Archive | September, 2013

Fall 2013 Review: Trophy Wife

30 Sep

Trophy Wife and Husband

Trophy Wife is yet another child of ABC’s make-everything-like-Modern-Family approach to comedies (which from their perspective makes a lot of sense). The show, like Modern Family, is about an unorthodox wacky and occasionally out-of-control but ultimately functional family with a lot of moving parts.  Malin Akerman’s character Kate is the titular trophy wife. She starts the show with narration, which is almost always a poor choice in comedies, but an absolute staple of the Modern Family school of shows (Modern Family has it at the end, Suburgatory and The Middle have it throughout). She tells the story in very brief about how she went from single girl out on the town to wife and step-mom. It all started with a chance encounter at a karaoke bar with an older man, a suit-wearing lawyer, Pete, played by Bradley Whitford. Kate accidentally fell and broke Pete’s nose, which led to whirlwind romance followed by marriage.  There’s a catch though, to this dream pairing. Pete’s got major baggage in the form of two very different ex-wives, along with three children.

The first wife is the absolutely terrifying, stern and humorless doctor Diane played by Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden.  The second is the trippy, new age-y Jackie, played by Michaela Watkins, who has appeared in New Girl, as well as on Saturday Night Live.  Two of the kids are Diane’s –  a teen girl just entering the stage where she really cares about being cool and Warren, a dorky son who clearly doesn’t care at all about being cool. The third child is Jackie’s and is a precocious maybe 9 year old (I’m awful at estimating kids’ ages, so cut me some slack) adopted from China.  Kate’s best friend Meg is also part of the main cast, and helps Kate out with the kids.

Everyone is well-meaning, generally, as people are on Modern Family-esque shows and that’s not a bad thing., The main source of familial conflict laid out in the first episode seems to be that the ex-wives resent the younger Kate who they think is a party girl hardly responsible enough to be with their children.  The oldest child, Hillary, a rebellious teenager, also doesn’t respect Kate’s attempt to play mom.  The pilot features a series of wacky hijinks like Pete and Jackie running around trying to find an identical hamster to replace Bert’s so they can avoid telling him his hamster died.  It also features a quick twenty minute character arc in which Kate desperately craves the respect of Pete’s-kids and ex-wives, almost disastrously loses what little respect they had for her, and then manages to gain a small piece of that respect in in the end.  The episode ends, as again Modern Familly-esque shows often do, with the whole wacky family in the same room, solving all their episode-long problems together.

The words that spring to mind to best describe Trophy Wife are cute, harmless, and inoffensive.   These are classic backhanded compliment words and they are here as well, and very much in both the backhanded and the compliment sense.  It’s a well-produced program with talented actors, a warm tone, and a couple of laughs, but there’s not enough for me to make it weekly appointment viewing.  In my estimation from just one episode, it’s a little bit south of what I call the Suburgatory line, which represents the perfect show to throw on the TV in the background when I’m lying down late at night, because I don’t care if I fall asleep before the episode ends, and I don’t ever plan on watching all the episodes in order.

Not to beat a dead analogy, but Trophy Wife fits in well with this entire block of ABC comedies, all of which sit somewhere around this middle line of being not bad but not great and yet go no further (note: not The Middle line, another of these ABC comedies).  Like most of the shows on ABC, Trophy Wife is watchable, well-intentioned, and heart-warming, but in the competitive television landscape with so many quality shows competing for my viewing time, that’s just not enough.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It was fine.  The first episode had a couple of laughs and I like the actors and actresses so I wouldn’t object if it was on in a room I was in.   There’s an outside chance it’ll get much better, as comedies do often take a while to find their feet, and I’m perfectly willing to give it another try if I hear and read good things. Until then, it’s just not quite funny or promising enough to secure a guaranteed second viewing.

Fall 2013 Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

27 Sep

Coulson is an Agent of Shield

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (pause to mention how absolutely obnoxious it is to have to type out S.H.I.E.L.D. every time) is Marvel’s first foray into television since the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which started with Ironman and culminated in 2012’s supermegamonster smash The Avengers. The Avengers was written and directed by Joss Whedon, who has been up to then known best as the cult television writer behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. The show is set after the events of The Avengers, where basically (The Avengers SPOILERS to come) huge swaths of New York were destroyed by giant aliens.  The upshot from that event, known as The Battle of New York, is that everyone in the public now knows about the weird and creepy and supernatural that the government had been able to keep from them before.  People are confused and scared.  S.H.I.E.L.D. is an agency which, as a character notes within the first ten minutes of the show, acts as a layer between the superheroes and super-villains and aliens and the general population, trying to keep the scary out of sight when they can and at least keep people out of harm’s way when they can’t.

Agent Phil Coulson, who appeared in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and Thor, is back from being seriously injured in The Avengers and he’s putting together a special hand-picked team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who will get to run pretty much whatever missions he deems advisable without facing the usual bureaucracy. We don’t know how he got this authority but it’s not all that important. He starts the episode by recruiting an antisocial combat expert named Grant Ward and then convincing pilot Melinda May, who is implied to be some sort of legend, to be part of the team with the promise that she’ll avoid active duty.  They join the already recruited science duo of Leo Fitz, an engineer, and Jemma Simmons, a chemist, both British, who seem to love to squabble with one another about scientific gibberish.

In the first episode, our squad tracks the case of a man who was caught on camera saving a woman from a burning building and showed signs of super strength.  The show follows him and we find out he’s a factory worker who was laid off due to injury and that he’s struggling to survive and feed his kid.  In his time of hardship, he agreed to join an experimental program, called Centipede, in which he gets a device that hooks into his arm and gives him this super strength.  Unfortunately, it also makes him crazy, as he uses his strength to push around his old boss who won’t give him another shot.  It will also, we learn, eventually make him explode.  The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are tasked with stopping him without killing him and they have the help of a rebel hacker named Skye who initially sees the agents as bad guys until Coulson convinces her that they really are trying to help people after all.

