Catching up on pilot reviews

As it comes to the end of the televisual year, I realised there were a fair few pilots that I’d not written reviews for. The ones I’ve managed to catch up on in the last couple of weeks all have one thing in common – all the shows have been cancelled. So really, there’s no winning here, either they’re rubbish and no fun to watch, or they’re great but doomed, so sad to watch. Fortunately, most of them ended up in the former category, so the only loss was my time.

666 Park Avenue666parkavenue
A young couple move into a luxurious New York apartment building as the new resident managers. But the building’s owners have some creepy hold over the tenants, manipulating them to do their will and gifting them with supernatural rewards in return.
This felt rather like ‘American Horror Story Lite’, trying to play up the creepy elements, but only really succeeding in coming across as rather camp and cheesy. The plot also looked as if it were going to play out rather like a Supernatural episode each week (or stretched over multiple weeks), which made it rather predictable and tired for anyone who’s been watching that series for the last 8 years. The cast is likeable and high name enough – with Terry O’Quinn (Lost) and Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) hamming it up and Dave Annable (Brothers and Sisters) and Rachael Taylor (Um.. Charlie’s Angels?) playing it straight. It’s not terrible, and I might actually have given it a few more episodes as a change from ‘yet another procedural’, but it was cancelled after 7 episodes, by which time its ratings had dropped from 9 million to 5 million viewers (wikipedia).

cultIt’s a show in a show! The television show Cult has a rabid following of fans, and some of them seem to be investing way too much in the show, looking for mysteries and conspiracies. But when weird stuff starts happening in real life is it just constructed paranoia, or is the show’s mysterious creator actually up to something.
The concept is certainly original and intriguing, but I can’t quite decide whether this show was too smart for its own good, or was just a thin veneer of cool over a shallow emptiness. Every line of dialogue is doom laden, and every scene is so packed full of potential clues that you could easily follow the crazy fans down the rabbit hole, but I’ve got no confidence you’d find anything there. I do wonder how many viewers it lost within the first three minutes when it started with an extended scene from the show within the show, distinguishable from reality (or at least the next level of reality up) mostly by its stunningly poor production values.
I suspect Cult fell between two stands, it wasn’t good enough to obsess over and it was too detailed to just watch casually. While I was intrigued by the idea, I didn’t really enjoy watching the episode. I’m not sure whether I would have stuck it out if it hadn’t been cancelled, but it never mustered more than 860,000 viewers, which dropped to just over 500,000 by episode 6 (wikipedia), which is terrible even for The CW, so I don’t have to make that decision .

Red Widow
redwidowMarta seems like a nice lady. Unfortunately for her, her kids have problems, her father is a Russian mobster and her husband is a drug runner who’s just got caught up in a really bad deal. The title kind of gives away the fact that things aren’t going to go well for hubby, and before you know it, Marta’s caught up in the life she never wanted to be part of.
I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed the pilot. The cast are all interesting to watch, no one too familiar but no one too inexperienced either, all playing their roles with an unexpected depth and subtlety. The family dynamics all have a lot of potential as well, the shared secrets that no one talks about and the bubbling anger from the more innocent parties that they’ve been dragged into this situation. The plot I’m less sure about, it plays a little too close to Weeds or Breaking Bad, and there’s that familiar sense of dread that everything is only ever going to get worse, making it hard to want to watch. It seems this show was a bit doomed from the start, it debuted at an odd time of the year and only 8 episodes were commissioned. The ratings dropped off pretty fast and it wasn’t so much cancelled as just quietly put down (wikipedia). If it managed to avoid becoming too depressing, this might actually have been interesting.

Zero Hour
zerohourI have to be honest and confess that I didn’t watch this all the way through. I was continually interrupted while watching it, and when it came to restart for the third time I just couldn’t face it. This show was terrible! It opens with a flashback to Nazi Germany, where some extremely cheap actors deliver doom laden dialogue in a cheap period setting. Then we jump forward to present day and after a quick (although it felt interminable) scene showing us how very much in love Mark Green (sorry, Hank Galliston played by Anthony Edwards who deserves so much better since he left ER) with his wife we’re launched into a DaVinci Code esque romp with kidnappings, over-the-top villains, be-suited FBI, conspiracy theories and a deeply irritating ticking clock motif. It’s just bad. The plot is uninteresting and unoriginal, the script is terrible and most of the acting is phoned in. The idea of sitting through the pilot, let alone a whole series filled me with apathy. The American viewers agreed, it was cancelled after just three episodes and apparently holds the record “lowest rated in-season debut for a scripted show ever on [ABC]” (wikipedia).

