I am a true believer in judging a book by its cover when it comes to pilots. Those who make TV shows hate pilots because they feel like judging an entire television series by its pilot is like judging an entire batter's career by one at-bat. As Tiny Fey writes in her book Bossypants:
Pilots are extremely difficult to write because you have to introduce all the characters without it feeling like a series of introductions. You have to tell a story that's not only funny and compelling but also dramatizes your main characters' point of view and what the series would be about thematically.Even though writing pilots may be difficult, I think because the show's creator is forced to encapsulate an entire series in one episode that a pilot is a great way to determine whether or not you watch the entire series. Tina Fey's show 30 Rock is a perfect example of why I like the pilot system. Her show along with Entourage (my favorite show of all time) and Mad Men (the best show of the past five years) are the three best pilots I have seen in the past decade. After watching the pilots to those respective shows I said to myself, "This show is awesome, I need to see more". And I have been proven right so far.
I'd like to think of myself as a good indicator of talent when it comes to pilots- whether that is true or not remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I am bringing my talent to you faithful readers. Enjoy!
New Girl is by far and away the best new fall TV show. It stars Zooey Deschanel and, surprise surprise, she plays a quicky, cute, likeable, girl-next-door. The show is about her character (Jess) as she moves in with three male roommates after she catches her boyfriend cheating on her within the first few minutes of the first episode.
Deschanel is funny and good in this role (of course, she's been playing this role for the past decade or so in movies) but the show would get stale and boring if it solely focused around her character. The reason the show works so well is because of her three roommates (well, really mainly two). Her roommates are Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris).
In the pilot episode, the black roommate was played by Damon Wayans Jr. who didn't continue with the show because he choose to star in Happy Endings instead (huge mistake, see below). His character, Coach, was funny and enjoyable and instead of filming a new pilot the show just wrote out Coach from the series and added in Winston. Winston is the one roommate who I think brings the show down. The show hasn't really written a personality or a part for him yet and I hope they can ease him in as the show moves forward.
Schmidt is the "leader" of this group and a huge douchebag (which works out great for the viewers, is not meant to be an insult at all, and something that can not be said for later episodes of Ted in How I Met Your Mother). Nick is more soft-spoken and down-to-earth and seems better and more prepared to help Jess get on with her life after the break up- which makes sense because he too is also struggling to deal with his break up. Coach's quirkiness fit in perfectly with this weird and strange dynamic and Winston is written (and/or played) so straight and uptight
In the three episodes that have aired so far the story lines (and even the resolutions) are pretty much the same and I worry that this schtick could get old, but right now I don't care. All I want out of a comedy is to laugh and this show does it for me. The characters are three-dimensional and enjoyable to watch. When How I Met Your Mother ends in a few years (and the way this season has started in can't come fast enough) I think New Girl has the best chance to take its place.
American Horror Story
This show was the only other pilot of this new season that I was blown away by. OK, that is a hyperbole but this episode left me wanting more which is what I want out of a pilot.
The show follows Vivien and Ben Harmon (Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott) and their daughter Violet (played by Vera's sister Taissa Farmiga) as they move from Boston to a haunted house in Los Angeles. Ben cheated on Vivien after a miscarriage by Vivien and in order to get a new start Ben picks up his family to move across the country.
This show initially intrigued me because I can't remember the last time a horror series was made for T.V. and because FX has had great success with quality programming within the past three years (Justified, Always Sunny, The League, Archer, Terriers, Lights Out. Need I go on?).
I enjoyed all the horror scenes that went on throughout the pilot episode. As I've gotten older (and graduated from high school) I've grown to enjoy horror movies more and more. While I still can't stand gross-out gore used to fear purposes (hell I couldn't even get through a surgery scene of Nip/Tuck, also on FX, without cringing) I enjoy movies that build up suspense with music and tension. The best horror movies have great filmmaking along with superb acting and the right music (I know, I know you can say the same thing for all movies and that's true but I feel like not all great directors can do horror movies but all the great horror directors can do other movies. Whatever.) It takes a special skill to create a great horror movie (and a skill that M. Night Shyamalam clearly lost after 2000).