The show is largely procedural, and though I’’m sure there will be some serial elements, it looks like it’s largely going to start on a one case-per-week basis. At its heart, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is about the team. Group dynamics are at the heart of what Joss Whedon does best, which is why he was the perfect director to helm The Avengers (and why he wouldn’t have made nearly as much sense for any of the individual hero films).  Whedon manages the intricacies and interplay of a group better than anyone and it is what drives his shows and what drives Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The major villains on Buffy were often the weakest part of the show, as it was how the group worked together to deal with them that was so compelling.   We don’t get enough of the group working together and verbally sparring in this episode, partly due to all the necessary set up, but I can see the pieces coming together.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not as daring or new or revelatory as I would hope from a new premium cable show, but that’s not what this is. Joss Whedon doesn’t generally traffic in the completely novel.  What Whedon shines at is making standard genre shows that are a cut above. He turns obvious types into complicated characters that grow and change over time.  He takes the level of dialogue writing most procedurals employ and puts so much more care into each sentence and phrase, imbuing it with a signature witty style. This playful Whedon-esque tone (yes, I’m using the creator’s name as an adjective; he’s earned it) keeps what could easily be seen as occasionally corny or cheesy dialogue from sounding clunky and overwrought (it is vaguely cheesy; at one critical point, Coulson dramatically tells the scientists ” Don’t ever tell me there’s no way ” when they say they can’t stop the factory worker from exploding). Another specialty of Whedon’s is his brilliant balance of the dramatic and the comedic. He marries the serious and the silly better than anyone which keeps the episode fun and unstuffy.

Simply put, Whedon’s style makes what could easily be a color-by-numbers procedural vastly more interesting.  There’s the powers and superhero angle, and that’s great and provides a lot of material to work with, but it’s the quirky dialogue and character building that separate Whedon stories from their peers.

Will I watch it again?  Yes.  I’m a devotee to Whedon and all things Whedon-esque (though I shamefully still have not seen Dollhouse) so this kind of had me at hello.  It was pretty much exactly what I was expecting, and while that doesn’t make the most interesting or captivating show on television, it’s still a good thing.

Fall 2013 Review: The Blacklist

25 Sep

The Blacklist!

In The Blacklist, which sadly does not refer to the annual survey of hot unproduced scripts, James Spader stars as an infamous criminal. He’s known as the Concierge of Criminals because he plays a middleman between criminals, matching them up and helping them get what they need.  In the first scene of the pilot, he walks into the FBI, turns himself in for an unknown reason, and agrees to help the FBI catch certain super top secret criminals on his list (this is the titular black list). These are criminals the FBI has wanted, and some they don’t even know about, and he’ll do this in exchange for certain concessions and conditions.  The most important and strangest is that he insists that he only deals with Lizzie Keen, an absolutely nobody of an agent, who was supposed to be at her first day working for the bureau in DC after a stint in NY when Spader turns himself in.

In the first episode Spader helps lead the police to a dying terrorist who is planning on kidnapping a general’s daughter (which he does) and using her as a bomb to blow up part of the DC zoo (which he fails at).  Spader at one point escapes police custody with the help of an ally at the hospital. It seems like any person at any time might actually be working for Spader. The point here, which is made a couple more times in the episode, is that Spader is cagey and connected and always has a plan. Throughout the episode, it’s unclear exactly whose side Spader is on, as he helps certain criminals, communicates with others, and then thwarts the ones he earlier helped using knowledge from other criminals.

Somewhere along the line there a smart decision was made which is at the center of The Black List.  Someone decided to have James Spader do what James Spader does best.  I’m not sure whether the idea was to create this slimy character and realize James Spader was the perfect actor to play him, or to cast James Spader as an ambiguous villain/anti-hero and build a character around him, but either way it was the choice that is probably going to make The Blacklist a successful show. James Spader is a great actor, but like the large majority of good actors, he excels particularly in a narrow sphere. For him this role is smug, slippery, and sleazy but competent.  Spader’s character Raymond Reddington hits all of these attributes, though that’s the only time I’m going to call him by his character’s name because the character simply subsumes into Spader, the actor.

At its core, The Blacklist is a procedural. In every episode, Spader will probably pull a new criminal off of his black list and give extremely cryptic tips to help Lizzie and the rest of the FBI follow along and catch the perp. There’s likely to be more serial elements than most procedurals, largely because the premise is much more of a mystery than most procedurals (Law & Order and CSI didn’t start out with obvious questions that needed to be answered).  There are very basic questions that have to be answered at some point.  Why did James Spader turn himself in?  What’s in it for him?  What’s with his obsession with Lizzie Keen? What’s up with Lizzie Keen’s husband, who we learn has a whole box of passports and is almost certainly not who she thinks he is?

For some reason, there have to be other main characters besides James Spader.  Lizzie Keen, played by Meghan Boone, is fine; she’s the young up-and-comer who, even though less experienced, is a step ahead of the rest of the staid-thinking FBI agents.  Spader prods her on, and they have kind of a Hannibal Lecter – Clarice Starling relationship, as he tries to get under her skin through grilling her in-depth about her past which he somehow knows better than the FBI does.  Compared to Lecter though, he’s far less crazy and far more practical.  Everything he does seemingly has some sort of reason behind it which we might learn in time.

