2014-15 Pilot Roundup

I’ve had something of a blitz catching up on pilots from the 2014-15 season, just slightly in advance of the influx of 2015-16 pilots! Fortunately in the UK (I guess) there’s a bit of delay though so there should be a bit of a window.

iZombie
izombieI’d been looking forward to this show from the creators of Veronica Mars, one of my favourite shows, but it hasn’t found a UK broadcaster yet. I chased up the pilot episode through slightly dubious sources just so that I could include it in my end of year round up. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s clearly a relation to Veronica Mars, sharing the same style of sarcastic voiceover and strong yet ‘human’ young woman trying to find her place. The pilot had to deliver a lot of exposition which didn’t always feel entirely natural, and I’m not sure whether having the character find peace with her situation so quickly was brilliant or limiting, but I’m pretty optimistic that the rest of the series will settle down and be thoroughly entertaining. I did like the graphical references back to the comic source as well, it gave it a nice design theme. iZombie has been renewed for a second season in the US on the CW where it fits nicely alongside the superheroes and monsters of the rest of the schedule, so here’s hoping a UK broadcaster (or Netflix or Amazon) picks it up.

Constantine
constantineI know this is based on a long running popular comic book and there’s already been a film adaption, but I’ve somehow managed to pretty much avoid it. The pilot does an efficient job setting up the mythos and the characters powering through with just enough style and energy, intrigue and charm to hold my attention. The only problem really was that even without having seen any of the previous iterations, it all felt a bit ‘been there done that’, it felt a lot like Supernatural season 5 without the same heart and soul. I think it’s probably watchable and might have gone somewhere interesting, but it was not renewed for a second season. You can watch it in the UK on Amazon instant video.

State of Affairs
state_of_affairsI actually like Katherine Heigl, I know she gets a lot of stick but I generally enjoy her performances, and I enjoyed bits of her performance here. The problem wasn’t her, it was the writing which seemed to have no grounding in reality. Basing a series on the writing of the CIA’s Daily Briefing for the President is an interesting one, but not when professionalism gets swallowed up by petty personal politics. Heigl’s character is painted as a rogue in the CIA but close personal friend of the president, while those around her either blindly follow her or are completely incompetent and/or corrupt. If that’s the way the top levels of the CIA work, then the world really is doomed. I found Heigl quite watchable, particularly in the lighter moments and Alfre Woodard as the President is great, but overall it came across as dumb with delusions of thriller. It was cancelled after the thirteen episode first season.

Daredevil
daredevilWhat everyone is saying at the moment is “there just aren’t enough comic book superheroes on the big and small screen”. This one set in the main Marvel cinematic universe I think (it references the events of The Avengers) but aires on Netflix so is independent of SHIELD. That’s about as interesting as it gets. Daredevil is a standard non-super super hero, guy in a costume with some kind of higher mission. Basically Batman. The USP here is that Daredevil is blind and he’s able to fight incredibly well because… well I’m not entirely sure to be honest. I mean, the whole thing was perfectly fine, but there just wasn’t anything particularly great about it. It wasn’t as broody and dark as Batman, but it was nowhere near as smart or funny as Iron Man. There were no gadgets, no super powers, no whizzy special effects. Just some fighting sequences that really did nothing for me. In a crowded genre, Daredevil makes no impression. Season 1 is available on Netflix and season 2 will arrive next year sometime.

