Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 7 “Seven Twenty Three” (B+)

Wow, it’s really incredible to see Don get angry. Jon Hamm is a magnificent actor, and his performance as Don is one-of-a-kind. It’s extraordinary how Don interacts with those above him, particularly those he truly respects, notably Hilton and Cooper. The way his fury boils up inside of him while he’s talking to Peggy creates a particularly powerful scene that ranks as one of the best of the season. Don’s conversation with the schoolteacher is also terrific, and the way he says “nothing is happening, we’re just talking” really drives home the meaning of the scene. I prefer that kind of layered meaning to Don’s despair-fueled road trip where he gets scammed and robbed by the young couple. I think it’s because the office interactions feel so much more real and therefore have a stunning impact, whereas when Don is in a daze, the show often feels a bit dreamlike and therefore less relatable or alive. It’s the kind of scene that seems at first like it’s a character’s hallucination and can’t possibly be actually happening. Nonetheless, it’s hardly ineffective, and the sight of Don with a bruised face walking into his office and muttering about a fender-bender says a whole lot all by itself. The character who shined most in this episode is most certainly Peggy, whose interactions with three alpha males – Don, Duck, and Pete – all bristled with intensity. Peggy’s remarkable response to Pete, “stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety,” is a surprising and wonderful show of how she’s gained confidence in herself and in her abilities as a copywriter just as entitled as any male peer. The way she falls for Duck is an unfortunate step back, but her ability to stand up to him and hold her ground is still impressive. Her understandable breakdown while talking to Don is meaningful because he really tears her to shreds and rattles her carefully built-up sense of accomplishment. Betty’s foray into local politics and using her party-borne connections (just like Don, as it happens!) is a nice way to utilize a character who’s been underused this year after a stellar starring role last year. Her argument with Don where she rejects Don’s claim that his need to be the one in control doesn’t apply to her was another great moment for a typically great episode.

Round Two: Bored to Death

Bored to Death: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Alanon Case” (C)

One of my primary objections to the second installment of this show is similar to an issue I had with “Warehouse 13.” Things are just happening too fast, and elements that should begin to play themselves out well into a show’s run are being introduced way too early. While I’m thrilled to see Olivia Thirlby back again so soon, to have his ex-girlfriend involved in Jonathan’s case so early on is a mistake. It will be just as difficult for the show to grow and develop as it would be for Jonathan and Suzanne to move on with their lives when they keep bumping into each other. It can’t be Jonathan’s second ever case that he finds his personal life so randomly and coincidentally connected to a case someone brought to him, unless the underlying point of the show is that everything in Jonathan’s life is related. This pales in comparison to the superb handling of a comparable chance connection on “Hung” earlier this season. That’s not the only problem with this show, though. Like episode one, this week’s installment is pretty lackluster and, plainly put, uninteresting. Kristin Wiig guest-starring as Jonathan’s client isn’t a boon for the series, as it should be, and the inexplicably-praised Zach Galifianakis still hasn’t come through. I’m starting to think that perhaps the biggest issue is Jonathan himself. It’s not that Jason Schwartzmann is unappealing, but rather that character is lame and annoying. It’s hard to get behind a lead you just can’t like, especially if he doesn’t exhibit any positive qualities to make up for it. Can it get better? I’m not sure.

What I’m Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7, Episode 2 “Vehicular Fellatio” (B+)

I’m so incredibly impressed with how this show, episode after episode, brings all of its preposterous plotlines together and makes them so intricately relevant to both the theme and the outcome of the episode. Twice after I had already decided that this episode has impressed me for those reasons, I was pleasantly surprised to find the “vehicular fellatio” used again to drive forward the story. The subplot of the unbreakable package was also fantastic, especially because someone mentioned last week to me that he was unimpressed with how Larry always needed to talk about his antics rather than merely experience them. The fact that it too came full-circle with the X-Acto knife being packaged in a way that was impossible to open, so crucial to the survival (well, at least the comfort) of Jeff and Susie. I’m hopeful that Loretta leaving Larry is a permanent thing, since the cancer storyline probably wasn’t a good long-term idea and this was a great way to wrap it up. Larry seeing the woman on TV looked like the way to solve things, but the prolonging twist was fantastic and unexpected. It’s all pretty juvenile, sure, and I can understand why many may not like it, but I think it’s very funny. It’s amusing how Larry really manages to ruin each one of Richard Lewis’ relationships with his inner need to offend. It’s hard to find anyone else so able to be despicable without trying, and that’s what makes Larry so singularly appealing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives (Season Premiere)

Desperate Housewives: Season 6, Episode 1 “Nice is Different Than Good” (C)

It’s crazy to think that we’re now entering year six on Wisteria Lane. Most shows that last this long have undergone major transformations, both story-wise and cast-wise, by the time they pass the five-year mark. On this show, the fifth and far less important housewife has been replaced, and much time has passed thanks to a five-year time leap taken by the show at the beginning of last year. But otherwise, not much is different, and that’s part of what makes this premiere problematic. Just like at the beginning of the show, Lynette is struggling with the idea of overbearing children ruining her life and Susan is awkwardly warring with an extremely cutthroat woman over the same man. By contrast, Gaby is a completely different character, determined to stop her adopted daughter from living her life freely, which is especially odd since, as the teenage girl points out, Gaby grew up just that way. It makes sense that a normal parent would want to be appropriately strict in raising their children, but the first five seasons of the show have been all about Gaby being immature, and her sudden change in the way she does things doesn’t make much sense. Lynette’s fourth pregnancy was a repetitive, bad idea from the start, and it will likely hinder this season and continue to set Lynette’s dramatic storyline far apart from the rest of the show, and not in a good way. Katherine’s very possessive need to seek revenge on Susan feels forced and out of character for her, especially considering that Katherine was the one who went after Susan’s ex in the first place. Can’t Mike and Susan be happy for once? Bree’s Karl-infused storyline is a breath of fresh air, though the presence of the Most Ruined Character, Orson, continues to drag it down. Julie’s return, complete with radiant red hair, is a welcome one since she was a fabulous character in the first season, and now that the actress has grown up (and provided she didn’t die thanks to that unfortunate strangulation at the end of the episode), she should be a positive force in this coming season. As for the new family on the block, I think they could be pretty interesting. What’s very annoying, though, is that this device has already been used several times, and a mysterious family with a dark secret and temperamental teenager has already been seen, more than once, on Wisteria Lane. Bringing Drea de Matteo into the fold of housewives is probably a smart decision, and Jeffrey Nordling, fresh off of his role as Larry Moss on “24,” should be a good fit here. The kid seems a bit intense, and after Zach and those Applegate boys, I’ve had it with these troubled teens. This show has sort of gone too far in terms of its chances for salvation. It’s not as unbearably awful as, say, “Heroes,” but if it keeps going in these circles like this, it may soon be.

What I’m Watching: Californication (Season Premiere)

Californication: Season 3, Episode 1 “Wish You Were Here” (A-)

After dragging a bit in its second season, this show is back full-force with a stellar premiere that sets it in new directions and introduces several fantastic new characters. Hank’s back to his normal life, though not everything is the same. Becca isn’t the good girl she always was, and having her show up stoned with her bad-influence friend at the start of the episode is a great reintroduction to her character and a sign that something has changed for at least some of the characters. Becca’s new friend is a great addition not just for the way she talks to Hank but mostly for the fact that her parents are joining the show too. Embeth Davidtz and Peter Gallagher are both great performers who are perfect for the roles they’ve taken. Hank’s first meeting with the bushy-eyebrowed-dean is so completely in character and awesomely typical. The wonderful Diane Farr is also terrific, and if there’s any actress besides Natasha McElhone who could spar with David Duchovny, it’s her. I’m so happy that those three will be on the show for at least a good portion of this season, and Hank’s inevitable working with them is going to be incredibly fun. Hank shaping young minds is an entertaining prospect, and it’s going to be incredible to see him interact with students. The best part of this premiere, and what makes this show so great, is the ending phone conversation between Hank and Karen. Their relationship has always been a unique one, and the way they can so comfortably and jokingly discuss their sex lives while proclaiming their devotion to each other is amazing. The closing fadeout reminded me of the end of a great “Sopranos” episode where Tony is on the phone with Carmela, sees the sun rise and asks her what time it is where she is. This premiere has restored my faith in “Californication,” and I can’t describe my excitement for this season.

