Shoot the Pilot

In what is sure to become a new tradition, each summer TV companies release screeners of the pilot episodes of their new TV shows, and each summer these get leaked onto the internet. Subversion of the usual rules of copyright, or wanton attempt at free viral marketing by the networks? Um, probably the former, but let's pretend it's the latter.

I've watched about half a dozen of what looked to me to be the most promising of these, and for want of something better to write about, here's what I think:

  • The Unit -- the prospect is intriguing: a top-secret black-ops army unit, out there fighting terrorists and other enemies of the united states. Intercut with scenes of their nervous wives back on the base. Created by David Mamet. Um, right. Bascially, President Palmer from 24 has retired from politics and is the leader of this dodgy unit; a new recruit joins The Unit, and his young wife (Fred from Angel who has retired from vampire hunting and is now a ditzy mom-to-be). Fine, but it didn't quite grab me. The opening action sequence in Afghanistan just rather unfortunately reminds me too much of Team America: World Police, when the ignorant westerners attempt to infiltrate a terrorist cell, and end up blowing stuff up. The closing action sequence involves the take down of a hijacked aeroplane. On the ground. What basically happens is they open the door, then President Palmer runs in and shoots the terrorists. Not particularly thrilling. Still, a slightly more hands on approach to emergency management than Clinton or Bush Snr.
  • Just Legal -- another interesting idea (actually, all of these ones are, I suppose). A Jerry Bruckheimer produced series about an impossibly young lawyer (18), with a title that implies you might have accidentally tuned in to a channel that you need to pay a very large monthly fee for to have listed on your bill as "additional programming". You can just hear the concept being pitched: "Doogie Howser but with a lawyer". There's only one problem: it doesn't work. The kid is too old to have the cuteness of Neil Patrick Harris playing a sixteen year old. And because he's qualified as a lawyer, he's a dork. Not only that, he's not any good. For this show to work, it needs to have moments of genius when the kid solves the crime, or at least comes up with the spectacular defence to get the client off. Instead he just stumbles through. Even Don Johnson as the grizzled alcoholic disillusioned trial lawyer who hasn't stood up in court for over a decade... can't save this. It's a Bruckheimer, so there's some action. The kid has to interview a hood for the crucial alibi for his client. The kid asks a harsh question. The hood takes offence, and swings a punch. Don Johnson hits him back, and they run off. Um, yeah.
  • Everybody hates Chris -- genius title, this is a Chris Rock vehicle that, in a moment of even greater genius, doesn't actually feature Chris Rock. It's rather like one of those kids cartoons made from a film that features none of the original actors from the film doing the voices. In this case, the solution is to have a kid playing the young chris rock going to school in brooklyn. So Chris appears in this pilot episode only in voice over. The plot is great: Chris has to go to school, has a fight with a bully, then runs home and looks after his siblings until his mom get home. No, really. It's moderately amusing in places, but it's hard to see that this can string it out for more than a series or two before running out of ideas. But then I thought that about Malcolm in the middle, and that seems to be doing all right for itself, about to go into its seventh season.
  • Reunion -- this was supposed to be the big one. High concept in the extreme. 24? Screw that. Instead of each episode being one hour in the same day, each episode covers one year in the life of six friends: three guys and three girls [hmm, sounds familiar]. It starts off in 1986, and follows forward to the present day (2006, I guess) where a terrible murder has been committed, the secret of which will only be revealed over the course of the series. Here's the problem: I switched it off after fifteen minutes, maybe I was in the wrong mood. But, I hated the characters. Even thought I couldn't tell them apart. They're all rich, preppy kids. One of them thinks she is pregnant, but by one of the guys who is not her boyfriend. One of them gives a speech to celebrate their graduation of high school. He then drives off drunk in his dad's porsche, gets hit by a trucker, gets his passenger to take the blame, discovers that the trucker died, and... I screamed out "I just don't care about your idiotic behavior. I don't care if you all get murdered by the reincarnated vicious spirit of the truck driver".
  • Threshold -- aliens arrive on earth, popping in and out of the fifth dimension, appearing as mysterious fractal hypergeometric shapes and bizarre piercing noises that drive people crazy. We must conclude that they are ravers from 1992. Perhaps they are justified and ancient. A "contingency planner" is called up to investigate, and puts together a rag-tag team of scientific misfits, including Brent Spiner (Data) doing his best impression of Christopher Lloyd in BTTF, and a four foot tall linguist. It's fairly cliched stuff, with all the jump cuts, bizarre dreams of alien landscapes, and people posessed by the spirit of the aliens who just won't die. Still, given the elusive promise that by the end of the first season, the world will be taken over by aeliens, and the next phase of the plan will have to kick into effect, might just be enough to keep me watching. I think I'd still have preferred the original 1986 "Misfits of Science" version of events, though. They really did drive an ice-cream van.
  • Global Frequency -- this one reads rather like an amalgam of the all the others put together. A secret cabal of 1000 people spread around the world protect us all from mysterious supernatural attacks, commanded by the mysterious Miranda Zero. In the first episode, a guy gets recruited into the group after stumbling on the corpse of one of the members of the 'frequency'. Demonstrating his perspicacity, he saves the world, thus earning him the right to become a member. It's a little bit stilly and overdone, but it doesn't really matter since the pilot was never picked up, and hence there will be no series. Worth checking out the pilot though, it's sufficiently diverting, just like the equally never to be seen "Heat Vision and Jack" pilot.

