Sunday, November 16, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: Black-ish

Cat here. I just found out that Selfie has probably been cancelled so I'm not in a great mood. If I genuinely like a television show it's a good sign that it's not built to last. I'm amazed The Mindy Project and Nashville have made it this long. Suburgatory? Pushing Daisies? And yet they renewed Stalker and Scorpion. I have no words.

Let's turn our attention to an ABC that is still on the air... Black-ish. The show shares this fall season's odd obsession with voice-over and the family comedy isn't that unique but I did enjoy the pilot. Anthony Anderson appears to have woken up after sleepwalking through some recent past roles and Laurence Fishburne's presence is very much appreciated. I know his character needs to be used sparingly but I can't help wishing he had a bigger part on the show. His line delivery is just spot on sometimes. I'm not completely sold on the rest of the cast but I think that will come with time, particularly with the child actors. Tracee Ellis Ross is also doing a pretty good job anchoring the show.

As I've mentioned before, with all the awkwardly constructed pilots I've been watching, it's nice to see something competent. The pilot feels slick. The writing is solid. Even though the cast hasn't established the dynamic of a long running family sitcom, you feel like they could get there.

And you have to love a show with an unusual title than manages to get the title into the dialogue.

"I may have to be 'urban' at work but I'm still going to need my family to be black, not black-ish, but black."

Finally, I liked that it was a show that had something to say even if I didn't always agree its sentiments or the way they were stated. Some quotes...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: Cristela

Cat here with another short review. Cristela is very sitcom-y. I haven't watched a show like this in years and even then I was usually watching them in re-runs or late at night with nothing better to watch. This was before hulu and getting a DVR. It was a dark time. Anyway, I think the cast is totally solid and the jokes are actually pretty good. For me, the humor doesn't always land because of the format. I've never seen her stand-up but in this pilot I can clearly see how those jokes would have worked better in the context of a stand-up act. They lose something in being performed by the characters. However, Cristela is very winning and charming as a leading lady and she carries the show effortlessly. It's an ensemble but she's got a star quality as opposed to other shows where the lead just gets all the best jokes.

I would like to give a shout out to two other things in this pilot. Firstly, I appreciated that they used Spanish in a casual, natural way but didn't feel obligated to explain it to an English-speaking audience. I took French in high school but the Spanish never made the show feel inaccessible to me. Secondly, I liked the small subplot about Cristela's niece wanting to play soccer instead of being a cheerleader. Now I do think that competitive cheerleading is a dangerous sport that takes hard work and skill and many of the other positive attributes you would want to foster in children with extracurricular activities. However, the show framed it nicely in this quote.

"I can't believe it. Today my little girl's going to be a cheerleader."
"Ah, yes. The great Texas tradition where girls learn they're not quite as important as boys."

Final Conclusion: This is not a must watch. If you enjoy sitcoms or you can at least tolerate a new one, this is an enjoyable way to spend a half hour. I'm interested to hear what she has to say but the sitcom format is personally holding me back from loving this show. But I'll stick with it for a while.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: Selfie

Cat here. Guys, I think I finally found a show that I really like. I know it's silly and it's not perfect but it makes me laugh. And when it's not making me laugh, it makes me smile. Though I was not into the voice-over. Enough, fall TV season. Enough with the voice-over.

For one thing, it was just a well constructed half hour pilot.

"Being butt ugly wasn't what I wanted to be noticed for... so I took a lesson from the most popular girl in 7th grade. It took me 14 years to perfect it but now, I was insta-famous."

Done and done. How hard was that, other pilots? The way she has her moment of crisis and comes to the realization that she needs Henry to help her feels natural.

For another, the show actually bothered to sell us on the protagonist. We're told early on that she's the company's best performing sales rep so we know we're working with some level of competence. She's intensely flawed but not detestable. I feel like a lot of shows go overboard with making the characters vile or incompetent for the sake of shock value or humor and then have a hard time reining it back in to make us care about them as human beings. Sure, Eliza's a little vapid and clueless but she was horrified to learn that the man she was interested in was married. She doesn't completely fall apart in a bad situation but she doesn't recover flawlessly either. Her credit cards are maxed, she's keeping the litter box of a cat that died six months ago and she forgot to throw out some old lo mein but she isn't so ridiculous that I can't see her as a human being. She interrupts a wedding by playing on her phone. She doesn't do something so heinous that we wonder why no one cuts her out of their life. Overall, I just feel like there's a nice balance. There's someone in the driver's seat who knows what they're doing and that's reassuring.