What I’m Watching: Dexter (Season Premiere)

Dexter: Season 4, Episode 1 “Living the Dream” (B+)

After what feels like an excruciatingly long wait, Showtime’s popular serial killer drama returns. Though I wasn’t an exuberant fan of last season compared to the show’s previous seasons, I still think that the character of Dexter, arguably the main reason to watch the show, remains intact and fantastic. This season opens with another traditionally terrific title for the episode: “Living the Dream,” following the previous premieres cleverly called “It’s Alive!” and “Our Father.” We find Dexter in a somewhat unusual state, worn down to his core with fatigue at being a father and all the responsibilities that come with it. The riff on the opening credits with Dexter lazily going through the motions of getting ready is pretty inspired, and another fitting mimicking of the title sequence by a Showtime show (“Weeds” did this in when it famously burnt down its opening credits in the season three finale). This premiere is, however, different from previous ones in that it’s not exactly clear where the show’s headed. Obviously Dexter can’t really get discovered, but it sure looks like that’s about to happen since he drove off the road with a dead body in his trunk. John Lithgow’s decade-spanning serial killer is going to play a major part this year, but it’s unclear whether Dexter will actually meet the man or merely idolize and try to find him. While many decry the notion of having a foil present for Dexter every season, and I’m not sure I’m fully on board myself, it’s important to note that “Dexter” needs something to drive it forward, and Dexter’s continuous fatigue isn’t going to cut it. Bringing Lundy back, awkward as it may have been this episode, is a great idea since Keith Carradine is excellent and his relationship with Dexter is fascinating. It’s about time Laguerta and Batista shacked up, and I couldn’t really care any less about whatever’s happening with Deb’s relationship. All in all, this season opener showed that this year should have a different feel to it, possibly a more sedated one as all the characters are becoming more disgruntled and tired, but I’m still very excited, and that’s one hell of an episode ending.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pilot Review: The Cleveland Show

The Cleveland Show (FOX)
Premiered September 27 at 8:30pm

It’s very easy to determine whether you’ll like “The Cleveland Show.” If you’re a “Family Guy” fan, it’s a safe bet that you will. If you don’t, well, you’re pretty much out of luck. I fall very strongly in the latter category, though I tried my best to give this show a fair shot. I really don’t see the reasoning behind shows that go out of their way to purposefully offend someone when it’s hardly germane to the plot, something that both “Family Guy” and its spin-off do extensively. Sometimes it doesn’t even make any sense, like when a discussion between Cleveland and his son about homosexuality leads Cleveland to point out Gene Hackman as an example of a gay actor. It’s a careless effort to provoke and be controversial just for the sake of it, which for me indicates that there’s something missing that needs to be compensated for on the show. The two series are also both very big on blatant, in-your-face, repeated “did-you-see-this” humor, and that’s another aspect that really gets my blood boiling. The pilot of “The Cleveland Show” didn’t drive me to as great a point of anger as when I watched the “Family Guy” episodes submitted for Emmy consideration, but that’s only a small victory for the new series. The fact that “Family Guy” has a talking baby necessitates a similar phenomenon on this show, and in this case it’s a talking bear, which is pretty ridiculous. That’s the point, of course, and therefore I won’t even bother degrading the boundary-pushing edginess on which this show prides and carries itself. Basically, it’s exactly what you’d expect. I wasn’t expecting anything remotely good.

How will it work as a series? There’s definitely enough material, and fans clearly liked Cleveland enough to merit giving him his own series. He’s got his son, his newfound family, his bunch of new friends, and therefore I think he’s all set to go around offending people and getting in ridiculous situations that some people seem to find funny. It’s not a show I want to watch, but I think it’s exactly what “Family Guy” fans will appreciate.
How long will it last? It’s nestled very tightly in between two beloved long-running FOX animated comedies. “The Simpsons” is entering its 21st season, and “Family Guy” is on number 8. Even the less popular “American Dad” made it to a fifth season, and I think the idea of having a two-hour comedy block on Sunday nights is good for FOX, and with the departure of “King of the Hill,” look no further than this show. It could go on for years (the horror).

Pilot grade: F

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 4, Episode 7 “High Top Fade Out” (B+)

Who knew that Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”) and Jaleel White (Urkel from “Family Matters”) could play serious characters and do a good job? Granted, they’re not entirely serious, but they’re still fun and decently believable. Gus’ performance with his former a cappella group was extremely entertaining, and having them hire Shawn to solve their friend’s murder was a great setup for a terrific episode. The other unexpectedly amusing guest spot was Kurt Fuller (“Alias”) as a coroner with a propensity for making jokes, and his scene with Shawn was far more enjoyable that it needed to be, which was a wonderful delight. I particularly love how Shawn always suggests his father’s place as a good hideout for whoever may be involved in their case, and it’s surprisingly but hilarious that Shawn’s dad continues to allow him to saddle him with the job of watching increasingly unintelligent clients. Tony Todd being an undercover cop came as a bit of a surprise, but when it was revealed, it all made sense as an explanation about why Lassiter and especially Juliet were being so hostile. Juliet’s utter takedown of Shawn (when he got burnt again in Chile) was a great moment, and it’s satisfying to see her jealousy of Abigail finally playing out. It was obvious from the start that the subject of the e-mail was a song-related clue for the group to get, but them actually singing for it to be recognized was cool. After I said that the writers of “Monk” and “Psych” weren’t talking after reviewing this week’s episode of “Monk,” I was pleasantly shocked to hear the tech guy excitedly mutter “Bob’s your uncle!” just like Randy did on “Monk.” That can’t be a coincidence, but it’s sure a lot of fun.

What I’m Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 7 “Mr. Monk and the Voodoo Curse” (B)

It looks like the writers of USA’s two Friday-night comedies aren’t really communicating very well. This episode’s replica of the famous scene from “The Exorcist” under the street light was done exactly the same way in the episode of “Psych” from three weeks ago. That kind of supernatural episode is something far more likely to be found on the other show, and therefore seeing it as the central plotline on this show was pretty surprising. More so, it’s a sign that the resolution will be something far simpler than what’s originally suggested, like the UFO episode several weeks back. I also tend to worry about voodoo-centric episodes because, while it works on “The X-Files,” the result is usually both creepy and underwhelming. Fortunately, that’s not the case here, and the ultimate revelation of the culprit really enhances the episode. Monk’s theory, as always, makes immense sense, and it’s a cool way of connecting all the cases. The presence of the voodoo-vending reverend provided a nice foil to Monk, and the two of them riding together behind the ambulance was fun. The reorganizing of the desks at the police station is an amusing gimmick that recognizes Monk’s particular tics, but it does give the sense that this show really isn’t in a rush to get anywhere fast. This show’s never been about speed, but this episode really drives home the fact that “Monk” is ending this year, and they’ll be here right up until the first week of December when the show goes off the air. It’s still a good episode, but normal homicides are clever enough to sustain each week, and grounding the crimes in the real world might allow this show more opportunity to use all of its characters well, like in last week’s episode, without an unnecessarily outlandish introduction.

What I’m Watching: Dollhouse (Season Premiere)

Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 1 “Vows” (B+)

After giving up on this show four episodes in last year, I caught up speedily on the rest of the season. Now I think I’m an official fan, and the most important reason for that was the spectacular season-ending episode “Epitaph One” included only on the DVD. The notion that all events on the show at this point are headed to that inevitable conclusion is a very intriguing one, though one this episode hardly addresses. Nonetheless, it’s a compelling reintroduction to the show, which continues to explore the presence and highly awakened state of Caroline within Echo’s subconscious. I still prefer when Echo’s assignment is played out from the beginning rather than introduced far in purely for shock value. Jamie Bamber’s guest appearance is notable less for the actual performance he gives (I prefer him with his fake American accent) than for the awesomeness of having a “Battlestar Galactica” alum on the show, and to top it off, sharing scenes with Tahmoh Penikett, also of BSG. Along with other casting news for this upcoming season that I won’t spoil for those who don’t yet know, this show is fast becoming a reliable, stellar reunion point for Joss Whedon actors and other sci-fi fixtures. Fortunately, the show itself is pretty good too. Paul’s newfound proximity to the Dollhouse and simultaneous reluctance to get too deeply involved provides a nice way of looking into the Dollhouse with a cautious eye. It’s clear that Echo really is a great character, especially in the way that both Paul and Boyd are so fascinated by her. The other newly fantastic active is Whisky, who’s absolutely stunning in her interactions with Topher. Fans of Amy Acker have been waiting all this time to see her given a bigger part, and I think what she has here is fascinating, and it also enhances the character of Topher and makes him far more relevant. This is a good glimpse back inside the Dollhouse, and I’m looking forward to this show really getting started again and utilizing all its actives together.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What I’m Watching: Smallville (Season Premiere)

Smallville: Season 9, Episode 1 “Savior” (B)

The framing of Clark as a hero has never been starker or more meaningful than now, when the show is entering its ninth season. The ditching of his typical blue and red colors for a blacker, cape-inclusive suit helps to define this as a darker era for the former Kansas farmboy. His training and attempts to fly as he jumps from the top of the Statue of Liberty are really making him into a far more serious and legitimate hero, something that’s been building up until this point but has never quite been realized. Essentially, he’s no longer Clark and he’s now Superman, which is a cool transformation. The predominance of time-travel and the presence of who knows how many Kryptonians are intriguing but a bit too front-and-center. It would be nice to see Clark take on some present-day villain like Lex or one of the many superbeings actually from his era, though Zod should prove a formidable foe. It will be interesting to see how Tess interacts with Zod and his minions, and I’m pleased with the casting of Callum Blue (“Secret Diary of a Call Girl”) as the famed major. It’s also nice to see certain actors being kept in the sci-fi fold, with this show and “Dollhouse,” as Brian Austin Green, formerly of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” takes on a new role here as Lois’ new desk companion. Lois having a bigger role is a good thing, and hopefully Oliver can be brought back into the fold as well. Clark’s self-exploration and true beginnings of superheroism this year should be fascinating, and hopefully all the mangled, confusing time-traveling business should help rather than hinder his development. It’s going to be one hell of a ride, and the superb special effects will definitely enhance the experience.