Diego Klatenhoff, who played Brody’s former best friend in Homeland, plays the FBI agent who was in charge of Spader’s case. Klattenhoff seems to have the talent of being the most forgettable part of any ensemble he’s part of.  His character seems so far to only play the role of veteran FBI agent who Lizzie Keen is already sharper than. The other main cast members are Keen’s husband, who obviously has something shady going on, as alluded to earlier, and the boss in charge of the FBI team, who we don’t see a lot of in the first episode. His only role is to be the official who gradually accedes to Spader’s demands.

The Blacklist shares a lot of general procedural tropes.  It’s not the most exciting or realistic or mind-blowing series.  I doubt it will ever be a must watch or be as complicated or thought-provoking as the best shows on television.  What it does have is James Spader and a fairly action packed and compelling set up.  It’s a new twist on a familiar format, and that’s not worth everything but it is worth something.  How NBC stole this show that would have fit right in at CBS I’ll never know. The mystery behind Spader gives the show more room to build in a serial fashion than most procedurals, and I actually found myself curious about these questions watching the show, which is generally a good sign.

Will I watch it again?  It’s not a priority, but I might.  It’s a procedural, a genre which is generally not my cup of tea, but there’s at least enough of a serial storyline, James Spader is great, and for its genre, it was impressive out of the gate.  Anyone who likes this type of show will like The Blacklist.

Fall 2013 Review: Sleepy Hollow

23 Sep

Sleeeeepy Hollow

Most of what I know about the story of Sleep Hollow is that the main characters are Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, it’s by Washington Irving, and the basics of whatever happened in the Tim Burton movie which I saw over a decade ago.  In this retelling, Ichabod Crane is a Brit fighting for the Americans under the direct command of George Washington. In the middle of a fierce battle slices the head off a mercenary with a mask in a fierce battle, severely injuring himself in the process.  He passes out, and boom, it’s a couple centuries later, there are cars, and black people are no longer slaves.  Oh, and he’s not alone. The man he cut the head off of is back as well, and killing people in the modern day much as he was two hundred years ago.  This is all I knew about the show from initial promotion, this was a series about a supernatural serial killer and a man from his time who would find him.  The next preview alerted me that it would be about much more, a conspiracy dating hundreds of years back. However, I had still greatly underestimated how quickly the scale of Sleepy Hollow would be ratcheted up and how far it would go.

Lieutenant Abby Mills is a Westchester police officer who is planning to leave in a week to join the FBI.  When she reports to what seems like a routine problem at a stable with her sheriff mentor, they find the owner dead, and the sheriff gets killed by a man with no head.  When Crane is found later by officers, and talks of working for General Washington, the police naturally suspect him of being the criminal, except for Abby, because some things Crane says ring true about his archenemy, the headless horseman. They spend a surprisingly little amount of time on the Crane-can’t-understand-new-things joke (he asks surprisingly few questions about cars or electric lights), which is probably a good thing.

Thankfully it takes us just the one episode to emerge past on of my favorite necessary early stages of a supernatural show – something strange happens and we the viewer knows its true, so we just want the characters to believe it, because it’s really boring when they keep fighting its reality forever while we know it’s true, but we need them to at least deny it for a while because that’s what anyone would actually do in real life.  Mills gets through this stage quicker for three reasons.  First, she has a prior experience with the supernatural which was uncorroborated, as she saw something super creepy which drove her sister nuts when they kids, and the sight still shook her to this day. Second, she finds a whole bunch of files her old mentor has been keeping about spooky events in the vicinity. Third, and most obviously, by the end of the episode, two other cops see the headless horseman as well, backing her story.

Sleepy Hollow reminds me of the Buffy universe.  Not tonally at all, but merely in the way that one location, Sunnydale in that show, and Sleepy Hollow here, is home to a ridiculously inordinate amount of supernatural activity, and even though it first seems crazy and hard to believe that all these supernatural events take place, in turns out half the people in the show already know about it and just don’t talk about it for whatever reason.

Also, like in Buffy, there is nothing less than the entire fate of humanity at stake right here in Sleepy Hollow, which we learn by the end of the first episode.  The headless horseman is quite literally death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If he gets his head back, which has been hidden, he may start the process of getting to the actual apocalypse.  Crane, whose blood is intertwined with the horseman since they almost killed each other two hundred years ago, could be the slayer analogue, though using the Book of Revelations, which is apparently some sort of field map to what’s going on, he surmises both himself and Mills may be chosen. Oh, and also witches exist.  Apparently, Crane’s wife was one, though he didn’t know, and she sends him messages through his creams. Oh, and there’s also a big scary demon that shows up at the end and leave through a mirror, or something.

And yes, it seems like just about every other character already knows about the insanity going on.  John Cho plays a seemingly innocent cop who it turns out is working for the evil Horseman.  The local reverend appears to be a witch who is in on things, before the horseman takes him down, and it turns out Mills’ mentor, the sheriff, had been studying these unexplained phenomena for years and suspected some supernatural explanations but didn’t know how to bring it up with Mills without sounding crazy. Orlando Jones played a police captain, who we don’t know is in on it, but gives one or two super sinister looks in the episode, which led me to believe he is, though I may be reading into things too much.

The writing is nothing stand out, and the acting is absolutely fine but not remarkable. If you watch this show, it’s for the whiplash insanity of the plot going forward, and you know, that’s not a bad reason.  It’s hardly an obvious much watch but I liked it better than I initially thought I would.

