The CW Pilots: Reign, Star-Crossed and The 100

cwThe CW has always pitched itself at the young adult market, with programming generally looking at the trials and tribulations teenagers and twenty-somethings have to go through, often while dealing with various science fiction or comic book traumas on top of that. I’m a big fan of young adult television and books, it often gives a better blend of various dramas and produces shows that are both engaging and entertaining to watch. The CW and its predecessors The WB and UPN have given some of my favourite shows of all time – Veronica Mars, Supernatural, Buffy and Angel. There’s also Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, Charmed, Roswell and Star Treks Voyager and Enterprise.

But in recent years the quality of their offerings has fallen far from these lofty heights. More and more of their programming just feels like they’re following a simple equation to make their shows: young adults + THING = Show. So you have Young adults + Batman = Arrow, Young adults + Sex and the City = The Carrie Diaries, young adult + Grey’s Anatomy = Emily Owens MD. Formulaic is ok if your characters or style or direction have some spark (many of the shows in the first paragraph follow the same pattern after all), but recently it feels like The CW just can’t be bothered with that.

Fair enough, I often only watch the pilot so maybe I’m not giving things a fair chance to develop, but the pilots of Veronica Mars, Supernatural and Gossip Girl grabbed me from the very first scenes. Of the four pilots from The CW this year (I skipped The Originals as it’s a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries which I haven’t watched), I was only even vaguely tempted to watch one of them, the other four (including The Tomorrow People – reviewed separately), fell somewhere between dull and painful.

reignMary Queen of Scots is 15 when she and her ladies-in-waiting arrive in the French Court to become acquainted with her future husband and King of France, Francis. But not everyone is happy to see her and she finds herself in the middle of love triangles and intrigue.

It has a very weird and unstable tone to it. For the most part it’s very much what you’d expect from The CW – pretty teenagers, lip gloss, pouting, hair, giggling and love triangles, with popular music over montages of putting on makeup and dancing in clouds of feathers. But then it lurches to serious talk of the fate of countries, responsibilities of monarchs, attempted rape and execution. While the frivolous stuff is bright and entertaining though, the darker elements are clumsy and amateur.

There has clearly been some enthusiasm put towards the production. The detail of sets, costume and scale are very impressive, although they’re more about what an American teenager’s idea of 16th century French royal court than any type of reality. Most of the characters and actors are solid enough as well, the ‘grown ups’ hamming it up quite spectacularly while the ‘teenagers’ (all over 21 in reality and not a Scottish accent between them) pout and flounce as required. There are way too many people in the episode, the four ladies in waiting being particularly hard to keep track of, but that can of course be fleshed out in later episodes. The pilot covers a ridiculous amount of ground, and the first 15 minutes is almost hilarious as it bustles through exposition, but it does just about all hang together and fill in both the backstory and some possible stories for the future.

The episode as a whole felt very much like children playing dress up, both the actors themselves and The CW. But it’s just a game and it simply didn’t work. They should have steered clear of the more serious subject matter, using an entirely fictional history if necessary, take out all the pesky realities of history and just make it Gossip Girl in the 16th Century and it could have been rather fun.

Reign aired 22 episodes in its first season and was renewed for a second, it does not seem to have been picked up by any UK channels.

starcrossedIt’s 2024 and ten years ago aliens landed in America. Now as part of a move towards integration, seven of the teenage aliens join a local high school and all its usual social maneuvering. Then one of the alien boys makes a connection with a human girl…

The old Romeo and Juliet chestnut is dusted off again, I guess it’s so popular because it works, but it does immediately make me roll my eyes, particularly when it’s combined with so many painfully obvious tropes and references. It’s not a complete no-no to make metaphors for the civil rights movement, but they need to be done with care so they’re neither thumpingly obvious, nor painfully dull. Star-crossed does not manage this.