As for John Cho, the last two things I saw him in were Go On and Sleepy Hollow back when I was still watching Sleepy Hollow. I watched all of Go On. It was great. Anyway, he seems so much more awake and present here. I'm glad to see him engaged in a role again.

Now obviously the show is called Selfie and the main character is obsessed with social media so a lot of that is presented onscreen. I think it's a little hit or miss. There are parts of it that I like and times when it is less successful. I thought the gifs were cute but I don't need things constantly flashing on screen.

Finally, I will admit that a lot of my love for this show is probably residual Suburgatory fandom. I'm used to the creator's voice and rhythms and characters. We have yet another ginger leading lady and I'm accustomed to the way the characters talk and the timing of the jokes. There are shades of particularly Dahlia and Lisa in the characters of Eliza and Brynn.

Final Conclusion: I have great hopes for this show. I think it is funny and charming and exactly what I want from a half hour comedy. If you like Suburgatory and The Mindy Project and maybe just a touch of Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23, I think you'll enjoy this show as much as I did. If you can't stand the protagonist after the pilot, the show's just not for you and there's nothing wrong with that. I'll just be over here enjoying a show that plays The Weepies. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: A to Z

Hi guys,

Cat here. I remember A to Z being a very highly anticipated show. Now it's apparently not doing so well. Or so I hear. I could be wrong about that. There's only so much television criticism a person can read. But I do love romantic comedies and Ben Feldman has a giant bucket of goodwill from Drop Dead Diva so let's get started.

"Let me tell you the story of a couple. One of the greats."
I do NOT get the obsession with voice overs this pilot season. However "let" is a nice choice of phrasing. It sort of asks for permission while being firm enough to be begging. 

I am a sucker for singing. And Celine Dion. Do not judge me. 

I feel like the idea that his mother died when he was young and so he held his parents up as a perfect couple doesn't make much sense. I forget the proper logic terms but I don't think one really follows from the other. Overall, I think the script feels oddly sparse. They're taking way too much time with their words for a half hour show and the words they are speaking are not that compelling.

I'm sorry. I hear Katie Sagal's disembodied voice and I think of Pat from Smart House. This is creating the feeling that the characters are little dolls and a god or some genius computer is controlling them... which doesn't really help with the whole connecting to the characters as real people thing. 

There were some complaints about the guy's guy/girl's girl thing but it doesn't bother me that much. 

Also, is the plan really to only make 26 episodes of this?

The boss character seems miscast. I hope she's not heavily featured in upcoming episodes. She doesn't have real fire. She's just periodically shouting.

I have a problem with the way this show is shot. I can't explain it but I feel like it's holding the show back in a monumental way. 

The two lead characters are not really sparkling. I feel like you get glimpses of it when they laugh or smile which is a bit of an acting cheat. For the most part even the most wooden and deadpan actors can bring life and emotion to their faces by smiling.

Cristin Millioti is also slightly miscast as the female rom com character with her defenses up. She's just too charming and adorable. The woman is constantly laughing. For God's sake she's cooing over a puppy.

And... the internet stalking commences.

I don't know if Ben Feldman's energy was a little low through most of this or they were just shooting him from bad angles. It might have been a little of both. 

Trope Count
1. A female character who craves control and has her defenses up
2. Idealistic character leaps to conclusions about destiny and/or love and scares off cynical character.
3. Climactic bad date in a public setting. They draw attention to themselves. 
4. Stereotypical male best friend for Andrew
5. Stereotypical female best friend for Zelda
6. Stereotypical best friends hook up.
7. Stereotypical programmer characters
8. Shenanigans are revealed just as one character is apologizing to another
9. B plot relevation about a fake identity
10. A drink is thrown in someone's face
11. Guest star/childhood icon/mentor callback
12. Best friend's indignation leads Zelda to stumble onto her own feelings about Andrew
13. Silver dress reveal
14. Kiss by the fountain