The Mob Doctor
mobdoctorGrace is a kick-ass surgeon who owes a debt to the mob.
It’s not a particularly complicated set-up and it’s not a particularly complicated show. Neither is it a particularly well put together one, the only real depth to either the characters or plot are the holes in them and while it wasn’t offensively awful or anything, it just felt very constructed and soul-less. It may have got better, but there really wasn’t anything in the pilot that made me want to watch more of it and apparently the rest of the audience felt the same. It debuted with mediocre ratings, lost about a third of them by the second episode was cancelled by the eighth (wikipedia).

Made in Jersey
madeinjerseyMartina Garretti is a a ‘normal’ girl from New Jersey, the first of her family to go to college and she’s made it to a top flight New York law firm where she confounds everyone’s expectations.
It’s a pretty tired concept, but then the reason it’s so familiar is that it does actually work, everyone loves routing for an underdog and there’s immense satisfaction in not only seeing her succeed, but also in seeing those around her supporting and respecting her, even those who were initially prejudiced against her. Unfortunately the extremes she contends with are rather overplayed, the New Jersey-ness of her family was too shriek and big haired, and the bitchiness of her snobby female colleague was a bit tiresome. But in between the two extremes are some potentially more nuanced and fun characters. I was all prepared to roll my eyes at this, but I found myself really quite charmed by it, particularly by lead Janet Montgomery. The plot isn’t up to the quality of The Good Wife, but there was something really pleasing about seeing a lawyer adjusting her own clothes rather than just turning up in knock out suits. Sadly though it was the season record holder for least number of episodes, cancelled after just 2 (wikipedia).

The Upfronts 2012 – Fox

Thanks to the schedulers who doubled up Fox and NBC on day one of the Upfronts, I’m already a day behind!

What’s out
The biggest news from Fox this year was that House would be coming to a close after 8 seasons. It’s a shame that out of 176 episodes there were 150 utterly mediocre ones that broke up the 20 odd breathtaking ones. I’ve come very close to giving up on this series several times so I can’t say I was that disappointed to see it brought to a managed close.

I was more disappointed by the cancellation of Terra Nova which I actually really enjoyed, but its audiences were nowhere near big enough for its giant costs, so it was slightly doomed from the start. The Finder was an utterly unremarkable spin-off of Bones and I never bothered with it beyond the backdoor pilot in the previous season of Bones. I meant to watch Alcatraz, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule and now it’s been cancelled I’m not sure I’ll bother. Breaking In was a Christian Slater vehicle which completely passed me by somehow and seems to have been cancelled before its second season even aired which was a little harsh. Also cancelled without me, or anyone else, noticing their existence were the animation Allen Gregory and the ‘comedy’ I Hate My Teenage Daughter.

What’s back
Possibly the biggest surprise of all the pickups was that Fox, with its reputation for hating genre stuff, renewed Fringe. All credit to the network they’ve given this superb show a home and a chance to finish off its storylines (albeit in a half season) despite terrible ratings. I’m still not forgiving them for Firefly though.

No-shit-sherlock pickups went to Glee (even if it has been rubbish this year) and Bones (which was surprisingly good). Touch, the Kiefer Sutherland thingy was a bit more surprising (pilot was resoundingly meh and I didn’t bother with it), but he’s been good for the network in the past. The New Girl apparently found enough viewers who weren’t driven insane by Zooey Deschanel and got a renewal alongside Raising Hope and the collection of animations including the unkillable Simpsons (this will be its 24th season and it just passed episode 500).

What’s new
The Mob Doctor – I’ll be honest, I didn’t really follow the trailer. I’m never a big fan of gangster stuff, all that posturing and mumbling just doesn’t do it for me. My housemate also requests I point out the unrealistic screwdriver incident.

Ben and Kate – bad news, the trailer is nearly 5 minutes long. I’m assuming that’s most of the actual episode and it really isn’t funny, unless the second half is hilarious because I gave up at the 2 minute mark. I have no idea who bothers paying for this stuff.

The Mindy Project – Mindy Kaling (The Office) created and stars in some sort of Bridget Jones style thing. At one point the voiceover says “there’s no one like Mindy”. We can but hope.

The Following – Kevin Bacon stars as an FBI agent chasing serial killers who have been trained by a serial killer. This looks pretty good actually, a nice concept, an excellent star and a dark and grim tone that (possibly disturbingly) I quite like.

The Goodwin Games – From the people behind How I Met Your Mother, a comedy about estranged siblings forced to reunite to inherit a fortune. Stars Becki Newton (Ugly Betty) and Scott Foley (The Unit). I actually chuckled at this one. It got sappy which was a downer and a bit stupid which was frustrating, but I didn’t immediately despise it which is about as good as it gets for comedies.

The Futon Critic
NBC’s website