Pilot Review: Human Target

The Brief: Our hero is a body guard/private investigator, going undercover to find out who’s trying to kill his client. He’s also got issues. It’s based loosely on the DC comic, but has removed most of the superhero type stuff.

There’s another ‘teaser’ available here, but rather hilariously all it does is edit the pilot down into 3 minutes, so it’s pretty spoiler heavy but gives a pretty good idea of what the show does.

As mindless entertainment goes, this is pretty bloody mindless. There are holes in this plot you could drive a badly cgi’ed train through… and they do. The mystery is completely obvious yet simultaneously makes no sense when explained; the hero seems to be some kind of genius, but he also failed to realise his gun clip was empty. The exposition comes in big, boring, stupid chunks (as does the Japanese) with little recaps every so often for those that weren’t paying attention. Everything about the writing screams that this is the television equivalent of a mediocre, run of the mill, almost straight to dvd action film.

Unfortunately I’m not sure anyone told the actors that was what they were signing up for. Mark Valley (Boston Legal, Fringe)is a classic charming leading man, he’s got that “I’m distracting you from my troubled soul by punching people” look down perfectly. Chi McBride has basically taken his role of Emerson Cod from Pushing Daisies and is playing the straight-man perfectly. Jackie Earle Haley(Rorschach in Watchmen) acts like a weedy geek, but seems to be a retired assassin. Each character is interesting and played with a great deal of humour, and although minimal, the interactions they have show some good chemistry. That bodes well for the fairly obvious intention that the two side kicks will sit on our hero’s troubled shoulders whispering in his ears like good little angels and demons.

The problem is that the whole tone of the show is confused, there’s some great light-hearted and smart dialogue that lulls you into filing this as an action-comedy. But then it also seems to have some rather heavy stuff to say about organised crime, professional assassins, functioning outside of the law and some fuzzy morality. Maybe it’s possible to merge all that into one fascinating show, and I believe these actors (and with guest stars like Tricia Helfer, Mark Moses and Danny Glover(!) they’ve certainly got a great casting agent)are perfectly capable of that. But unless the writers have the excuse that their pilot was hacked to pieces by a network committee, they are not up to the challenge of producing an interesting level of subtlety and the show will just settle into being a weekly episode of Die Hard 3.

LinksOfficial website, wikipedia, imdb, TV.com

ReviewsTVSquad (a lot more positive than me), The TV Addict (rated C-).

Pilot Review: Parenthood

The Brief: Based on the Steve Martin film of the same name, it’s an ensemble drama featuring the extended Braverman family.

I found it impossible to watch this show without at every step comparing it not only to the film of the same name, but more importantly the well established show Brothers and Sisters. Each show has a large ensemble cast based around three generations of the family. The shows have very similar tones, falling into that middle ground between comedy and drama (or occasional melodrama).

There’s some good talent in the cast. Peter Krause and Lauren Graham are enough to make me check a show out all by themselves and make sense as siblings,Monica Potter as Krause’s wife is also a name and face I recognise and she is great in this. The two younger siblings are also okay, and there’s some talented young actors playing the various children. Each character and actor works, but they don’t feel like a family, they don’t have the instant chemistry which I saw from the pilot of Brothers and Sisters. This is a real shame, but may be due to the fact that a lot of the pilot was reshot, when Lauren Graham replaced Maura Tierney who had to withdraw due to illness.

Maybe the issue with the overall chemistry stems from the fact the family dynamic didn’t really work, the parents didn’t feel like strong enough characters. The oldest son (Krause) is the de-facto leader of the family, his father is treated more as a problem to be dealt with rather than a strong foundation and the mother was almost non-existent as a character. I hope that the family dynamics will become more settled as the show continues, working out the different connections, strengths and weaknesses, but I worry that by focussing on ‘parenthood’ instead of ‘siblinghood’ the relationships are all vertical and not as easily interconnected.

I think if I wasn’t such a fan of Brothers and Sisters I would have liked this show a lot more, as it was it felt a bit like a cheap imitation. So many things that happened in the pilot I could look at comparable scenes in Brothers and Sisters and see that they’d done it better. It didn’t have the energy or the extremes, an episode of Brothers and Sisters will make me laugh, cry, cringe and cheer; it wasn’t that I thought Parenthood was bad, it was just that it didn’t really evoke much of a response from me at all.

