Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pilot Watch: ABC, Part 1

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.

"Pushing Daisies"
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.


David J. Loehr said...

I've been looking forward to Pushing Daisies because I did like Wonderfalls, but I hope it sustains its premise better. As enjoyable as I found the concept of Wonderfalls, it seemed like the episodes got darker as it went on and lost some of the fun of the earliest stories. (I wonder if that odd turn is why Fox really yanked it so fast; those shows didn't turn up until the DVD set.)

The main reason I enjoyed it at all--and part of why I look forward to this--is because Fuller seems to have tapped into the same vein as Thorne Smith, who's all but forgotten now but wrote the original novels that the Topper films and series were based on, as well as Turnabout, the original body-switching comedy, and other supernaturally-tinged farces. A lot of writers have tried, but Fuller's one of the few who gets the balance right for the most part.

BTW, great job on the 15 Minutes, even with Olbermann goofing off. And in a week of wall-to-wall Sepinwall, imagine my surprise to be catching up on issues of Astro City only to come across your letter. Very cool. (And a good question, too.)

Krystle said...

"Carpoolers" Sounds a lot like this Australian show from the 90's that was just great (for the life of me I can't remember the name of it or any of the cast members names though), in that show they were on a train though. If it is at all like the show I am thinking about then this show will be must see TV.

P.S. I really love this blog, it gives a good idea of what to look out for as I don't get to see any of the adverts here in Aus. So Thanks.

Anonymous said...

On paper, Sam I Am sounds a lot like My Name Is Earl -- a medical emergency causes a bad person to reassess his/her life and become a good person, blah blah. In fact, the lack of true originality (with a few exceptions) is what bothers me most about ABC's pilots. We have several themes and variations on Sex and the City-ish "four friends lead melodramatic lives", and the overall vibe feels like ABC's building an entire schedule around a Grey's audience. I'm sure that this is an oversimplification, but at least Pushing Daisies sounds truly original.

For that matter, the fall schedule has each network appearing to brand itself according to genre: ABC=Grey's, NBC=Heroes, CBS=CSI. And Fox? Who knows? I'm not sure they do.

Anonymous said...

Fox = "American Idol comes back in January!"

dark tyler said...

The upside of every. single. show. on TV. coming back midseason is that it'll be easy to sample almost all of the new shows.

Except the ABC ones (excluding "Daisies," of course) because you know, I really have a high tolerance is soaps, but enough is enough.

Matt said...

Two questions:

1. It's been all-but-confirmed that Adam Brody turned down the Lee Pace part in Pushing Daisies. Would the show have worked with him and would its prospects for longevity be better?
2. The presence of recent Tony winner Julie White could make Cavemen tolerable. What's her part?

Anonymous said...

Am I crazy, or is ABC taking a risky approach with Cavemen? The commercials just dealt with cavemen being perceived as primative. In the show, they very clearly substitute cavemen as African Americans. While this broadens the concept a bit, I felt it got a little offensive at times, ie the "'magger" jokes scene. Also, it seems to be taking a look at the racism of twenty years ago rather than today. I'm not sure how relevent that is.

I truly hope Pushing Daisies makes it. I originally wrote it off as being far too quirky, but that central tragic romance is so compelling, I could see that attracting a broader audience. I've watched it four times now while showing it to different people, and it just gets better with each viewing.

Anonymous said...

I had the exact opposite reaction to Goss's man child son on Carpoolers. He ruined the show for me. Every time he came on the screen I wanted to run away, hit mute, or claw out my eyeballs, I just couldn't decide what to do first. I also hated Napoleon Dynamite, and he reminded me of Jon Heder, so this might have something to do with my apprehension towards the character.

I really enjoyed Sam I Am. I found myself laughing out loud and I responded to Sam's character immediately. I think this is one ABC comedy that can actually work, but I'm concerned about the scheduling. Isn't it sandwiched between two reality shows on a Monday? That seems strange.

Anonymous said...

how does "Carpoolers" compare with "The Office"? Any similarities?
Also, I don't know if anybody is still reading the Sopranos threads, so I'll say this: I think the ending is meant as an out for people who don't want to believe Tony is dead, but he is. I'll have to re-watch it for clues, but I had an epiphany about the song, "Don't Stop Believin'". The song, in this context, is about denial. Tony's denial and ours about him being a regular family guy, about there being any seperation there. Also, the fans who love Tony can remain in denial that he was whacked, but indeed, he was.
As an aside, my next-door neighbor when I was a kid had been shot point-blank in the head and survived, minus an eye, and his senses of smell and taste. He said it's true, he never heard the shot or even felt it.