Pilot Review: Brothers

Brothers (FOX)
Premiered September 25 at 8pm

FOX doesn’t have a great track record with comedies that aren’t animated. With the exception of the monstrously popular but short-lived “Arrested Development,” the network has tried and failed time and time again with series like “Do Not Disturb,” “Unhitched,” “The Return of Jezebel James,” and “Free Ride.” Their latest non-musical, live-action effort is perhaps the most formulaic of all its past attempts. Two brothers, one a former football player and the other a handicapped restaurant manager, hate each other but are reunited to under the same roof to help keep their family afloat. The jokes are far more frequent than the laughs, and it’s one of those shows that finds a funny line and likes to capitalize on that, repeating it over and over again within a span of just a few minutes. That kind of comedy may work for some, but it doesn’t here. The brothers have already nearly reconciled by the end of the pilot, so each episode will just involve them fighting continuously before temporarily calling a truce and realizing that they do in fact care about each other. It’s not exactly a promising setup. As portrayed by comedian Daryl Mitchell and real-life football player Michael Strahan, the brothers fall very neatly into conventional character types, and it doesn’t seem like there will be much room for (or interest in) development of those stereotypes at all throughout the series’ run. The parents are woefully caught in this tragic waste of their talents. Carl Weathers provides a few laughs as the patriarch of the clan, and somehow CCH Pounder went from “The Shield” to this. It’s unfathomable. This is a pure, contrived, predictable, formulaic sitcom that has the ability to bore and annoy viewers to tears.

How will it work as a series? It’s pretty much set out – even though this is the introductory pilot, the show, as implied by its title, will focus on the warring relationship of the two brothers and how they fight and make up all the time. It should be all about competition and one-upping the other brother, which isn’t exactly anything revolutionary when it comes to television comedies.
How long will it last? FOX has kept Brad Garrett’s unfortunate “Til Death” alive far longer than it should have ever existed, and it’s paired that show with this one. That’s a good sign for this series, which could find its niche audience, which definitely doesn’t include me. It’s a show that would be better suited for the CW or its predecessor UPN, but FOX probably doesn’t care about its comedies as much as its dramas, so this one might last out the season but probably won't score a touchdown and make it into overtime (a.k.a. a second season). Dismal ratings for the premiere, however, may signal an early end to the game.

Pilot grade: F

Round Two: Community

Community: Season 1, Episode 2 “Spanish 101” (D-)

When I watched the series premiere of this show, I thought I was missing something. Everyone raved about how good and how funny this show was, and I didn’t see that at all. I make it my mission to watch every series pilot but usually abandon shows after their first episodes if they really turn me off from watching. I figured I could give this short half-hour show a second chance just to see if things were improving. That’s definitely not the case. This episode is far worse than the first, and I think it’s highly indicative of what’s to come. Last week I complained that the characters were all too big. That hasn’t changed a bit here, but the difference is that they’ve been stripped of their individuality and all lopped into one monstrous group of senseless protesters. The over-the-top characters could have been at least funny if they were able to be themselves, but when the show is so intent on highlighting only Jeff and a character given far too much screen time and attention (Pierce), it loses out on what could have been assets comparable to Berta or Evelyn on “Two and a Half Men.” While there’s a funny line or two in there (“if you like these brownies, you’re going to hate what’s going on in Guatemala”), the whole protesting plot falls flat. The Spanish project isn’t much better either, and it all strikes me as simply too irreverent. It reminds me of when I took an improv class at a summer camp during middle school and interrupted the regular scene I was doing to ask the other performer if they had come down with mad cow disease while they were in Europe. It seems like that’s how this show is written, desperate to throw in wide, sweeping jokes even if they just don’t fit. Jeff and Pierce’s discussion and finished product is momentarily amusing, but the concept is just so stupid and broad. The second episode also lacks that triumphant, unifying speech of the second episode, and therefore these community college students are left to be underachievers, especially Britta, who seems to have been toned down and is now far less argumentative or interesting. The one part of the episode that I did love, however, was the bit right before the end credits where Abed and Troy rap their Spanish project. There’s clearly something about this show that can be funny, but as a whole, it just really isn’t good.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 6, Episode 2 “The Meeting” (B+)

This episode is a major improvement over last week’s not-so-great installment. Ultimately, fewer characters are involved, but the two (or three) major storylines work very well. It’s reasonable that Michael would be worried to see David Wallace running a closed-door meeting with one of his employees, although you’d think Wallace tread more cautiously to avoid another MSPC-type debacle. Michael’s plan with Andy to get him into the meeting under the table was pretty hilarious, particularly because Andy hammed it up so much and it was so clearly a ridiculous, unnecessary gesture that made no sense at all. Michael’s ultimate botching of the situation when he feared for his job was amusing but frustrating, and while I would have liked to see Michael take on a bigger role, I’m sure it will be interesting to see Jim in an actual leadership position (that even Charles Miner could acknowledge) and how he co-manages Michael. It’s likely that not much will actually change save for the titles. Dwight’s dismay right before the last commercial break was superbly funny. Dwight’s storyline in this episode, for that matter, was very entertaining in part due to its untraditional partnership between him and Toby. It makes sense that Dwight would want to expose a lack of productivity in order to bolster his own image in the company, and Toby’s somewhat lazy “do the right thing” approach fits in well with that mold. The ultimate resolution that is absolutely ridiculous and gives Toby a lot of paperwork to fill out was pretty funny. Pam’s episode-long search to cross people over her guest list wasn’t nearly as effective as she planned, and the typical responses from Ryan (definitely, probably) and Meredith (I’ll text you that morning for directions and eat the most expensive dish, except ribs) were pretty priceless.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 2, Episode 2 “The Stakeout” (A-)

Now here’s a fantastic episode of this show after last week’s lackluster premiere. Leslie’s ill-fated stakeout is amusing in its setup, and far more entertaining in the way things eventually end up. The surprisingly fun date between Mark and Ann is fun, but it can’t compare to the hilariousness of the stakeout with Tom’s conversation about changing his name and Leslie’s candy necklace, which Andy so readily and excitedly accepts after he says he’s been eating only fruits and vegetables. The quick derailment of the stakeout based on Leslie’s compassion for Andy and desire to get him food let to a thoroughly terrific chain of events resulting in Tom’s incarceration and Leslie’s pledge to be there when he got out because “prison changes a man.” Her insistence on doing something cleansing and relaxing like playing miniature golf was very funny, as was Tom’s continuous response of “home!” The most surprising and wonderful part of this episode was the unexpected incorporation of Audrey Plaza into a plotline. Ron’s hernia was a brilliant stroke of genius, and seeing him sit still for literally over twenty-four hours was great (and a tribute to just how much work he gets done at his job). We hadn’t seen April talk nearly that much up until this point, but this episode proves that Plaza is a fine comedic actress who’s able to take scenes like that and deliver excellently. This show has a limited number of characters, and the fact that it’s able to seamlessly execute three plotlines within one twenty-minute ensemble is extraordinarily impressive.

Pilot Review: Flash Forward

Flash Forward (ABC)
Premiered September 24 at 9pm

Lost” doesn’t return for at least four months, and diehard fans of the show have no idea what to do with themselves until then. Fortunately, ABC has just the right medicine, another time-bending series that should keep viewers on the edge of their seats and salivating for more: “Flash Forward.”

It’s easy to confuse the two shows, especially since recent seasons of “Lost” have featured flash-forward sequences rather than flashbacks. Additionally, Sonya Walger, who plays Penny on “Lost,” is a regular member of the cast, and Dominic Monaghan, a.k.a. rocker Charlie, joins the show midway through the first season. But let’s be clear: this isn’t “Lost.” It’s bigger than “Lost” and all of its conspiracies. The characters aren’t just survivors of a plane crash. On “Flash Forward,” the entire world passes out for two minutes and seventeen seconds, and everyone sees a glimpse of their life six months into the future. It’s hard to find a show with a larger scale than that.

Yet the prospect of sustaining a show that’s about everyone on the planet isn’t daunting. Series creator David S. Goyer (“The Dark Knight”) and crew already have a plan laid out for three to five seasons of the series. “Flash Forward” may well also be the perfect antidote to “Lost,” a show with a clear sense of where it’s going and therefore a less stringent tendency to answer every question with a question. The mystery will be certainly be epic, however, and having the whole world at its fingertips means that “Flash Forward” could easily incorporate new characters at every turn. Some have already likened it to USA’s popular character-heavy science-fiction drama “The 4400.”

Most importantly, the show doesn’t disappoint. The pilot is charged with intensity and is ferociously interesting from start to finish. Those characters already introduced are all intriguing, and the way the show focuses on the flash forwards of not just cops (Joseph Fiennes, John Cho), but also on doctors (Walger, Zachary Knighton), power linemen (Brian F. O’Byrne) and even babysitters (Peyton List) is terrific. The pacing is quick and energetic, and brief snapshots of the flash forwards leave room for much more to be explored in coming episodes while still showing enough to foster interest and excitement. The effects and scenery are great, and this is one show that just looks cool. It’s hard to know what things will actually be like six months from now, but it’s a good bet that “Flash Forward” will still be awesome.

How will it work as a series? The show definitely has a supreme hook, and it’s got enough juice to keep it going for a long, long time. Whether the already-written-out plan for several seasons will help make the show less frustrating or make it even more unbearable since the writers know they can tempt and taunt their viewers remains to be seen, but I’m confident that the show’s appeal should make it worthwhile, and this is a definitely a show with legs that has a terrific story to tell.
How long will it last? The fact that three or five seasons have been written doesn’t mean that ABC has committed to such a successful, long run, but my bet is that it will manage to survive that long. An impressive promotional campaign and the fact that it will draw heavily from the “Lost” viewership will likely mean that it will be a ratings smash, and should be this season’s must successful new show. A renewal should be coming in the next few weeks.

