Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pilot Review: The Event

The Event (Mondays at 9:00 on NBC)

My gut reaction to the pilot of The Event was that it was the best introductory episode I'd seen in many years. The only other pilot I could recall having such an intensely euphoric reaction to was Lost, which debuted six years ago. After watching it again, my excitement was slightly more contained. And after a second episode, I feel like I can talk about it rationally.

So this show is clearly trying to fill the void left by Lost. Unlike other shows that have attempted the same (FlashForward comes to mind), it's starting off successfully. Basically we have a group of concurrent storylines that are beginning to intersect by the end of the second episode. Sean, an everyman, is on a cruise with his girlfriend where they meet another couple. They are convinced to go snorkeling the next day, but Sean's girlfriend is sick and stays behind. When he returns, she's missing and the ship has no record of their ever being on board. Cut to present day where Sean pulls a gun on a flight. Then there's the president of the US, a former Cuban, who is about to release 97 prisoners from a top-security holding place in Alaska. He is celebrating his child's birthday in Miami, when Sean's plane starts heading right for them.

Needless to say, there are several other secondary characters who serve these two main plotlines of the pilot, including the girlfriend's family, the president's head of security, a Secret Service agent, and one of the prisoners. It's a pretty standard "overlapping stories" show, until the last 2 minutes of the pilot. I won't spoil it, but I was completely thrown. It was such an in-your-face way to announce the show's arrival, and it was a fantastic moment. But it left many questions, a few of which were already answered in the second episode. Coming off of Lost, where it took six seasons to answer most of the show's questions, having so many answers so quickly is wonderful and terrible. I can't help but feel like, if this is truly the direction in which the show is moving, that many viewers (including myself) will be upset with the series as a whole. But if the writers are just toying with the audience and getting the obvious theories out of the way now, only to flip everything on its head later, then I'm all for it.

I'll admit that the show isn't terribly original or even all that well done. The constant time shifts were more distracting in the first episode than they were helpful. Since I suspect this timeline will be a major point of focus down the road, I know it must be important. But it was confusing to jump around so much in the opening episode. A lot of the dialogue is also awkward, especially for the girlfriend, Leila. Her character is just a pawn, so the writers just glossed over her part in the script; it doesn't help that the actress playing her has one expression and no depth. Jason Ritter is also forgettable as Sean, even though he is the most interesting and relatable character. He's the Jack Shepherd of The Event, but Ritter is nowhere near the same caliber of actor as Matthew Fox. Blair Underwood, Zelko Ivanek, and Laura Innes are all giving fine performances that are currently a bit shallow, but I can see them developing further; I don't see that same potential in Ritter, unfortunately. However, the performances are not what are going to carry this show. It's the story. And right now they're telling a potentially great story. Only time will tell if they veer off into the wrong direction.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pilot Review: Nikita

Nikita (Thursdays at 9:00 on The CW)

The next few reviews are late entries, because I wasn't sure what to make of just one episode. The first up is Nikita, a reboot of La Femme Nikita (which was itself based on a 1990 French film called... yup, Nikita). It follows a deadly assassin who used to work for a secret branch of the government called Division. She was supposed to be put to death for murdering someone, but Division saved her from that fate and trained to become a spy. Her speciality is being a "ghost," living completely off the map. But a few years after she'd been activated, Nikita fell in love with a civilian. Division had him killed, so she went rogue and has been trying to bring them down ever since.

So that is where the pilot episode picks up: we meet Alex, who is about to face the same fate as Nikita... but then is also saved by Division. So over the next 40 minutes, Alex is thrown into an underground training facility while (what seems like the entirety of) Division hunts down Nikita to stop her from... what, exactly? It's never really made clear what Nikita plans to do that will actually bring down Division. She can't tell anyone. She can't sell her story to the media. Is she just going to kill them all? Then they'll be replaced. Oh, right, she just wants to bring down their leader, Percy, because he's corrupt.

Wait, what? He's corrupt? Isn't the whole damn agency corrupt? That's the whole point! If Division in and of itself weren't corrupt, they wouldn't be a total secret. Whatever, it's a spy show, I'll let it slide.

So basically all of Division - you know, this huge secret spy agency that can basically do whatever they please because they don't officially exist? - gets their panties in a knot because Nikita's being mean to them. So they chase her. But of course she's smarter than them and is always one step ahead! Until she's cornered in an alley and one of the higher-ups at Division has the chance to shoot her and end it all; but she sweets talks him and seduces him with her wiley femininity and runs off.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Nikita is a completely ridiculous show. But as easy as it is to make fun of, it's actually well done. The pilot moved very quickly (almost too quickly, too much was going on) and did an admirable job of setting an interesting groundwork. The action is abundant (and very violent for a show at 9:00), which adds to the great look and feel the show has. Everything's sharp but dark and perfectly moody; this cinematographer deserves a raise. The performances are almost all good as well, with the unfortunate exception of Nikita herself, Maggie Q. She has no emotional depth, which is fine for a lot of Nikita's scenes since she is supposed to be empty on the inside from losing her lover. But in the scenes where she had to play emotionally (like the retelling of her lover's murder, her confrontation with her abusive stepfather), it came across as cold and shallow. We have to want to root for Nikita, but we're not going to root for someone who seems like a stone-cold bitch with no emotional connection to anything. The performances from Lyndsy Fonseca (Alex) and Shane West (Michael, the operative who gets Nikita cornered and then wimps out) are strong enough to cover Maggie Q's shortcomings. Fonseca is the most memorable actor and character on display, and West broods with the best of them.

