Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012 Fantasy Schedule: CW

Many of the season's pilots have just been delivered to the network heads so there is limited word on what worked and what did not. The CW, however, is in such dire straits that it doesn't exactly matter. They're going to need a total overhaul, so I'll start my schedule predictions with them. The others will follow in the coming weeks.

Monday

8:00 - Gossip Girl
9:00 - The Carrie Diaries (NEW)

Despite incredibly low ratings, Gossip Girl will be renewed for a sixth (and likely final) season. I would expect the order to be cut to 13 episodes or less, with something new taking over at midseason. The Carrie Diaries is a prequel series to Sex and the City, set in 1980s New York when Carrie Bradshaw was in high school. It seems like more of the same, but with a recognizable brand name it's pretty much a shoo-in.

Tuesday

8:00 - 90210
9:00 - Beauty and the Beast (NEW)

90210 has actually proven itself to be one of the CW's more solid performers. It'll be as good a lead-in as any for a new show; I think it'll be Beauty and the Beast, the network's reworking of the 1980s crime drama starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. This version features Smallville's Kristin Kreuk and has an even more recognizable brand name than The Carrie Diaries; plus early reviews of the script were very positive. I can't see it not going forward.

Wednesday

8:00 - America's Next Top Model
9:00 - The Secret Circle

I don't see the CW canceling all of its freshman dramas, and The Secret Circle has been the best performer of the bunch (though recent weeks have seen it fall to new lows, at the same levels as the other freshman dramas). I think it'll get moved, and this Wednesday slot would be a good place to not debut a new drama (as the competition will be X Factor and Modern Family).

Thursday

8:00 - The Vampire Diaries
9:00 - The Selection (NEW)

The network's anchor (and only series to achieve higher than a 1.0 in the ratings) The Vampire Diaries has yet to provide a truly successful lead-in to any new drama. Despite strong ties, The Secret Circle just couldn't retain the audience. But The Selection, with its elements of The Hunger Games and an epic romance, might finally be the one to succeed. The script was received very well by early reviewers and its premise is timely, much like The Vampire Diaries was when Twilight fever hit.

Friday

8:00 - Arrow (NEW)
9:00 - Supernatural

Fridays are the unofficial "male" night on the typically female-skewing CW. Fridays also used to be their most successful night all-around when Smallville lead off the evening. So I wouldn't be surprised if another superhero show, Arrow, landed here and was followed by the always-solid Supernatural. I mean, Arrow is going to be picked up; there was too much early buzz and promotion for that not to happen. Friday nights just seem like the best fit for it.

Midseason

I think Gossip Girl will get a half season and something new will replace it at midseason. My guess is the thriller Cult about a series of deaths on the set of a reality show. I think there could be another midseason pick-up with Joey Dakota, a time-traveling musical drama that received high marks early on. It's a risk, so I think a truncated midseason order to air either during another show's hiatus or if a new series fails is a possibility. There's also the chance that a low-rated drama from this season (Hart of Dixie, Ringer or Nikita) gets a short order and returns at midseason, or pushes a new drama back. I don't think it's likely, but it's not out of the question.

Bottom Line Predictions

New Series - The Carrie Diaries, Beauty and the Beast, The Selection, Arrow, Cult, Joey Dakota
Canceled - Hart of Dixie, Ringer, One Tree Hill, Nikita

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pilot Review: NYC 22

NYC 22 (Sundays at 10:00 on CBS)

I have so little to say about CBS's newest... well, latest (it's hard to call it "new" when everything about it is such a cliche) police drama NYC 22. If you've seen just one episode of any given cop show in the history of television, you've seen everything the Robert DeNiro-produced procedural has to offer. It borrows heavily and shamelessly from NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues and Rookie Blue, without any of the energy or interest of those shows. Everything about it is generic and dull, from the snooze-worthy title to the obvious plot developments to the run-of-the-mill characters.

I won't even bother with a synopsis. The pilot follows three pairs of rookies on their first day on the job. One pair gets to babysit a rotting corpse while the two others are on "foot patrol" and come into contact with rude old ladies and wannabe gang bangers. The characters have vague pasts (one is an ex-Marine, another a former NBA player, a third a former journalist, and the others are simply identified by their race) and even vaguer personalities; I don't actually recall anyone's names being mentioned, nor do I particularly care. Every rookie is simply a walking uniform. That's a real shame considering the cast includes Adam Goldberg and Leelee Sobieski. Terry Kinney is also on board, and he plays the Angry Training Officer. You know the character well: he's mean to the rookies for no reason, yells unnaturally loudly, and ends up being a tough love mentor.