I just couldn’t be bothered with any of it. About 2/3 of the way through my (cough) watching method flaked out and I had to really force myself to go back and watch the rest of the episode. For the most part I needn’t have bothered because it all played out exactly as expected. The whole episode was really paint by numbers kind of stuff, with all the character and story cliches well broadcast and predictable.

Even that would be forgivable with some spark from the actors, but with the exception of Aimee Teegarden (unrecognisable from her Julie Taylor days on Friday Night Lights) they’re a bland bunch. Again, I struggled to tell characters apart and struggled to care. If you think of something like Gossip Girl, there was no original story there either, but the dialogue and characters shone. Star-crossed just sits there like a lump.

Star-Crossed aired 13 episodes in its first season and was not picked up for a second.

The 100
the10097 years after a nuclear apocalypse, the various space stations have bonded together and established a pretty large population. 100 teenage criminals are sent back to Earth to see if it’s safe and to reduce the population on the struggling space station.

This is actually the strongest of the new shows, although that’s not saying a great deal. What I liked most about this was that the pilot focussed on the story with only a spattering of teenage issues. The setup is actually quite interesting and solid; yes it’s all got the potential to turn into Lord of the Flies, but the sci-fi elements, and the political story carried by the adults on the space station are a very strong foundation to build on.
As with all these series, everyone is improbably pretty, hair is impeccable and mascara and lip gloss are the only thing that appears to be in abundance post apocalypse. A quick check of imdb reveals that the actors playing ‘teenagers’ are all at least 22, but they generally seem to be able to deliver more depth than those in the other series.

The 100 isn’t Battlestar Galactica or anything, but it’s not as predictable as the other series and I can see potential for both interesting storylines and entertainment. It wasn’t exactly a show that I’d rate as a “must watch”, I haven’t got beyond the first episode, although I also haven’t cancelled the series link.

The 100 had 13 episodes in its first season and was broadcast in the UK on E4. It has been picked up for a second season.

The Tomorrow People: Pilot Review

Although I’m generally a fan of such things, I’ve somehow never seen the original 1970’s British series. Frankly I’m a bit surprised that anyone in the US has seen it and even more surprised given what I’ve heard about the series that anyone would chose to remake it! I guess if you can look past the 70s naffness then it is a pretty good fit for The CW Network (home of Supernatural, Arrow and The Vampire Diaries) – teenagers with superpowers. Plenty of potential for all kinds of angsty variations of “with great power comes great responsibility” while having complicated relationships and wearing as few shirts (for the guys) and as much lipgloss (not limited to the girls) as possible. I’m not being snooty about that (well, I am, but only for comic effect). I can enjoy a trashy American teen series as much as the next thirty something Brit, but Tomorrow People utterly failed to grab me and I’ve been trying to work out why.

I think it’s mostly due to the obviousness of it all. There was nothing either subtle, clever or original about any of it. I don’t know the details of the original series, so I don’t know or care how much is carried over and how much is new. There were a few opportunities to go in interesting directions (eg making the enemy less “mu ha ha we are evil” and actually having them follow through on the more interesting moral questions) but the writers steered away from them as if they were on fire.

It also feels a little like the writers ran into the super-power candy store and took everything they could lay their hands on. Each of the Tomorrow People gets teleportation, telepathy AND telekinesis, and then the hero seems to have extra bonus powers on top of that as well. Even Professor Xavier only got two of those! Actually X-Men is another interesting comparison, everyone having different powers is part of what made it interesting, different specialities combining in different ways. Each new character brought new potential and new chaos. But as The Tomorrow People are all the same, all they’ve got going for them are their personalities.

Which would be fine if they actually had any personality beyond cardboard cut out American teenagers. They immediately fall into the expected patterns of naive newbie, alpha male leader, voice of reason… blah blah blah. And of course the immediate romantic triangle that looms into view immediately. Oh, and of course the fact that all the teenagers are played by people who are at least 25. Just to keep it in the family as well the lead actor in this is played by the cousin of the lead actor in Arrow.