All in all, it's a fun waste of time. Each episode thus far has been pretty much stand-alone, with a new crime being committed by Division introduced at the start, Nikita interrupting it, Division hunting her down, and Nikita escaping with the help of her mole (a shocking revelation at the pilot's end, and the episode's greatest moment). So each episode is like a short action film, and I can deal with that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pilot Review: $#*! My Dad Says

$#*! My Dad Says (Thursdays at 8:30 on CBS)

Now, I haven't watched every new pilot this season (nor do I plan to), but of the ones I have seen this is the worst by a long shot. Actually, I can't imagine any of the other shows yet to premiere will be able to be worse.

Let's start by getting this out there: this show has nothing to do with "Shit My Dad Says," the hysterical Twitter feed and subsequent book on which it is supposedly based. Fans of that father know the reason it's funny is because he is completely honest but also completely crass. CBS isn't going to have William Shatner screaming jokes about "fucking" his wife or cursing up a storm, even though that is what the source material is. So that's the first roadblock. Then you have the fact that none of the new jokes in the pilot script are funny within the context of the show; I laughed once in the half-hour, and it was at a joke which had nothing to do with the story (it was a jab at Shatner impressions). The two leads, Shatner and Jonathan Sadowski as the son, are both hams with no sense of character. Sadowski is especially awful in his line delivery, breaking up sentences and emphasising every other word he speaks, probably because that's what he was taught at his acting summer camp as a kid (I mean, come on... his biggest credits are small roles in She's the Man and the remake of Friday the 13th). He is never funny, though he did garner the most noise from me: I groaned just about every time he opened his mouth. The only decent actor on display here is Nicole Sullivan as Shatner's daughter in law (see, I don't even know the character names); she has good comedic timing and an amiable presence... she's the one thing I didn't completely hate (and an amusing cameo by Tim Bagley).

I just expected so much more from this. Aside from the stupid new title ($#*! My Dad Says, pronounced Bleep My Dad Says), I thought with Shatner on board and the wonderful team behind my all-time favorite sitcom Will & Grace (creators David Kohan & Max Mutchnick and director James Burrows), this would have turned out better. But it's a mess from beginning to end. I'll try to give it another chance next week, but I think this will be the first new show of the season to get dumped from my DVR.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pilot Review: Hellcats

Hellcats (Wednesdays at 9:00pm on CW)

Well, there's no denying that this a vast improvement over the same time slot last year when TBL: The Beautiful Life massively tanked. Hellcats isn't the type of show that will be well-represented at the Emmys next season, or even the type of show you'll go into work the next today excited to discuss. It's pretty stupid and extremely formulaic (nothing about the pilot was surprising or interesting), but for some reason... I loved it.

Hellcats is about Marty, a hard-working girl from Memphis who has lost her academic scholarship at Lancer University to study pre-law. She lives off-campus in a small apartment with her hot mess of a mother, who just so happens to work at the college's on-campus diner. Marty has spent her entire life cleaning up her mother's messes and supporting the two of them just so she could someday get out, and now it may all be for naught. Then she finds out that the cheerleaders get a full scholarship and free housing, so when one of the flyers is sidelined, Marty tries out; obviously, she makes the squad. The rest of the cast are predictable, generic archetypes: slightly insane captain, jealous injured girl, hunky guy, best guy friend who may be more than a friend, struggling coach, tough love administrator, etc.

There are so many "been-there, done-that" stories at work here, it's almost mind-boggling. The thing is, though, the creative team knows it. Before anyone knew anything about this show, it was being compared to the film Bring It On; that movie makes an appearance not 10 minutes into the premiere as Marty looks for inspiration for her tryout. Beyond that, it's a simple rags-to-riches story, with the overbearing alcoholic parent and snobby popular girl getting in the main character's way. But let's be honest, we can't expect much originality from soaps, which is essentially what Hellcats is. So we just look for fun, which this show has an abundance of. It's about on-part with the intelligence of the CW's other soaps (Gossip  Girl, 90210 and One Tree Hill in particular), so it should be easy to swallow for their target audience. But for the rest of us? The script was poorly written, the direction was all over the place, the characters are tired retreads... what is there to love? Well, the choreography for starters. Marty's character has grown up poor and was "raised on the streets" (Do these Hollywood types even know what that means? How many white girls from the streets do we really need in dance-genre films and series?), so she brings an edge to the Hellcats; the dance sequences produced are enjoyable and entertaining as a result. The cast is also surprisingly deft, beginning with the magnetic Aly Michalka as Marty. I don't know who this chick is, but I'm glad she got this job. She's perfect for the role, both in terms of talent and looks; she's beautiful but still edgy, plus she's funny. Ashley Tisdale actually shows some good comedic timing, even if she is rather stagnant at times. Sharon Leal does what little she can with a terribly written character (the coach), and D.B. Woodside adds some interest as her doctor boyfriend. Heather Hemmens walks the fine line between deliciously evil and overacting mess as the jealous injured cheerleader Alice, but she is mostly successful.

