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
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+
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-
Whether you’re a fan or not of these past couple seasons of Saturday Night Live, you’ll at least have to relent when it comes to the turn-of-the-century (and a bit of the late ’90s) cast’s efforts when it came to the females. Making it cool to be a woman on SNL for a new generation (and becoming the MVPs over virtually every male co-star), these six ladies have had varying success outside the world of the late-night sketch comedy.
Holding that distinct spot as my favorite television series ever – believe me, it’s high praise; I’m an avid watcher (and past watcher) of probably several hundred of them – means that I have a soft spot for that six-some gaggle of goofballs known as the Friends cast. But when it comes to their continuing efforts for careers after (and during) their tenure on NBC, some have fared better than others. I present, a study (and some very high-tech scoring techniques).
First of all, apologies on my extreme lack of blogging commitment of late – big life changes in the mix as I did a little temporary move and am now transitioning into some new work. It’s great to at least occasionally check in and see all of your great posting in the meantime, though. So keep up the good work!
Meanwhile, thanks to summer rerun season and my staunch commitment to keeping up with my regular season shows fall, winter, and spring, this summer has allowed me the opportunity to not only keep up with my regular summer newness, but also to discover some gems I hadn’t already gotten around to. And here is my report as the summer closes…
After some initial hesitation due to the subject matter, I eventually got sucked in to the surprisingly deep NBC drama and critical darling Friday Night Lights. Who knew a drama about football in a red state could captivate me so? I’m nearly done with season one now, and I’m already poised to say Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton make one of the best TV married couples I’ve yet seen. Go Panthers! And one that I always intended to watch but missed the opportunities thanks to other Tuesday night commitments was Parenthood. It’s no surprise to me, seeing as though I’m a fan of the 1989 movie it’s loosely based on and that it includes personal faves Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman, that it’s a delightful family – for lack of a better word – dramedy. Consider it a Brothers & Sisters for the slightly younger, hipper set.
But the summer hasn’t brought its shortage of comedy, either. Sure, TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland isn’t exactly high-brow fare, but the ladies are great comediennes, and I can’t pass up the opportunity to see Wendie Malick in such fine form again. The same goes for the Courteney Cox starrer Cougar Town, as I’m closing in on the last few season-one episodes. It’s nothing perfect, to be sure, but it’s a great showcase for the funny lady. In closing, the summer premieres have been enticing as well – I caught an advance screening of The Big C and Weeds‘ premieres last week, and they look promising. Throw a little guilty pleasures on the heap (namely True Blood and a particularly saucy season of Big Brother), and all in all summer TV-watching hasn’t been without its merits.
Ah, the after-school programming. While my early years were spent plopping in front of the TV after a day of school to watch the likes of Darkwing Duck and DuckTales, after a year or two of school, I graduated to a higher level of braininess in my TV choices. Well, okay, maybe not. But I did get hooked on back-to-back reruns of Designing Women.
So how does one know if they’ve encountered a television obsession? Well, after a daily reran show cycles through an entire seven seasons-worth of episodes and then starts back at the beginning, and you’re still keen on tuning in every day, you just might be obsessed. That was the way of it with this highly humorous, Atlanta-set sitcom. And for all the flack it gets for its uber-80s big hair and shoulder pads and synthesizer “moral moments,” the show packed a comedic punch. From Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) the pushover single mom with spunky self-deprecating sense of humor, to the former beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) the blunt debutante with a brash mouth to match, to Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart) the slow-talking blonde with a heart of gold, to the center of the group Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) an uber-feminist with a no-nonsense attitude and a series of political tirades to entertain each and every potential viewer. Admittedly so, though the show may’ve been poked fun at a time or two, it’s impossible to deny that this wasn’t a talented cast. The ladies of Sugarbaker Designs were never devoid of zingers, and even though it suffered a few slight plotlines in some episodes, this 80s series is worth revisiting or seeing for the first time, if only to acquaint yourself with one of those famous Julia Sugarbaker speeches.