The usual problem with insanity in supernatural shows is that they often start off measured, like Lost, and then veer in a more insane direction only when they realize they’re cornered and have nowhere else to go.  When that happens, it’s extremely frustrating because it seems like the show is choosing to expand its scale because they’re out of other ideas. However, If a show chooses to start of insane, well, that’s a decision made on its own terms. In Lost, the possibility was held out that there would be explanations for each of the mysteries posed over the course of the first couple of seasons. In contrast, in Buffy, there were no explanations for why the hellmouth was in Sunnydale or why demons kept wanting to seek the end of the world; it just was, and as long as you could accept that as the premise of the show, that was okay. From the beginning, Sleepy Hollow is going to be about the fate of the entire world, and how it rests on a man with no head getting his head back.  As silly as it sounds,

Will I watch it again?  Maybe? I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and man it’s fucking crazy.  It’s not a must watch and it’s not a priority with all the new shows coming down the pipe at once, but I kind of enjoyed the sheer insanity of it, so I don’t want to rule it out.

Fall 2013 Review: Dads

20 Sep

One DadIt’s impressive that the first two shows I’ve watched in the new fall network television series may feature both the best and worst comedy of the season.  Dads, as you may or may not have guessed, is contending for the latter category.  It’s a vile, offensive, hackneyed, and just all-around bad show, but equally if not importantly, it’s simply not funny. At all.

A clever trick bad offensive shows use to gather support is to, well, go on the offensive.  The classic approach is to claim that the reason they get absolutely miserable reviews is not because they’re not funny, but because the establishment and people in the media find them in violation of the current stuck up norms of political correctness.  Real people, they say, like it; it’s for the people, not for the critics. Dads has been taking this approach in commercials, openly acknowledging the poor reception its getting but talking to regular folks who tell other regular folks to ignore the critics.

I implore you to not let that kind of campaign fool you for a second.  I won’t say that there haven’t been reviewers who haven’t unfairly called out shows in the past for being offensive that weren’t, or were perhaps a tad too sensitive at times.  If that is ever the case though, it certainly isn’t here. There are plenty of shows that manage to be quite offensive and challenge existing norms while being both good and hilarious; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm are two that fit the bill.  Dads does not.

Dads is about two successful young entrepreneurs who run a video game company they co-founded. Seth Green plays Eli, the single womanizer, and Giovanni Ribisi plays Warner, who is married to Camilla, played by Vanessa Lachey. Warner’s dad, played by Martin Mull, already lives with him, and is ridiculously inappropriate in both his words and actions. He’s also a horribly unsuccessful businessman, having lost all his money which resulted in his having to come to his son for a place to stay.  He still carries a briefcase everywhere he goes and tries to make deals, though the business world passed him by decades ago; he refers to Chinese as Orientals.  Peter Riegert plays Eli’s dad. Riegert asks to move in with Eli at the end of the first episode, because he, like Mull, is out of money.  Both sons can’t stand their dads, who make their lives unbearable when they’re around more often than not.  I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be an undercurrent of actual love between the sons and the dads or not. The show seems to imply that deep down somewhere the sons care about the dads, at least enough to offer them a place to stay, but just about no one seems to like anybody else in this show.

I’d honestly rather not spend anymore time on any problems with the show’s offensiveness; the problems are so vast and blatant and I only want to talk about this show for so long; other people can handle those if they wish.  I’d rather spend that time on the show’s badness.  First of all, and this is just low hanging fruit, there’s a laugh track.  Seriously?  This is the time where I mention that this is executively produced by Seth MacFarlane and created by two Ted co-writers.  There’s always been a serious love for the retrograde in Family Guy, but come on. Family Guy has plenty of misses but turn on a random episode and I’d bet there’ll be three solid laughs, possibly hidden away in flashbacks and cutaways. That’s three more than Dads. To say this feels like the writers haven’t watched a sitcom in the last decade is an understatement.  The laughs the writers think they’re getting don’t work, and the laugh track would muck up any comic timing if there was any to begin with.

The central joke of the show is supposed to be that the dads are really irritating people and that these two successful sons have to put up with them, but the real joke, if you could even call it that is they are all terrible people, at least the four main characters.  The female perspective is limited to Warner’s wife, whose main role in the pilot is to have to deal with a naked Martin Mull, and Brenda Song, who works with the guys, and whose main role in the pilot is to dress up as a Japanese school girl to impress a group of Chinese businessman.  The first episode does not come particularly close to passing the Bechdel test. I keep trying to avoid coming back to how offensive it is though. Let’s try again.  The problem with the show isn’t that they seem like obnoxious people; the Always Sunny characters are obnoxious people and Sunny is great. The problem is that the central joke of the show, as I mentioned, isn’t funny.  The guys aren’t funny.  The jokes are obvious and unbelievably unsubtle, and because they’re so obvious I don’t know how they got to air without somebody at Fox or some writer on the staff pointing out how bad they were.  For example, Green and Ribisi make an unfunny joke about which of their fathers will pick up the check when they meet for lunch, since they’re both famous cheapskakes, and it’s not funny then. In case we didn’t get the point, though,  there’s an especially excruciating scene where Mull and Reigert sneeze and blow the check back and forth between one other after their meal because they both don’t want to pay, as their sons correctly predicted.

Honestly I thought I would enjoy writing about this show coming in, because I normally have some fun writing about bad shows, but this doesn’t even have the how-did-a-show-with-this-premise-get-on-TV factor like Work It or fit into every amazing obvious genre stereotype like Made in Jersey.  It’s just awful.  Avoid at all costs.

Will I watch it again?  No.  It’s a truly terrible show and I hope it gets cancelled soon to send a lesson to the networks to think twice before making something like this. It’s a shame, in particular, because it’s the only weak spot in what otherwise may be shaping up as the best night in network comedy (Fox Tuesdays) since the heyday of NBC Thursdays a couple of years back.