LinksOfficial website, TV.com, imdb, wikipedia

ReviewsCliqueClack (I spotted the running thing too!), TVSquad (“uncomfortably familiar”), TV Addict (“What grand irony: a show with family issues”).

Pilot Review: The Deep End

The Brief: Four new graduates join a prestigious law firm, basically it’s Grey’s Anatomy with lawyers.

Everything’s trying to be the next Grey’s Anatomy and the more of these shows that come along, the more I realise just how special Grey’s is, because those that try to emulate it are failing miserably.

Problem number one with The Deep End – it’s about lawyers and making lawyers sympathetic characters is going to be an uphill struggle. The ‘grown ups’ are all partners with expensive cars, designer suits and egos the size of their massive corner offices. The youngsters meanwhile seem to spend the whole episode whining about how no one takes them seriously and how hard they have to work. They whine while they sit around the office eating cupcakes, they whine while they have sex with each other, and they whine while they’re downing shots at an expensive looking wine bar (it has a pool in the middle of it). Poor little dears.

The characters all at first glance appear to be completely useless as functioning members of society. By half way through I wanted to slap each and every one of them. A few of them managed to rally by the end of the episode, but this only really brought them to the level of “allowed to survive”, they’re still quite a way off from likeable and sympathetic. They’re all either obnoxious and arrogant, or wet and put-upon and none of them manage to be particularly funny while doing it.

That I think is where Grey’s was remarkable, all those adjectives could equally be applied to their characters, yet somehow you care about them anyway. In fact some of the characters are almost direct steals. Addy (played by the wasted Tina Majorino of Veronica Mars and Waterworld fame) is George the kicked puppy, Dylan has Izzie’s enthusiasm, Liam has Karev’s shamelessness, and Beth has Meredith’s family connections combined with Christina’s confidence. There’s even a character referred to as The Prince of Darkness to parallel Bailey’s Nazi nickname, although he’s more like Burke in his drive and ambition. It’s like they just dissected Grey’s Anatomy and turned it into Frankenstein’s monster.

In addition to the irritating characters the plot threads were nothing to write home about. The pro-bono ‘do good’ case of the week was all over the shop with sudden reveals of utterly random new facts and twists. The moral dilemma case had the potential to be interesting, but was rushed and pushed aside and the other case was just a ridiculous construct to try to show what a character was about. Like with Grey’s the cases are just going to be the enablers of character development, but the cases and guest actors still need to be interesting and real.

This show just doesn’t have the quality of writers that Grey’s has. It doesn’t have the pace and the snap, the ability (or even the potential) to have me crying and laughing at the same time. It’s as if they wrote it on a formula that by the end of the pilot they wanted to have a love triangle, a power struggle, a moral dilemma, an empowering speech and a bonding moment. There’s no life in the direction or writing, the music didn’t do anything for me and I’ve seen the glitzy LA scenery thousands of times before. It’s probably not fair that just because the show is about the lives of young professionals I immediately judge it against Grey’s Anatomy, but life (and network television) isn’t fair and I won’t be tuning in for episode two.

imdb, TV.com, wikipedia

TV Squad’s review and CliqueClack’s review are both somewhat more positive than mine for a contrast.

Pilot Review: Life Unexpected

The Brief: Fifteen year old Lux is trying to escape the foster care system and go it alone as soon as she hits her birthday in a couple of days. But to do that she needs the signatures of her birth parents, who had a one night stand when they were sixteen and never really looked back. Inevitably they find they need each other and end up forming a very strange extended family group.

The CW is an odd network, it’s targeting the pretty specific female 18-34 demographic and has a collection of shows that are completely unashamed about what they. While there’s a lot of stuff I don’t care for (America’s Next Top Model, Melrose Place) and there’ve been some real clunkers (The Beautiful Life, about New York models only lasted two episodes), there’s also some real gems like Gossip Girl, Supernatural and Smallville. It also used to broadcast Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls, and Life Unexpected clearly owes a debt to both of those shows.

Sixteen years and nine months ago Cate and Nate (ugh) had a one night stand after a prom, she got pregnant and put the baby up for adoption, Nate thought she had an abortion. Now she’s a breakfast host on the local radio station and he owns and lives in a bar. Lux was never actually adopted and has been bouncing around foster homes and is petitioning to be granted emancipation on her sixteenth birthday, but for contrived reasons needs her parent’s signatures. Hijinks ensue and they all end up reconnecting and needing each other. It’d be a pretty short show if they didn’t.