Pilot grade: A-

Pilot Review: Eastwick

Eastwick (ABC)
Premiered September 23 at 10pm

Now here’s a show with just no appeal at all. I suppose that’s not necessarily true – fans of the John Updike novel and the 1987 film will likely be enticed by the notion of this show, though they’re certainly going to be disappointed. This show has nothing to offer, and it even fails to make any of its supposedly fantastical magic seem remotely cool. It’s obvious from the first shot, accompanied by narration that seems ripped from right “Desperate Housewives,” that this show’s going to be remotely good. The show tries desperately to be edgy by talking about sluts and vibrators within its first few minutes. The wishing fountain scene which really gets the show started is painfully slow and contrived, and never seems to end. Each of the show’s three female leads are worse than the next. It’s clear from the very beginning that this isn’t the terrific, entertaining Rebecca Romjin from “Ugly Betty,” and not even the obnoxiously snarky Rebecca Romjin from “Pepper Dennis,” but a third, far lamer Rebecca Romjin who just doesn’t bring anything to the show. The ladies are supposed to be a devilishly fun trio, though they’re anything but, unfortunately. The show is terrible at balancing its silly sense of humor and its dramatic supernatural incarnations and flashes of magic. Everything about this series is so poorly executed, and there’s no real hope for it.

How will it work as a series? The book and movie presumably provide enough content and inspiration for at least an episode or two, but beyond that, the writers will have to plan and think far ahead. It’s possible that the show won’t go very far because there’s really no rush to get anywhere or tell a story at any quick pace. In the pilot, the witches don’t really get much done, and I can’t imagine they’ll achieve much more in the future.
How long will it last? This, along with “The Forgotten,” is one of the two shows that ABC completely neglected while promoting its fall slate. Even an ad aired before the ending credits of the show proclaims that “Flash Forward” is the season’s most anticipated show. The ratings for the pilot weren’t terrible, but I think that the ratings will plummet week-to-week once viewers realize they just shouldn’t be tuning in any more because this show is awful. It’ll likely disappear before the new television season hits the halfway point.

Pilot grade: F

Pilot Review: Cougar Town

Cougar Town (ABC)
Premiered September 23 at 9:30pm

Courteney Cox returns to network television as an aging Florida divorcee looking to spice up her life and get back in the game. Cox was the only Friend never to receive an Emmy nomination, and her performance on the popular comedy is often looked down upon. Cox plays her parts big, that’s for sure, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here she fuels each and every scene with active energy, and it’s important to remember that she’s capable of being legitimately funny without overdoing it and remaining charming to boot. Her newfound Florida home suits her well, and she does just fine anchoring the show all by herself. She finds good support in friends Christa Miller (“Scrubs”) and Busy Phillips (“Freaks and Geeks”), and her chauvinistic neighbor Josh Hopkins (“Swingtown”) provides a nice sedated foil to the considerably less subdued Cox. Jules, Cox’s character here, isn’t as bossy as Monica, and it’s refreshing to see the actress tackle another role and succeed just as well. The sunny Florida setting makes the show even more appealing, and attempts to push the boundaries of suggestiveness are effective in making the show funnier. It’s not as blatantly hilarious as “Modern Family,” but it’s certainly worthwhile.

How will it work as a series? The pilot represents a turning point in Jules’ life, as she realizes that she can still have a life of her own after her divorce. As a result, the pilot isn’t indicative of what the show may be like since Jules is now instilled with a newfound sense of confidence that will shape the way she approaches her life in a major way. I believe that there’s a good enough premise here that the show should be able to sustain itself, but that may not necessarily be the case.
How long will it last? As part of ABC’s new comedy lineup, it should have a fairly bright future. ABC wants this show to succeed even if viewers don’t, and having Cox headlining it is a major asset. The abysmal “Joey” made it to a second year, so I think it’s fair to expect that this show will be granted a second chance too. Its pairing with “Modern Family” is another positive, since the two will likely thrive together.

Pilot grade: B+

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pilot Review: Modern Family

Modern Family (ABC)
Premiered September 23 at 9pm

This is the one comedy everyone should be able to agree on as the breakout hit of the season. The wacky adventures of three very different family units make for one hilarious pilot, where characters pause to reflect on their habits and values in direct interviews. Each of the three families is just as appealing and ripe for plotline picking. Age-range couple Jay and Gloria are the tamest of all three, though Jay (Ed O’Neill) is clearly a bigot and the Spanish-prone Gloria doesn’t seem to have much of a filter. Gay partners Mitchell and Cameron are fabulously loud and proud, and each constantly tries to outdo the other in outrageousness, and it’s a device that marvelously works. The Delgado family of five includes the widest range of personalities, and the standout is hapless father Phil (played magnificently by Ty Burrell) who, among other missteps, shoots his son and his daughter’s boyfriend with a BB gun. It’s a show that’s hilariously uninhibited, and it goes for big only to tone down appropriately with understated interview segments. The pilot is full of laughs, and the three separate families work excellently to balance each other out. When one story seems to go on too long or too far, the show quickly cuts to another preposterous plotline. It’s a relief to see ABC finally get a comedy right after such a long spell with nothing but “According to Jim.” Long live this show, and hopefully episode two will live up to this fantastic start.

How will it work as a series? The wealth of funny characters means that this show can tread on different ground each episode, and it’s likely that there will be material for many installments to come. The one possible negative is that the show may have some lackluster episodes, but something tells me that the spectacular cast and sharp writing should help the good outweigh the bad.
How long will it last? Great advance hype for this show should help it take the reigns as the most-watched of ABC’s new comedies, and the network will likely want to help its well-reviewed laugher go far. “Samantha Who?” didn’t last more than two seasons, but this may well be the turning point for ABC in terms of comedy, with this show at the head of the pack. In 2004, ABC debuted four new dramas and bounced back from a lull; now I think it’s time for ABC’s second comedy coming.

Pilot grade: A-

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 1, Episode 4 “Preggers” (B-)

I’m getting a little worried about the sustainability of this show. Last week’s episode wasn’t quite as wonderfully superb as the terrific second installment, and this one makes a lot of missteps. Imagining that everyone was so into the sing-and-dance thing was always a bit of a stretch, and having the whole football team break out in choreographed dance in the middle of a play is too much. Kurt’s dainty prelude to his surprisingly effective kick is funny, but the fact that the entire team actually stands for a dancing lesson to try to help them motivate their game-playing? This show is supposed to be about glee club, not glee school. Sue Sylvester is also being promoted a bit too much, and her segment about caning is pretty stupid. She’s hilarious in her element, but giving her too much actual power (her TV spot and the leverage over the principal) diminishes her effectiveness. Quinn’s pregnancy, spoiled for me by Entertainment Weekly’s Fall TV Preview feature, seems like it isn’t necessarily real, and while having the absolutely insane Terri show up in her car with a hair-brained scheme hatched is amusing, it’s also a tad more than unbelievable. This show isn’t supposed to be down-to-earth, and part of its musical showiness necessitates a degree of suspension of disbelief, but this episode isn’t indicative of a positive future for this show. Keep the singing to the rehearsals, and ct the music during the rest of the show. It’s fun, but it’s gone too far. It needs a serious reality check, and Rachel needs to get herself back to glee club stat.

Pilot Review: Mercy

Mercy (NBC)
Premiered September 23 at 8pm

NBC has been hanging out at a hospital since the early 1990s when “ER” first premiered. Now, only six months after the show wrapped its fourteenth and final season, a next-generation medical drama is here to take its place. “Mercy” is a definitive riff on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and might be better termed a rip-off. The way it presents its characters tries to imply that they have more depth to them, but that’s really not the case. Nurse Veronica Callahan is a war veteran plagued by what she saw overseas who dreams of getting herself taken out by gunfire while making breakfast in the morning. Her family includes a bunch of drunkards, and she parades around the hospital pouting and yelling at everyone she possibly can. Meredith on “Grey’s Anatomy” is infamously unlikable, but at least behind the grating whininess it’s clear that she has a kind heart. Veronica seems to have a heart of stone, and her predictable she-knows-what-to-do-better-than-anyone epiphanies don’t make her any less detestable. It’s especially surprising, therefore, that she has not one but two guys desperate to win her over. Scenes of doctors and nurses pulling each other into closets to make out or scantily-clad nurses (don’t they all have to wear the same scrubs?) sauntering down the hallway with all eyes literally on them are trying fearfully hard to make it clear that this show is sexy. It’s not, and it only gets worse as it goes on. The appearance of a smiling Michelle Tratchtenberg dressed in Hello Kitty scrubs is where the show really tanks, and her requisite role as the perky ingénue is a pesky annoyance. The moment that really got my blood boiling came when the ever-angry Veronica comes upon a frightened screaming woman in the passenger seat of car whose husband had been impaled, and Veronica grabs her by the nose to force her to calm down. Edginess is really overrated, and writers would do well to remember that. It’s a toss-up whether Taylor Schilling (Veronica) or Tratchtenberg is the more despicable performer, and it’s a low point for many other actors as well. Delroy Lindo is stifled by his obnoxiously big bow tie as the hospital administrator, James LeGros (“Sleeper Cell”) is hidden by a grizzled beard and puzzled expression, and Guillermo Diaz is relegated to being the prototypically gay male nurse after chewing scenery on “Weeds” the past three seasons as Guillermo Garcia Gomez. The most unfortunate role is that bestowed upon Kate Mulgrew, demoted from her “Star Trek: Voyager” captainship to the part of Veronica’s drunk mother. Things are really in a sad state on this show, and there’s nothing good to compensate for all the bad.