So, what have we learnt from all this? Or, to put it another, from these pilots, which will I go on to see? This time last year, I was sufficiently intrigued by Veronica Mars and Eyes to seek them out. Veronica Mars turned out to be the best TV show ever made by the Americans (it's no Press Gang, to be sure, but it's not bad); Eyes turned out to be moderately diverting, not quite living up to the densely packed promise of the pilot, and died an ignominious death after being yanked by its network mid-season. This year, I'm not really inspired by any of these. I might look out for Threshold and The Unit to see if they can improve on their so-so performance in the pilot. I will be avoiding Reunion like the plague, though doubtless it will become the breakthrough smash hit of the season. Fortunately, the sustaining concept rather precludes a second season with the same cast, and will lead to a lacklustre rehash of the same idea with new faces that is doomed to fall on its arse (see also: "That 80's Show". Shame, since I was quite looking forward to "That 60's Show" and "That 90's Show"). Just Legal I might look for the occasional episode of, it looks like it could easily be dipped into, but I can't really see it taking off. Everybody Hates Chris will probably go on forever.

So what will I watch this year? Well, there's the bound to be disappointing second season of Veronica Mars, as network enforced changes water down the show's pure genius. Alias looks like it will stagger from ridiculous extravegance to extravegance after last season's frankly apalling "Look at me, I'm an enitrely unnecessary cliffhanger"-cliffhanger ending. House ought to be able to live up to its greatness after the first series, but there's always the danger that they will try to take the edge of Hugh Laurie's stubble. The Daily Show continues to be great; Family Guy and American Dad are watchable, the former more so than the latter. And... well, I really should get out more. So I'll leave it at that.

1 comment:

msw said...

You should read the TWoP recaps - it might save you a lot of trouble.

I tried watching Veronica Mars on your recommendation, and it was rubbish. Perhaps that's just the second season. But is she related to Eddie Mars? (Or is that the joke? They weren't explaining the plot to us latecomers.)

On the other hand, Gilmore Girls is fantastic, and Supernatural is OK in a kind of X-Files knock-off fashion. Well, actually it's The Hardy Boys Hunt Vampires, but not anywhere near as good as that would be. Hey, maybe I should pitch that idea.

What I'm saying here is: I love the WB. Oh, and I only ever get to watch television on Tuesday nights.