2010-2011 – New Shows

I watched 30ish pilots this year, most of which I gave full reviews of. Last year I did 27 and this year most of the extra ones come from some random British series that I watched but didn’t pick up. Even with giving up on comedy pilots for the most part it was still a bit of a slog frankly with an awful lot of mediocrity out there.

Things I watched:

  • Blue Bloods – Frankly not very good – an interesting concept, but badly written. Just saved by the wonderful Tom Selleck
  • Downton Abbey – excellent fun, perfect for Sunday evening family viewing
  • Game of Thrones – Very entertaining and an impressive production
  • Mad Dogs – A great cast in a relatively mediocre production, thankfully very short
  • Outcasts – Entertaining, but massively flawed writing and plot holes. Not massively disappointed that it was cancelled.
  • Terriers – Charming, hilarious, interesting, entertaining and criminally cancelled
  • The Big C – hilarious and moving
  • The Walking Dead – The novelty made me watch it, but it was horribly cliché and flat

Two things jump out at me from that list. The fist thing is that genre shows get a bit of a free pass from me in that they only have to be not awful to get me to watch them. The second thing is there’s only one network show on the list, and even that one wasn’t very good. Other than that everything is either British, or on cable in the US; and they’re all short seasons. That’s not good, not good at all.

Might watch

  • Harry’s Law – the worrying preachiness of the pilot put me off, but given it survived a season, Kathy Bates might lure me back again
  • Hawaii Five-O – bright and entertaining popcorn action, I meant to watch it but I failed to catch it as it went past. I do intend to catch up though
  • Falling Skies – I enjoyed the pilot, but haven’t actually got around to watching the rest of it yet
  • Bedlam – Terrible Sky drama where Will Young was the best thing about it. I still have the last two episodes on the Sky box but haven’t quite got desperate enough to watch them.

Might’ve watched if they hadn’t been cancelled, might pick them up on dvd at some point

  • Chicago Code – OK, unremarkable, and then cancelled
  • Detroit 1-8-7 – solidly entertaining police procedural in a sea of mediocrity. Cancelled anyway
  • Hellcats – The pilot at least was entertaining in an awful Glee kind of way, it aired on MTV over here which was deeply annoying. Then it was cancelled.
  • Off the Map – It wasn’t as good as it wanted to be, but I enjoyed the pilot. It never seemed to make it to the UK at all due to its early cancellation I guess.

Not my thing

  • Being Human – not as good as the UK version, and I’m already 2 years behind on that
  • Boardwalk Empire – beautifully shot and acted and all that, but too slow
  • Exile – well acted and intriguing, I meant to watch the rest of the series but it disappeared from iplayer too fast and I wasn’t devastated
  • Nikita – felt like it was trying very hard (and maybe even succeeding) at being the next Alias, but given I never got round to watching that series I didn’t feel like committing to this one.

Just not very good

Body of Proof
Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour
Law & Order: Los Angeles
Lone Star
My Generation
No Ordinary Family
The Cape
The Event
The Shadowline
The Whole Truth

Not a great year
I just don’t think this was a very good year for new television. Looking back at last year’s freshman there are a lot of stand-outs, both critical successes like Justified, The Good Wife and Treme and ratings hits like Glee, NCIS: LA and The Vampire Diaries. There are a few direct comparisons this year (Boardwalk Empire is this year’s Treme, Hawaii Five-O this year’s NCIS:LA), but overall there’s an awful lot of mediocre going on.

Where’s the creativity? Even things that television executives hail as new and exciting aren’t really. The Walking Dead is a remake of just about every zombie film out there, Game of Thrones is a bog standard fantasy epic – Lord of the Rings for the smaller screen with less pointy ears. Next year’s most hotly anticipated show seems set to follow the trend with Terra Nova bringing Jurassic Park to the TV.

Superheroes are out – there was a flurry of superhero shows and none of them were any good. People keep trying to find the magic of the early season of Heroes and the massive success that’s being found by Marvel and DC Comics at the cinema, but no one’s managed it yet. Here’s an idea, stop pissing off Joss Whedon and get him to do one, after he’s done making millions with The Avengers that is.

Procedurals ain’t doing so well either. I enjoy procedurals but it’s been a while since a good one came along. Maybe the market is still too saturated, because even the ones that had potential and critical praise couldn’t find enough viewers to make a go of it.

Finally, they’re still all desperately trying to find the next Lost – people keep trying, but the high concept stuff just doesn’t seem to catch. High concept is something that can be explained in a sentence (“Lost: a plane crashes on island”, “Inception: you can enter and control people’s dreams”). This year’s main attempt, The Event, was a little too high concept I think “Something happens” really is a bit too high, I gave up after about four episodes – for a show called The Event – something should bloody well happen.