The themes are all pretty clear and simple, the ‘parents’ generally have less of a clue about life than the child does, but she in turn isn’t nearly as grown up as she thinks she is. They’re all busy proclaiming too loudly that they’re fine and happy with their lives – Cate’s whole on-air persona is about being bitter and lonely, Nate is a 32 year old living like he’s in a fraternity and Lux screams that she’s self-sufficient and doesn’t need anyone. It’s cheesy and obvious, but it makes sense and forms a good foundation.

The characters are all really nicely crafted and introduced. When Cate is asked if she even thought about keeping her baby, she answers ‘no’ with complete honesty. She wants to do the right thing by her daughter, but she doesn’t spontaneously become an all knowing mother figure, you can see her thinking things out and just trying really hard. The relationship between Nate and Lux is a little different, he doesn’t have the same feelings of guilt, but he sees the opportunity to embrace the responsibility for a change.

The pilot is enjoyable and touching without being too smaltzy. There’s a lot of spirit in the characters and the gang of supporting side-kicks adds a lot of humour. I liked the look of the show as well, set in Portland, Oregon and has a sort of grungy lived in feel to it. I doubt it’s going to be a surprising show, I suspect I could predict the plots of half a dozen episodes based on the pilot alone, but the show has a spark to it that made me want to watch more.

Links
imdb, tv.com, wikipedia

TVSquad review

I can’t find any info about a UK channel showing this.

Pilot Review: Caprica

The brief: A prequel to Battlestar Galactica, set on Caprica 50 years or so before the fall. Two very different families find themselves connected and possibly, accidentally, bringing about the end of civilisation.

This pilot has been out and about for a while thanks to a DVD and iTunes premier last April, but I hadn’t watched it as I felt I needed to detox a little from Battlestar Galactica. But the full series is now starting on the US SyFy channel, so it seemed fitting to review it as the first of my mid-season reviews.

If you liked Battlestar Galactica I think there’s very little chance you won’t like this show. In all the core qualities it is very similar, it reaches the same high standards in terms of production values and demands the same attention and consideration from the viewer. This is not an easy show to watch, the characters are pretty much dumped in unpleasant situations and forced to make the best of a bad lot. As independent observers we can judge that the decisions they make are not necessarily right, but while the end point of their actions may be terrible, each step in their processes is understandable.

Where it most obviously differs from Battlestar is in the visuals. Where Battlestar was cramped interiors in gun metal grey, Caprica is open plan houses and shiny glass. It actually feels more like a science fiction show than Battlestar did; there’s more technology and it’s all more obvious and slick. While Battlestar had very good reasons for using minimal technology (even the space ships somehow felt far less technologically advanced than our own fighter jets), it is really nice to see cool stuff just treated as part of everyday life. Everything here feels right, not just the technology, but the architecture and costumes all feel like they’re not far out of our own reach. But it’s not all shiny new things, there’s still historical buildings and varied fashions making it feel like a culture and society that’s developed, not just sprung into life fully formed for a TV show.

Like Battlestar Galactica this is Good television with a capital G, but it is by no means easy to watch. The sense of doom hanging over the characters and civilisation is depressing, but also somehow freeing. With Battlestar part of what made it heartbreaking was that there was always the slight hope that things would get better. With Caprica, knowing that the end of the story has already been written means that you can just focus on appreciating the way fate unravels. With the quality of design, writing and acting on display in the pilot, I’m confident that it will be a fascinating and satisfying journey to watch.

Links
imdb
Wikipedia
TV.com

Caprica starts on Sky1, Tuesday 2nd Feb, 9pm

Pilot Review: V

I think V is the final premier of 2009, and coincidentally one of the new shows I was most excited about. I’m not sure dragging the anticipation out really did them any favours.

It’s not exactly a new thing to be remaking cult classics, I don’t think the phrase “hot on the heels of Battlestar Galactica” is really valid when the heels first appeared 6 years ago, but someone clearly went searching for shows that could be made relevant to a new audience and found the 1984 series V. I will admit that despite my claims to be a science fiction and television fan, I’ve never actually seen the original V. I feel bad about that. But it does allow me to review this show without any pre-established feelings as to whether the new show is butchering a past classic.

Basic premise – a bunch of human looking aliens come to Earth in their ships and declare they are here to be our friends, they want to help and they’re basically big floating space hippies. So far so good, but then it turns out there may be something more to their story, they’re not all they seem and they may have ulterior motives. Blah blah blah.