How will it work as a series? Medical cases can be developed forever (see: 14 seasons of “ER”), so that can b ea long-lasting element of the show. The character-character drama may not prove as fertile, as eventually Tratchtenberg’s Chloe will have to grow up and toughen up and therefore become one of the girls, and there’s not actually as much ground to cover with Veronica as the show wants there to be. Think of it as the ugly stepsister of “ER.”
How long will it last? Viewers do love good soapy medical drama, and “Grey’s Anatomy” has done extraordinary will. This is no “Grey’s Anatomy,” however, and there’s little about it that will entice or draw viewers. NBC is rather starved for primetime real estate after “The Jay Leno Show” took over five of its weekly hours, and therefore this show may have to be cycled out before it goes on hiatus in December.

Pilot grade: F

Pilot Review: The Forgotten

The Forgotten (ABC)
Premiered September 22 at 10pm

Enough jokes were made about this title when a film of the same name starring Julianne Moore came out in 2004. I never saw it, though I have a sinking feeling that, bad as it was, it may have been more intriguing and less forgettable (had to say it) than this show. It’s essentially a far less sleek version of “Cold Case” with a civilian volunteer team trying to solve murders instead of actual police officers. One of them even wears his telephone repairman uniform all the time, to drive home the fact that these people are sacrificing their free time to help families get closure by knowing what happened to their lost loved ones. It’s a cool premise, but an unremarkable execution. What’s supposed to be intense and powerful comes off instead as painfully hokey, particularly the telephone repairman’s perpetual sporting of his uniform. Christian Slater isn’t a great lead, and this show feels like a slower-paced “Dark Blue,” just as over-the-top but not even trying to be anywhere near as dark. The cast as a whole doesn’t display much talent, and while it’s great to see “Jericho” alumni doing work, Bob Stephenson can’t save this show and the telephone service all by himself. The pilot also contains the most typical and overdone of storylines, where the new kid on the block joins the team and gets the expected “you’ll see how all this works” from everyone else consistently throughout the episode. Unfortunately, the new kid (Anthony Carrigan) is perhaps the lamest and most boring of all the characters, and he doesn’t contribute a single thing to the team. The notion of the Forgotten Network sounds cool, but it just doesn’t make for a remotely enticing show.

How will it work as a series? On the one hand, it’s a crime procedural and shows like “Cold Case” have been running for ages. On the other hand, the show needs a unique hook of some sort, and it’s just not serious enough to make its own mark. The recurring theme of Slater’s character as a parent of a missing person himself will probably drag the show down also, providing only occasional highs but leading to a dip in quality once it’s been inevitably resolved.
How long will it last? This one isn’t likely to be on for too long. ABC has concentrated all of its marketing on “Flash Forward” and its new comedies, and I think this one will get left in the dust. Competing against Leno and CBS’ “The Good Wife” will probably lead to an early retirement for the show sometime later in the fall, though high ratings could save the show temporarily.

Pilot grade: F

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pilot Review: The Good Wife

The Good Wife (CBS)
Premiered September 22 at 10pm

This is one instance of where a premise that sounds great just doesn’t make for a good show. Alicia Florrick’s relationship with her husband is only secondary to a generic lawyer show that’s disappointingly ordinary. There’s not much of a draw to the show. It’s certainly not “Canterbury’s Law,” and definitely doesn’t contain the same preposterous elements that made that show so bad. Unfortunately, losing that over-the-top silliness makes this show utterly forgettable. Margulies’ performance isn’t detestable like it was on her previous show, but she’s obnoxiously feeble and unenthusiastic. The show is supposed to be about how strong the character is, but she rarely displays any qualities other than shyness and worry. Two energetic supporting performances by Josh Charles and Christine Baranski enhance the show slightly, but their work appears to be very behind-the-scenes, and their momentary appearances can’t really make the show that much better. Chris Noth is very used to playing the apologetic lover after his “Sex and the City” role, but that doesn’t mean the character is terribly interesting. Attempts to make Alicia and her situation relatable with childish ringtones fail miserably, and it interrupts the already sloppy pacing of the show. Alicia may be the good wife trying to put her family back together, but that doesn’t mean her story is worth telling.

How will it work as a series? The focus will likely be on the firm’s cases rather than Alicia’s home life, and efforts to balance the two will probably result in uneven episodes which find Alicia constantly distracted at work but somehow coming through and outdoing all of her fellow lawyers at the last minute. Eventually, her husband’s fate will be decided, and at that point, the show will have to transition just to the law side, and that’s not a terribly original place for it to end up.
How long will it last? Well, this is the death slot for CBS where the network kills shows each season, but the last successful series to occupy this slot was in fact a female-led law show, “Judging Amy.” This show has a much less sustainable premise, and I think CBS will find that this slot should only really be filled by one of its crime series. It could last the season, but I don’t think it can merit a second one.

Pilot review: C-

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 2, Episode 3 “Fix” (B+)

The last song I expected to hear Bobby singing at the start of the episode was “Hava Nagila.” It’s hard to imagine Bobby performing at Bar Mitzvahs, but I suppose it fits. IN any case, it was quite a powerful opening montage to this episode, and really sets the tone for the ways things are going for the Sons of Anarchy. Nothing is too bad, but there are those with terrible secrets weighing down on them, especially Gemma, and those very threatening skinheads with questionable ethics and motives. Adam Arkin continues to be a formidable presence on the show, and his scenes with Hale are completely incredible. The deep-rooted connections between the Sons of Anarchy and the law are absolutely astounding, and really drive this show week-to-week. I’m especially impressed with how the gang is connected to both Uncer and Hale, and that the show uses that well to its advantage to create parallel scenes and storylines. The focus in this episode on the strip club proved very interesting. I was hoping for Tara to take a page out of Gemma’s book and smack that actress in the face with a skateboard, but I suppose her very public conquest of Jax in the bathroom will do for now. The very complicated relationship between all of the gang members and their differing reactions to their side filmmaking project is alternately entertaining and intense. It’s great to have a show that can be both funny and deathly serious at the same time, and be good in both modes.

Pilot Review: NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
Premiered September 22 at 9pm

This show is trying hard both to be like the original “NCIS” and to be different at the same time. The opening and closing black-and-white scene frames are split into surveillance-like shots rather than a simple capture, and the credits, though they look a lot like the main title for the flagship show, are considerably shorter and omit the individual crediting of actors. That’s where the show definitely pales in comparison to the former. The supporting characters aren’t very fleshed out or interesting and the unit doesn’t seem very tight-knit. That said, lead actors Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J are terrific together and make a great duo. This show is less about a team and more about the two of them, which isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s also something that should set this show apart from its predecessor. The pacing certainly doesn’t leave much to be desired, which is a plus, and the constant need for G and Sam to pose as something other than the agents they are is entertaining and should prove fun on a week-to-week basis. Linda Hunt is particularly amusing and funny as the boss of the team, and her presence is an example of why this show is just as loose and fun, if not more so, than the original. Setting the show in a mission makes it all seem like the unit is all the more fascinating and mysterious, and that they could easily operate just as freely and internationally as the team on “The Unit.” The pilot isn’t perfect, but it’s good fun, and that’s really what’s most important. And as long as the top three characters are top-notch and the show isn’t determined to focus on the less intriguing supporting characters, this show will have no problem succeeding gloriously.

How will it work as a series? This show is designed to be more fast-paced and dangerous than the original “NCIS,” and I think that will be to its credit. Confining crimes to the naval world hasn’t stopped that show from exploring new plotlines for six seasons, and therefore this show should have many avenues to go down in the future. O’Donnell and LL Cool J really do make an incredible team, and them entertaining the audience should make this show more than worthwhile.
How long will it last? This show should be on for ages. “NCIS” has alright climbed to terrific ratings heights, and premiering the spin-off after the original will likely guarantee it success. A second season is probably just around the corner, and it should lead a happy and productive life just like the second and third incarnations of that other CBS show with an abbreviated title.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Warehouse 13 (Season Finale)

Warehouse 13: Season 1, Episode 12 “MacPherson” (C+)

This show has really left itself in very scattered pieces at the close of its first season. I suppose the show needs a major hook to encourage viewers to return for a second season next summer. The general implosion of the warehouse would be a monumental happening if the same event hadn’t almost occurred a mere two episodes ago. MacPherson’s consistent ways of beating or counteracting the effects of artifacts is somewhat cool but also fairly frustrating. Pete’s way of beating him by setting off the ear-piercing ringing was refreshing since the man seemed pretty darn unbeatable. The revelation that the traitor was Leena rather than a mind-controlled Claudia came as quite a shock, and her non-allegiance after a season of rarely appearing is an intriguing twist. Still, not wrapping up the MacPherson arc in preparation for a fresh start in season two strikes me as a bit of a misstep, mostly because he’s just not that compelling a villain. His relationship with Artie isn’t as deep or complex as it was originally implied, and therefore he’s really not as exiting or mysterious as he originally was. Mrs. Frederic, on the other hand, should appear in every episode because she’s really fantastic, capable of both dramatic intensity and humorous intimidation. I’ve really come around to the idea of Pete and Myka (and their portrayers) as a team, but the show still hasn’t completely won me over. It’s had a few glimmers of potential this season, but overall, the frequency isn’t quite right. I may check back in for season two, but at this point I’m not too intrigued or attached.