The fear and suspense building up is here in American Horror Story but it lacks good acting and a cohesive plot and characters. The lack of cohesiveness though I thought worked in the pilot (the only episode released as of the writing of this post) because I enjoyed the scary and creepy moments. The only way to have continuously scary moments is to suspend disbelief and just create reasons for new creppy shit to occur. The lack of structure worries me going forward and plays a huge part in any visual medium (and the reason I could not give the show any sort of "A" rating) but at the same time I will give the show its props for making a thriller T.V. show and thrilling me in the process. I can turn off my brain and except major plot holes if the show is scaring me like it should.
I will say though, maybe it wasn't the best idea creating a horror television show around a haunted house. Realistically, why would the characters continue to live in the house if it's haunted? Everyone would just move! Can the show really continue for five seasons living in the same haunted house?
I was very uninpressed by the show's pilot and if The Office didn't air right before Whitney and if It's Always Sunny and The League didn't air at least half an hour after The Office I would have stopped watching Whitney by now. But alas, I have seen all three episodes so far.
The show follows Whitney (Whitney Cummings) and her boyfriend Alex (Chris D'Elia) along with two of Whitney's friends and two of Alex's friends. The first glaring problem is that the show has a laugh track (OK, it's first glaring problem is that the show is not funny but we'll get to that in a second). The show claims it is filmed in front of a live studio audience but I refuse to believe that. I had seen most of the jokes of the pilot in the ten bajillion previews NBC aired for Whitney and those jokes were made even worse with people laughing when I first saw the pilot. The show was telling me to laugh but I couldn't do it which just upset me further.
I have enjoyed Whitney's stand up career and her jokes so I was excited for this show but unfortunately it has not lived up to my expectations. This show has the potential to be good but I think creative control needs to be taken away from Cummings. She wrote the first two episodes and seems to be in charge of everything. I think if someone more talented came aboard and worked with the characters Cummings created the show would be better. Like what NBC did with Parks and Recreation. Parks and Rec's first season was so terrible I stopped watching, but then NBC retooled it and DME still for some reason kept watching and convinced me to do the same. Now the show is one of the best comedies on television right now.
But now back to Whitney. The best part of this entire series is Whitney's boyfriend Alex. D'Elia is funny and good in this role and plays well off of Whitney's character. The best episode by far of this short series was episode three- which focused a lot on Alex and less on Whitney. (Plus this episode was not written by Cummings).
The four other friends are tired, stale, two-dimensional characters that I don't care about which is another reason the show is pretty bad. However, because of how awesome D'Elia has been and because of its convenient time slot, I have and will continue to watch Whitney.
The first of two new shows trying to be like Mad Men and failing miserably. This show is set in the 60's and mainly follows four Pan American stewardesses: Maggie Ryan (Christina Ricci), sisters Kate and Laura Cameron (Kelli Gardner and Margot Robbie respectively), and Colette Valois (Karine Vanasse) and probably one or two pilots as well. I don't know, the show was so bad and boring I couldn't stay focused and started cleaning my apartment in the middle of watching the pilot. (haha pilot, Pan Am, airplines. Get it? As well you shouldn't have).
The show tries to do what Mad Men does- show a changing of the times; How the 1960's in America empowered women (even though all Pan Am stewardesses have to wear girdles and be hot in order to have the job) and how the 60's changed America in general. However, the first step to do this (in fact the first step for every television show) is to have characters that the audience cares about. I could have cared less about what any of these characters were doing.
The show jumps around all over the place as well which also takes the viewer out of it. While all four flight attendants (at least in the first two episodes that I have seen) are flying together, the show will make LOST-esque flashbacks that I also could have cared less about. Like LOST on the island, the stewardesses are all on a flight together which cohesively ties all the characters together while sporadically jumping back in time to try to develop and bring audience sympathy to these characters. But in the end it's all for naught. Colette is kind of a slut. Maggie is a rebel trying to be a part of the Kesey-ian counterculture. One of the Cameron sisters was gonna get married but didn't. Whoop-dee-do. I don't care, I don't care, I don't care.
On top of all of that, there's this weird spy, espionage, Cold War thing with one of the Cameron sisters (I seriously could not tell which sister was which. They both look like an indistinguishable hot, white girl to me).
