New Season So Far

I’ve reviewed 21 pilots this season and I am declaring myself done. If I were to be a completionist about things, there’s still two pilots I haven’t reviewed: The Cleveland Show which I’m choosing to exempt because it’s an animation and the reimagining of Melrose Place which I just don’t think I can bring myself to dedicate 45 minutes of my life to. There are also a few shows which may debut later in the season, the most notable of which is the reimagining of V which I’m quite excited by, but doesn’t appear until November.

I’ve gotta say, I’m not hugely impressed with this year’s selection. These things tend to come in waves and this is clearly not a poster year for television. For example 2004 was a good year – it saw the arrival of Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives, Veronica Mars, CSI:NY, Boston Legal, House and Lost – that’s a pretty good haul!

Even though there’s only a couple of direct spin offs on the roster this year, the vast majority of the shows that are obvious attempts to cash in on something already successful. The Beautiful Life tried and failed to be the new Gossip Girl, Mercy is Grey’s Anatomy with nurses, Eastwick is Desperate Housewives with magic and FlashForward is enthusiastically selling itself as the new Lost to anyone that will listen. The Vampire Diaries is a TV show for Twilight fans, Glee owes a lot to High School Musical and Defying Gravity is actually a remake of a BBC documentary!

The problem is that for each of those you’ve got an obvious problem. If I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy, it’s unlikely I’m going to watch the new version. If I AM already loving and watching Grey’s Anatomy why would I also want to watch a cheap copycat? You’re setting yourself the difficult challenge of being so much better than the original that people don’t care you’re not original. The best thing FlashForward could say about itself is not “if you liked Lost, you’ll like us”, it’s “if you liked the idea of Lost, but gave up on it, come watch us because we learnt from Lost’s mistakes”. It’s not such a catchy slogan, but it might just work.

What that means is that no show is really going to stand out because of what it’s doing creatively. What does stand out is quality writing, acting and directing. The Good Wife is far and away the best pilot of the year, not because there was anything particularly original about the story, but because the writing and acting were a step above everything else out there.

So on the flip side, there were lots of potentially good shows let who’s pilots turned me right off because they just weren’t polished enough. Stargate Universe was the key example of this, I desperately wanted to like it but found myself continually frustrated in my attempts by lazy writing. NCIS: LA has some great characters, and the actors are making it watchable while the writers don’t seem to even be trying. Both these shows are lucky because their pedigrees mean they can get away with slow or bumpy starts, but I’d hoped for a bit more from each.

The pilots for Glee and FlashForward both got the job done, in that I’m still watching the shows a few episodes down the line. Both have a lot of hype and noise about them and I sorta like both of them, but I’m not exactly a raving fan of either and it wouldn’t take much for me to lose interest. I think FlashForward I’ll stick with because if it does get great I don’t want to have to admit that I missed it. Glee I suspect I’ll probably watch in chunks when I’m feeling down – a little quirky goes a long way and I’m continually frustrated by the bad dubbing.

There are a couple of shows that are bubbling away. When I reviewed Trauma I loved half of it and hated the other half, but after a couple of weeks for some reason I can’t get it out of my head so have got a few more episodes to watch. I guess the pilot did what it needed to. On the flip side I really wanted to love Eastwick, but hated the pilot, I’ll keep an eye on the reviews and potentially pick it up later if the news is good. Likewise if by mid-season Mercy, Three Rivers or The Forgotten are getting decent reviews I might have another look, none of them were bad really, just utterly unremarkable.

One of the things I’ve learnt about myself is that I just don’t get sitcoms. I watch television in a very pro-active kind of way, I sit down to watch specific shows which I’ve sought out and none of the new season’s comedies inspired me to do that, despite the fact that other reviewers I respect say that they’re pretty good. Community and The Middle were the only two that I actually enjoyed watching and at best I might tivo/pvr/sky+ or pick up a dvd box set on special offer. Most of the others made me want to punch people.

Last time I did this in 2007 I reviewed ten shows, so I’ve doubled my workload this time around. If I do it again I’ll definitely drop the ½ hour sitcoms. I have enjoyed the challenge of writing the reviews, sometimes having to expand “it’s awful” into something a bit more lengthy, and sometimes having to shorten three pages of incoherent gushing down to something that people might actually read. Forcing myself to watch bad things definitely makes me appreciate the good more though. I would never have thought it could be so hard to write good pilots, but what do I know!

Show Title UK Airing Category Cancelled? 1word Review
Accidentally on Purpose E4, 2010 Sitcom   Meh
Bored to Death   Sitcom &nbsp Dull
Brothers   Sitcom   Awful
Community   Sitcom   Smart
Cougar Town   Sitcom Renewed Ugh
Defying Gravity BBC2 Scifi Cancelled Good
Eastwick Hallmark Channel Drama Cancelled Poor
FlashForward Five, Monday Scifi/Crime Procedural Season deal Possible
Glee E4, 2010 Drama/Comedy   Unsumarisable
Hank   Sitcom Cancelled Awful
Mercy   Medical procedural   Uninspiring
Modern Family Starts Thurs 15th Oct, Sky1 Sitcom Renewed Cringe
NCIS: Los Angeles Starts Sky1, 21 Oct Crime procedural Renewed OK
Stargate Universe Sky2, Wednesdays Scifi   Troubled
The Beautiful Life: TBL   Drama Already cancelled Doomed
The Forgotten   Crime procedural   Dull
The Good Wife More4, 2010 Legal Procedural Renewed Superb
The Middle   Sitcom Renewed Good
The Vampire Diaries ITV2, 2010 Drama   Unoriginal
Three Rivers   Medical procedural Cancelled Vanilla
Trauma   Medical procedural   Not sure

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