No monkeys means no monkeys.
Two men in full hazmat suits walk down the hallway of a lab, where the security system blares, “Contamination. Contamination. Contamination.” They enter the door to a lab where two people lie dead, covered in black goo, nicely contrasted by an upbeat “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” playing on an iPod. The hazmat men find a survivor struggling for air and give him some water, and the water makes his throat muscles convulse inhumanly. Cut to white. Fade in crisp black letters: Helix.
We’ve all seen plenty of people vs. germs movies. Th
is is creepier.
The story follows Dr. Allan Farragut, a senior scientist at the CDC, called in to investigate. The web is tangled, since his team includes his possibly Plutonic protege and his ex-wife, who seems to have marriage-ending history with Farragut’s brother–who is the third disease victim. We spend the pilot watching Farragut’s team putting together what happened, with hints from bad guys and supposed bad guys. There were a few too many characters to follow, and by the end of the dual-episode premiere, I’m not entirely sure who hasn’t and hasn’t been infected. But the confusion mostly just lent to dramatic tension, and overall this was a fun ride.
Best aspect: The production quality. Imagine The X-Files without aliens (probably), and stark white set design instead of shadows.
Worst aspect: The normal believability stretches. Knowing a monkey is “way too smart” without any evidence the monkey was smart. Trained government agents willing to pop their hazmat suits based on tiny reassurance of containment. (I sure wouldn’t have.) Fortunately, these concerns are easily overlooked.
Verdict: I will give it another episode or three to see where it’s going. The trailer hinted at a much deeper web of intrigue…
Odds of success: It will take deft screencraft to keep this from collapsing under its own weight, or staining to stretch a research base-contained disease to six seasons.
That said, this episode was a good showing, and in Ron Moore we trust.
Hurray for IFC.
The network has managed in the last several years to carve out a clear-voiced niche for original comedy material, namely with The Whitest Kids You Know and Portlandia, that truly hits its ‘Always On, Slightly Off’ target. The Spoils of Babylon, a six-episode miniseries spoof, belongs right in that vein.
This is a difficult television gem to describe. To say it’s a send-up of the cheesy, overblown miniseries era my mom used to love in the early 80s is not enough. There are many more layers here.
Did you see Casa de mi Padre, the indie film for which Will Ferrell learned Spanish, because, hey, how about doing an entire film in Spanish? For an American audience? Most likely you didn’t, since it was made for $6 million, and grossed about that much. Well, I did, and it’s a delightfully self-aware satire/homage that brings to mind Zucker-Abrams-Zucker, with its unapologetic wit and an entire cast meta- chewing the scenery amidst intentionally poor special effects and editing. Point the same writer, director, and producers at The Thornbirds–with an all-star cast attached–and The Spoils of Babylon is the treat that results.
Best Aspect: The tone, as established from Ferrell’s Orson Welles-y meta introduction.
Worst Aspect: The fake low-budget gag wears thin, although I enjoyed several iterations. (And for some reason, jump-cut gags work on me every time.)
Odds of Success: Who cares? They only set out to make six episodes. That freedom is probably part of why this is strong television.
It’s 2048, and crime is rampant. Because of this, all police officers are partnered with a crime-fighting android. If you don’t know this much, you haven’t watched a FOX-owned network in the last month.
In the first minutes, we see protagonist Detective John Kennex get his leg blown off in a raid that left everyone else dead. Fast forward two years, which Kennex spent in a coma. He’s back on the force. His dislike of androids–and some lawbreaking on his own part–prompt him to “kill” his partner. He finds a replacement. But instead of a modern android (They’re all out, I guess?) his new partner is a model that has been discontinued for being too human. Yeah, the set up is nice and contrived. Skip the pilot, and just swallow the fact that it’s a buddy cop piece set in the future, about a gruff PTSD victim and a robot with a soul.
Best Aspect: The world is richly drawn. The art design is great. This version of the future is well considered. The sky teems with drones, and programmable DNA can be weaponized, but cars still have wheels.
Worst Aspect: The tone strays cheesy from time to time.
Verdict: It’s been a while since I’ve had an above average sci-fi on my watchlist. This definitely seems like the best candidate available.
Odds of Success: Everyone who used to watch Fringe should slide immediately into the audience of Almost Human. It’s a J.J. Abrams production with a budget. It’ll at least get a fair shot. There’s plenty of fertile story soil here for years of episodes. Oh, and it’s partnered with Sleepy Hollow, so there’s that.
Mondays @ 8 on FOX
The Originals (CW)
Hot vamps and werewolves.
If you’re not sick of them yet,
Here’s some more. Decent.
Tomorrow People (CW)
Standard C-Dub fare.
Beautiful, super skilled “teens”.
X-men, Smallville style.
Lucky 7 (ABC)
Bounces, person to person.
I bounced too. Early.
Super Fun Night (ABC)
Star vehicle tries
too hard. Even the writing
chews the scenery
Masters of Sex (Showtime)
A period piece
About early sex studies.
Added to watchlist.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Andy Samberg good.
Andre Braugher better still.
So far I love it.
American Horror Story: Coven (FX)
(Is this a pilot?)
This time, world explained up front.
Witches was good choice.
The Blacklist (NBC)
Silence of the Lambs
Meets Taken meets Alias.
Sean Hayes’s character is a gay single dad who runs an office for an online retail company. The promise here is half work comedy, half family comedy, with Hayes at the middle of both. At home, Sean is struggling to raise his 14-year-old daughter, with the help and/or interference of his controlling mother. Two co-workers seem to be regular cast members on the work side, with the cast rounded out by Tom Lennon (from The State), who is fantastic as the company’s owner whom nobody likes.