Final Conclusion: I think the show is a little off tonally and the script was pretty weak but by the end I was completely charmed by Cristin Millioti so I'll hang in there for a bit. Hopefully it'll start to feel like they're playing with rom com tropes instead of just recycling them in the coming episodes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: Happyland

Cat here. You may be thinking... what the hell is Happyland? Well, you clearly haven't been sucked into the world of half hour MTV scripted teen shows. I have. It all started with Awkward. Awkward was a really great, fun, overly dramatic show in season 1 similar to Ugly Betty. It was still a pretty good show in season 2 with some missteps but still enough of those little jokes and unexpected moments to keep things interesting. It was a pretty bad show in season 3. Now it's season 4 and I'm seriously considering giving it up but I have a problem quitting shows unless they conflict with something else on my DVR. Awkward was my gateway drug into Faking It and Finding Carter. Faking It started with a pretty good first episode and then never really found its feet. Every so often it wins me back with a solid episode but the rest of the time I'm on the verge of deleting it from my DVR schedule. Finding Carter had a good premise and never stopped being boring and terrible. I'm not sure why I watched a whole season of it. Seriously, I have a Netflix subscription. I'm not sure why I continue to watch terrible shows.

Happyland, in case that long diversion didn't clue you in, is another attempt to launch an MTV scripted show. I had really no idea what it was going to be about going into the pilot but it does feature the actor who played Austin on Awkward which was enough to get me interested in checking it out.

OK, onto my actual thoughts on the pilot. The show doesn't exactly look cheap but it's a letdown if this is supposed to be a Disney knockoff. I'm also not that impressed with the fact that the show is set in an amusement park. It's been done. But I've actually seen a few episodes at the time I'm writing this and I think they're doing a pretty good job of integrating the amusement park into the plotlines... unlike every show at a school where they're never in class. I find Shane Harper to be a decent anchor for the series as Ian Chandler but they're not really letting him build his stereotype before breaking it down. I needed more of him being an arrogant jerk before flipping that and humanizing him and showing more depth. Everything just happened too quickly and there was a bit too much of his twitchy awkwardness as his Austin character on Awkward for me to really believe him as the character they were selling. In general, everyone on the show stops short of being as extreme as they should be. It's not about restrained or subtle acting. When you're in a certain genre, you need to play to that genre. There's a certain charm and ease with which a good actor can throw himself into a lighthearted part. You play it broad but you don't feel like a caricature. It's not bad acting, but you need to bring a certain level of energy. Think of romantic comedy acting. You have to commit to that or you come across as bland and lacking in personality.

The plot in the pilot made this feel a bit like a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) or a Lifetime or Hallmark movie. But it was all condensed into thirty minutes. The writing came across as a little cold, a little too removed. It was like they were too focused on getting out certain information about the characters rather than writing natural dialogue. I just felt like they didn't trust that I would keep watching and so they crammed a ton of plot into the pilot that it couldn't handle. I kept getting the sense that scenes had been cut out. The main character, Lucy, felt particularly inconsistent because she had to jump through so many emotional hurdles in such a short period of time. It's very obvious what kind of character they wanted her to be. But they contradicted that character by making her have all these emotional outbursts and not allowing her to be competent. As with the Ian character, you have to establish the character type fully before you break it down.

Final Conclusion: I'm interested in seeing where this goes so I'll stick with it. I worry about the quality of the acting though. Everyone is very bland so far. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: The Mysteries of Laura

Cat here. So I watch Castle. I watched Bones (I had to give it up when it just became too unbearable). I don't mind a lighthearted little procedural. How bad could this be?

Action packed, attention grabbing opening? Check.

There is a curious lack of tension with this armed suspect running around a ton of innocent bystanders and small children. I get that you don't want people to panic but maybe exercise a little more urgency?

"Don't be stupid, lady."
"Excuse me, it's detective, and I really think you should put the gun down. I'm a little type A and I practice all the time with this thing."
That would have been so much better without the last sentence.

So far they're doing a bang up job of making it clear that she's messy and has a mothering instinct.

Ponytail and suit. Let me guess, is she this show's Santiago?

