Monday, October 7, 2013

Brief Reviews: Betrayal, Super Fun Night, Hostages, The Millers

Even though I've seen all the pilots that have aired so far (and one that hasn't), I've fallen behind in reviewing them because there was a glut these past couple of weeks. So below are a few reviews for shows I never got around to writing in-depth reviews for: Betrayal and Super Fun Night on ABC, and Hostages and The Millers on CBS.

Betrayal (Sundays at 10:00 on ABC)

In spite of its bodice-ripping premise and slow-burn writing, Betrayal is actually one of my favorite pilots of the season. Based on the Dutch drama Overspel, Betrayal maps the relationship of photographer Sara Hanley (Hannah Ware) with her ambitious lawyer husband (Chris Johnson) and with a new acquaintance, Jack (Stuart Townsend). Jack meets Hannah at her gallery showing, and the sparks are instantaneous. Over the course of a few days, the pair grow closer and more intimate, winding up in bed together before long. Soon after her infidelity begins, Hannah becomes aware that her husband will be facing off with her new lover in a murder trial.

It's the kind of schlocky, soapy melodrama that ABC loves to put on the air, but Betrayal has the added bonus of being well-shot by Emmy nominee Patty Jenkins (The Killing) and well-acted by an attractive but not unbelievably beautiful cast, led by Ware and Townsend and masterfully supported by Emmy winner James Cromwell (American Horror Story: Asylum), who is chewing scenery even better than James Spader over on The Blacklist. The script from David Zabel, who also created the season's first casualty in Lucky 7, is a bit too slow at times (we know Sara and Jack are going to sleep together... the name of the show is Betrayal, for crying out loud, so just get to the point) and a little heavy on silly dialogue, but it also doesn't try to cut corners. Zabel isn't excusing Sara and Jack's indiscretion, and he's not putting them on a pedestal and making us root for them despite the betrayal. He presents their coupling as just one in a string of ways we all betray each other every day. It's basically a really bleak outlook on humanity, but also a very realistic one. So even though it's sometimes silly (the old mob slogan, "After the first betrayal, there is no other," is repeated in the pilot) and standard, Betrayal is darkly entertaining and has quite a bit of potential as a guilty pleasure.

Super Fun Night (Wednesdays at 9:30 on ABC)

Rebel Wilson's troubled single-cam comedy Super Fun Night debuted this past week, and it's not as bad as the press would make it seem. The show was originally set up at CBS in 2012 as a traditional mutli-camera sitcom, but they passed. It then moved over to development at ABC as a single-camera project and earned a series pick-up, landing the prime slot behind Modern Family. But early word on the pilot was extremely negative. In response, a major character was written out and the pilot, which has no air date as of now, was replaced with the second episode. The good news is that all of this retooling and shifting has done well by the show, which is genuinely funny, mostly thanks to Wilson.

The concept of Super Fun Night is exactly the definition of "situation comedy:" every Friday night, three awkward female friends pick options out of a hat for what they will do and where they will go. The first aired episode sees Kimmie (Wilson, of Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids fame) overcoming her stage fright by singing at a piano bar. The writing isn't always sharp or original, but the cast's comedic timing is nearly perfect and Wilson is so adorable and fun in the lead. Her American accent is horrendous, but that's part of the silly charm of Super Fun Night. There are jokes aplenty, even one imbedded in Kimmie's last name, Boubier (which is often emphasized to sound like "booby, yay!"), and most of them land thanks to the cast's talents. Wilson is ably supported by Liza Lapira (Don't Trust the B...) and Lauren Ash as her friends, Kevin Bishop as her co-worker and potential love interest, and Kate Jenkinson as her competition in winning Bishop's affections. They all shine, and each elicits at least one truly laugh-out-loud moment in the opener.

As a side note, it's great to see a show about women and by women (Wilson is also a writer and producer) that doesn't just talk about "women's issues" like sex, motherhood, etc. This is a show where young women dominate the landscape, and they are funny because they're funny, not because they're catty, bitchy, or the punchline for a male co-star's jokes. They're also not there to be seen as sex objects or mother figures; they're just funny ladies being funny ladies, and I love that.

Hostages (Mondays at 10:00 on CBS)

Hostages isn't exactly unwatchable, or even all that bad. But it is kind of stupid and full of obnoxious, occasionally idiotic characters. Toni Collette is Dr. Ellen Sanders, a surgeon in Maryland who has been hand chosen by the President to perform a delicate procedure. The night before the surgery is set to take place, an FBI agent (Dylan McDermott) and his crew take the good doctor and her philandering husband (Tate Donovan), along with their annoying children (Quinn Shephard and Mateus Ward), hostage in their own home. They want Sanders to kill the President during surgery... without really explaining why.

The entire premise is absurd, and it's even reminiscent of last fall's failure (both commercially and... well, on every level) The Mob Doctor. Duncan, McDermott's FBI agent character, is just like a mob boss with his endless connections in DC and his widespread web of accomplices. He's stiff and wooden in nearly every scene, while Collette is on the opposite end of the spectrum: she cries or screams in nearly all her scenes. The kids are stupid and annoying (typical kids, in other words), and Donovan isn't much smarter as the husband. If someone takes you hostage and has guns pointed at your head, then proves that they have infiltrated the police, why would you piss them off? Don't fight back, don't mouth off, just do what they say. Which brings me to the show's biggest problem: what do you do once the kidnappers get what they want? How long can Ellen possibly delay the President's surgery, and what happens afterward? I didn't really care about the outcome after only one episode, but there are fourteen more planned just for this season. The premise could easily be resolved in a two-hour movie, repercussions and all, but as a series, Hostages will stretch the boundaries of patience and interest by its end.

The Millers (Thursdays at 8:30 on CBS)

As annoying as the family on Hostages is, they don't hold a candle to the insufferable assholes that populate The Millers. When Will Arnett looks subdued on screen, you know your actors are doing too much. Led by a brash, unfunny, vulgar performance by Margo Martindale (Justified), CBS's new multi-camera offering is one of the least entertaining of the fall.

Arnett plays a recently divorced local news anchor whose parents move in with him while their home is being renovated. He hasn't told them about his divorce because they wouldn't understand or something, but when they find out... they decide to try out a separation of their own. Beau Bridges is Arnett's father, a dimwitted louse who doesn't know how to use a phone (parents not knowing how to operate technology will never be funny, I'm sorry) and yells a lot. Martindale talks a lot about masturbation and farting before ending the pilot recreating the final dance in Dirty Dancing with her son as her partner. It's a really creepy dynamic between the three leads, and one that really doesn't relay any type of warmth or familial bond. It's just Martindale screaming at Bridges, and Bridges screaming at Martindale. Then it's Martindale screaming at Arnett, while Bridges tries to figure out how to use a microwave. God damn it, the jokes are so old, so trite that they're aggravating. And what is with all the comedies where parents yell at their kids? Who decided that's what was so funny this season? Unbearably loud parents are the source of most of the "comedy" on at least three shows this fall (The Millers, The Crazy Ones, The Goldbergs). What gives? That, plus the fact that the script from the usually-funny Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl, Raising Hope) is painfully bad, makes for a very unpleasant viewing experience.

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