Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pilot Watch 2007 revisited: The best and the rest

Okay, I have a minute to breathe here, and we already have new shows debuting ("Nashville" last week, "K-Ville" last night), so it's time to do a reprise my Pilot Watch by looking at the final versions of these shows (when available) and also whether my opinion's been altered by additional episodes (ibid). When I did this last year, I used a Top 10 format where I actually had difficulty narrowing the list to 10; this year, I'd be hard-pressed to name a Top 5. Top 3, sure, but after those, there's a lot of shows that could go either way, or could simply stay mediocre.

After the jump, I'm putting the fall shows (save the aforementioned Fox 'ville shows) into three categories: Top 3, the rest of the shows I've seen final versions of, and the ones where I'm still waiting on a final pilot (or, in some cases, a pilot of any kind).

Top 3

"Reaper" (CW, Sept. 25)
Premise:
Underachieving big box store employee discovers he has powers he doesn't want and has to go work for the Devil because his parents sold his soul before he was born.
What I've seen: Revised pilot, with Missy Peregrym replacing Nikki Reed and no other noticeable changes.
Why I like it: Easily the most polished, assured and just plain fun pilot of the season. Bret Harrison from "The Loop" is well cast as another human punching bag and Ray Wise is perfection as an incredibly charming Ol' Scratch. If it's not the next "Buffy," that's only because the creators are interested in doing their own thing.
Why I'm worried: Only seen one episode, and while the pilot seems to lend itself well to an ongoing series, there's no guarantee ensuing shows will be as good as this one. Who knows how valuable director Kevin Smith was to what made it work?

"Chuck" (NBC, Sept. 24)
Premise:
Underachieving big box store employee discovers he has powers he doesn't want and has to go work for the U.S. government because his former college roommate downloaded a computer full of intelligence files into his brain.
What I've seen: The final pilot plus two more episodes.
Why I like it: Zachary Levi's likable and funny as Chuck, Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski kick ass in entertaining ways as his two government handlers (Strahovski usually doing so in the sort of outfits Jennifer Garner used to wear on "Alias"), and it deftly blends comedy, action and even a bit of light relationship drama. Of the three episodes I've seen, the third one is the best, which is a good sign for the future.
Why I'm worried: Not too worried now that I've seen all three, but it does take two whole episodes to get all the premise set-up out of the way before Chuck can go on an honest-to-goodness mission that reflects what the show will look like going forward, where "Reaper" hits the ground running and seems on-format from the pilot on. But the only thing that really puts "Reaper" a notch higher is Ray Wise as Satan, the kind of scenery-chewing character "Chuck" doesn't have. (I'm not saying the show needs one long-term, but Wise is one hell of a hook in the early going.)

"Pushing Daisies" (ABC, Oct. 3)
Premise:
A piemaker has the power to bring dead people back to life -- with several caveats -- and finds his life complicated by a private eye and the resurrection of his childhood sweetheart.
What I've seen: The final pilot, which seemed identical to the one I reviewed in early summer. Why I like it: A fresh concept, gorgeous visual style and confident storytelling approach, highlighted by Jim Dale (voice of the great Harry Potter audiobooks) as the narrator. The tagline "a forensic fairytale" seems about right. Good cast, too; Lee Pace and Anna Friel have really nice chemistry as the couple who can never touch, Chi McBride adds some essential cynicism as the private eye, and Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene just get to be weird, which they're good at.
Why I'm worried: The twee-ness didn't bother me in the pilot, but this one feels like it could get very precious, very quickly. There's a procedural element to provide stories week to week (Pace uses his gifts to solve murders and collect rewards), but I don't know that this one's built for the long haul. Plus, it's a Bryan Fuller show in a lousy timeslot, so it's no doubt doomed.

Some others I've seen (in chronological order)

"Back to You" (Fox, tomorrow)
I'll be linking to my review of this come morning.

"Gossip Girl" (CW, tomorrow)
Premise: Adaptation of the popular young adult novels about rich Manhattan teens.
What I've seen: Final pilot, which seemed identical to the original.
In a nutshell: I prefer the "Chuck" side of Josh Schwartz to this. Not to say it isn't well-done, but it's much more youth-targeted than "The O.C." was. I'll give it some rope, but without more adult appeal (which I understand is besides the point here), I'm going to feel like a perv in a hurry.