Why does she apparently get along with all the men in the precinct but not the other female officer? Well, I did see another female cop through a glass partition but she didn't have speaking lines or get a name so I feel like that doesn't count.

When did they start allowing people to say "bitch" and "douchebag" on primetime network TV?

So her soon to be ex-husband is an even bigger slacker when it comes to personal relationships but he also happens to be a lieutenant? Oh, show. You're so full of contradictions.

I liked the scene of her singing to herself in her car. What can I say? I'm a sucker for singing.

She enjoys imbibing liquor and has a healthy appetite. I'm learning so much about this strikingly unique female character.

Well that was a really weird setup for a murder. I guess the old fashioned way of discovering a body on police procedurals was just too simple? And they needed to get in those rich people jokes? Speaking of jokes, there are a lot of them. Bad ones.

"You will figure it out. You're very resourceful. That's what I love about you."
Nice job sidestepping any responsibility there.

On the list of stereotypical gay characters, I feel like the investigative aide is not that bad. The bouncer they meet in the next scene though? Why, guys? Why do you do this?

Thinly veiled excuse to get Debra Messing in a swimsuit as well as show off a bunch of fit young extras? Check.

"He left the girly file case in his car parked with the valet across the street from the girly Tai Chi class on the Highline."
Ooo, bad show.

Questionable blackmailing and means of searching a vehicle...

She drinks soup sloppily. Are most of her "quirks" going to be food related. Is this what they teach in female character writing 101?

That was a nice moment of empathy between Debra Messing and the suspect. I would listen to an audiobook she narrated.

Oh, good. Characters telling her what a good mom she is.

Well, I didn't see that ending coming. Mainly because that would have been a good actor to keep on the show. But the actual ending? Well, that was pretty obvious.

Final Conclusion: It's watchable. It's not a great show but if you're looking for something kind of innocuous and familiar it fits the bill. It's not a show you need to catch every week but I've seen worse. It's more in line with the Monk's and Psych's which include a lot of the protagonist's life in the content of the show and less like the Castle's and Bones' which downplay that aspect for the case of the week. I don't find her home and family life that compelling so I think that holds this show back from being as easily digestible as a procedural as it could be.

Underthinking Pilot Season: Bad Judge

Cat here. I'll keep this one quick, mainly because I didn't take any notes. Bad Judge is very much in the vein of two shows I watched last season, Rake and Bad Teacher. Look, I make bad choices.

The show is more like Bad Teacher than Rake, not because it has a female protagonist and features Ryan Hansen as a love interest, but because it doesn't really allow its lead character to be charismatic and is too focused on downplaying any "badness." I've never seen Kate Walsh in anything else but she does have her moments in the pilot. However, those moments are few and far between because of how this part is written. Rake allowed Greg Kinnear to showboat and show off his starpower and charisma. Bad Judge holds Kate Walsh back so that a lot of the moments where she shines are the moments when she can take a breath and react to what another character is doing or saying. In a way, the show doesn't let her be the star.

I've read that the pilot they showed on TV is not the same pilot they originally sent to critics and it shows in the way the story doesn't hold together. The structure is very off and the Robbie plotline doesn't fit in well at all.

My last complaint is about the last scene in the bar which seems to set up the dynamic of the series as one girl and five guys. Come on, now. Bad Teacher at least had a better gender balance.

Final Conclusion: I'd skip this one. I can't see it lasting and there's not much there there to attach yourself to. I'm certainly not going to stick with it.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: Manhattan Love Story

Cat here. So I kind of have a weakness for shows that people tell me I shouldn't be watching. I haven't made myself sit down for a Breaking Bad or Mad Men marathon even though I've had Netflix for months now. But did I watch a full season of Mixology and two seasons of Smash? You bet I did.

OK, starting off, I know that there are a ton of shows that film in NY but it still makes me happy when I recognize a location.

This is terribly shallow but I find the blond facial hair of the main male character very offputting.

This is how I imagine executives for mainstream movies and television shows picture the male gaze.

So, the male character is focused on physical appearance and the female character is focused on purses. We'll see how this goes. I'm actually not completely opposed to this as they aren't abstract characters who are supposed to represent every man and every woman. If the show plays on the fact that these are very shallow individuals, it could work.

