Pilot Lights

As is becoming a summer tradition, various pilot episodes of new shows have started showing up on tinternet, and is also becoming a tradition, I have looked over a few of them. Well, actually, I did this a few weeks ago, and was just too lazy to write up the comments until now. So I've forgotten most of the details and will leave you with only a few vague impressions. Which is probably fine. Given that last year I poo-poohed Heroes, and pinned my colours to the ill-fated mast of Studio60, I wouldn't place too much faith in my ratings.

First up, Reaper: a kid whose life is going nowhere working at a big box retail store finds out on his 21st birthday that his soul have been sold to the devil by his parents and that he has to track down evil souls who have escaped from hell and return them via a DMV office. So, another comedy/sci-fi/drama that ticks all the boxes (comedy poor-man's Jack Black sidekick; charming but unobtainable girl-next-door; etc.). It was all right, I suppose, although, I'm having a hard time in my mind distinguishing it from...

Chuck: a kid whose life is going nowhere working at a big box retail store finds out on his 21st birthday that his roommate was a spy and has downloaded all of the top sekrit information in the world into his head, and he has to use this information to track down evil spies who have escaped from Guantanamo Bay. Or something like that. It's all a little camp and arch: the electronics store he works at is called something like Better Buy and employs a team to repair computers called the "Nerd Herd" (a swipe at Best Buy and their "Geek Squad"). There are some snide little background jokes: in a Wal-Mart parody store, he walks past a giant box labeled "Astro Diapers". Because of this I predict the show will fail: Americans don't like any comedy that they think is smarter than they are, and this is destined to show on one of the major TV channels, something like ABC, so I think it'll last three episodes, then start getting postponed, have another half dozen episodes dribbled out and then be ignominiously slaughtered.

Pushing Daisies is more of the same, only different: it's the story of a young man who discovers that if he touches dead things he can bring them back to life, but if he touches them again, who makes a living solving crimes by bringing victims of Murder back to life, asking them who did it, and then sending them to their eternal sleep. It gets weirder than this, involving the character of an undead Anna Friel, a rather intrusive narrative voice over, and a very stylised look. From this, it's impossible to see how things will develop into a series, which rather reminds of the show "Dead Like Me". In the case of "Dead Like Me", it really didn't develop into a series, but sort of meandered around the place for a while without ever troubling too much with plot or meaning. So expect the same here. Expect it to draw critical raves, a healthy audience for the first episode or two, but then a gradual trailing off up until Christmas, and no second season.

Similarly, I saw Californication, a "premium cable" show which features David Duchovny, for the ladies, and Ladies' Top Parts, for the gents. The first episode played out like a latter day Woody Allen movie, i.e. one of the movies that's ostensibly a comedy, but doesn't really have any jokes, just some slightly unexpected situations and the protagonist desperately trying not to break the forth wall and gurn at the audience. The show will continue, and will probably be more of the same, but I rather quite like just taking the single first episode as if it were a short film in its entirety. On those terms, I think it's moderately successful, but to watch any further episodes would only spoil it.

"Reimagining" is a fancy way of describing the practice of remaking cheesy sci-fi shows from the seventies and making them less camp. Adding to the trend of Battlestar Galactica, and Dr Who is The Bionic Woman, which stars a woman who I am reliably told is off of EastEnders who hangs out with a pressured academic who seems to be getting some extra funding from a rather dubious DARPA-style agency just long enough for their unlikely romance to seem almost plausible, when a nasty car accident turns her into -- the Bionic Woman (the clue is in the title), she has a fight with Starbuck off of BG in the rain for a bit, and she decides to help the sekrit government project by solving mysteries, tracking down evil spies and souls that have escape from Hell etc, etc. Thankfully, the show is entirely forgettable, and for all its expensive production values and top talent imported from EastEnders, well, Bionic Woman is no Kyle XY.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel is Slacker Cats, which I only watched because it was created by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, who also made some great little UK comedies like Hyperdrive, as well as the less laudable "Bunny Suicides". Regrettably, Slacker Cats is very much in the latter category: a 'modern' cartoon based around the lives of a pair of cats who get into all kinds of unamusing scrapes. It tries to veer into Family Guy/South Park territory by including a variety of weakly outrageous scenarios which are both crude and pathetically unshocking -- look! A cat has bitten off another cat's ear! A cat has urinated on a table! Oh noes! -- but entirely lacking in any sympathetic characters that would make such activities remotely meaningful. It also suffers from a casual lack of any attempt at internal logic, and Emo Philips playing, um, a cat who is Emo Philips. No paws out of ten.

So, none of these new shows have really stood out so far. Which ones will I try to watch? I'll probably catch Chuck and maybe also Reaper if I've got nothing better to do (clue: usually I don't), but only on the understanding I fully expect these shows to be cancelled before they hit their stride, and leaving their plots in the middle of the explanation of some irritating cliff-hanger.

What should you be watching: this summer has actually seen a lot of good shows that it would otherwise be easy to miss. Psych has returned to the USA network, and has replaced Monk as my favorite USA detective show (Monk is getting too old and tedious; I can still usually solve the impossible mystery in the first five minutes most of the time). Kyle XY is managing to do the impossible, and sustain a second series even after a first series which seemed to wrap things up sufficiently. It's silly sci-fi nonsense, but as usual in such things, the accidental inclusion of teen drama storylines keep it alive. And Burn Notice is another cable-only show which I almost missed; however, since it starred Gabrielle Anwar, and I have a rule to try watching any show that features a Press Gang alumnus or alumna, I gave it a try. It's a load of fun: an ex-spy is confined to Miami, and has to scrape together a living solving mysteries, capturing evil spies etc. But this show does it in a highly entertaining way, as each week he overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds aided only by Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead fame) and Anwar as his ex-IRA girlfriend. Yes, only in America could the IRA represent the "good" terrorists, but maybe thanks to President Blair we can just all forgive and forget. Anyway, forget that, and Anwar's rather spurious Oirish accent, and just enjoy this silly little action packed show.

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