"Kitchen Nightmares" (Fox, tomorrow)
Premise: Adaptation of Gordon Ramsay's other UK series, where he has a week to revive failing restaurants by any means necessary.
What I've seen: Two episodes
In a nutshell: I like Ramsay here a lot more than on "Hell's Kitchen," where every situation is contrived to give him an excuse to act like a d-bag to the contestants, but this one's inessential to my life, especially given the timeslot competition.

"Big Bang Theory" (CBS, Sept. 24)
Premise: Two CalTech nerds with minimal social skills befriend the blonde bimbo from across the hall.
What I've seen: Final pilot, with some mild revisions (a new joke here and there)
In a nutshell: I like Jim Parsons as one of the two geeks, but it's a more extreme version of my issues with "Back To You": some funny, professional moments here and there and a whole lot of stereotypes and predictable hackery the rest of the time.

"Journeyman" (NBC, Sept. 24)
Premise: San Francisco reporter begins traveling back in time, where he has to do good deeds while running into his presumed dead ex-fiancee.
What I've seen: Final pilot, plus a second episode.
In a nutshell: Kind of agressively meh. (How's that for incisive criticism?) Other shows have done more interesting things with this material, but it's competently put together, and it's not like I'm going to be watching "CSI: Miami" or "The Bachelor," so I'll give it time. Your opinion of it will probably depend on how much affection you have for Kevin McKidd from his stint on "Rome," a show I could take or leave.

"Cane" (CBS, Sept. 25)
Premise: A Cubano "Godfather," as a Miami family with a sugar and rum empire deals with crises within and without.
What I've seen: Final pilot, pretty much the same as I saw in early summer.
In a nutshell: I want it to be better, both because I like Jimmy Smits and because I always root for diversity on television, but this is a really watered-down, made-for-TV "Godfather." Smits, Hector Elizondo and Nestor Carbonell have some interesting things to do, but the characters beyond them range from underwritten to completely dull. Not a bad show, but also not one that seems to have a lot of room to grow from its current mediocrity.

"Private Practice" (ABC, Sept. 26)
Premise: The "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off we first met last May.
What I've seen: The same backdoor pilot we all saw in May, plus the first real episode.
In a nutshell: It's like Good Shonda and Bad Shonda are constantly at war with each other, and for the most part, Bad Shonda is winning. Very David E. Kelley-esque, and not in a good way. The characters behave indistinguishably from the "Grey's" interns, even though they're about 10 years older and supposed to be more mature. Kate Walsh is still tremendously likable and there are some glimpses of Good Shonda here and there, but the backdoor pilot was a pretty good quality barometer.

"Bionic Woman" (NBC, Sept. 26)
Premise: Remake of the '70s action show.
What I've seen: Slightly revised pilot, with the only real changes involving the new, non-deaf sister.
In a nutshell: There's some good stuff in it (the opening sequence and anything else with Katee Sackhoff), but I'm underwhelmed by Michelle Ryan and underwhelmed by the action sequences, which tend to get worse, not better, after a pilot. Also not feeling any of the supporting characters yet, with the possible exception of Will Yun Lee as the fight trainer. Good production team in place (even with the exit of Glenn Morgan), so I'm not abandoning hope just yet, but I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did.

"Life" (NBC, Sept. 26)
Premise: Cop gets out of prison after 12 years for a crime he didn't commit, returns to the force, loves fruit.
What I've seen: Final pilot plus second episode.
In a nutshell: Mediocre imitation "House," and while Damian Lewis' American accent is flawless, his character is annoyingly quirky (I'm bored with both the Zen koans and the constant fruit snacking already) and the police cases are as dull as on every other new cop show these days. I loved Lewis in "Band of Brothers," so this gets one or two more chances, but I'm not feeling it at all.

"Big Shots" (ABC, Sept. 27)
Premise: Four rich white tools hang around with each other to discuss how hard it is to be a rich white tool.
What I've seen: A pilot that I've been told by ABC is now acceptable for review, though it won't be identical to what airs on the 27th (they're still tweaking at this late date).
In a nutshell: The premise description about covers it. Rarely have I hated every single character in a pilot as I much as I hate these guys, and I have some level of personal and professional affection for Titus and Joshua Malina and no real opinion one way or the other on McDermott and Michael Vartan, so it's not like I went into this pre-disposed to hate the show. Rob Thomas has been brought in as a consulting producer, but even if he has a lot of power (which isn't clear from that title), this show needs a miracle worker. By far the worst pilot I saw this year -- yes, even worse than "Cavemen."

