Pilot Watch, Week 1: What You Should Watch, and What’s Not Worth Your Time

"I'm on TV" By Patrick J. Adams

It’s official, Fall TV 2011 is here! And this time I am sharing with you my thoughts on the new pilots that are premiering from now to October just so you can decide for yourself if they truly are worth your time and a slot in your DVR. Of course, I’m only human and I can’t possibly watch all of them so the pilots I’m reviewing are only the shows I recommended in my 3rd Annual Ten New Shows To Watch This Fall plus a few others that I find interesting. And I’m only reviewing the pilots, which means I’m not responsible for whatever happens next. Some pilots start out strong and yet the season as a whole turns out to be a giant waste of time (e.g AMC’s Rubicon), so keep that in mind while you’re reading this and the subsequent posts.

Having said that, the first week of Fall TV turns out to be pretty busy because of this new strategy from the networks where they release the pilots early on iTunes or web to generate interests, which means I have seen more pilots this week than I did last year around the same time. The shows that have been released early are Fox’s The New Girl, NBC’s Whitney, Showtime’s Homeland and The CW’s The Secret Circle (though the latter’s only released on iTunes a mere days before the actual premiere so it doesn’t really matter). I’m reviewing all of them plus The CW’s Ringer and NBC’s Up All Night in this post, which means we have a lot to go through and we better get started!

1/ Ringer, The CW, Tuesdays 9/8c.

Sarah Michelle Gellar hasn’t been back on television since Buffy wrapped its seventh and final season, so it’s safe to say a lot of people miss her and are glad to see she’s back. Sadly, I wish she had returned in a much stronger show than Ringer. The premise is already a little shaky, about an addict/former stripper who, after being a witness in a murder trial, decides to assume her twin sister’s identity and discovers all too late that her sister’s life is not all it’s cracked up to be, but I let it slide because let’s face it, it’s The CW. However, it’s not just the premise that is shaky in this pilot, everything else is bordering on the ridiculous too. In fact, one thing I can say about this show is that it’s so bad, it’s good. If you want to watch it ironically, of course.

The problem with Ringer is that it tries a little too hard and takes itself way too seriously. There’s almost no humor the entire hour of the pilot, everyone’s so serious, so angry, so sad, so betrayed and at the end so murderous. The mystery behind the woman that is Siobhan Martin, who has an obsession with mirrors and has no qualms about faking her own suicide and hiding out in Paris where she can lounge in a room full of mirrors and smoke (I assume French) cigarettes while being four-weeks pregnant, is way too convoluted and frankly, not that interesting, really. Her twin, Bridget, who assumes her identity, is also not that interesting of a person for us to want to invest our time in getting to know her for 22-episodes. And don’t even get me started on the infamous boat scene, that actor Ryan Devlin tweeted as “Best New Comedy of The Year” for its sheer ridiculousness and appalling production value. The pilot for Buffy had better production value than that!

The only redeeming factor of this show is British actor Ioan Gruffurd, who plays Siobhan Martin’s husband. Not only is he easy on the eyes, he’s enigmatic on screen too. But will the writers be able to give him the material worthy of his talents? Only time will tell.

Verdict: Not Worth Your Time.

2/ Up All Night, NBC, Wednesdays, 10/9c.

Both Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have had their share of failed TV shows. Applegate’s Jessie and Samantha Who? were both canceled way too early and Arnett’s Arrested Development and Running Wilde suffered the same fate. They’re both really talented, really funny people though and I kept hoping they’d land a hit show so I could see them on my TV regularly. Thankfully their new show Up All Night, from SNL writer Emily Spivey and executive producer Lorne Michaels, seems to have all the making of a hit NBC comedy: great script, great actors and it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Up All Night tells the story of married couple Reagan and Chris, who try to find balance as she goes back to work full-time and he stays at home with the baby. This show can easily go the stereotypical working mom/stay-at-home dad route, where the wife is racked with guilt for going back to work and the husband is resentful for having to go on play dates and change diapers all day long, but to the credit of creator Emily Spivey, it chooses not to go down that road. Instead it tells the hilarious journey that both Reagan and Chris have to take as they try to make parenthood work; whether it’s Reagan having to babysit her boss needy Ava (played by the always hilarious Maya Rudolph) at work or Chris having to navigate the confusing aisles of the giant grocery store. They’re both equally hapless and they’re not exactly what you’d call the perfect parents, but they’re trying and anyone who’s ever been a working parent (or really just a parent) can immediately relate.