It was a toughie to choose just one particular pilot episode out of many great ones among my favorites on the tube, but the one that stuck out in particular was that of NBC’s The Office, a great comedic start to what would become the envy of comedies on network and cable television alike.
Though somewhat panned by critics (strange turn-around as it’s now such a massive success in retrospect), I found the pilot episode terribly fun. Perhaps it’s because I’d never seen an episode of the original British incarnation of the series. From establishing the rivalry between prankster Jim and straight-laced (to a degree) Dwight with the classic “stuff in Jell-O” battle, to cementing Michael Scott as the epitome of both well-meaning and funny but ultimately useless boss extraordinaire (along with cementing Steve Carell’s future career as go-to funnyman), the pilot of this future comedy classic may not be as outwardly zany or manic as some other more well-liked episodes became, but it certainly altered American television for good. It’s subdued form of hilarious awkwardness has now become the norm, nearly doing away with laugh tracks and predictable 20-minute storylines in network programming. Watching it now, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when the supporting players (now a television treasure – yes, that means you, Angela, Phyllis, Creed, Kevin, etc.) were never in the foreground. And a time when Jim’s mop-top was quite so moppy or Pam’s pallid demeanor was quite so homely. All in all, though it’s undergone some major changes since its humble beginnings, but this pilot predicted great things for the future of this show, and it’s more than met my expectations in the six seasons since.
It’s quite clear that no one knows how to end a season, or even an episode for that matter, like Showtime. From the famed Dexter season-enders to the recent Nurse Jackie second-season closer, their original programming always goes out with a bang. The show that’s perfected the ultimate cliffhanger, though, is Weeds. [WARNING: Major Weeds spoilage to follow.]
The best of the finales of Weeds has got to be the season two finale, in which Nancy’s life has gone completely insane. She’s begun her own grow house to supply her web of drug dealing marijuana, she’s gotten involved with a DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent who’s started to blackmail her, she’s stepped on the toes of two competing gangs, and her delinquent son has taken off with a stash of weed that the two competing gangs feel belong to them. And as the episode closes, Nancy is left facing down the barrels of many guns, all of them demanding more money and more product than she could possibly give them. Talk about an “oh s***” moment! After season one, in which Nancy is just getting into the business, buying from a more experienced dealer, this escalation of peril in Nancy’s life is what makes Weeds so entertaining. This poor lonely widowed housewife’s ascent to drug king-pin (or queen-pin, as it were) is an amazing journey to be taken on.
It’s amazing that a show that went on to become a worldwide phenomenon managed to somehow completely evade me for its six-season run. But alas, other than a smattering of episodes from the first season, I’ve not watched that epic series Lost.
And to think of all the intensely specific coverage the shows gets, from headlines to covers to six-page feature stories in virtually every issue of my favorite entertainment magazines, I’ve managed, for the most part, to avoid hearing about so many plot twists and apparent character deaths. My avoidance of the show was not voluntary. In fact, the reason I didn’t watch it from the beginning was simply that I worked on Wednesday nights. Otherwise, I’m sure I would thoroughly enjoy it. So now that it’s finished, and nearly all on dvd, it’s about time I watch it through. Thanks to the summer blahs, and the fact that the only good shows putting out new episodes right now are Kathy Griffin and True Blood, it’s perfect timing to discover Lost.
Well, this one was obviously a toughie, considering the scads of comedies I religiously watch. While I was inclined to go with that brilliant bit of dialogue from the season 5 episode of The Office, “Cafe Disco”, in which Michael talks baby talk to his workers in order to convince them to attend his dance party (“Yes, I’m your big daddy, and Ima gonna kissa da boo boo.”), for some reason YouTube insists on foiling me despite my intentions of heaping praise on the copyrighted material in question. Why am I simply not allowed to share my love of wonderful clips with my fellow bloggers?! But I digress… I chose to go with my close second as a stand-in, the incomparable Tobias Funke uttering an unforgettable line following his preparation to be in the Blue Man Group…