NYC 22 is so dull, so boring, so cliche, so uninspired that I can't think of anything to say about it. In fact, I've thought more about synonyms for "dull" than I have about the show. It doesn't try to do anything new; there's no attempt at freshness. NYC 22 seems perfectly content in its mind-numbing mediocrity.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pilot Review: Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23

Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23 (Wednesdays at 9:30 on ABC)

It's so refreshing when something witty, subversive, funny and entirely entertaining finds its way to television. When the need to be politically correct or cater to the masses evaporates, and something truly special emerges, it's triumphant. And for the first time in years that is happening on ABC with the premiere of Nahnatchka Khan's Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23.

Bright and doey-eyed June (Dreama Walker) has just graduated with her MBA and makes the move from Indiana to the Big Apple. She's full of hope for her future: she's got a great job in line, her fiance is meeting her in the city as soon as he finishes his grad research, and everything she'd hope would happen by the time she turned 26 is being realized. Until the firm she's working for collapses due to a higher-ups embezzlement, she gets kicked out of her apartment, and her fiance cheats on her. So June has to start over, beginning with finding a place to live. She answers an ad for a roommate and ends up with Chloe (Krysten Ritter), a seemingly perfect match for her. It's not long, however, until June realizes that Chloe is something of a con artist who gets girls to move in, takes their rent money, and drives them away screaming and crying.

The set-up is fairly typical and even reminiscent of CBS's hit comedy 2 Broke Girls. Where Apt 23 differs is in its execution. Whereas 2 Broke Girls often goes for the easy joke about genitalia or race, Apt 23 finds humor in its strangeness and in its characters. Rather than basing its supporting cast on stereotypes and stock characters, Apt 23 invites the completely crazy into the fold. There's the neighbor in the next building who never wears pants and is constantly watching the girls in the apartment, the crazy girl down the hall who is obsessed with Chloe, and James van Der Beek, playing a caricature of himself (a la Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold & Kumar films) as a heartless womanizer. Not that the two leading ladies are funny (they really are), but the strongest moments in the series have to do with these zany supporters, especially van Der Beek. Episodes are capped with scenes from the Beek's (fictional) appearances in foreign commercials and fake films, and they're laugh-out-loud hysterical.

The performances all around are great. Aside from the scene-stealing appearances of James van Der Beek, Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad) is the most fun. Chloe is a trip, the kind of girl you'd love to be friends with but would be scared to talk to. Her madcap energy carries Apt 23. Dreama Walker (Gossip Girl) is adorable as June, and she does a great job of making her relatable. She's the character we'd traditionally root for (small town girl tries to make it in the big, bad city), though Kahn's (American Dad) writing has made us cheer for both girls equally; Walker, unfortunately, gets the less-showy role. Still, when she rises up against Chloe in the pilot and sells her roommate's furniture to even the score between them, we feel the pride we would feel if it were our best girlfriend getting some sly revenge on the bitch who betrayed her.

The series' manic energy is its strongest point. It almost reads as a live-action cartoon when we see Chloe tear open a family heirloom, her great-grandmother's ottoman, because she has hidden illegal Chinese energy supplements in the fabric. The first two episodes are filled with moments like these. The dialogue is snappy and witty, full of quotable one-liners that could fill a Twitter feed. But the crazy situations are the reasons sitcoms (SITuationla COMedies) even exist. Apt 23 is a modern, more risque I Love Lucy or The Odd Couple. You take funny people and put them in ridiculous situations. It's simulatenously a love letter to this type of storytelling and reinvention of it, and it comes across so successfully that it's almost joyful. You'd be hard-pressed to find a show currently on-air (nevermind on the broadcast networks) that so revels in its weirdness and its offbeat comedy and does it all while actually making the audience laugh.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pilot Review: The Client List

The Client List (Sundays at 10:00 on Lifetime)

I love a good, trashy, campy, guilty pleasure. It's why I will always watch Showgirls when it's on TV, no matter what; if it's the last 10 minutes, I'll still watch. So something like The Client List is right up my alley.

Jennifer Love Hewitt stars as Riley, a mom who is trying to make ends meet with her husband on disability and their next mortgage payment due. She goes in search of a job as a masseuse and eventually finds one in Sugarland, Texas, about an hour away from her home in Beaumont (that's right... as if the show wasn't campy enough, it's set in a town with the same name as the danceless one from Footloose). Riley soon learns, however, that the only way to make any real money at this spa, named The Rub, is to offer "extras." When she returns home to find her husband gone, Riley gives in and gets dirty.