Up All Night is charming, sweet, fresh and honest. It doesn’t paint an exaggerated picture of a young family trying to make it work but it doesn’t play down the reality of marriage and parenthood either. And with a solid rating for its premier episode, I have a feeling that this time Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have finally found themselves a hit.

Verdict: Watch It or You’ll Regret It.

3/ The Secret Circle, The CW, Thursdays, 9/8c.

Because The Vampire Diaries was such a success, The CW decided to pick up The Secret Circle, a show based on another young adult novel series by LJ Smith and adapted by the same people behind The Vampire Diaries, Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, which I predict guarantees another hit for the network. And after watching the pilot, I have a feeling my prediction will come true because not only is the show a good match to its lead-in, The Vampire Diaries, it is the kind of show tweens and teens – The CW’s target demo – are crazy about. It’s got the supernatural (witches), attractive people (almost the entire cast), catchy soundtrack, and a season-long mystery that is revealed slowly with a lot of intrigues along the way. For the adults however, this show is not as easy to get into as its lead-in The Vampire Diaries.

First of all, even though us adults don’t mind a show about witches so much (we I watched Charmed, didn’t we I?), the thought of a group of teenagers possessing supernatural powers that let them control nature, is a little disconcerting. Teens, with their raging hormones and questionable judgments, shouldn’t have that much power. Second, the bad girl character in the show tries a little too hard to channel those crazy teen witches in The Craft, which makes her painful to watch. And finally, as Emily Nussbaum of NY Magazine said on her twitter, a show about witches without “wit” tends to bum us out. At least those of us over 25.

However, this show does have Gale Harold and he makes an awesome sexy murderous sociopath (I think a cross-over with The Vampire Diaries needs to happen just so his character can go toe-to-toe with psychotic Damon), and The Vampire Diaries didn’t have a strong pilot yet it keeps getting more and more awesome now that it’s in its third season, so don’t count this show out yet. It may very well surprise us all.

Verdict: Give It At Least Half A Season.

4/ The New Girl, Fox, Tuesdays, 9/8c, (starting Sept 20).

Without a doubt, this pilot got the most buzz and praise during the Upfronts, and apparently it’s so good that Fox decided not to reshoot it despite one of the leads, Damon Wayans Jr, quitting the show because of his commitment to Happy Endings that got picked up for a second season over at ABC. And there’s a good reason for it. It’s one of the funniest, most adorable (though Fox would want you to call it “simply adorkable” Really, Fox?) pilots I have ever seen in a long time. I got as excited about this show as I did with Glee two years ago, and as you all know I became a die-hard Gleek ever since (I even watched The Glee Project, so there).

The New Girl, that tells the story of Jess Day, a socially awkward but kindhearted girl who moves in with three guys after getting dumped by her boyfriend, gets it right because it’s just funny right out of the bat. Not to mention, the friendship between Jess and the guys feels natural. We see why those guys don’t want to get in her pants (she spends all day and night crying and watching Dirty Dancing), and we understand why at the end they truly do care about her. Zooey Deschanel as Jess Day is not only adorable, she’s hilarious too. Sure at first it’s hard to believe someone like her can be that unlucky in love, but she sells it well – with Jess making up a theme song for herself or picking up guys at a bar with a “Howdy, cowboy” pick-up line. And at the end, it feels like these four people are our best friends and we just want to hang out with them every night.