"Aliens in America" (CW, Oct. 1)
Premise: Wisconsin high school geek's parents import a foreign exchange student to guarantee him a friend and are horrified when the new kid is a Pakistani Muslim.
What I've seen: Revised pilot (with Scott Patterson as the dad) plus second episode.
In a nutshell: Reminiscent of "Malcolm in the Middle," "Everybody Hates Chris" and even, faintly, "Freaks and Geeks," though comedically it trends more towards the "Everybody Hates Chris" "smile, nod and say, 'That was funny'" reaction than the huge laughs of the other two. Also, Patterson was a bad fit as the dad, especially since they didn't bother to reconceive him after they dumped Patrick Breen. So essentially you have a guy built like an ex-ballplayer trying to seem like a nerd by making his voice really high and thin.

Stuff I have yet to see final versions of (if that)

"Kid Nation" (CBS, tomorrow)
They're not sending this out for anyone to review.

"Dirty Sexy Money" (ABC, Sept. 26)
The original pilot spent so much time introducing all the characters that I'm not sure if I liked it. We'll see.

"Moonlight" (CBS, Sept. 28)
I have yet to see a pilot, period, for this thing. For all I know, they're going to fire everybody again -- except Alex O'Laughlin, as usual -- in a few days and start from scratch.

"Cavemen" (ABC, Oct. 2)
They're sort of starting over from scratch, so I'll reserve judgment, but if I was going to pick a commercial to make into a series, "I'm a Mac. And I'm a PC." would be much higher on my list.

"Carpoolers" (ABC, Oct. 2)
Some potential there, but not realized in the original pilot. Really want to see a second episode of it.

"Life Is Wild" (CW, Oct. 7)
They recast both the parents (which I don't understand, since Brett Cullen and D.W. Moffatt are basically the same guy, anyway), so we'll see. But remember what I said about the minimal adult appeal of "Gossip Girl"? That show is "Diagnosis Murder" compared to "Life Is Wild."

"Women's Murder Club" (ABC, Oct. 12)
I don't know that I'd ever watch it again, but the original pilot seemed like a competent start to a slightly different police procedural.

"Samantha Who?" (ABC, Oct. 15)
Maybe it'll have a different title by then. Like Christina Applegate, think the writing (particularly for the supporting cast) needs work.

I think that's everything, but if I left something out, let me know and I'll add it in.

24 comments:

Toby said...

Glad we had the same opinion on 'Big Shots'. I saw it at the Paley Center a few weeks back and thought it was the biggest waste of talent I'd seen in a long time. And now they're bringing in Paul Blackburne - I just wish he still had 'The Dresden Files' so he didn't need to join this drek.

I got the feeling in that preview screening that most of the audience didn't like it either.

Nicole said...

Re: Moonlight - does this mean that Jason Dohring is gone? I would have thought that he would bring the fan girl element to this show.

Anyway, I hear the the cast of Forever Knight is free

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to WOMEN'S MURDER CLUB. I've always liked Angie Harmon on screen and it seems like a nice Friday night show. It works, I think, with MEN IN TRESS, less sure about 20/20 as a lead-in. Still will be watching and rooting for FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS as well. I saw BIG SHOTS and just hated the idea of Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda as men.

David J. Loehr said...

Not sure why this came to mind, but agressively meh would scan in place of "Comfortably Numb."

Anonymous said...

Boy am I glad they replaced Nikki Reed. I know some stories about what happened to her in features.

ooda said...

Is the talking elevator still in Private Practice?

jcpbmg said...

i saw the journeyman pilot the other day (thanks tivo/amazon) and it's definitely a show worth sticking with. i guess i'm willing to put a decent amount of faith in the kevin falls/alex graves combo (what can i say, i really do miss tww). the only thing i'm worried about is that it has the potential to get rather repetitive after a couple episodes following the goes back in time/changes a life/comes home/does it all again cycle.

and thank god shonda got rid of the talking elevator is private practice

Alan Sepinwall said...

Re: Moonlight - does this mean that Jason Dohring is gone?

No. All I meant was that the only reason I can imagine for the delay of the pilot screener -- other than the probability that it sucks -- is that they've started over again. As far as I know, the Moonlight 2.0 cast is all still in place.

Is the talking elevator still in Private Practice?