Fall 2013 Review: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

18 Sep

Hanging in the Nine-Nine It’s a fantastic feeling to start the fall review season on a positive note. Andy Samberg and company had a very promising start in this new comedy from the creators of Parks and Recreation.  Samberg plays promising young police officer Jake Peralta, who is the best in his squad and making arrests, but is held back only by his immaturity and his refusal to follow any semblance of protocol.  The pilot begins with the appearance of new captain Ray Holt, a straight laced and no nonsense veteran played by Andre Braugher of Homicide, Men of a Certain Age, and the recently cancelled Last Resort. Braugher replaces Samberg’s previous captain, who had let Samberg get away with whatever he wanted.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is funny, which is just about the highest compliment a comedy can get, especially in the first episode, which is often weighed down by the need to set up the premise and introduce the characters, leaving limited time for laughs.  Samberg, coming in to the show, is very much in a similar spot that Parks & Recreation star Amy Poehler was in coming into that show.  Samberg was a breakout Saturday Night Live performer but has been perceived largely as a wacky side character rather than as a lead. Parks & Recreation creator Michael Schur channeled Poehler’s talents and made even those of us, myself included, who had come into the show not a fan of Poehler’s work, love her as Leslie Knope. Schur and co-creator Dan Goor attempt to do the same with Samberg here, and from what I’ve seen in the first episode, I have ever reason to be optimistic. Samberg manages to tone down ever-so-slightly the ridiculous persona that he made famous on SNL and in guest appearances on Parks & Recreation, and the decision of Schur and Goor to make Samberg and his coworkers quite competent was a smart one, turning Samberg’s wackiness into a asset rather than a flaw.  The change that made Parks & Recreation turn from a so-so show to one of the best comedies of the past decade was the decision to change Amy Poehler from a Michael Scott-like semi-idiot into an extremely competent and extremely likable worker with simply more than her share of eccentricities. Based on the first episode, it seems like Brooklyn Nine-Nine is putting lessons learned from Parks & Recreation into play.

Samberg works besides some very talented colleagues. Braugher, a first-ballot television hall-of-famer in my mind, brings a surprise sense of comic timing for someone who has largely plied his trade in dramatic roles. He works well as a foil for the sillier Samberg to play off of.   Samberg’s partner is Amy Santiago, played by little-known Melissa Fumero, a young up and comer like Samberg who has the no-nonsense instincts Holt’s, She a bit less dry than Braugher and so far has mostly existed to counter Samberg as well, but she had a couple of nice comic moments. On the sillier side of the cast, is civilian administrator played by Chelsea Peretti, a comedienne who is a little over-the-top for my liking in this role.  Her ratio of converted lines that are supposed to make me laugh to laughs was the lowest of any of the main cast members.Personal favorite Joe LoTrugio plays the hard-working but minimally competent Charles Doyle, who partners and crushes on scary Rosa, played by Stephanie Beatriz. LoTruglio gets the majority of the physical humor in the pilot, and sells it better than most of the other actors probably would have.  Terry Cruz plays the bureau’s sergeant, and though he doesn’t have a lot to work with in the first episode, I’ve liked what work of his I’ve seen in the past.

Not every joke took, particularly Peretti’s, and there were a couple of false starts, but that’s to be expected in comedy, a genre in which, far more so than hour long dramas, takes chemistry and comic timing which need to grow over time to really find its rhythm.  A comedy that gets even a couple of solid laughs in the pilot is worth giving a solid try, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine got more than its fair share.  Everything about this reminds me of Parks & Recreation, and while maybe that sounds derivative, there should be pride rather than any shame in imitating one of the best comedies on television. Samberg, who in unedited form, is simply out of control, can be extremely funny when handled properly.  His wackiness naturally comes out; his robot imitation in front of Braughter in the pilot is a highlight, and some of his quick silly faces are hilarious.  What he needs is someone to impose the restraint that let the silliness stand out rather than dominate.  All the evidence so far suggests this may be the perfect setting for his talents.

Will I watch it again?  Yes.  It was funny.  It has actors I like, and I like the creators’ previous work.  It has more than enough going for it to get me to a second episode, and almost certainly a third and a fourth.  This is one of the easiest decisions I imagine I’ll face all fall.  Could it get worse, or fail to evolve and be simply mediocre? Sure.  But I’d bet strongly against it. My biggest concern is that I can already see potential emotional devastation if Brooklyn Nine-Nine faces an early demise on Fox Tuesdays (RIP Ben & Kate).

Fall 2013 Previews and Predictions: ABC

16 Sep


(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13)

ABC is the last of the four major networks to get predictions and previews here (CW does not count).  They’ve also got the most new fall shows with 8 and I feel less confident about predictions their shows than any network I’ve done so far.  Still, I’ll have a got at it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – 9/24

Agents of Shield

Probably the most anticipated show of the fall season, Agents represents Marvel’s first foray into live television since the beginning of the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man. Agents also represents Joss Whedon’s first return to television since Dollhouse. Though he won’t be working on this show day-to-day like he has on his other shows (Avengers 2 requires a lot of work), he co-created the show with his brother Jed Whedon and his brother’s wife, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Joss directs the first episode, which all three co-wrote.  Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg returns to lead a group of eccentric characters who try to solve weekly supernatural action mysteries.

Prediction: Renewal – my most confident renewal pick, along with The Blacklist, though since it’s network television, anything can happen – still it’s a pretty good bet, I think the Marvel name, shepherded by the Whedon writing and sensibility will carry the day.