Since this show technically hasn’t premiered yet, I can’t tell if the rating’s going to be stellar but considering that its lead-in is the juggernaut that is Glee, I’m sure it’ll be a success. Those who have seen it on iTunes have been quite chatty on Twitter about how funny it is, so it’s only a matter of time before the rest of America catches on.

Verdict:Watch It or You’ll Regret It.

5/ Homeland, Showtime, Sundays, 10/9c (starting Oct 2).

Ever since 24 ended, domestic terrorism on television starts to lose its popularity. Sure, both ABC and NBC tried to put a sci-fi spin to the genre, with FlashForward and The Event, and both have failed spectacularly. When it comes to domestic terrorism, we somehow prefer it to stay as close to reality as possible for some reason. And with Homeland, the genre is finally resurrected post-24 and from the looks of the pilot, this show is every bit as intriguing and interesting as 24, but better because it’s smarter, deeper and a lot more complex, in a good way.

Homeland tells the story of a CIA analyst (Claire Danes) who becomes convinced that a returning MIA Marine (Damian Lewis) has been turned by Al-Qaeda and is planning an attack on US soil. For much of the pilot, we are left to wonder if Danes’ character is right and the whole thing is not just a figment of her paranoia, mostly because she’s taking anti-psychotics, utterly obsessive and well, acting a little nuts, while Damian Lewis’ character makes good speeches and grills burgers for his family. But the show is smart enough to give hints of Lewis’ deception, mostly through flashbacks, and we remain conflicted on who to believe, until about the last five minutes when we are finally convinced that Danes’ character is brilliant albeit a little nuts, and she’s right. A terror is imminent and Damian Lewis’ character is the key.

One thing that makes Homeland interesting is that the show relies heavily on the characters, and they’re all flawed. An unstable CIA analyst, an emotionally-disturbed and possibly brainwashed “hero”, a conflicted wife who doesn’t know if she still loves her returning husband – they make this show more than just a race against time to stop a terror attack. If you want a smarter, better 24, you might want to give this one a try.

Verdict: Watch It or You’ll Regret It.

6/ Whitney, NBC, Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c (Starting Sept 22).

The Fall 2011 season is definitely a women-friendly season, with so many women-centric shows premiering, and Whitney is one of them. Comedienne Whitney Cummings creates, writes and acts in this new NBC comedy that will debut next Thursday along with the return of NBC’s Thursday Night Comedy. And it’s a little tricky reviewing this show because it’s so Whitney-centric, my dislike can be easily misinterpreted as a dislike to her as a person, and it’s not true at all because I like her just fine and I even follow her on Twitter. Her show however, is just not that funny.

The problem with Whitney is that it feels so… old-fashioned compared to the other Thursday night NBC Comedies. First, it’s a multi-camera sitcom, while Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock are all single-camera, second, it’s actually taped live in front of a studio audience, which in this day and age feels dated. But I didn’t mind all that if the show is actually really fresh and funny like in the case of How I Met Your Mother or The Big Bang Theory (at least in their earlier seasons). The jokes on Whitney, however, are just as dated as the format. If the show premiered in 1993 pre-Friends, I’d totally get on board, but this is 2011 and it feels a little “been there, Friends has done that”.

It doesn’t mean that Whitney is horrible, it’s actually not. There are some funny, sincere moments that I enjoyed but sadly there aren’t enough of them. Most of the time it just seems like everyone’s trying real hard to get the studio audience to laugh, and it just comes across as sad. There is a possibility that as the season progresses, this show will find its footing and gets better with time, but at this point I’m a little skeptical. With Thursday night being one of the most crowded nights of television, does anyone even have time to give this show a try?

Verdict: Not Worth Your Time.

And that’s all the pilots I’ve watched this past week. I’ll be back next week to review The Playboy Club, Two Broke Girls, Revenge, Person of Interest and maybe even Hart of Dixie (Josh Schwartz tweeted that it’ll be available for early viewing on iTunes starting Sept 22, but we’ll see!).

I shall bid adieu for now and I’ll see you all here next week!


Binky Bee

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