First problem is that ‘blah blah blah’ right there. There’s a big speech at the end which says something along the lines of “we have to fight for humanity” and I just thought “oh who cares?”. Now maybe this says more about my current frame of mind than the quality of the pilot, but after being told that this may be the end of life as we know it, I just didn’t really care either way. The pilot reminded us how screwed up the world is and I utterly failed to connect with any of the human characters, so who cares if the aliens want to come and eat a few mice or inslave humanity (those aren’t spoilers, I’m guessing)? Good luck to ’em.

The pilot is very rushed, revealing a lot more than I expected it would in the first 45 minutes, there’s a couple of twists that would probably have been more impressive if they’d waited a few more episodes to reveal. But I guess they’ve decided those aren’t the stories they want to be telling, they wanted to get all the set-up out of the way so that they can move on to… whatever it is they’re moving on to. Frankly the pilot gives very little idea of what a weekly episode will be about.

I think the problem is the characters, or possibly even the actors themselves. It’s a great cast on paper, but most came with baggage attached. Elizabeth Mitchell stars as an FBI agent and concerned single mum… but all I could see was Juliet from Lost. Joel Gretsch is a troubled priest, but all I could see was the same “I’m troubled by this but I’m not sure why” face that he had in The 4400 and Taken. Scott Wolf will forever be the kid from Party of Five and Morena Baccarin was playing the same aloof alien she played in Stargate, just with a different haircut. I adore Alan Tudyk and he was the only character with any spark, but at the end of the day, he was just a slightly watered down Wash.

The whole thing left me feeling incredibly ‘meh’. The design didn’t really do anything for me, the aliens and their technology were all kind of sleek, grey and featureless. I didn’t notice any music, so I guess that was vanilla as well. The direction was resoundingly mediocre, with some crappy blue screening to get people into the alien environments complete killing any sense of connection. Also there were way too many times when I felt ideas were just lifted from other shows, everything from Battlestar Galactica to Frost/Nixon seemed to get a look in.

The other reviews I’m reading seem a lot more positive, but to me it just felt like it had all been done before (and that’s even without seeing what it’s ACTUALLY retelling). By the end of the episode I just felt bored and utterly unenthused with the idea of watching the rest of the season do exactly the same things as dozens of shows, films and books before it. I will however give it another few chances in the vague hope that it just turns out I was in a bad mood when I watched the pilot.

Links: wikipedia, TV.com, imdb
Reviews: TV Squad, CliqueClack

V will be shown in the UK on the Sci Fi Channel in 2010.

Pilot Review: White Collar

Although I’m done with the bulk of the pilot watching, I figured I might as well post the occasional review of the later airing pilots that will occasionally appear. Particularly for things like White Collar which manage to have a notable impact on the overall quality of the season as a whole.

White Collar is a fairly unoriginal concept, a con artist buys his way out of prison by becoming a consultant for the FBI and helping catch his peers. If the pilot is anything to go by, we’re going to be focussing on the rather more sedate side of the FBI, more accounting and paperwork than guns and car chases.

The tagline of the network this airs on is “Characters Welcome”, and they’ve certainly kept on message here. It’s a true buddy-cop show, from the very start there’s a wonderful chemistry between the conman and the FBI agent who caught him. It’s instantly clear that there’s a mutual professional respect that rapidly and easily falls into friendship. The characters feel smart, they don’t continually get surprised when the other does something completely in character (Dr Cuddy on House, I’m looking at you) they just learn to work with each other and have fun. The same is true for the relationship between the FBI agent and his wife (the only cast member I recognised I’m ashamed to say – Tiffani Thiessen from Saved by the Bell!), after 10 years of marriage, she is again unsurprised when he’s late for dinner yet again.

I really liked the pilot, I laughed and smiled a lot more than any of the comedies I watched and was engaged with the mystery story, completely satisfied with the pacing of the reveals and the twists and turns. The show would be pretty unremarkable if not for the fact that the writing, acting and directing all mesh together in a solid and competent manner that I’ve found sadly lacking from most of the pilots this year. It’s not going to win any Emmys and it’s not going to blast to the top of the ratings, but it’s a really enjoyable way to spend an hour.

Official Site, imdb, wikipedia, TV.com

TV Squad review, CliqueClack review