The secondary female character is a total stereotype but she's the most interesting person to appear on screen so far.

And now David is trying to sell Peter on why he should ask Dana on a date and I am starting to see why so many critics disliked this pilot.

Chloe: "No one thinks like you."
Peter: "No, everyone thinks like me."

If only I knew which one of these things you believed, show.

Wait, are Chloe and Peter siblings?

So Dana is a bit of a mess right now without being charming. I actually don't hate the voiceover and I could deal with her personality if they'd bothered to sell us on the character before launching into all of this. You have to make me like the character first. We have yet to see her be competent. At any point. In any way. You can't just launch into Carrie Bradshaw-style voiceover.

"Yes, if you smash your phone, the internet disappears." got me to smile.

So, I guess Dana's supposed to be a little nerdy since in the first five minutes she's already referenced Gandalf and muggles. Not sure how that makes her more human or relatable when those are two of the biggest book and film franchises ever.

Also, what crazy fictional New York is this where the strangers on the bus acknowledge your existence?

Hey, remember when I mentioned, Sex in the City? It's the face lady! Nina Katz. I am amused by the extras. I wonder how many of them will actually get to be fleshed out characters.

"If I actually capitalize words and use punctuation, am I some kind of freak?" Ugh. Show. Stop it. Was this written by committee?

Do they not have cell phones in Texas? She's in her twenties and not a Martian. How can she be this bad at using her phone?

Aw, her mean publishing supervisor got her stuck in the stairwell and she ended up putting her foot in a puddle of dirty water in a back alley. I feel like this show wants me to be more sympathetic and charmed by this.

The opening date banter wasn't terrible. Then the voiceovers came back in. Now I'm starting to find them annoying. I have transitioned to mildly amused. Sure, there are a lot of bad points but I'm fairly forgiving when it comes to pilots and there's always the chance that things could get a lot better in the second episode as long as there are a few bright spots in the pilot.

OK, show. I'm mildly amused and slightly charmed. "Is he crying? Great. Just when I start to like him, turns out he's gay." Ugh. Why do you have to ruin everything?

I liked the stinger with Amy. She's a character who in another story would easily be a villain or antagonist. I don't know why but right now she's the most interesting thing about the show to me.

Final Conclusion: There were a lot of cliches and jokes of questionable taste but for a twenty two minute pilot it wasn't that awful. I'll tune in for a second episode though I can't in good conscience recommend that you do the same.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: Stalker

Cat here. Look, I'm not proud of it but I ended up watching the pilot of Stalker today. I didn't take any notes. I just decided to let the craziness wash over me. Here are some thoughts.

Oh, very clever. There are two detectives and one has been stalked while another is a stalker. Parallels! Also, why are the female detectives so irritable?

Well, they certainly started with a bang. I'm not sure throwing gasoline at people and self-immolation is the usual M.O. of stalkers but I'm sure they did their research.

God, there are a lot of recognizable actors in this show. Look, it's Wendell from Bones! And Serena from Law & Order! And... that girl. Hold on. I can get it. It's coming to me... Nope. I had to look it up on imdb. Mariana Klaveno plays Peri on Devious Maids.

They decided to end the episode with cover of Creep. Because that's totally original.

Final Conclusion: Unless you're really looking for something darker but also more bland to add to the list of procedurals you watch on a regular basis, I'd say skip Stalker. In spite of the fire and explosions, it's not that exciting or compelling. There are hours of cop series on Netflix. Watch one of those or the reruns that have now migrated beyond the bounds of TNT.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Underthinking Fall 2014 Pilot Season

Hello internet,

Cat here. Cat is not really equipped to do much overthinking at the moment as evidenced by that fact that Cat is referring to herself in the third person.

I talked it over with Gab and decided that I'll be taking advantage of the mushy state of my brain to plunge headlong into pilot season which I likely wouldn't do in a saner frame of mind. I can't promise recaps or reviews because honestly they'd take way more time and effort than I'm capable of devoting at the moment. Instead, I'll just be giving you my thoughts in whatever form they come in. Welcome to Underthinking Pilot Season.