Anyways, because of a lack of structure, a poor excuse to try to be Mad Men, and for characters I don't care about (did you get that I don't care about these characters?), Pan Am gets a poor rating from me.
Apparently this show was a mid season replacement in April of 2011 and the episode I saw was not a pilot at all but the beginning of season two. That would help explain why the writers of the episode did not follow Tiny Fey's advice. The show centers around six friends. One of them is played by Damon Wayans Jr, one by Elisha Cuthbert (24, The Girl Next Door), and one by Eliza Coupe (the bitchy intern in the last few, non-NBC season of Scrubs) and well as three other people I couldn't care less about.
It's very difficult to have have more than four main characters that you should sympathize with in a sitcom. Sure there are comedies with more than four central characters (How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Cheers, Community) but in order for those comedies to be successful multiple characters are woven into the same story line or, especially in the case of Community, characters will just flat out not have a story arc. I felt like Happy Endings tried to weave in multiple story lines and multiple characters together which just created confusion and indifference for the viewer. The show wants you to care about all six of theirs and in the process makes you care about none.
Worst of all, the show wasn't funny. You can't make a comedy and then not make me laugh and because of the poor character development I wasn't entertained either. Plus, it made me even more upset that Wayans choose this show over New Girl.
Last Man Standing
Imagine Home Improvement. Now imagine Tim Allen having three girls instead of three boys. Now imagine that Tim Allen has aged ten years, not done any good live action movies since Home Improvement (gotta give him *some* props for Toy Story), and is not funny anymore. Now you have Last Man Standing.
The fundamental family concept is there for Last Man Standing just like it was there for Home Improvement as well as most sitcoms prior to the cancellation of Everybody Loves Raymond but the jokes are not. To top it all off, the entire shows is cliche. The three daughters are all moody idiots (NOTE: Dear LMS, see Modern Family to how to write teenage daughter characters correctly) and Tim Allen's crotchety old man routine is tiresome. Tim Allen ends up creating and positing vlogs about how the younger culture is full of wimps and pansies and blah blah blah.
All of this could be forgiven though if the jokes actually made me laugh and, as mentioned earlier, the dynamic of the show creates potential for the show to be funny. But it is not like Last Man Standing is the first sitcom to be centered around a family and it most certainly would not the first sitcom that is family-centered to not be funny and get cancelled in its first season either.
The Playboy Club
OK. So while you can not even watch this show anymore to judge for yourself, I did have to suffer through its pilot episode so damn it I am going to talk about it!
This is the second of two shows that tries to take after the Mad Men mold. Hell, the shows main character (Nick Dalton) looks like Don Draper, dresses like Don Draper, acts like Don Draper, and even SOUNDS like Don Draper. Though I hate to tell ya' Playboy Club, you were doomed from the start.
Though the show was neither smart nor charming nor funny nor entertaining in any way, shape, or form, even if the show rivaled Mad Men in terms of quality, as it turns out Mad Man gets piss poor ratings and if it was on any other channel besides AMC (like, say, the 4th rated network known as NBC) it would have been cancelled three and a half seasons ago. Shame on you America for not watching the greatness that is Med Men! Shame on you!
Other pilots I have watched:
- Up All Night (NBC, Wed, 8/7c) Grade: C-.
- Free Agents (NBC, Cancelled) Grade: F.
Television Shows I Am Currently Watching (Grade for this season only)
- How I Met Your Mother (CBS, Mon, 8/7c) Grade: C
- Glee (FOX, Tues, 8/7c) Grade: C-
- Workaholics (Comedy Central, Tues, 930/830c) Grade: B+
- Modern Family (ABC, Wed, 9/8c) Grade: A+
- Community (NBC, Thurs, 8/7c) Grade: A-
- Parks and Rec (NBC, Thurs, 830/730c) Grade: A
- The Office (NBC, Thurs, 9/8c) Grade: B
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, Thurs, 10/9c) Grade: A+
- Archer (FX, Thurs, 1030/930c) Grade: B (three episode miniseries)
- The League (FX, Thurs, 1030/930c) Grade: B- (one episode)
- Jersey Shore (MTV, Thurs, 10/9c) Grade: B+