fall 2011: RATING the PILOTS

The chaos of fall television has begun. Sure, it’s fun to see old favorites back on track with some new material, but the new class is here for scrutiny.  (I know I’m a little late to the game on posting this, as at least one of these shows has already been canceled, but so it goes.)  Here’s my rundown of the pilots I took in, managing to avoid most of the crap that didn’t seem worth my viewing time…

2 Broke Girls (CBS) 
First thing’s first – a CBS sitcom is hardly groundbreaking television, well, ever. Not every show can be the second coming.  But the nice thing about 2 Broke Girls is that you aren’t expecting a thinking-person’s comedy.  So when the pilot happens to be at times gut-bustingly hilarious, albeit traditionally CBS-style raunchy now and again, it bodes well for its future.  Judging solely from the pilot (I’ve viewed the subsequent episodes since), it definitely has promise of being entertaining.  The leads Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs are an amiable twosome, but here’s hoping their portrayals don’t skew too one-note too soon.  Not great feats of writing or acting here, but a good time nonetheless.  B+

A Gifted Man (CBS)
I took a chance on this one.  It looked like yet another medical/legal procedural (Do the American people ever watch anything else?), so truly the only thing drawing me in was the fact that my beloved Jennifer Ehle was finally getting a plum role – ghostly wife and adviser.  Sure, it feels a little Ghost and Mr. Muir, but Patrick Wilson is an able enough leading man.  Plus, it was a welcome surprise to find out that Margo Martindale will be gracing the Friday night drama.  Based on the pilot, which blended some backstory with the traditional procedural “trauma of the week,” it fits nicely as a calming presence for Friday night viewers.  Though eliminating Julie Benz and Klaus Baudelaire himself after the first episode is a little bit of a bummer… B

American Horror Story (F/X)
Though I was a fan of the first four seasons of Nip/Tuck, its eventual fall from grace once the surgeons moved to Los Angeles, along with the declining quality and increasing preposterousness of Glee, Ryan Murphy isn’t exactly a reliable creator.  But something about casting the glorious Connie Britton, the pedigreed Jessica Lange, and little sis to actress extraordinaire Vera Farmiga, Taissa, how could it go wrong?  Well, the pilot was surely spastic – lots of “mysteries” presenting themselves without much connection or cohesion thus far.  But the stylish nature of the show and the awesome cast lead me to believe it stands a chance of achieving some genre greatness a la The Walking Dead.  The pilot was definitely intriguing, so I hesitate to lean toward endorsing it.  B+

Pan Am (ABC)
Clearly with the closing of Desperate Housewives ABC is looking for its next game-changing sudser.  And with Mad Men being so popular and all, it was only a matter of time for the networks to join in the fun.  With a promising premise and a likable cast, this airborne drama has a lot of potential to become a weekly standard.  The ratings are starting to dip, which spells trouble, but why not get behind a show that maintains a running storyline amidst the plethora of ones that require no dedication?  And can we all agree that it’s nice to see Christina Ricci doing something productive with her career again?  The pilot set up great interpersonal stories (mother/daughter, sister/sister, etc.) while giving us a Mary Alice-esque mystery to latch onto – espionage, oh my!  Definitely tuning in again.  A

Prime Suspect (NBC)
Though I doubt it’ll last very long due to lackluster ratings (even though Maria Bello’s got a Globe nomination in the bag at this point), the reason to return factor solely rests on the star’s shoulders.  It’s got all the elements of a traditional cop show, in that if it doesn’t develop its core characters’ personal lives fully enough, it might as well be called Law & Order: Prime Suspect. Bello’s backstory is promising.  She has issues, she has exes to deal with, and she has a significant other who seems unintimidated by her pants-wearing chutzpah.  That last element is something I really appreciate about this new outing. Having only seen one episode, I predict it goes by way of The Good Wife, in that there’s a “story of the week,” but the real draw is the ongoing behind-the-badge (or gavel, as it were) drama. B