The overall effect here is solid, buoyed largely by the writing. I’ve watched two episodes. While I have never seen anything in which I’ve liked Sean Hayes, he surprised me with the gravitas and likability needed to hold down a show like this. Meanwhile, so far Tom Lennon is bringing easily my favorite comedic character of the new season.
Best Aspect: Oddly enough, the art design. The sets go a long way in ensuring that the overall feel here is like Just Shoot Me or Newsroom. Like them, if not the funniest thing you’ve ever seen, this at least seems like a solid comedy with decent writing and execution.
Worst Aspect: There were a number of lame jokes in the pilot, sprinkled among what is otherwise pretty sharp writing. (It got better in episode two.)
Verdict: I’ll give it a chance. It could mature into something worthwhile.
Odds of Success: This is a good show, but not great. Thursdays are competitive. NBC has taken a family show tact, with Sean Saves the World as its anchor. They probably have more family comedies in reserve, in case others drop, but it would definitely help Sean if it’s hourmate, The Michael J. Fox Show, could find its legs.
Thursdays @ 9:00 on NBC
Will Arnett plays a local news reporter. When he tells his parents that he got divorced, his simpleton father leaves his penny-pinching mother. Mom moves in with him (for some reason) and Dad goes over to his sister’s house (for some reason.) Why neither of them takes their house is not really clear.
The whole pilot was almost entirely set-up, without a lot of plot. It’s hard to say if this will eventually be funny, because it seems like it’s just getting going. But, unfortunately, so far it’s not landing.
Best Aspect: There are a lot of talented actors trying really hard to make this work
Worst Aspect: Greg Garcia’s writing doesn’t mesh with a laugh track.
Verdict: No thanks. I’ll go watch My Name Is Earl repeats.
Odds of Success: It’s a decent match with CBS’s Thursday night (Big Bang Theory, The Crazy Ones, Two and a Half Men) and as the 8:30 show, it only has to keep people around till the later shows. The bar here isn’t super high. I’ll guess it manages numbers good enough to keep from getting immediately canceled, but they’d better find a groove before mid-season.
Thursdays @ 8:30 on CBS
James Caan plays a crusty retired pro baseball player, “The Cannon.” Terry, his daughter, was a star player in college, and now she’s the single mom to a wimpy kid with zero baseball talent. (Despite never wanting anything to do with baseball again… because of her dad neglecting her in her childhood… BEFORE she played in college. Whatever. The logic of the set-up isn’t the problem.) She winds up volunteering to coach her son and all the other kids who don’t make first string. (Eh? She’s back in the GAME! Get it?!)
The whole thing is too pat. The humor falls flat. It’s Bad News Bears with a lady coach, except (so far) these kids don’t get the chance to be clever misfits. Meh.
Best aspect: The rivalry with the opposing coach.
Worst aspect: Overall lack of sharpness.
Verdict: I’m not interested.
Odds of success: Female sitcoms are the rage. Dysfunctional families are working on ABC. Still… ABC pretty much hooks my wife with every show, and she had checked out in less than a minute.
Wednesdays @ 8 on ABC
I wanted to love this pilot. It was just ‘meh.’
There’s this amazingly advanced and uber-secret government agency, and there’s this woman who can easily hack all their tech from her van. They butt heads for the whole episode, but by the end she’s offered membership. OK, I should have warned you on spoilers there, but honestly anyone who’s ever seen a sci-fi team assemble knew that was going to happen from minute one.
They’re all trying to stop this super sympathizable Average Joe who’s dealing with his version of the plot device from Iron Man 3. And you completely know how that will play out, too.
And then there’s a car.
But–and this is the saving grace–Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s boilerplate story was wrapped in Whedonesque throwaway banter, almost enough to redeem anything.
Best aspect: Seeing J. August Richards or Ron Glass on screen again. OK, I’m a nerd. I also really liked the simultaneously theorizing science Brits.
Worst aspect: Proximity to the movies without much of what makes the movies.
Verdict: Grr. Argh. Joss Whedon has earned my love to a degree that I will stick with anything he ever makes, to the end. (So it doesn’t help much if I tell you I will tune in next week, because I was going to do so before watching the pilot, anyway.)
Odds of Success: Medium-high. The money factory that is Disney-Marvel-ABC have every reason to keep this on the air as long as it’s at least a medium hit. (And opening numbers were big.) Some of the same smarties who created a franchise of superhero movies by teasing each at the end of the last will be involved in keeping this show alive, so that it, too can tease new movies. And Whedon can deliver amazing stories, given time to let characters grow. He and team will just need the chance to develop a new universe that’s interesting by itself.
Tuesdays @ 8 on ABC
Malin Ackerman plays Kate, a party-girl turned insta-mom when she becomes the third wife of Bradley Whitford’s Pete. Kate’s perky refusal to go insane as she inherits his two previous families wins us over, and there’s a lot going for this cast. Kudos to this pilot for zipping us right through the set-up to the realization of the premise.
Comparisons to Modern Family are inevitable. No doubt this show will feature similar storylines exploring the individual relationships inside an extended family. However, we can expect the titular character to be at the center of it all, and this should be a family comedy not quite like anything we’ve seen before.
Best aspect: The two diametrically opposed and strongly drawn ex-wives should make excellent foils.
Worst aspect: The tone threatens to skew wacky in a few places. I hate wacky.
Verdict: I could take it or leave it. But my wife is totally on board. (ABC knows how to hook her, and hard.) So the show likely ends up on our mutual watchlist.
Odds of success: This is the most fun of the four new sitcoms I’ve seen so far this season. Since I like it, it will probably die.
Tuesdays @ 9:30 on ABC