The Upfronts: NBC

What’s out
The only show that I actually watch on NBC is Friday Night Lights and the end of the show has been planned for a while, giving plenty of time to wrap it up in a satisfying fashion. I adore the show, think it’s superb, but have to admit that I haven’t quite had the emotional strength to watch the last season yet, knowing it’s the last actually made it harder.

There are plenty of new shows that won’t be back, most of which never got off the ground at all – The Cape, Chase, The Event, Law & Order LA (which couldn’t be rescued even by a complete overhaul mid-season), Undercovers, and several sitcoms. Not a good year for NBC.

What’s back
Chuck has been renewed for a final half season wrap up, for a show that’s been bubbling since it started, 5.5 seasons seems like a bloody good run. But I don’t watch it so I can’t really say.

Harry’s Law is one that I wanted to like, but the more I thought about it, the more troubling I found the tone of the pilot. I may investigate whether it got better and go back to it as it will be returning next year, slightly surprising given that I haven’t heard any critic say anything about it in months and the ratings weren’t spectacular.

Parenthood is a show I keep meaning to catch up on, initially staying away from it because I didn’t want to fall in love with it as it seemed doomed to early cancellation. Now that’s just been renewed for season 3 so I guess that excuse has worn out.

Other things I don’t watch that are returning – 30 Rock, Community, The Office, Parks and Recreation and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, although there seems to be the suggestion that they might be making big cast changes (if anyone reading this cares).

What’s new
Awake – Hello to Jason Issacs! You seem to have landed yourself a pretty amazing looking show.

Bent – I like Amanda Peet and the rest of the thing isn’t horrific, although it all looks a bit unremarkable.

Grimm – Kind of Supernatural meets Criminal Minds from the looks of it, sounds interesting, but I wasn’t massively impressed with the trailer.

The Playboy Club – This could end up being the kind of show that you tell people to ignore the title and the blurb and just watch because it’s superb. Or it could be horribly sexist and offensive. The trailer leaves me optimistic.

Prime Suspect – I’ve not watched the UK version, but this doesn’t look like Helen Mirren. I like Maria Bello a lot and this doesn’t look half bad.

Smash – Hey, Glee is massively successful right, why don’t we do a show about musicals?! Frankly I’m amazed that every network isn’t belting out show tunes at me. This looked… all right, not sure how they’re going to make it a series rather than just a tv movie though.

Up All Night – I actually chuckled a couple of times at this!

Free Agents – Damnit, I chuckled a couple of times in this one too. I hate myself.

Whitney – I did not laugh. I feel better about myself.

Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea – dear god in heaven, this is possibly the most offensive and horrific thing I’ve ever seen labelled as a comedy. Drinking and driving… so funny!

Also a TV adaptation of The Firm (coming next Jan, so there’s no trailer for me to label as boring yet) and something called Best Friends Forever which seemed awful from the only clip I could find.

Links: The TV Addict, The Futon Critic, TV Squad.

Harry’s Law: Pilot Review

David E. Kelley, the brain that brought you Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal brings you… a quirky comedy/drama legal show. In other surprising news – the sun continues to rise and set every day. It’s astonishing.

Kathy Bates is wonderful. She’s won an Oscar and stuff like that, she also habitually pops onto the screen and steals the show, so it’s really no surprise that someone would finally give her the lead in a show and that she’d be utterly wonderful. She’s grumpy and curmudgeonly, but also passionate and inspiring and I love her already. The show around her almost doesn’t matter, she’s an actress who could make reading the phone book hilarious and touching.

Thankfully the writers do show slightly more imagination than that and the show built around her, while not spectacular, is absolutely fine for a star-driven concept. The pilot launches you in so fast, I thought I’d missed the fist section, there’s no time for subtlely in the writing to introduce the characters and explain why the hot shot lawyer is throwing it all away to start a practice in a shoe shop in a poor bit of town. The main case of the week started off a bit ropey, but did eventually present an interesting question – what if the fact that your client is guilty is never a doubt in anyone’s mind, just whether or not they should be given another chance? The second case asked the related question of when is it ‘right’ to commit a crime? Both plots gave excellent opportunities for some impressive and moving speechifying.

Any lead-driven show is going to result in a collection of supporting characters – there to make the lead look good and most of them do a really good, but unspectacular job. Oddly though in the first episodes Nathan Corddry is given almost as much material as Kathy Bates, and I’m not sure whether it’s my residual love for anyone who was in Studio 60, but I thought he was pretty amazing . He’s introduced like someone you’re gonna hate – rich slimey lawyer with a patronising attitude, but then he goes and defends a client and he basically bludgeons the judge and the audience into adoring him. Seriously, I wanted to give a standing ovation.