I haven’t even touched on the idiotic science, clunky “he’s not ready to hear that yet” narrative or the cheesy voice-over. It’s all just paint-by-numbers kind of stuff. I could possibly have forgiven all those crimes though if only it had some sense of irony or style to it. Something like Buffy, or even Gossip Girl had equally stupid plots, but they filled the scripts with snappy dialogue and some energy.

Once again a new series is launched which leaves me wanting to do nothing but dig out some dvds and re-watch other series from 5, 10 or even 15 years ago. There was nothing in this show that really sold me on watching to the end of the episode let alone to the end of the season.

The Upfronts – The CW

cwThe last of the major networks, The CW continues to be primarily aimed at teenage girls with a variety of pretty people fighting and falling for each other in increasingly complicated situations. I’m not judging, just saying.

What’s out
Only four cancellations from CW – two new shows which never got off the ground (Emily Owens, MD and Cult), the reimagining of 90210 which lasted five seasons, and Gossip Girl which spent six years steadily declining from a thoroughly entertaining start to a ridiculous conclusion.

What’s returning
Supernatural - Season 5The CW seems to be a home for monsters and mythical stuff, which means that all their shows can sit next to each other on the schedule and help feed audiences back and forth. Supernatural is the oldest of the bunch, returning for a ninth season, to inflict ever greater traumas on the Winchesters. New shows Arrow and Beauty and the Beast are astonishingly rubbish imho, but apparently appeal to others, along with The Vampire Diaries (which spawns a spin off) and Nikita which will have a six episode fourth season to conclude its storylines. The Carrie Diaries (the prequel to Sex in the City) is a new show with a pick up, and Hart of Dixie earns a third season.

What’s New
The 100 – nuclear war destroyed the Earth, the only survivors the 400 people in space stations. A century later 4000 people are crammed in the aging stations, desperately short of resources and under increasingly draconian laws. 100 juvenile prisoners are sent to the Earth’s surface to see if it’s habitable. The set up is interesting, but I rather wish it had been done as a non-teenage based series; there’s a lot of potential for serious stories but I’m worried it’s not going to have the weight to deal with them. (Starts midseason)

The Originals – Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan, Vampire Diaries) is a vampire-werewolf hybrid, he returns to New Orleans a city his family helped to build with plans to reclaim the power, the city and his family. It’s a spin-off from The Vampire Diaries and takes several characters along with it. I didn’t get on with Vampire Diaries because of the annoying teenage romance element (“Dear Diary, he’s so dreamy, I totally don’t care about the blood drinking thing”), but I had been meaning to give it another attempt because it apparently grew into something more interesting. Maybe I can just skip that and watch this marginally more mature looking alternative.

Star-Crossed – An alien spaceship crash lands on Earth to a less than friendly reception. An alien child finds refuge with a human child, but is soon recaptured. After ten years of imprisonment the aliens are being reintroduced to the world to see if integration is possible. The test case is a group of teenage aliens sent to a human school, where the two friends immediately reconnect. It’s classic Romeo and Juliet stuff which I just found rather tedious. (Starts midseason)

Reign – the “untold” story of Mary Queen of Scots. Teenage Mary arrives in France to secure their alliance with Scotland by marrying the King’s son. Their romance however will be complicated by politics, religion, love triangles and secrets. This sort of period setting and historical relevance is (I think) entirely new for the CW and the clips and trailers are the very opposite of inspiring.

The Tomorrow People – a group of genetically advanced teenagers have developed abilities like telekinesis, teleportation and telepathy. They’re being hunted by a paramilitary group. It’s a remake of the British series and is all a bit X-Men, but it’s also rather similar to Syfy channel’s Alphas and that only lasted two seasons.

Links: The CW has both trailers and clips for all its new series available at its website. The press release and schedule summary are at the Futon Critic.