So Hellcats is something that I'll continue to TiVo. I don't expect groundbreaking things from it; I don't even really expect it be all that interesting. But it'll hold a special place as yet another guilty pleasure of mine, right up there with Jerseylicious, Jersey Shore and The Rachel Zoe Project.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pilot Reviews: Mel B., Thintervention, Jerseylicious S2

The new season kicks off this week, the first full week of September. The CW generally gets things going the week of Labor Day, but a few new series began already the day before and the day of.

Mel B.: It's a Scary World (Sundays at 9:00pm on Style)

Style Network has a habit of giving semi-celebrities we don't really care about reality shows. Nothing particularly outrageous or interesting happens in the series premiere of this latest Style incarnation, starring Mel B. of the Spice Girls. In the first episode, Mel B. introduces us to her family: husband Stephen and daughters Angel and Phoenix. We see her go through rehearsals for a gig with the Pussycat Dolls Burlesque something or other and deal with the drama of reconciling with ex-boyfriend and father to Angel, Eddie Murphy. This is the interesting and juicy part of the show, since her separation from Murphy was so heavily publicized and so ugly. But the reconciliation has already occurred as of this episode, so there's no real drama; the decision Mel faces is whether or not to finally make the reconciliation public by showing up at the premiere for Murphy's new film.

I don't know if the remainder of the season will hold any excitement, but if the rest of the episodes are as tepid as this one then I don't see the series lasting too long. There's not enough happening to be of interest to viewers, and let's be honest... Mel B. is not the Spice Girl we really care about following around on a daily basis. As of now, the show's best moment occurs when Mel and her husband spend a good 3 minutes of screen time screaming at a voice-activated alarm clock. Make your own judgment.

Jerseylicious, Season Two Premiere (Sundays at 8:00pm on Style)

You can go back a few entries and read what I wrote about the series premiere of this strange slice of Jersey reality, but my opinion hasn't changed much. I continue to watch this show because it's a trashy guilty pleasure, but I'm well aware of the fact that these people are clearly acting and being set up. This season, the Gatsby Salon manager Christy is pregnant; Alexa's business is booming and she's practically stealing Olivia from the salon; Olivia has lost her car and is struggling to make ends meet; Tracy has graduated from beauty school but is still a heinous bitch; Anthony's salon is nearly ready to open; and Gigi has changed her hair color and lost some weight. It's still not terribly exciting, but the manufactured drama is hysterical. Clearly these girls are being fed one-liners during their private interviews (including some ripped right out of The Real Housewives of New Jersey); parking lot arguments are being scripted, etc. Because if this were actual reality, Olivia would have been fired by now. She constantly shows up to work late; she chooses Glam Fairy business over Gatsby business; and she fights with Tracy on a daily basis. No business person would put up with that type of behavior.

Still, this is a truly entertaining show. Just watching Tracy attempt to be witty while fighting with Olivia (calling her a "cabbage patch kid" as an insult) and watching Olivia come up with new ways to lovingly put down Jersey ("You never know what goes on in used cars; they don't call us Dirty Jerz for nothing.") is pure ridiculous fun. Just don't expect anything more than stupidity from these people.

Thintervention with Jackie Warner (Mondays at 10:00pm on Bravo)

This is definitely the most interesting of this group of premieres and probably the most interesting weight-loss/motivation show on television. Unlike the bullshit of The Biggest Loser, Jackie is teaching these people how to live healthy lifestyles in their own homes, not just putting them through an extreme diet and workout plan on a ranch somewhere; they complete intense workouts, diet, and spend time in therapy to figure out why they overeat and what they can change. Speaking of Jackie, she comes across much better on this show than she did on her previous Bravo outing, Work Out, which was canceled after three seasons when Gatorade stopped sponsoring the show due to Jackie's disrespect toward a client suffering from breast cancer. She is much more supportive of these clients than she seemed to be of her staff on Work Out. The clients themselves are a personable bunch; many of them are downright entertaining (Brian and Nikki are already favorites of mine), including a former Playmate and star of The Real Housewives of Orange County, Jeana Keough. I find it especially fascinating finding out the reasons these people want to lose so much weight (some up to 50 pounds), and it's absolutely depressing: most of them said they don't like the way they look or feel that others find them unattractive. These people are passionate, funny, loving people and they want to drastically alther themselves so that others feel better about them. Crazy. The therapy portion of this show should get interesting

But the bottom line is that this show is entertaining, and even kind of motivational. Jackie doles out tips for easy cutbacks (drink water rather than cocktails when dining out, or just drink one cocktail instead of three) and seems genuinely interested in helping these people. This should turn out fairly well.