Season grade: C+
Season MVP: CCH Pounder

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What I’m Watching: NCIS (Season Premiere)

NCIS: Season 7, Episode 1 “Truth or Consequences” (B+)

It’s very nice to have this show back. It’s hard to believe that it’s entering its seventh season, but this is a nice transition back into the show and a positive reminder of why it’s still around after all these years. If there’s one thing Tony’s good at, it’s talking, and therefore an episode which is based almost entirely on him spinning a story is a great idea. It’s also a fun recap of what’s been going on, and I very much enjoyed the flashbacks with nothing but a month to indicate when they took place. Not much actually happens, sure, but it’s still a fun chance to catch up on the latest adventures of the NCIS team. Piecing together the plan Tony hatched isn’t difficult, but that’s part of the beauty of it. “NCIS” loves to have major cliffhangers that get resolved speedily and fully in the first episode of the new season. It was obvious that Ziva wasn’t actually going to be replaced, but seeing the potential new female agents paraded in and out one after another was amusing, particularly when Gibbs made one of them cry. I know for a fact that Omid Abtahi (“Sleeper Cell”) is more talented than the material he’s given, but he plays his part as he should. The ending shot of Gibbs in full-on camouflage is a bit silly, though it fits with the singularly goofy nature of the show. The series has certainly grown up since its humble beginnings with simple naval criminal cases to flying across oceans to combat terrorists. It’s not clear where this season will go now that most of the Israeli subplots from last year have been resolved, though that’s not a bad thing and the show can go back to week-to-week cases, which it’s always done a cut above the rest.

Pilot Review: Accidentally on Purpose

Accidentally on Purpose (CBS)
Premiered September 21 at 8:30pm

The newest comedy in CBS’ oeuvre isn’t very noteworthy in any sense. It’s not awful, but there’s nothing which makes it stand apart from any other series or makes it remotely memorable. Star Jenna Elfman is loud, energetic, and bouncy as usual, and it’s very overbearing for a show that isn’t terribly strong on its own merit. Her role as a film critic isn’t very impressive, as the only display of her trade knowledge comes from her outlook at her life as divided into segments of different Meg Ryan characters. It’s a prime example of how everything seems effortless and easy on this show – Billie gets pregnant, tells the father, and he decides to help raise his child and move in with Billie. The show looks like it will be about them to be just friendly parents and avoid being a couple, but the predictable outcome of nearly every scene is that Billie is swayed by the questionable charms of Jon Foster’s Zack. Compared to the other CBS Monday night comedies, this one doesn’t hold up well. Billie’s repeated accidental proclamations of “I love you” were far too reminiscent of, and inferior to, similar happenings in the series premiere of “How I Met Your Mother” a few years ago. On this show, Billie’s really the only big, entertaining character, with the exception of an unfortunately wasted Ashley Jensen (“Ugly Betty”). Both “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory” have many eccentric, over-the-top characters that are exaggerated and occasionally hilarious. Essentially, the show just isn’t remotely interesting, and none of the characters are entertaining enough to make the show worthwhile. The pilot’s few laughs are infrequent and fleeting, and not nearly enough to save it from being quickly buried and forgotten.

How will it work as a series? Billie and Zack don’t make for a very interesting, believable, or good couple. The baby won’t arrive for a while, and having the two mismatched parents get into squabbles over pointless things each episode isn’t likely to be very interesting. After the baby finally comes, things will probably get a lot more long-term and serious, and assuming the show makes it that far, attempts to make it more dramatic probably won’t work too well.
How long will it last? Nestled safely between successful CBS stalwarts “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men,” the show will likely have a longer life than it otherwise would. Ratings for the pilot were almost equal to those of “How I Met Your Mother,” so in that sense the show could be a hit. I think that the series doesn’t have much in it, and CBS will soon swap it out for repeats of one of its more long-term programs.

Pilot grade: D

What I’m Watching: Heroes (Season Premiere)

Heroes: Season 4, Episodes 1 & 2 “Orientation” & “Jump, Push, Fall” (D)

Every time this show starts again it feels like it’s trying to rebrand itself, and for good reason. Many complained that the show plummeted in quality after its first season with a dismal second season and an only slightly better third season. This premiere is very much in the same vein as the first three premieres, emphasizing certain key themes for all of the characters. It’s strangely repetitive, due in part this year to the fact that not much is actually going on in the “Heroes” universe at this moment. The major exception is, of course, Nathan actually being Sylar, but that’s the lone thread that’s been continued from previous seasons. Denko, who I thought was already dead at Sylar’s hands, is killed off speedily so that the show can (hopefully) move on quickly. Both Claire and Hiro are back to their old ways, trying to live a normal life and trying desperately to be a hero. Claire’s venture to college is completely pointless and stupid, and I don’t know who thought showing college parties and Guitar Hero would be interesting to anyone. Claire quickly became the most obnoxious character on the show last year, and having her enroll in college to try and finally be normal isn’t thrilling. What’s worse is the mystery suicide of her impossibly chipper roommate and Claire’s incessant ability to be dumber than ever. It’s hard to decide what is more difficult to believe: the fact that the roommate would jump out of her window the first night of college or the fact that Claire continues to use her powers when other people could clearly be watching. It’s always a shame when network television dumbs down the abilities of an actor who is so much better on cable, and Madeline Zima (“Californication”) looks like she’ll be following that unfortunate trend. Hiro’s storylines continue to be absolutely unrelated to anything else on the show, and he really never learns either, and continues to experience problems with his foolish time-traveling. Having him frozen in time is almost as uninteresting and unbearable as when he and Ando just made faces at Parkman’s baby for a whole episode last season.

Parkman’s storyline is pretty regrettable, and he’s never really had anything good to do on this show. But the presence of an imagined Sylar taunting him at every turn is devastatingly grating, and it seems much more like a way for the show to keep Zachary Quinto around so that he can go back to playing his own self when Nathan inevitably realizes that he’s actually Sylar. One interesting note on that thought – it’s now possible that the five years later episode from the first season is accurate, and that Sylar will discover his true identity and continue pretending to be Nathan. I’m not so sure that will be the case or that the writers are really so aware of what they’re doing, but I thought it was worth pointing out. Keeping Angela Petrelli aren’t isn’t terribly smart, since she’s an awful character who just brings the show down. Noah and Nikki, on the other hand, are vastly improved, and I never thought I’d be saying that Nikki was one of the strongest elements of the show. Her newfound extra powers make her a far more formidable hero, and her partnership with Noah should also help keep her character from derailing like she did in the first few seasons. The new kids on the block are still a bit of a mystery, and placing them all at a carnival just makes them seem depraved and odd. Robert Knepper (T-Bag from “Prison Break”) is a really fun actor, and his power, a bit reminiscent of Rorschach’s ink-blotted mask from “Watchmen,” seems like it’s pretty cool. His presence and desire to unite all the heroes should provide some much-needed direction for this coming season. Unfortunately, the majority of the plotlines in this two-hour premiere fall flat, and this show needs to perform some more penance before it earns my forgiveness for two abysmal seasons. The way things look to be headed with Claire, Hiro, and Parkman just doesn’t look good, and this show hasn’t exactly shown that it knows how to handle its characters very well. This premiere wasn’t as awful as I had expected, but that’s not saying much. Hopefully Knepper and his band of merry villains can reinvigorate this show in need of saving.

What I’m Watching: Entourage

Entourage: Season 6, Episode 10 “Berried Alive” (B+)

This is one of the strongest and least objectionable episodes of this show this season because it wraps up some ailing arcs and sets others in motion. Vince still has little to nothing to do, but at least he’s hanging out with his buds and doing menial tasks like passing them the phone and offering to sleep with people. Eric finally ditching Ashley after she proves once and for all that’s she’s truly crazy after asking to read all his e-mails has been a long time coming, and spotlighting the terrific Kate Mara (“Jack & Bobby”) is a great idea. Her decree not to get involved with Eric or any of his entourage probably won’t stick, but it’s nice to see him have a female friend who isn’t out to sleep with him, and who isn’t Sloane. Drama’s arc is probably best – after being dragged in the mud for most of the season by a producer who hates his guts, he finally takes charge of his acting career and tries to get cast on the new “Melrose Place.” I hope William Fichtner has a bigger role, but just seeing him for a moment was promising. Lloyd’s departure from Ari’s agency hasn’t been derailed quite yet, and this episode is perfect in terms of how it depicts the rivalry between Lloyd and Ari. The perpetually annoyed Ari seems angrier than ever, and watching how Lloyd handles it is extremely entertaining. The conversation between Drama and Ari where the uber-agent admits that he won’t have time for Drama and that he should go to Lloyd was a particularly great moment. The end reveal that Jamie-Lynn is probably going to New Zealand marks the presumable necessary end for Turtle’s relationship arc, and I think it’s one that’s gone well but really got enhanced in this episode as she started showing some pretty intense signs of jealousy. All of the guys and Bridget’s friends sitting around the table talking about their sex lives was a great capper for this episode, and a throwback to what this show used to be about when it was so good – four guys just hanging out with their friends.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 6 “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” (B+)

This episode feels very different from the rest, but it’s still absolutely terrific. The invasion of the British becomes even clearer as a young new face bursts in prepared to take over all the operations. The rather glaring omission of Roger on the new organization chart was pretty crazy, but nothing made him seem even more irrelevant than his needless repeating of Cooper’s statement that he wasn’t on the chart. Seeing Don get so excited about the possibility of a new job and Roger noting how the suspense was killing him was a rare treat, and Don’s very suggestive but subtle conversation with Betty was a real delight. The concurrent depiction of Joan’s marriage and how she is the stronger party fit so well in contrast with the Drapers, and seeing Joan calm down her crying husband and put him to bed was a great showcase of Christina Hendricks' acting abilities. The John Deere truck incident at Sterling-Cooper was pretty shockingly bloody, and it’s certainly not something that the poor secretary who was operating it will soon forget. The most jarring part of the whole incident was the emphasis on the fact that the man wouldn’t be able to play golf and therefore couldn’t possibly continue with his career in advertising. It’s reassuring that Don stood up for him and defended his future potential since he’s usually much more stoic and cool, and his very personal conversations with Peggy and especially Joan in this episode were very moving. Don’s meeting with the head of Hilton was another fantastic moment for the show. The quip about Don being hard to find because he’s not one for long conversations was amusing, and the way he told Don that he should ask for more next time someone asks him what we wants was an incredible moment. Don, always ready for any situation, responded with an even more astounding parable about biting off more than you can chew, once again proving the fact that this show is a cut above the rest.