The Goldbergs – 9/24

All Goldbergs

Television loves making trips to the past. In this case, The Goldbergs is the story of a family in the wacky and wild 1980s, complete with the fashions and music and everything else that comes to mind immediately when you think of the ’80s.  There’s the gruff and angry dad, played by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin, with his wife played by Bridesmaids and Rules of Engagement’s Wendi McLendon-Covey.  They have three kids, including a hot daughter, a goofy teenage son, and a younger son who videotapes all their exploits. They’re all joined by Grandpa, played by George Segal. It does not look promising, and the posters of the family dressed in matching striped shirts doesn’t help anything.

Prediction: 12- It’s getting a surprising amount of promotion; using my anecdotal ads-on-subway test, it’s among the most promoted shows in the ABC line up.  Still, I think it’s not going to work, and I think, looking at that poster, you probably think that too.

The Trophy Wife – 9/24

The Wife Trophy

Malin Akerman, a reformed party girl, marries older Bradley Whitford, who already had multiple kids with two separate ex-wives who both don’t care for her.  How will she navigate the difficulties of step-kids, ex-wifes, and a husband who might still be under the thumb of either?  ABC will hope she handles it hilariously and like Akerman and Whitford, but this looks fairly generic.  If The Goldbergs seems to be getting the most promotion, ,this seems to be getting the least. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays one of the ex-wives..

Prediction: 12- A few shows always go out early.  It’s a talented cast but when in doubt, bet against shows which the networks don’t seem to be promoting very heavily.

Lucky 7 – 9/24

Lucky 8 - Unlucky 1

A group of seven workers at a Queens gas station win the lottery, and their lives change, and not just for the better, or we’d have a pretty uninteresting television show.  It’s based off a similar British show, as most TV shows are nowadays. While the trailer was largely unmemorable, it’s actually a new idea, at least in America, which in and of itself is always impressive coming from a network. The cast features largely lesser known actors and actresses and I’m not sure how true to life or overdramatic it will be from the trailer, but it has a chance at being good, which is more than I can say about many network shows after watching the trailers.

Predictions: 13+ – It’s a legitimately interesting idea that could be good or bad depending on well writing, directing, and acting, and so forth.  I’ll take the middle position in lieu of any additional information.

Back in the Game – 9/25

Maggie Lawson's back is in the game

Psych’s Maggie Lawson dumps her terrible husband and returns to her hometown with her son, and moves in with her crotchety father played by James Caan.  When no one else steps up, she, a former softball player, decides to coach her son’s little league team which consists of a bunch of outcast kids. Caan and her are a two part Walter Matthau from Bad News Bears, as she does the baseball coaching and he does the grumpy old man act. Television “that guy” Ben Koldyke plays what I believe is the antagonist rival baseball coach; he was Don in How I Met Your Mother and one of the leads in Work It – I hope for your sake, you’re not familiar with the latter.

Predictions: 13+ It seems fairly generic and inoffensive which maybe will coast it along to half a season, but no more. I like Maggie Lawson in Psych, for what that’s worth.

Betrayal – 9/29

What is this poster about?

A beautiful married photographer begins an affair with a married lawyer, which leads to particular amounts of trouble when they turn out to be on opposite sides of a murder case.  I’m not sure about the tone for this show either, whether it’s over-dramatically sopay like Revenge, or maybe more series and emotional. I have no idea what to make of this show, but the leads are Hannah Ware, whose most famous role was as Kelsey Grammar’s daughter on the little-seen but fantastically over-the-top Boss, and Stuart Townsend who was in Queen of the Damned and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. James Cromwell also appears.

Prediction: 12- I have no idea what to make of this show.  I’m guessing, fairly arbitrarily, the public won’t either.

Super Fun Night – 10/2

Less Fun Day After

Rebel Wilson stars.  There’s a premise to the show, but that’s more or less all you need to know.  If you like her, there’s a good chance you’ll like the show, and if you don’t, well, you’ll probably hate it.  She stars as a young attorney who stays home with her friends every Friday night until she gets a promotion and a hot lawyer invites her out, and she invites her friends to come along and share the super fun times with her.  I’ve largely been in the anti-Rebel camp.  I’ll give the show a shot, because, well, I give all shows a shot, but I’m not hopeful from the trailer.

Prediction; 13+ – Rebel Wilson felt like she has had a TV show coming for some time. She definitely has a lot of fans but we’ll know in a few weeks exactly how many and how much they care.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland – 10/10

Once Upon a Time: Miami

Although I frequently do my best to forget about the existence of Once Upon a Time, the fairy tale drama has become a decent sized hit, with its share of critical fans as well.  The true sign of success on network television is the development of a spin off, and Once Upon a Time is getting that as it enters its third season.  Wonderland actually looks a bit darker than the original, and, despite my better instincts based on my dislike of Once Upon a Time, I’m actually kind of intrigued.  There’ll be plenty of crossover though it seems like, and it’ll be fairly tied in with the original, which means I’ll be cynical until convinced otherwise.

Prediction: Renewal – It’s a smart move and it’s set up well to succeed.  I’m not sure it will work, and spin-off fatigue happens all the time, but I this is a smart attempt by ABC even if it doesn’t work.

Fall 2013 Previews and Predictions: NBC

13 Sep


(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13)

NBC, surprisingly enough has been making slight progress over the last couple of years while people forgot to check on them because they were so far in the basement.  Their biggest new hit is reality show The Voice, but they’ll hope one of these new shows will bolster their line up.  Will they?  Let’s take a guess.

The Blacklist – 9/23

Spader is on The Blacklist

No network, aside from maybe, maybe ABC with Agents of Shield is pumping any new show this year as much as NBC is pumping The Black List.  James Spader seems perfectly cast a slimy mega-criminal who turns himself in for some mysterious reason to the government, agreeing to help them catch other mega-criminals in exchange for some sort of deal which includes that he only talks to one young female agent.  If it works, it could be the best CBS procedural in ages. In theory, he’ll help catch a new criminal every week while many a long term plot develops about why he turned himself in to begin with.

