In between my recent brushes with celebrity, I was pleased to see the arrival of the ABC pilots. I've watched four of them so far, and rather than wait until I've had time to view them all, I'm just going to hit those four: the much-anticipated "Pushing Daisies," plus the sitcoms "Carpoolers," "Cavemen" and "Sam I Am."
It's been a little bit since the last Pilot Watch, so I'll put the disclaimer in full: These are not reviews, just first impressions. I know that many things can and will change between now and September, from recasting to rewriting to complete overhaul. This is just how I responded to these pilots at first glance.
Who's in it: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Swoosie Kurtz and the voice of Jim Dale
What it's about: A pie-maker has the ability to bring living things back from the dead by touching them, but with several strings attached: if he touches them again, they die for good, and if he doesn't touch them again within 60 seconds of resurrecting them, someone else nearby will die in their place. While working alongside a private eye who's found a way to make money off the pie-maker's power, he resurrects his childhood sweetheart and has to face a lifetime of never touching her.
Pluses: I was never as enthralled with previous Bryan Fuller-produced series like "Wonderfalls" and "Dead Like Me" as a lot of my critical bretheren, but this one really clicked for me. Pace (the brother on "Wonderfalls" and the co-star of the underrated Showtime romantic tragedy "Soldier's Girl") has the right mix of quirk and reserve for the material, Friel makes the resurrected girlfriend's matter-of-factness seems sensible and appealing. The production design, the direction of Barry Sonnenfeld (the visually richest thing he's done since the Addams Family movies, if not since he was DP for the Coen brothers), and the narration of Dale (voice of the amazing Harry Potter audiobooks) all combine with Fuller's off-beat writing to create what's far and away my favorite pilot of the season.
Minuses: If you thought Fuller's previous shows were a bit too twee, this won't change your mind. Both visually and tonally, it's going to be damn difficult to replicate the feel of the pilot on a weekly basis.
Who's in it: Fred Goss, Jerry O'Connell, Faith Ford, Jerry Minor, T.J. Miller and Tim Peper
What it's about: Four guys of varying backgrounds commute together to their jobs at a nearby office park.
Pluses: I quite like Minor (the one on the left in the photo) as the repressed nerd who usually winds up driving the carpool, as well as Miller, who plays the man-child son of Goss and Ford's characters and spends the entire pilot wandering around in a ratty bathrobe and tighty-whities.
Minuses: I've never been in a carpool myself (I hate the environment too much for that), but these guys seem to talk about their feelings an awful lot more than I ever do with my best male friends, let alone three quasi-strangers with whom I share nothing but geographic proximity.
Who's in it:Bill English, Nick Kroll, Dash Mihok, Kaitlin Doubleday and John Heard
What it's about: Spin-off of the Geico commercials, about three twentysomething cavemen struggling with prejudice in 21st century Atlanta.
Pluses: Mihok (who you might remember from "Felicity," or the Leo/Claire "Romeo and Juliet"), as the requisite dim-bulb, shows some physical comedy chops, particularly in a dance number at a cowboy-themed country club party. In the right hands, this could be that interesting satire of race relations that Steve McPherson was bragging about at the upfront. After expecting to cringe throughout the entire 21 minutes, I never really did.
Minuses: Didn't laugh much, either. The 21 minutes just kinda came and went with almost no reaction from me, good or bad.
"Sam I Am"
Who's in it: Christina Applegate, Jean Smart, Kevin Dunn, Melissa McCarthy, Barry Watson, Jennifer Esposito, Tim Russ
What it's about: A woman wakes up from an eight-day coma with no memory of who she is, and gradually discovers that she was a very nasty person pre-coma.
Pluses: As she showed in "Anchorman," Applegate has grown up to be a really polished, likable comedienne. The "Regarding Henry"-style plot ("Regarding Henrietta?") has potential, and there's a very funny moment where it's realized, when Sam -- having just discovered she's a recovering alcoholic -- attends an AA meeting and can't decide what to sample from the coffee/pastry table.
Minuses: With the exception of Watson (as Sam's boyfriend) and Russ (as her doorman), the supporting characters feel way too broad. As with "Cavemen," I largely sat through the pilot, not responding to any of it.