Pilot Review: Bored to Death

Bored to Death (HBO)
Premiered September 20 at 9:30pm

Putting a form of the word “boring” in a show’s title risks foretelling its fate, and that’s never a good place to start. Jason Schwartzmann stars as a down-on-his-luck writer who moonlights as a private eye. He’s not a terribly effective detective, and his first case is more puzzling and weird than legitimately interesting. It’s nothing like “The Singing Detective” where the author hallucinates himself and others in period garb. Instead, Schwartzmann explores the seediest parts of New York City, the only thing that really gives the show any kind of film-noir feel. He’s on his own for the cases, without a partner or femme fatale (or any femme, after his girlfriend leaves him minutes into the first episode), and therefore the case is the meat of the pilot episode. The case, a woman concerned about her missing sister, isn’t terribly inventive or original. The show rides on Schwartzmann’s humorous, sardonic interactions with the culprits and the victims. It’s entertaining, to a point, and probably the strongest element of the show, but it can’t carry this show. It’s clearly spelled out that Schwartzmann’s character Jonathan is bored out of his mind, and the audience likely will be too. Part of the problem is that the show has only three main players. Besides Schwartzmann, there’s Zach Galifianakis, who earned rave reviews for his performance in “The Hangover” but shows little promise in the pilot, as his best bud. Ted Danson also stars as Jonathan celebrity employer, but his character seems concerned with nothing besides smoking pot as often as possible. Three extremely unmotivated characters portrayed by decent but not excellent actors don’t provide much enticement to watch HBO’s latest comedy. The best performer in the pilot, Olivia Thirlby (“Juno”) was ousted after only a few minutes as Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend. This show doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing.

How will it work as a series? I’ve heard that the series takes a few episodes to really get going, and the fact that HBO greenlit it is a big deal. Along those lines, different cases each episode could mean that the show really can get better, and may also rise and fall depending on the interest factor for each episode’s case. The closing e-mail with a new case could jump-start our detective’s business, but based only on the pilot, this show may have some trouble getting off the ground with a certain lack of…ambition.
How long will it last? HBO shows have a terrific success record, and even those that don’t last long make it to a second season. Only “Lucky Louie” and “Tell Me You Love Me” have been recent duds, and this series, paired with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” should help it out a lot. This show may take off, and unlike broadcast network series, ratings and buzz don’t actually affect its longevity as much. One season is guaranteed, and while I don’t think a long life is in the cards, a second season might be if the show improves.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season Premiere)

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7, Episode 1 “Funkhouser’s Crazy Sister” (B+)

This show hasn’t been on the air for almost two full years and it’s still just as brilliant and funny as ever. Larry’s antics should be tiresome by this point, but somehow, they’re still hilarious. This marks the first time that I’ll be watching and following along with this series as it airs live, and that’s an exciting notion. Larry living with the Blacks has always been a bit of an odd plotline, but it provides a good catalyst for this episode’s several threads. Larry’s stubborn adherence to certain unspoken societal conventions (or rather, his breaking of and/or raising of why they should or shouldn’t exit) are truly fun. I particularly enjoyed Larry’s bantering with the doctor about taking the lemonade from the fridge and his subsequent stealing of most of Funkhouser’s fridge contents. His dinner party invitation theories were also endlessly amusing, and seeing Susie yell at Larry is always a hoot. Jeff sleeping with Funkhouser’s sister is a bit out of character, but watching both him and Larry categorically deny all charges is great. Larry racing home at the close of the episode to beat the doctor home so that he can break up with Loretta before she receives her cancer results is a pretty priceless typical “Curb” moment, and seeing Larry step on the gas and speed through a light in his Prius is a memorable, wrong-in-so-many-ways sight. Loretta’s cancer seems to be meant less as a dramatic plotline for this comedic series, and it risk pushing boundaries this show hasn’t yet, though I imagine this season will focus far more on Seinfeld rather than the Blacks. What I liked most was the meeting between Larry and Cheryl, which was actually quite nice and for once didn’t actually have a chance to say something stupid. Maybe they’ll get back together, maybe not. And maybe Larry will put together a Seinfeld rather to try to win her back. I’ll be tuning in every week for this fantastic show I had all but forgotten about in its long absence.

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 4, Episode 6 “Bollywood Homicide” (B+)

Shawn’s entertaining enough when he’s trying to impress his co-workers and the audience, but when his girlfriend’s around, it’s understandable that he’d want to amp it up a bit. Seeing Rachael Leigh Cook again is good, even if she’s around mostly just to respond amicably to Shawn’s preposterous statements. Lassiter completely ignoring her was a bit of a letdown, though his attempts to gloat and embarrass Shawn as much as possible with her watching were amusing. Sendhil Ramamurthy’s really a much better actor without his accent on “Heroes,” and his curse plotline fortunately doesn’t fall under the category of rather unfortunate supernatural episodes the show often produces. The most impressive part of the episode is the show’s undying commitment to immersing itself in its storylines by modifying the credits appropriately with Bollywood music and writing. I loved how Shawn didn’t introduce Gus by another name as he usually does but Raj still got his name wrong and mistakenly called him Greg. I liked the resolution of this episode, which revealed the culprit to be not the mother, as expected, but the brother’s fiancée. Juliet going undercover is always terrific, and putting her front-and-center in an episode also featuring Abigail is great. Her awkward ramblings about liking her kindergarten teacher were funny, but the best part is Shawn’s slip at the end of the episode. Abigail’s clearly clueless about Shawn’s sexual tension with Juliet, and I’m really curious to see where all that goes next. Shawn and Juliet have to end up together eventually, right?

Monday, September 21, 2009

What I’m Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 6 “Mr. Monk and the Critic” (B+)

USA’s slogan is “Characters Welcome,” and while the leads are always spectacular, it’s great to see the little people who are just as interesting every once in a while. I’ve always championed the spotlighting of supporting characters on shows like this, and I’m happy when it happens. This is the most I’ve seen Natalie get involved in a case (even more so than the leper episode), and her immediate suspicion after hearing a negative review of her daughter’s performance is very much in character, though she rarely speaks up as boldly and loudly as in this episode. Her insistence on the critic’s guilt was extremely entertaining, and her excitement at the inevitable solving of the case was fun, though not as much as Monk’s warning that she’d want to hug him but shouldn’t. Dylan Baker is a superb actor, and casting him as a cruel (and murderous) critic is brilliant in typical “Monk” fashion. Monk’s trip to the bathroom at the start of the episode was funny but seemed disconnected at first, though that’s always the trick “Monk” pulls off so effectively, linking threads that seem to have nothing to do with each other and making them all relevant. Monk dusting the bathroom attendant’s jacket while the man cleaned Monk’s jacket was another classic Monkish move that proves that this show really hasn’t lost its cleverness in the eight years it’s been on the air. It’s going to be sad to the see the old guy go in just a few months, but hopefully more simple but fun episodes like this will air before then.

Emmy Winners

Well, I’ve never done quite this poorly. Despite correctly predicting wins for miniseries, TV movies, reality and variety shows I’ve never seen, I managed to score an absolute zero on each and every one of the comedy and drama categories. I knew better than to bet against consecutive now seven-time winners “The Amazing Race” and “The Daily Show,” but for some reason thought it would be a good idea to predict upsets over frontrunners “Mad Men,” “30 Rock,” Bryan Cranston, Glenn Close, and Alec Baldwin. I also underestimated the chances of Toni Collette, Jon Cryer, Michael Emerson, and Kristin Chenoweth. I’ll admit that Cherry Jones was a bit of a surprise, as was the win by “ER” for directing. What I will point out is that my analysis was good, I just shouldn’t have picked a winner. I made the wrong choice in every case, but I wasn’t surprised by the majority of the winners. It’s not as if the winners were terribly exciting – only Emerson and Chenoweth served as truly nice surprises – and there was no big shocker, good or bad. Knowing that people I really like such as Steve Carrell and Kyra Sedgwick have now gone zero for four, and that even those I don’t love like Hugh Laurie and Chandra Wilson haven’t yet been rewarded, is a real shame. The support for shows like “Mad Men” and “30 Rock” is odd because the best elements aren’t recognized. “Reunion” won for writing, but then Tina Fey, who’s pretty much behind the whole show, didn’t. Also, it’s preposterous that “24” is winning Emmys for supporting acting now after years of snubbing Dennis Haysbert, Xander Berkeley, and newly-crowned Emmy winner Shohreh Aghdashloo. The ceremony itself was a lot of fun, and dividing the show into different categories worked well. I particularly liked NPH's opening number and the Dr. Horrible segment. There’s not much to write home about regarding this year’s winner lineup. I predicted a mere 11/31 of the major categories, with the previously-announced guest categories (I got 3/4) bolstering my average a bit. The moral of the story is, don’t predict too many upsets or even mildly exciting wins. It just isn’t necessarily going to happen.

What do you think of the winners? How did you do on your predictions?