It's the kind of story that could really only be told on Lifetime, or maybe Cinemax After Dark. Only Lifetime could take the tale of a young, newly single mother of two who literally turns into a whore over night... and make it sweet. Yeah, I said it: sweet. Riley is the latest hooker with a heart of gold, though it's probably easy for her when you see the type of man candy lying on her table. These are the kinds of men Greek gods aspired to be, yet here they are in small-town Texas paying for a young woman to get them off. It's totally exaggerated, but it somehow works when Riley turns the sex sessions into therapy sessions. By the pilot's end, she's saved a client's marriage; not by stroking him physically, but emotionally. There's a particularly ridiculous scene where the client's wife follows Riley home and they have a tear-stained heart-to-heart about listening to our spouses and the importance of telling them often how much they are loved. It's sentimental and over-the-top, but I can't help loving it.

I don't actually fully comprehend why I enjoyed The Client List so much. I have to give the credit to Jennifer Love Hewitt, who portrays Riley with a wink to the camera. She gets how stupid this kind of story is, and she treats it almost as satire, as if she's playing a parody of a whore. It's bizarre but totally enjoyable. At least she's trying something, which is more than can be said of the vacuous supporting cast. No one really does anything of import or interest, least of all Riley's brother-in-law (and, let's be real, potential new love interest) played by Colin Egglesfield. No, the men are here to be eye candy and the women are here to backup Love. There are also some clever nods to the show's own campiness, including an appearance by Mimi Rogers (who famously posed nude in Playboy in the 1990s) as the aforementioned scorned wife, as well as some truly giggle-worthy puns ("I have a feeling the tips are going to be big.").

Overall, The Client List is frothy and light, a time waster, a show without delusions of grandeur. That last bit alone is reason enough to root for it; The Client List and its star know exactly what kind of show they're making, and they make no qualms about giving you what they've promised: silly dialogue set against a backdrop of hot dudes and ladies in lingerie.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pilot Review: Scandal

Scandal (Thursdays at 10:00 on ABC)

I won't mince words on this one: I hated almost every second of Scandal. It's a completely unrealistic and often stupid show which follows a crisis manager named Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), an aptly named woman who is seemingly worshiped by everyone in Washington, DC. Pope is an attorney, though no longer practicing, who used to work with the now-President of the United States and now runs her own firm fixing people's horrible messes.

Scandal annoyed me from the outset with its utterly ridiculous script. It's so outrageous that it borders on camp, but it's played totally straight. With lines like "I'm not a lawyer, I'm a gladiator in a suit," how is that even possible? And the worst part is that exact line is repeated ad infinitum throughout the pilot, as if it is Pope's firm's professional motto. Over the course of the pilot's 45 or so minutes, there are several gems like that one:

"Olivia's a fixer, and you need fixing."
"My gut tells me everything I need to know."
"You tell the President of the United States to make time."

Add on a totally convoluted plot to the terrible dialogue, and I just don't understand how this ever got off the ground. Pope prides her firm on being the best, and it's made clear by several characters that she's "the best guy" out there, but when they investigate a murder suspect's alibi they don't check out the last place he went until 20 minutes before he's to be arrested. Wouldn't that be the first location on your list? Then there's the sloppy throughline of Pope's past relationship with the President (the ever creepy Tony Goldwyn) and his current relationship with a fragile new hire. All of it races at breakneck speed, complete with ultraquick cuts and the sound of camera flashes, toward a finale that provides no closure. The episode's main storyline, a decorated war hero accused of his girlfriend's murder, is never resolved; there's even a line thrown in about how it doesn't matter who killed the girl because Olivia did her part of the job. Well why the hell did you just force me to care for the past half hour if it didn't matter?

And all of this happens in the most condescending way. Scandal has such an air of inflated ego and self-importance. The characters are all no-nonsense and humorless. A scene between Guillermo Diaz and Katie Lowes (I don't remember their names, nor anyone else's, because the only one that was ever uttered enough to commit to memory was Olivia's) in the firm's bathroom was so straight-faced that it was baffling. Diaz's hacker character walks in on fresh-faced lawyer Lowes's character crying and convinces her that Olivia doesn't believe in tears, and there's no room for emotion in the office. Appropriately, everyone walks around with a stone face. I can't care about anyone because they're all so flat, including Olivia Pope, to a certain degree. She talks really fast, spits out legal mumbo-jumbo, threatens everyone she comes into contact with, and turns on a hell and rushes off. It made me feel like creator Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice) thinks Pope is the most extraordinary character to ever grace a television series, and she's doing the most important job on the planet by cleaning up other people's messes. There is so much emphasis placed on how amazing Pope is, how awesome her work is, how life-changing working for/with her can be. But to me, she just seems like an egomaniac.