Ringer (The CW)
I often hesitate to give a CW show a chance.  Aside from Top Model and Gilmore Girls (and Buffy I guess, though I don’t really think of that as a traditional WB/UPN/CW program), it’s not really my cup of tea.  But the entertaining Sarah Michelle Gellar is back on television, so that’s an event I want to be a part of.  The premise, a troubled woman takes up the identity of her rich, and equally troubled, recently deceased twin sister, sounds like Dyansty 2.0.  But then again, Gellar’s roots are All My Children, so… All in all, a showcase for the underused actress should be fun in theory.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a supporting cast, but the best friend character sort of seems promising.  The only question remains:  Will it last long enough for viewers to find anything out about the mysteries that lie within Ringer?  B

Suburgatory (ABC)
Ever since the explosive success of Modern Family, ABC has been looking for some compadres for the traditional family comedy.  Though Suburgatory may not equal the former’s quality by any means, it has a likable lead (Jane Levy, droll and plucky at the same time) and at least a couple of promising supporting actresses involved (the dementedly hilarious Ana Gasteyer and Cheryl Hines) to hold some people’s interest.  At least due to its proximity to the high-rated MF, it’ll get a chance to develop before premature cancellation.  It felt a little been there, done that – the mother/daughter relationship with Hines and Carly Chaikin feels very Mean Girls TV – but the premise of single dad, pessimistic daughter is somewhat unique.  I’m not completely sold yet, but here’s hoping it grows into its Stepford-goofy roots.  B

The Playboy Club (NBC)
Yes, it was the first one cut out of the gate, but don’t let that fool you.  All the negative press and terrible ratings weren’t an accurate portrayal of the entertaining, if flawed, primetime soap.  Regardless of its weak points (the high-heel murder and the Jon-Hamm-lite stylings of Eddie Cibrian), the pilot served up a stylish setting, awesome costuming, some intriguing female characters, and a non-procedural plotline.  I’m always pro-serial when it comes to modern television, as it’s a subgenre that severely lacks amongst the networks.  Amber Heard is such an interesting celebrity on the rise, and her central character served as a great straight man for the busier Laura Benanti, Naturi Naughton, and Leah Cudmore.  But trigger-happy execs didn’t give the show a chance to build on its highly intriguing, if shaky, pilot.  Kind of a shame, really.  Here’s hoping the “picked up for cable” rumors have some truth.  B+

Up All Night (NBC)
We’ve seen it before – a couple struggles with being new parents.  But thanks to great casting (I will love Will Arnett in anything, and Christina Applegate has incredible timing) it doesn’t feel entirely retread.  The pilot served up a lot of the goofy clips we were treated to in the previews, so there wasn’t much new to look at, but the central couple are a believable twosome, and Applegate is building great chemistry with her on-screen boss Maya Rudolph.  My hope is that additional characters are developed so that Rudolph’s presence doesn’t seem too tacked on.  For one, where are Arnett’s guy friends?  Surely he hasn’t spent all his time hanging out with his wife and her gal pal.  All in all, the pilot was funny, charming, and more than enough to keep me returning for week two.  B+

Whitney (NBC)
It’s getting enough hate from the blogs and the magazines, I don’t need to reiterate it here.  Yes, I’m aware that it’s very obvious, relies heavily on typical relationship goofs (I wholly expect to see a “he left the toilet seat up” episode coming up very soon.), and banks on viewers loving the pretty girl gone bad charm of lead Whitney Cummings.  Unfortunately, the formula hasn’t been perfect here.  At least they’ll have an entire season to build on the slightly weak premise (not something most new NBC Thursday comedies are afforded) of a male-female couple who live together and can’t get behind the whole idea of marriage.  I enjoy Cummings’ comedy as a general rule, which is what drew me to the show in the first place.  It seems like it may belong on CBS, honestly, but it’ll be a fun change of pace from the new-school comedies that run rampant on the the Thursday lineup… though it definitely pales in comparison to the likes of Office and Parks and Rec.  B-

New Girl (FOX)
This one made me nervous.  I love me some Zooey, but her quirky goofball antics have a high chance of bordering on annoying real quick.  So who’d’ve thought she could carry a half-hour weekly sitcom so nicely?  Her socially awkward Jess is adorable, totally likable, and incredibly funny.  The roommates featured on the series need a few more weeks to solidify a true personality, but Deschanel came to play.  In the pilot alone, she’s already got several Emmy clips ready for next fall, and it succeeding as one of the biggest hits of the season, new or returning, is a big plus for the show.  Great fun and great time had by all, so let’s hope this energy level stays up.  A-

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