The only problem I have with Harry’s Law is a little difficult to describe, and possibly all in my own head. I felt a bit uncomfortable watching it. If you look at the show in one way it’s uplifting, people joining a community and helping the people within it. But if you look the other way – it’s implying it takes a bunch of white rich folk going into a poor black neighbourhood like they’re knights in shining armour. Both the defendants this week were black, the “I’m the first person in my family to go to college” and “the police don’t help in this neighbourhood” angles were laid on pretty thick. But for all the comments on the dodginess of the neighbourhood, it just looks like a nice tree-lined street dressed with the occasional homeless person. It can also apparently support a designer shoe shop. The liberalness is laid on so heavily meanwhile that it’s at great risk of toppling over into patronising condescension.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, maybe I’m thinking too hard about what should be (and mostly was) a lighthearted comedy with a good heart behind it. If the writers avoid becoming patronising, go easy with the cheesy voiceover and don’t go too over the top with the quirkiness, (i.e. it doesn’t turn into Boston Legal) I think I could really love the show.

LinksOfficial website, wikipedia, imdb, TV.com

Clique-Clack – So I was excited to see the pairing of [Kathy Bates] and legendary producer and writer David E. Kelley on NBC’s new offering Harry’s Law. What a great pair up, I thought. And after watching the pilot, I’m really pleased.

TVSquad – After watching the first two episodes, I definitely agree with him. It has all the hallmarks of a Kelley series: quirky characters and setting, cases that touch upon current societal issues, long courtroom speeches. Unfortunately, in this case, that’s not such a good thing.

The upfronts: NBC

What’s Out
Heroes – not really a big surprise to anyone. The ratings have been on a steady decline as they tried to stretch what was clearly a one-season-wonder out with generally increasing shoddiness. There’s some talk of a final few episodes to allow them to tie up any lose ends, but I for one won’t miss the show as I gave up on it a season and a half ago.

The bigger surprise was the cancellation of Law & Order, the longest-running TV show in history (depending on who you ask) will not be returning for a 21st season. It’s helped launch hundreds of careers, several spin-offs and many would say an entire genre. I’ve never watched it so don’t mourn it personally, but more as a slightly sad end to an institution.

Of 2009-10’s freshmen, Mercy and Trauma both got the axe. I didn’t bother with Mercy after I judged the pilot to be Grey’s Anatomy Light. The cancellation of Trauma was pretty inevitable given the expensive price tag and low ratings, but I’m still confused why it wasn’t more popular and I’ll miss the characters.

What’s Back
Turns out NBC is full of shows I have barely even heard of let alone watch. The only freshman to survive was Parenthood, the pilot of which I thought was ok, but didn’t make me rush out to watch the rest of the series. Chuck is also back, despite not great ratings it somehow survived the cut yet again to the great delight of its obsessed fans. 30 Rock, Law & Order: SVU, The Office and Parks and Recreation all return but I don’t watch any of them. The only other thing I do watch that’s kind of on NBC is (best show on television?) Friday Night Lights through it’s special deal which sees it air on cable months ahead of running on NBC.

What’s New
It’s apparently the year of the lawyer and the love-seeking sap.

  • OutlawJimmy Smits is a Supreme Court Justice who resigns so that he can go back to helping individual people. You had me at Jimmy Smits.
  • Harry’s LawKathy Bates stars in David E. Kelley’s new legal thing. You had me at Kathy Bates.
  • Law & Order: Los Angeles – They may as well have called this show Same Old Plot: Same Old City. Does the world really need a third new legal drama and yet another show set in LA.
  • Undercovers – Two retired, married CIA agents are reactivated. J.J. Abrams takes on Mr & Mrs Smith and if the trailer is anything to go by, he’s trying too hard.
  • ChaseJerry Bruckheimer brings his usual budget, explosions, running and shooting this time to US Marshals. I was uninspired by the trailer.
  • The Event – It’s about some kind of giant government conspiracy, with interweaving plots and threads, some of which do look interesting. But is coming just as FlashForward and Heroes are cancelled a little bit risky?
  • The Cape – A cop is forced to become a vigilante, taking on the disguise of his son’s favourite comic hero. I quite like the look of this one, it’s a pretty old school super-hero type thing, a nice balance between overdone cheese and actually looking like it might have some heart.
  • Love Bites – The lives of a whole collection of characters as they look for love. The trailer simultaneously managed to have too many plots and not enough of them. Looked like a horrible muddle of irritating people.
  • Friends With Benefits – This didn’t look too bad actually, but rather bizarrely they’re recasting a couple of the roles, so I guess they think it has problems but potential.
  • The Paul Reiser Show – The guy from Mad About You got old and seems to have written a semi-autobiographical show. I struggle to get past the ego issues, but I did quite like the trailer.
  • Perfect Couples – three couples working their way through blah blah, finding together blah blah. The trailer seems to indicate they’re horrible and hate each other, but I guess that might appeal to some people.
  • Outsourced – An Indian call centre, an American manager. Racial stereotyping hilarity ensues. Kill me now.

NBC upfront coverage at TVSquad, Ausiello Files and The Futon Critic