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.