Prediction: Renewal – NBC, a network in need of a hit, has put all of its promotional muscle behind The Black List, and they claim viewers in focus groups loved it beyond belief.  Even if it’s not a huge hit, they’ll take it.

The Michael J. Fox Show – 9/26

Fox is The Michael J. Fox Show

Michael J. Fox portrays a legendary local news anchor who retires, like Fox himself, because of Parkinson’s disease, but then after driving his family and himself crazy in retirement, decides to make a return. Fox’s wife is played by Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt and his boss is played by The Wire’s Wendell Pierce.  Fox is a certified TV legend but the show does not look good. It doesn’t look historically bad, or worst sitcom of the year bad, it just looks generically mediocre, like a sitcom that should have existed two decades ago and not today.  It’s unfortunate because it’s hard to not root for Fox.

Prediction:  Renewal – after the Blacklist, I was almost arbitrarily deciding to pick a second NBC show for renewal, and when in doubt I go with the star power of Fox, who everyone loves, even if his show isn’t very good.

Ironside – 10/2

Underwood is Ironside

Blair Underwood will probably not channel original Ironside actor Raymond Burr too much in this remake of a ‘60s show about a detective in a wheelchair.  Ironside doesn’t play by the rules; he makes his own, and so on and so forth.  You will probably be able to watch five minutes of this show or less to realize exactly how it goes.  The superiors will be annoyed by Ironside now and then, as he’s tired of their conventional thinking and bureaucracy, but dammit, he’ll get results. The police procedural Ironside is yet another sign of NBC imitating CBS.

Prediction: 13+ – It looks pretty generic, which in this case, means I’ll take the middle ground, and go full season but not second.

Welcome to the Family – 10/3

O'Malley is Welcome to the Family

Every network has a limited amount of time and money for promotion, and every year, some shows, like The Blacklist, get promoted endlessly, while some shows, like Welcome to the Family, get more or less entirely ignored.  Mike O’Malley, who has grown on me over the years, plays the father of a recent high school graduate who gets knocked up by her high school boyfriend (a Latino, no less!), whose father O’Malley does not get along with.  The kids decide to make a go of it, meaning the families have to try to make a go of it as well.  Wacky hijinks ensue, with the potential for the occasional culture clash as a backdrop.

Prediction: 12- Maybe you’ve heard of some of these shows, but unless you pay really close attention you probably haven’t heard of this one, hence the lack of faith.

Sean Saves the World – 10/3

Hayes is Sean Saves the World

Sean Hayes juggles a judgmental mother, a teenage daughter, and a horrible boss, already before his life gets even more difficult when he gets full custody of his kid. Wacky Reno 911 actor Thomas Lennon plays his boss, while Linda Lavin plays his mom.  Was TV really missing Sean Hayes that badly? I would vastly prefer a show where Sean literally saves the world every episode; as it is, I expect very little.

Prediction: 12- – Sean Hayes doesn’t have the Michael J. Fox star power.  This show will probably be worse, and it’s definitely first to the chopping block fi they both do about the same, ratings-wise.

Dracula – 10/25

Rhys Meyers is Dracula

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who last starred on TV as an entirely different kind of historical figure in The Tudors, stars as Dracula, who comes to London to get his revenge for a multitude of betrayals from centuries earlier.  The creator of Carnivale will serve as showrunner which probably means the show will make no sense.  This is actually a British-American joint venture, and there will be only 10 episodes in the first season, so,I’m not going to predict it because it breaks the rules, and at least until enough network shows break the rules to come up with a better system, I’m going to leave this one out.  Still, it’s a show, so I feel at least compelled to provide a preview. This is definitely one of the very few network shows this year I don’t really have a read on.  I wouldn’t count on much from it, but it actually might be good, which is more than many network shows even have from the get go.

Fall 2013 Previews and Predictions: CBS

11 Sep


(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13)

The most watched network is up next.  CBS is looking to churn out some more winners and keep its reign going.  Which will be hits and which will be misses?  I’ll take some guesses at what people who like things that I hate will watch.

Mom – 9/23

Maybe better than Dads

Chuck Lorre, the genius behind CBS megahits Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory tries to strike gold again for the eye with this sitcom starring talented-but-could-never-find-the-right-project Anna Faris and former The West Wing press secretary Allison Janney.  Faris plays a single mother battling alcoholism who moves in with her also recovering alcoholic mom in California.  It’s multi-camera, it’s got a laugh track along with everything that anyone who loves either of those other CBS shows will probably love for some reason. Breaking Bad’s Badger, Matt Jones, is in the cast, and I already feel like I will think he’s the best part of the first episode.

Prediction: Renewal – Faris should have had a TV show years ago, and as terrible as it’s probably going to be, it’s gotten a big promotional push and has the Lorre touch.

Hostages – 9/23


TV superstar Dylan McDermott plays an FBI agent who kidnaps the family of a doctor, played by Toni Collette, to force her to assassinate the president when she does surgery on him later that week.  Hostages carries the action bona fides of executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer.  It looks intense and I have absolutely no idea how they’ll make a second season, unless they anticlimactically stretch everything out for way too long.  It might be better than a typical CBS show, which is damning it with faint praise, but still, at least it’s not a procedural, which is a huge step for CBS.

Prediction: Renewal – if I made longer term predictions I’d guess this will go two seasons, like Smith, drawing some initial viewers and gradually fading away as the buzz falls away. Just put me down for renewal though, for now.