Scandal is such a frustrating hour of TV. I could go on and on, but if I continue to think about the plot holes, the unreality, the cliches, the nose-in-the-air tone, the flat characterization... I'll just give myself a headache.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pilot Review: Magic City

Magic City (Fridays at 10:00 on Starz)

Despite its best efforts lately, Starz just can't compete with the original programming on rival premium channels HBO and Showtime. Their lineup includes only two other dramas (Spartacus and Boss), neither of which has achieved the level critical or commercial success as its competitors' programming. They're not likely to buck that trend with the newest addition to their schedule, Magic City, which officially premieres April 6. It's beautifully shot, written and acted, but it's a little bit old hat.

It's the eve of 1959 in Miami Beach, and Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is in crisis mode: his hotel, the luxurious Miramar Playa, is hosting a New Year's Eve concert for the country's elite featuring Frank Sinatra and all of his workers are on strike. They want to unionize, and Ike just wants the evening to go off without a hitch. As a last ditch effort to ensure this, he goes to his 49% partner, Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (Danny Huston), to put some pressure on the union representative. But Diamond has a price: the remainder of the assets of the Miramar. Diamond initially fronted the money to get the hotel built and then collected his share from Havana; but with Cuba about to fall to Castro, he has returned to Miami to make Ike's life harder. Not helping matters is Ike's womanizing son Stevie (Steven Strait), who has his sights set on Diamond's lovely new wife Lily (Jessica Marais). Other than his financial troubles, Ike seems to lead a charmed life. He's a widower with a beautiful new bride (Olga Kurylenko), a second son working at the hotel (Christian Cooke), and an idyllic location in which to grow old surrounded by family. But Diamond's further involvement in the hotel's affairs leads to some dire consequences for everyone, as he drags along his mob connections and his short temper with him.

Overall Magic City is a really enjoyable watch. It's supremely acted and crafted by creator Mitch Glazer, and the first hour flies by. Morgan (Supernatural, Grey's Anatomy) is a totally charming leading man, carrying off Ike with ease and just the right amount of tension. Huston is in shark mode, chewing apart the scenery until it bursts. Strait's "bad son" character is the most interesting thus far, from his first scene crashing a car into a swamp as a side effect of road head to a semi-incestuous infatuation with his new stepmother. He's a sex machine, oozing machismo and youthful zest. The women take the background so far, unless it's to bare their breasts for absolutely no reason (this is pay cable, after all). It's a tight ensemble drama (and a large one at that) which is still in introduction mode, so things can likely only go up from there. The pacing is rapid; dream sequences fade into scenes of violence and nightclub performances to images of sex and nudity. But Glazer's script still takes its time in setting up the many characters we will spend the next nine hours with and gives each of them a distinct voice, however muted it may be after just one episode.

The design is also rather incredible. Shots of the sprawling Miami beaches set next to nostalgic views of finned Cadillacs bring the era to life with remarkable detail. This certainly is no Pan Am with its whitewashed view of what it means to be alive at the time; these people drink, smoke like chimneys, sunbathe nude, curse up a storm, and revel in it all. The music perfectly captures the lacsidaisical nature of having nowhere all that important to go or anything all that important to do, other than enjoy a day at the beach in a high-end hotel. That's not to say that everything about Magic City is laid back and rosy; the back drop of Castro's Cuban takeover creates a tension between the characters and the location, and the possibly non-kosher way in which Ike acquired the hotel adds a dark side to the proceedings. It's kind of like Mad Men meets The Sopranos, which can be a lot of fun to watch but just proves that the show isn't exactly breaking new ground. And that's the only real problem I can find here. It does have a bit of a been-there-done-that feeling in its tone, and it's clearly developing into little more than a very well done soap.

There is, however, a lot of promise in Magic City. Whether it builds on that promise will determine whether or not it can draw the kinds of audiences Starz needs it to in order to establish themselves as a serious competitor among the premium channels.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2012 Most Interesting Pilots - Comedy

1. The Family Trap (ABC)

I'm really only in this one for Mandy Moore. I've adored her for over a decade, and she's been surprisingly quiet the past couple of years after a string of films and albums. Hopefully this show about a newlywed couple who move back home to run a restaurant puts her back on the map. Moore is joined by Stockard Channing and Kurt Fuller as her parents and Majandra Delfino as her sister. Director Shawn Levy's sense of style is typically a bit juvenile (Night at the Museum, Real Steel), but he did have a decent success with the film Date Night; plus the script is from the writers of the criminally short-lived Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential, so I suspect the humor will be a bit more risque that I expect.

