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).
"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.