Not yet, anyway, which is one of the few positive signs.

jcpbmg said...

i know this is a little off topic (and i'm sorry) but a friend and i were having an argument about screeners for mid-season shows and i'm hoping you can help settle it.

have you received screeners yet for mid season shows (specifically jezebel james and eli stone, since those were the shows we were arguing about) and even if networks are doing re-tooling (like with jezebel) are they still likely to send out a screener just as a way of reminding you that the show is on the way in a few months.

thanks

Alan Sepinwall said...

In some cases, I got rough cut, not-for-review screeners back before press tour, but final versions won't be showing up until much closer to when those shows air.

Gapers said...

I loved Rome, and especially Kevin McKidd. I am really hoping this show is great. As for Bionic Woman, the original really holds a special place in my heart. Not being born in the USA, this was the first American show I remember watching. Lindsey Wagner is a Goddess to me. This show has extremely big shoes to fill and needs to be really really great. I hope I won't be disappointed, but...

Matt said...

Having watched the "Gossip Girl" pilot for free on iTunes, you're right on, especially if they don't make Sam Robards a regular right quick. The show lacks any sense of meta/irony/self-awareness, which really hurts.

But the music choice (the party scene with Timberlake in the background), the location usage, and Kristen Bell's perfectly saucy voiceover will get me to watch a couple more.

jim treacher said...

You wrote that Pusing Daisies is "previous" instead of "precious." Also, you called Gordon Ramsay a "d-bag" instead of a [10-WORD STRING OF EXPLETIVES DELETED].

jim treacher said...

And I wrote "Pusing" instead of "I'm an idiot."

Alan Sepinwall said...

Thanks for the previous/precious catch, Jim. Already fixed.

Eric said...

I really wanted to like "Bionic Woman" more than I did. It somehow feels like it's been done before (and of course it has, but...) I guess I was hoping for a BSG or Doctor Who-level revision, and that's not quite what I see. It just feels pieced together from parts of other, better shows, and being on NBC, I don't expect to see the kind of radical plot moves that might change my mind. Although I do wonder if by next season the star of the show will be Katie Sackhoff, not Michelle Ryan.

I really enjoyed the Pushing Daisies pilot, but I do have a feeling that like a rhubarb pie, a few bites are going to be enough. I also expect it to get canceled somewhere around the 5th episode.

marc b. said...

Thanks for the scoop on the new shows. I just re-read "Pilot Watch 2006" ( http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/2006/09/new-season-best-of-best.html ). I liked reading your reasons for worry about "Kidnapped" and "The Nine." Your critic's eye is right on!

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Either my browser is broken or... stuff has been deleted?
There's a big empty space after why you are worried on your third review (Pushing Daisies, I think) and then there are people commenting on things that they say you said... which I don't see.

Am I losing my mind?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Am I losing my mind?

No. For some reason (mainly bad HTML coding on my part), the remaining text got reduced to a teeny-tiny font. It all should be legible again now.

Anonymous said...

and there it is!
off to read the rest.
thanks :)

-Pam

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm told by ABC that the original "Big Shots" pilot is now acceptable for review. So in case you missed the revised post above, here's what I wrote:

"Big Shots" (ABC, Sept. 27)
Premise:
Four rich white tools hang around with each other to discuss how hard it is to be a rich white tool.
What I've seen: A pilot that I've been told by ABC is now acceptable for review, though it won't be identical to what airs on the 27th (they're still tweaking at this late date).
In a nutshell: The premise description about covers it. Rarely have I hated every single character in a pilot as I much as I hate these guys, and I have some level of personal and professional affection for Titus and Joshua Malina and no real opinion one way or the other on McDermott and Michael Vartan, so it's not like I went into this pre-disposed to hate the show. Rob Thomas has been brought in as a consulting producer, but even if he has a lot of power (which isn't clear from that title), this show needs a miracle worker. By far the worst pilot I saw this year -- yes, even worse than "Cavemen."

Pandyora said...

"Four rich white tools hang around with each other to discuss how hard it is to be a rich white tool."

You sure you weren't just rewatching the season four screener for Entourage?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Turtle and E are paragons of charm, talent and grace compared to the Big Shots. It's a really heinous show.

Rick said...

Slate ran a piece a week or so back about how Barry Sonnenfeld went wayyyyyy over-budget on the Pushing Daisies pilot. Given the show's look, I wonder if it'll have to be a major hit to make it worth ABC shelling out the cash to keep it on the air.