turned a corner by the end, but her initial reaction to her situation is far too negative. Really enjoyed Pushing Daisies and Reaper so far, and I am not even a Kevin Smith fan. Caveman sits on my desk, yet I am too afraid to pop it in. Can't decide which would be worse, if it is a complete disaster or if I end up liking it.

Gish said...

I haven't watched Life yet either. I can't figure out what sets it apart from the amazing show Gabriel's Fire. Is it signifigantly different?

Donlee said...

From what I've seen, I don't think Zachary Levi is so much a dead ringer for Adam Brody, so much as that the creatives cast the person who looked the most like Brody and then gave him the note to do EVERYTHING more like Brody.

anon said...

Alan,

As a professional TV critic, at what point did all pilots start reminding you of other shows? I'm not saying that the comparisons are apt, in fact I'm sure they aren't, but Bionic Woman (original) for the remake, Heat Vision and Jack for Chuck (or Jake 2.0 if Chuck actually had powers), and Quantum Leap for Journeyman all jumped to mind immediately. And Gish makes a good call on Gabriel's Fire -- while Pushing Daisies sounds like Bryan Fuller's other two recent shows (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me) and Reaper sounds like Brimstone, but maybe funnier...Although who makes the funnier Satan: Ray Wise or John Glover? Tough call.

I'm just wondering when this type of free association gets in the way of watching a pilot for the first time on its own terms, particularly if you were fond of the older show.

Anon

bravogolfhotel said...

Enjoyed the sneak preview, Alan. NBC seemed to have an interesting crop of pliots this year, at least on paper; do you know what was perceived to be wrong with the pilots that didn't go, like Winters, MONY, or Fort Pit?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Fienberg offers his own take on the NBC pilots over at Check the Fien Print.

solon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
solon said...

I think it sucks that they chose a hearing actress to play the Deaf sister. there are many talented Deaf actresses to choose from. Instead of portraying something that is supportive of the Deaf community, how about actually supporting the community? Also, if they choose to later "fix" the Deaf girl, that will be offensive as well. Deaf people don't view themselves as needing to be fixed, just different communication needs. You would be the one with a disability if you walked into a Deaf community. -Jeffrey Solon Kern

Anonymous said...

Not sure if anyone will see this, considering the original posting is so old, but maybe Alan gets emails when there's a reply?

1 thing I thought about NBC Monday SciFi night is that they've tried this, albeit on Saturday, with the Pretender, Profiler, and program X (the one that never lasted).

Considering that this is *not* Saturday night, and Heroes is a huge hit, I may dump my "NBC always screws me with Scifi" attitude and give Chuck and Journeyman a chance. This will be novel for me, as I had to have my arm twisted to watch The Pretender after what happened with Quantum Leap (and that was retroactive, as I wasn't really into QL till the year after it was cancelled) - I didn't start watching tP till the following January, by which time I'd missed about 4 reruns.

I think I felt slightly less screwed when Jake tanked, and here's why:

He didn't really have a goal (get back home) or a mystery (who am I?) to either attain to or solve, so his not getting there/finding out didn't bother me so much. I missed it when it was gone, but I didn't feel I'd invested lots of time unraveling, hoping, whatever, for something I'd never find out.

These days I have a bad case of Reunion Syndrome and
both Daybreak and The Nine went direct to DVR and were not watched till the network dumped them, at which time they were *still* not watched, simply deleted. And I think that's what a lot of people are starting to do with these types of shows. It's at least been mentioned on my Grey's list.

Heroes I just didn't have time for. So I will continue to avoid it in the fall.