Thursday, June 05, 2008

Pilot Watch '08: CBS

As I mentioned recently, CBS is thus far the only network to send out pilots, and they only sent out four of the six. ("Harper's Island" is being reshot from scratch; I'm not sure why I only got a cutdown of "Eleventh Hour.") Still, since I've seen these, might as well write up what I've got.

The same caveat as always applies: these are not reviews. These are just my initial impressions of pilots that can and likely will make significant changes between now and when the season starts. I've seen many pilots get much better between this time of year and September, and I've also seen pilots I love quickly take a turn for the worse.

Thoughts on "The Mentalist," "The Ex-List," "Project Gary" and "Worst Week" coming right up...

"The Mentalist"
Who's in it: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Owain Yeoman, Tim Kang and Amanda Righetti
What it's about: A former TV psychic/charlatan (Baker), following a personal tragedy, uses his real abilities -- acute powers of observation -- to help the California Bureau of Investigations solve crimes.
Pluses: I understand why CBS believes Baker is a star-in-waiting -- he's handsome, charismatic and has a knack for playing likable bastards -- and this seems a much more viable star vehicle for him than either "The Guardian" (which was unrelentingly grim, though I liked it) or "Smith" (which was dull and where he was third banana at best). Here he gets to smile, be a bit cheeky and abrasive (his character enjoys playing mind games with his CBI colleagues) and still save the day.
Minuses: The hero's gimmick is a complete rip-off of "Psych," though I suppose the premise here is "What if the guy from Psych came clean?" That, or "What if Psych was almost entirely without humor?" Though Baker smiles more in the pilot than he did during the entire run of "The Guardian," "The Mentalist" isn't exactly a light romp. Plus, it's yet another CBS crime procedural, even with the slight twist, and I don't know that I need another one of them in my life right now.

"The Ex-List"
Who's in it: Elizabeth Reaser, Rachel Boston, Alexandra Breckenridge, random guys I don't recognize, plus Gordon Clapp in a recurring role
What it's about: At her sister's bachelorette party, a woman (Reaser) is told by a psychic that she has to get married within the year or she'll be single forever -- and that she's already been romantically involved with the man she's destined to marry.
Pluses: Creator Diane Ruggiero (Rob Thomas' deputy on "Veronica Mars") gives great snappy dialogue. Reaser, being asked to carry a project after doing interesting supporting work elsewhere (notably as Ava on "Grey's Anatomy") is the total package: funny, likable, sexy. Dan Fienberg's favorite actor, Eric Balfour, is very funny as the first ex on the list. Though I'm not exactly the target demo, I could see myself watching this on a regular basis for more than just Taking One For The Team reasons.
Minuses: There are some minor character logic issues I have with the pilot story, and though Ruggiero insists she has brilliant plans in mind for seasons two, three, etc., I wonder if the premise is too limited.

"Project Gary"
Who's in it: Jay Mohr, Paula Marshall, Jaime King, a couple of kids
What it's about: Recent divorcee Gary (Mohr) tries to start a relationship with an attractive younger woman (King) while sharing custody of two kids with his controlling, intrusive ex-wife (Marshall)
Pluses: All three leads aren't without charm, and (in a role I'm not sure is regular or recurring) Larry Miller gets some good laughs out of his dialogue.
Minuses: It's a very traditional sitcom, laced with the kind of smuttiness that's become mandatory post-"Two and a Half Men." King's playing very much against the type (hot airhead) she played so well on "Kitchen Confidential," while Marshall may be playing too much to type as Mohr's shoe-squeezing ex.

"Worst Week"
Who's in it: Kyle Bornheimer, Erinn Hayes, Kurtwood Smith, Nancy Lenehan
What it's about: A nice guy (Bornheimer), through no fault of his own, repeatedly turns into a walking disaster area whenever he and his girlfriend (Hayes) are around her parents (Smith, Lenehan).
Pluses: A number of laugh-out-loud moments in the pilot. Smith, as anyone who watched "That '70s Show" knows, can do withering sarcasm in his sleep, just as Lenehan continues her recent streak of playing daffy-but-clever sitcom moms (see "My Name Is Earl," "My Boys," etc.). Bornheimer neatly straddles the line between ridiculous clown and relatable guy with horrible luck.
Minuses: As with "Ex-List," I wonder about sustainability. The chain of mishaps in the pilot is so intricate that I have a hard time seeing the creators reaching that level on a weekly basis. Also, is this a good fit on CBS? This is a network where "How I Met Your Mother," which at least straddles the new/old comedy divide, hasn't always had the easiest time getting traction; will the "Two and a Half Men" audience take to a show with no laughtrack that seems like it belongs on NBC or ABC?


Matt said...

Seems like CBS is pushing "Ex List" pretty hard already, though I don't see it working on CBS, with its old-skewing and male-centric programming, and tacking it between "Ghost Whisperer" and "Numbers" doesn't make much sense. It would seem to be a more sensible fit on ABC, maybe on the female-centric Wednesday or as counterprogramming on Monday at 10, when NBC/CBS both are going male-driven.

Annie Bulloch said...

Simon Baker is wearing way too much blush in that picture. So the show's just like Psych, only without the humor? I will make a point of ignoring it.

Anonymous said...

I hope the funny moments from Worst Week aren't what's in the trailer on CBS's website because from that the show doens't look even remotely funny.

Mac said...

Speaking of Kitchen Confidential, Erinn Hayes was pretty great in the unaired episodes of that as well. I've decided that show ranks very high on the list of Fox's cancellation crimes.

pgillan said...

I might actually be interested in Psyche without the humor. That show is fine when it just moves along from start to finish, and the two leads are personable, but I have to fast forward through that one guy doing his fake psychic shtick. I always thought that show could take a few notes from the last few seasons of Bosom Buddies. Everyone knew they were men, and they still dressed up when they came or went from their apartment, but it was no longer central to the plot every week.

Anonymous said...

I love Elizabeth Reaser and will check out Ex List for her alone. Girl crush!