The Crazy Ones – 9/26

Robin Williams is The Crazy Ones

Robin Williams is back on TV, being Robin Williams-y to the extreme.  He plays the wacky father to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s sensible daughter, and the two are partners at an advertising agency that bears their names.  Mad Men this is not.  It’s hard to remember a time when Williams was funny, or maybe I only found him funny because I was younger and my tastes have changed.  Either way, if Williams could play his far superior creepy One Hour Photo dramatic self, a Williams-led TV show could be fun, but as he won’t, it most certainly will not be.

Prediction: 13+ – Williams is still a big name, even though so much time has passed since his movies made any money, or even since he headlined movies. Big enough for a full season pick up, but not a renewal, ratings will disappoint, but CBS will play the season through out of hope.

We Are Men – 9/30

They Are Men

TV vets Kal Penn, Tony Shalhoub, and Jerry O’Connell play veteran singles who show relative TV newcomer Chris Smith the ropes when his fiancé dumps him at the alter and he moves into a singles-friendly rental complex.  It may be another men-learning-how-to-be-men show, which we seem to get two or three of every year, but whether it is or isn’t, it looks terrible. Did Kal Penn really leave the Obama administration for this? And Tony Shalhoub, I’m not proud of you either.

Prediction: 12- As always, some people will watch it because older peoples’ TVs only get CBS, but the standards are also higher (ratings-wise, not quality-wise) and this show will not meet them.  CBS shows do fail.  Who remembers last year’s Partners?

The Millers – 10/3

We're the Millers - the TV adaptation

I believe I noted in an earlier post that Will Arnett, if The Millers fails  (which I, spoiler alert, believe it will) will have the unenviable achievement of having starred in failed sitcoms on three of the four major networks (Running Wilde on Fox and Up All Night on NBC).  Networks see him as a leading man rather than the wonderful wacky side character he played in his breakout performance in Arrested Development ,but he hasn’t delivered yet.  Arnett plays a recently divorced man whose world is turned upside down when his dad decides to leave his mom, ending a four decade marriage. This show, which, and I know this sounds like a refrain on this CBS page, but it’s still true, looks terrible, It also has more wasted talent than Arnett, with Emmy winner Margo Martindale, Beau Bridges, Curb Your Enthusiasm funnyman JB Smoove and Glee’s Jayma Mays.

Prediction: 12- Arnett’s presence would almost be enough for me to pick cancellation in and of itself (Yes, I know Up All Night technically went two seasons, but that’s a fluke at best) but the show selling itself in the trailer on a Martindale fart joke, well, that sealed the deal.

Fall 2013 Previews and Predictions: Fox

9 Sep


(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13)

Fox is the first of the networks to debut fall shows, and thus they’ll be the first up for previews and predictions.  Fox has my most anticipated fall comedy, the fall comedy the looks the worst, and two dramas that are somewhere in between.

Sleepy Hollow – 9/16

Sleepy Hollow

You know the legend.  You’ve maybe seen the ‘90s Tim Burton movie of the same name.  This time, the story is updated to take place in modern times. Protagonist Ichabod Crane and antagonist the Headless Horseman both mysteriously travel forward in time from the late 18th century to current day Westchester, New York.  The Headless Horseman becomes a modern day serial killer and Ichabod and local police officer Abbie Mills must team up to stop him.  Of course, matters grow orders of magnitude more epic when it turns out the Horseman may be part of a much deeper thousands of year old occult group which could lead to evil taking over the earth, or something.  It looks neither particularly good nor particularly bad.

Prediction:  13+ – I don’t know.  It doesn’t feel like a hit but it doesn’t feel like a crazy obvious flop either.  Split the difference.

Almost Human – 11/4

Almost Human

In the future, like the future, future, humans cops are partnered with robots to get the best out of both of them; precision from machines, and gut reactions from humans.  One old-school detective, played by Karl Urban of Star Trek fame (and unrelated to Keith) does not play well with robot others.  His superiors have an idea.  They pair him, instead of with the normal robot detective model, with a discontinued model that feels feelings.  They think, that while that old model had disadvantages, old school detective Kennex can bring something out of it. It doesn’t look particularly interesting but we were more than overdue for a police procedural set in the future.

Prediction: 13+ – I feel the same way I feel about Sleepy Hollow, it hardly screams hit, but it doesn’t scream obvious instant failure either.

Dads – 9/17


Two thirty-something successful video game something or others have their life turned upside down when their fathers move in with them.  Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi are the sons, Martin Mull and Peter Riegert are the respective fathers.  Brenda Song is their assistant, Vanessa Lachey (ne Minillo) is Ribisi’s wife).  Seth MacFarlane produces; the creators are two Family Guy writers.  It’s so bad and racist and offensive and downright unfunny that I briefly considered whether it was a genius bit of anit-humor.  It’s not though.

Predi tion: 12-  This preview looked truly awful.  Like, awful, awful, awful.   If this succeeds, well, I’m not going to say I’ll stop writing, because I won’t, but I’ll want to.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – 9/17

Brooklyn Nine Nine

Andy Samberg tries to get the Amy Poehler treatment as the creators of Parks & Recreation bring us this show about an immature but talented detective who must deal with a new straight-laced captain, played by new-to-comedy TV-legend Andre Braugher. Andy Samberg, .like Amy Poehler has been the wacky side character struggling to have the gravitas to play the lead, and if the magic applied to Amy Poheler can work on Samberg this could be a very funny show.

Prediction: Renewal – I could be wrong but this looks like the most promising new comedy of the season.  If it can be half of what Parks & Recreation is, I think Fox will give it at least one more season.