2. The Smart One (ABC)

Two sisters, both beautiful in their own right, compete for the right to be deemed "the smart one" in the family. Starring as the two ladies are Portia de Rossi (brilliant on Better Off Ted) and Malin Ackerman (Watchmen); they are joined by Jean Smart and David Arquette in supporting roles. The premise is a bit silly (and how many dysfunctional family shows does ABC really need?) but the cast is pleasant, and Ellen Degeneres is producing... so it's a pretty safe bet this one will end up on the fall schedule. The only downside? It's a multi-cam comedy, so the humor will probably be broad and occassionally obnoxious, not subtle like de Rossi was on Ted.

3. Untitled Louis C.K. Project (CBS)

Created by Louis C.K., whose FX series Louie is enjoying some healthy critical praise of late, this sitcom revolves around a group of young people pursuing their dreams in a terrible economy. That's not much to go on, but with the guy behind Louie overseeing it all, you can bet the comedy will be outrageous and subversive. It stars former Disney star Ashley Tisdale (Hellcats, High School Musical), Cougar Town's Dan Byrd, and Broadway actress Patti Murin in her first television role. Veteran director Andy Ackerman is behind the camera, and he's helmed many a successful pilot in the past. Of all the comedy entries, this is the one I'm most curious to see.

4. Partners (CBS)

It's hard for me to believe that it's been six years since my favorite sitcom, Will & Grace, went off the air. It's even harder for me to believe that since then, creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan have only had one sitcom on the air (and it was the truly, truly awful Bleep My Dad Says last year). So they're returning to a semi-familiar formula with Partners, a comedy about two male architects, one of whom is gay, whose relationship resembles a marriage. So in other words, it's Will and Grace all over again, except this time Grace is a guy. Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), David Krumholtz (Numbers), Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Sophia Bush (One Tree Hill), and Molly Shannon (yes!) are only some of the ensemble cast. Longtime Ko/Mut collaborator James Burrows directs. The thought of having another Will & Grace on air makes me all kinds of giddy, so I hope this one goes to series.

5. 1600 Penn (NBC)

NBC has a really strong slate of sitcoms to choose from this season, and I'll start with 1600 Penn, which is currently one of the frontrunners. Bill Pullman stars as the President, leader of both the United States and a totally dysfunctional family. His out-of-control son (Josh Gad) returns home and sets everything on fire, but somehow ends up being the glue holding the family together as well. Gad will not only star but serve as EP, creator, and writer for 1600 Penn; he had a great year in 2011, thanks in large part to a star-making turn in The Book of Mormon on Broadway. He's joined on screen by some great talent, including Jenna Elfman (as his mother), Brittany Snow and, of course, Pullman. The pilot will be shot by Jason Winer, who not only directed the mega-smash Modern Family in 2009 but has Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23 debuting in the next few weeks. It all looks like a recipe for success to me.

6. Guys with Kids (NBC)

Jimmy Fallon has had several shows lined up at NBC over the past few years as producer, but none have gone to pilot; that's changed with the promising Guys with Kids. Fallon produces the series about a group of 30-something year old dads who are on the same maturity level as their children. Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford and Zach Cregger are the dads in question, while Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Sara Rue, and Tempestt Bledsoe are their other halves. I'm all for a good gender comedy (the key word being "good," as in nothing like last year's Work It or Last Man Standing). I'm hoping Charlie Grandy, a former SNL and The Office writer, will find the humor in the concept without turning it into an unfunny battle of the sexes.

7. The New Normal (NBC)

Ryan Murphy is on fire, with Glee wrapping up its third season and American Horror Story an unquestionable success. He's got this new sitcom coming down the pike, co-created with fellow Glee writer Ali Adler, about a nontraditional family consisting of a gay couple and their child's surrogate. It sounds like a riff on Modern Family, and a smart one at that considering how popular the gay characters are. The cast includes another Book of Mormon star, Andrew Rannells, and Justin Bartha (The Hangover) as the couple and Georgia King as the surrogate. Ellen Barkin also stars, and Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes (currently recurring on Glee) has also landed a role. I love Rannells, Bartha, Barkin, and Leakes, and Murphy is usually great at set-up, so I'm excited to see where this one goes. With Murphy's name attached, it's almost a guarantee go-ahead.

That's about all I've got on the comedy side of things. It's harder to judge comedies based on a pitch line and cast, because so much can (and does) go wrong in translating that pitch into a funny pilot and funny subsequent episodes. At this time last year you never could've convinced me, for example, that Whitney would be my favorite half-hour show by now. So it goes, so we'll wait and see.