Sense8
When you attach names like the Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski to a show there are two ways things can go. Either you’re hoping for The Matrix meets Babylon 5 or you’re scared of Cloud Atlas meets Crusade. For me, it was more the latter. The pilot was a complete mess, massively over packed with characters most of whom got very little time and therefore very little depth. Most of the limited time available in the pilot was in fact completely wasted in attempting to build tension around the mystery of what was going on and how these threads were connected, but the pilot just dawdles its way towards revealing… well, absolutely nothing. That might just about work if you literally knew NOTHING about the show going in and don’t mind building the tension, but if you’ve read even the one sentence description of the show (and why would you be watching otherwise?) then all the pilot does is tell you “something odd is going on with several seemingly unconnected people”. Multiple times I found myself shouting at the screen “just get on with it!” (not least at the world’s slowest burglars). Also the choice to have all the characters speak in English when they’re spread around the world was cowardly, lazy and makes me think that the writers have little faith in their audience’s intellectual capacity if they think we can’t even manage subtitles. Oh and there was the usual unnecessarily gratuitous sex scene that did nothing other than say “woohoo, we’re not on network, we can show whatever we want, look boobies!”. Really disappointing. Mind you, my housemates really loved it and it’s been renewed for a second season on Netflix, so what do I know?

How to Get Away with Murder
howtogetawayI’m usually a big fan of Shonda Rhimes, but this one just didn’t grab me. In Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes created a set-up, characters and relationships all bigger than reality, full of complexity and shades of grey, occasionally ridiculous but generally somewhere you want to spend more time. But in How to Get Away with Murder I found all the characters irritating and most of the storyline elements tired and predictable. The trick of showing a key development in the storyline and then jumping back in time to show how they got there is potentially interesting, but also a bit risky. In this case it just sort of made me roll my eyes a bit at the thought of spending any significant amount of time watching the inevitable play out over who-knows-how-many episodes. Maybe some subtlety will emerge in future episodes, and things will go in unexpected directions, but the pilot certainly didn’t leave me wanting more. The series has however been picked up for a second season and will be showing on Universal Channel.

Bloodlines
Another Netflix original series, another show that shows you how things are going to end and then flashes back, this time with the addition of a pretentious voice over. It’s about a family in Florida, four grown siblings and their parents all of whom have complicated relationships on top of their own issues. It reminded me most of Brothers and Sisters, although it lacks most of the lightness and a good chunk of the heart. I wasn’t really enjoying it that much by about half way through, but towards the end of the pilot I got more into it as they started to set up the stories. Unlike How to Get Away with Murder I was more intrigued by the future that we’re shown and wondering how they’d get there. I may actually watch a few more episodes of this, not least because I do rather love Kyle Chandler. Bloodlines is available on Netflix and has been renewed for a second season.

Wayward Pines
wayward_pinesJust like the Wachowskis and JMS, a series by M Night Shymalan comes with some baggage attached, is it going to be Sixth Sense or is it going to be Lady in the Water? Wayward Pines has a classic set up – a stranger arrives in an inescapable town full of seemingly happy shiny people. Why are they trapped? Who is controlling the town? Who is part of it, and who is just pretending? It’s a rather by the numbers set-up and it’s slightly lacking in charismatic characters. It is very solidly put together and sticks quite close to the classics, but that means if it’s meant to be surprising, it utterly fails. There is some element of mystery to it, I do want to know what is going on and now that the exposition of the set-up is out of the way, the rest of the series could do something interesting, but it might be a slow burn. Mind you it’s only a ten episode mini-series so it doesn’t have that much time to mess about and will actually come to a managed end, so I may well watch it through. It’s available on Amazon Prime.

Empire
empireThree very different brothers are put in competition to take over their father’s hip hop music empire, and things are further complicated by their mother finally getting out of prison and re-entering their lives after 17 years. It’s sort of like Nashville meets the Sopranos. I’ve no real interest in the type of music they’re making, but that’s part of the appeal I guess. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this show, but I found myself really drawn in. I think that’s because fundamentally when you break the show and characters down it’s a pretty traditional formula. While that means it’s not exactly original (one of the characters even references the fact it’s basically King Lear) those tropes are still used because they work well, and if you add shiny production values and a talented cast, it’s probably going to work, at least for a while. The pilot certainly worked on me and I’ll try to catch up on the series. Empire has had a bundle of critical acclaim and was renewed for a second season.

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  1. September 26th, 2015
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