Maiden Voyage: 2014 Pilot reviews

mergeThis year, for the first time that I know of, several networks have released the pilots for some of their upcoming series online in advance of their network premieres. Besides the fact that is a wonderful idea to build buzz for their shows, it also allows more people to see the show without committing the DVR space to the great unknown. In this world of so much stellar TV at our disposal,  DVR space is at an all-time premium.

I decided to watch all the shows available, whether I had planned on watching the series or not. Of the 4 available shows (all were released to Hulu) I was already planning on watching at least 2 of them anyway so this just gives me a jump on the season, starting a TV season ahead is unheard of for me especially as I’m still finishing shows from last season.

A to Z (NBC) premieres October 2
Extremely cute rom-com. The leads (Ben Feldman, Drop Dead DivaMad Men and Cristin Milioti How I Met Your Mother) are very sweet and they have great chemistry. I am not sold on the narrator (Voiced by Katy Segal who seems to have no other connection to the series) that omniciently bookends the pilot giving us insights into the arc of the relationship (kind of, it’s really ambiguous) nor am I sold on their best friends played by the shockingly miscast Leonora Critchlow and Henry Zebrowski. Both roles feel too forced together in an artificial attempt to create a “core group” dynamic that it doesn’t really need. That said , I’m definitely in for the series for as long as it lasts. As it’s NBC, even a modest hit should lead to a full season pickup.

Selfie (ABC) premieres September 30
This show is a modern take on “Pygmalion”/My Fair Lady for the Internet generation. Self-obsessed social media mogul seeks to change her image through “rebranding” at the hands of a marketing genius with no social skills. Gee, I wonder if they’ll teach each other a “valuable lesson” at some point. The pilot is pure and utter fluff, I would be surprised to see it last very long, ABC is pretty quick on the trigger, but if it did I would not be upset. Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) and John Cho have great chemistry, which will suit them well should their characters fall in love (which will totally happen) but the characters will need to grow beyond their less than two dimensional personas for that to happen. I just don’t know if ABC will give it time to get there.

Forever (ABC) premieres September 23
Part procedural, part supernatural mystery, Forever‘s what would happen if a less likable version a Sherlock Holmes (either the Sherlock version of the Elementary version) became even more smug and traded any humanizing qualities for immortality. Our hero medical examiner (Ioan Gruffudd) is immortal for reasons he doesn’t know but he can still “die,” which he does at least 4 times in the pilot. He always resurrects in the nearest body of water naked. Why? Because shut up that’s why. I spent most of the pilot wondering what happens to the clothes he leaves behind when he dies. Beamed away with him only to not fully make the trip into the Hudson? What about his wallet, keys, phone? These questions haunted me throughout the episode. Which should really tell you how compelling the narrative was. Gruffudd is fine, as is his interplay with Judd Hirsch (the only one who knows his secret) and the mystery of the week is also fine in a wow-really-glad-dude-can-kill-himself-to-solve-mysteries kind of way. But, overall this show is both too high concept to last and not original enough to draw any viewers.

Red Band Society (FOX) September 17
I’m just putting this out there: I loved this pilot. It’s fresh, fun, emotional but not sappy, and shows a ton of potential for the series. The cast, led by Octavia Spencer (The Help) and David Annable (Brothers & Sisters) manages to humanize a story of sick kids who live in a hospital in a way that reminds you that while they are facing big issues, they’re still kids. While the gimmick of the whole thing being narrated by an omniscient narrator in a coma feels very out of place at first, it really works. They manage to make him feel like a real character (which also leads to the episodes only real stumbling block but I feel they can overcome that if they don’t dip too far into that well.) as opposed to a disembodied voice or, worse, just an unconscious boy. I really can’t recommend this one enough, at least to check out this first episode.

If you’re a TV fan then this is one of the best times of year, there is so much promise – before the inevitability of promising new shows either squandering their opening or not being given a chance to find themselves. To that end, in this new era of TV, streaming networks like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu have also begun to delve into the original programming market. These series are fantastic because for the most part their entire runs are available on day 1. You get to watch the show rise and fall at your own pace, as opposed to hoping it will live to find it’s voice. And, based on the strengths of last year’s streaming entries (See Netflix’s dominance in Emmy nominations for Orange is the New Black and House of Cards) even more creators have flocked to the Internet to stretch their creative wings.

Amazon has a really interesting pilot crop, all available to stream with your Prime subscription, but the “buzziest” would have to be Transparent the story of a transgender father of 3 (Jeffrey Tambor) who must come out to his 3 adult children with messy lives of their own. The pilot, available now (series premiere September 26), is a slow burn where the audience is let in on the intricacies of the players in a way the characters will never know. The kids are all in various stages of self destruction while all firmly believing themselves to be in control. I am intrigued enough to watch some more, but the show suffers from one of my least favorite tropes of being too real, I like a little suspension of disbelief/gloss to my entertainment

Netflix, meanwhile, has gone full on crazy with the animated BoJack Horseman, an animated comedy that is as vulgar as it is funny. The pilot takes a bit to get into but once I did I I laughed out loud several times. This series falls into the category of letting funny people do funny things and staying out of their way. I think this might be a touch off the deep end but the surrealism is pretty well done.

Finally Hulu has mostly repurchased British series as their original programming while their true originals have been…underwhelming. Last year’s fully improvised Quickdraw was pretty hard to watch in it’s stilted comedy. Then there’s the strange case of Deadbeat, a Ghost meets Ghostbusters series with too much weed content that co-starred So You Think You Can Dance‘s Cat Deeley(!) as a fake medium. Just, odd. In fact their only real breakout is the animated The Awesomes in which Seth Meyers and his friends play super heroes. Now in its second season, this is a really fun show that that really demonstrates the freshness Hulu is capable of. I really hope they continue to develop sereis, while their UK imports are great (Misfits, Pramface, Green Wing, The Wrong Mans, Whites etc) it really begins to stretch the definition of the word “original”

Ultimately, no matter how you consume TV there is a lot of it coming (along with returning series) in the next few months. From what I’ve seen thus far this season’s watchword will be “heartwarming” as we all try to crawl out of the procedural hole we have been free-falling through since 2000. Well until NCIS: New Orleans (September 23) and CSI: Cyber (2015) premiere.

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