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.