Pilot Review: Archer

Archer (FX)
Premiered September 17 at 10:30pm

If you haven’t heard of this show and didn’t even know it was airing, you’re not alone. In a very peculiar move, FX decided two days prior to its airdate that it was going to premiere the show after “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” without telling anyone or promoting it at all. It came out on a few websites, which is where I read about it, but the express purpose of this seems to have been to see how fans of FX’s raunchy 10pm comedy would like this, while shelving the rest of the series for a January launch. I, for one, despise “It’s Always Sunny” and therefore this show really didn’t interest me in the slightest. It’s an animated series that follows a promiscuous spy who works for his mother. It’s purposefully inappropriate and crude at every turn, and to those who enjoy that kind of humor, it may be appealing. For those unimpressed, the show has nothing else to offer. It attempts to push the boundaries of acceptability as far as possible (perhaps taking a page on television regulations from “Nip/Tuck”), and as a result boasts an inane story secondary to its efforts to be outlandish and over-the-top. Worst of all, it’s just not interesting. The characters are too vulgar and vapid, which is not a good combination. Voicing by Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell, and Judy Greer is supposed to be a draw, but it’s just irrelevant. This show is terrible, and it doesn’t seem to have any merit. One reviewer suggests it deserves praise because it’s better than “Testees,” but, despite the seven angry comments I’ve received for trashing that show’s pilot, that really isn’t a compliment.

How will it work as a series? It’s unclear what Archer will do next and what kind of missions he’ll go on since he didn’t actually undertake anything major in the pilot. There’s plenty of opportunity for Archer to sleep with many women and alienate himself from that particular gender, but otherwise, this show doesn’t have many places it can really go, at least not anywhere indicated in the pilot.
How long will it last? This ultra-secret premiere was a bizarre move, and while it may have been designed to drum up talk about the show leading up to its January debut, I think it will fade pretty fast. FX is targeting the “It’s Always Sunny” demographic, and while people love that show, I don’t think this one will catch on. FX is pretty confident in it, however, and has already added four scripts to the six episodes produced, and therefore I think it will run out this season and then fade from television history.

Pilot review: F

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pilot Review: Community

Community (NBC)
Premiered September 17 at 9:30pm

Whenever there’s a good thing, there’s a tendency to want more of it. If something works, make it bigger. Taking a successful television personality and giving him the lead role in a scripted show seems like a perfect idea. Jon Stewart is an example of why this doesn’t always work (his performances in “Big Daddy” and “Death to Smoochy” aren’t exactly legendary), while Craig Ferguson has managed to do well in both fields, starting with his role on “The Drew Carey Show” and his current late night talk show. Joel McHale, host of The Soup, falls somewhere in between these two. As the lead in NBC’s new comedy “Community,” he’s playing a role that isn’t quite Joel McHale, and which understandably isn’t as effective or smartly scathing. The man knows how to talk, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to act.

“Community” is all about life at a community college. As expected, it’s laden with jokes about how the students couldn’t do much better. They’re well aware that they’re the bottom of the barrel and that they shouldn’t be too proud of themselves for being at community college. Jeff (McHale) is fully cognizant of this, and at first seeks to exploit it so that he can excel in classes without trying and impress the hot girl with his average intelligence. By the end of the pilot, it’s clear that Jeff is able to see the good in everyone and pinpoint their strengths among their many weaknesses. The show isn’t as confident about all of its characters, and as a result every one of them is overstuffed with so much energy and attitude that it’s difficult to bear. McHale is the least outlandish of all the characters, yet he’s still aggressively focused on overplaying his part to the utmost comedic effect. It’s especially jarring to see so many loud personalities in a format so similar to “The Office,” where some characters are over-the-top but the show succeeds because of the balance achieved with low-key background players and “straight men.” “Community” doesn’t have any of that. There are spotty laughs throughout, but it’s all too big, the entire time. Alan Alda’s character Lester in the Woody Allen film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” explains over and over, “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.” This one, well, it breaks.

How will it work as a series? They’ve already declared themselves a community, so now it’s more of a matter of whether they’ll get along and actually learn something from each other (or in class). That means an infinite number of community college jokes like the ones that dominated the pilot, but it could also mean an exploration into the lives of all the supporting characters whose roles haven’t been fully explored yet. I don’t think it has much to offer, though I imagine those impressed by the pilot will probably want to see more.
How long will it last? It fits pretty well with the other comedies on NBC’s must-see TV Thursday, and the positive mentions it’s received thus far should help guarantee it a decent lifespan. It’s not guaranteed a second season at this point, but NBC will likely try to keep it going for at least the rest of the season unless it really tanks, which I doubt it will. I imagine it will make it to a second season, though I really don’t think I’ll be watching.

Pilot grade: D+

Please note: a version of this review was originally published in the Washington Square News.

What I’m Watching: The Office (Season Premiere)

The Office: Season 6, Episode 1 “Gossip” (B-)

This show tries very hard each year to start off with a big plotline that’s going to incorporate all of its cast members. Sometimes it works well (“The Dundies,” “Fun Run,” and “Weight Loss”), and sometimes it just sort of doesn’t by being too outlandish (“Gay Witch Hunt”). This episode is more like the latter, overstuffed with too many preposterous elements and nothing truly serious and good to carry it through. It’s been long established that Michael can’t keep a secret, and it’s nothing new that he hates to be left out. The brief, already-over addition of the summer interns (one of who was definitely a Scavo twin from “Desperate Housewives”) didn’t actually contribute much to the series, and the fact that they saw Stanley out somewhere seemed suspicious from the start. I imagine that Stanley of all people would exercise a bit more discretion. He also wouldn’t likely so readily admit his affair to Michael out of everyone he could possibly confide in. Michael’s solution is actually quite smart, though the man’s incredible ability to put his foot in his mouth is more than a little grating, and accidentally calling Stanley’s wife by his mistress’ name and insisting that one of the rumors was actually true are quite frustrating. Andy questioning his own sexuality is funny for a moment, but it goes too far and becomes dull and unbelievable. Some of the rumors are amusing, like Dwight’s manure source, but altogether it’s not a great concept. I’ve been anticipating the return of “The Office” for a long time now, and I guess I’ll just have to wait again until next week.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation (Season Premiere)

Parks and Recreation: Season 2, Episode 1 “Pawnee Zoo” (B)

The return of NBC’s Amy Poehler-led series marks only its seventh episode, and therefore it’s still theoretically in its development period. This episode falls into the less polished category, and it’s a shame because the cast is clearly talented but not able to show much of their potential in this installment. Leslie marrying the two penguins and then finding out they’re both male seems a bit far-fetched, even for a show which has one of its characters literally living in a hole in the ground. The threat of Leslie losing her job isn’t that serious since there would be nowhere else for the show to go if she was no longer a public servant (as opposed to “The Office” where Michael could start his own rival paper company), and therefore the conservative woman calling for her resignation is a bit of a non-starter as a plotline. The gay bar party was fun, and seeing Aubrey Plaza take on a slightly bigger role after seeing her do stand-up in “Funny People” was nice, even if it’s just a few humorous lines about her boyfriend’s boyfriend. I’m curious to see what will happen with Mark and Ann, and I like the fact that Ann and Leslie are actually good, real friends now. This first episode isn’t stellar, but the show just needs a little more time to find its footing.

Pilot Review: The Beautiful Life

The Beautiful Life (CW)
Premiered September 16 at 9pm

If you thought you’d seen CW’s other freshman entries “Melrose Place” and “The Vampire Diaries,” you definitely won’t find this one remotely fresh. The pilot is almost drowned by the all-too-desperate-to-be-hip soundtrack, reminiscent of past “current music” immersions like the pilots of “Gossip Girl” and “Ugly Betty.” The difference is that this show isn’t destined for greatness (or even mediocrity). It’s the middling tale of models in New York City, all of who are so vain and superficial that there can’t possibly be anything beneath the surface. The show certainly tries to infuse its characters with depth, focusing on two morally-upright models that come from less fortunate backgrounds and actually seek to do the right thing. It turns out that those two are actually the lamest of all the models, and their attempts at being nice are eclipsed by the cutthroat moves they still make to stay ahead in their chosen industry. The whole show feels unoriginal, and nearly every twist and turn is visible from the very opening of the episode. The cast is universally dull, though that’s no surprise considering the wooden Mischa Barton is the star. Her character Sonja is almost an exact replica of her real-life self, though the producers couldn’t have really known that Barton’s summer would turn out to be so similar to Sonja’s. Farm boy Chris (Ben Hollingsworth) does look like he’s a clone of “Smallville” star Tom Welling, but the constant Superman references are going to get old. The only real hope acting-wise is Ashley Madekwe, who held her own in scenes with the phenomenal Billie Piper on “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” Thus far, her character Marissa doesn’t show much promise, but the actress could deliver far beyond the material she’s given. The performers are almost secondary to the loud and flashy runway sequences, and it’s probably better off that way because an audience might actually enjoy watching fashion week while they likely won’t care at all about these uninteresting models. The show does deserve credit for the somewhat clever and surprising reveal of why Sonja took her summer off, but otherwise, the show is simply hopeless.

How will it work as a series? If the latest gossip about Mischa Barton interests you, this show likely will too. There isn’t much ground left uncovered here, and the characters aren’t anywhere near layered enough to provide fodder for many plotlines after the threads begun in the pilot (money troubles, drug dealing arrests) are resolved. And, as far as I know, Fashion Week doesn’t come around that often, so sustaining this show week-to-week without a major style event could be tough.
How long will it last? Not long at all. It’s the worst of the CW’s new fare, and that’s saying something. Its timeslot is entirely unfortunate, going up against FOX’s far superior “Glee” for the moment. It has almost no buzz besides Barton’s recent headlines, and I don’t think that’s good press. I’m predicting this one will be off the air by the end of October.

Pilot grade: F