Every year for the past four years, the television critic for the Kansas City Star, Aaron Barnhart, hosts a screening of a handful of standout pilots for the fall season for me and a few hundred of his closest friends. I was there again this year, and again I give you my kneejerk thoughts. Aaron mixed up the format this year – he divided the pilots into three categories: comedy, non-fiction, and drama, and showed sbout four shows per category.
Comedy was the first up and easily the strongest category out of the whole, with several shows competing for space on my DVR list.
1.) Community. NBC. Starring Joel McHale, who you all know from E! Network’s weekly pop-culture throwdown, “The Soup”. This looked promising, if a bit pedestrian. McHale stars as a sleazebag lawyer who enrolls into a community college to earn his undergrad once it’s discovered that he never really graduated the first time around. To be honest, this show had me at McHale – he oozes snarky charisma which fits well with the premise. The jokes came early and often and as a whole, Community deserves a shot, despite the disappointing presence of Chevy Chase among the cast. (Oh, Chevy – how far you’ve fallen. What I wouldn’t give to have the guy from “Fletch” back on screen, just one more time.)
2.) Brothers. NBC. Honestly, the clip we saw from this sitcom is quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen in the four years of Barnhart’s presentations. Former professional football player Michael Strahan conned someone at NBC into giving him a starring role in a show about, well, an ex-football player. That’s about as deep as this show gets. Strahan, likeable in small doses, cannot carry a scene and the actors around him all look uncomfortable to be there. (Strahan played most of his NFL career in New York, if I’m not mistaken, and probably was a hit on local television doing pre-game interviews and the like. Being likebale in the biggest media market in America can go a long way, apparently.) The jokes were obvious, tired, and inappropriate. It might only be worth tuning into to hear the intensity of the laugh track, which was high enough to violate the very laws of nature.
3.) Archer. FX. A computer-animated show about spies made by people who watch far, far too much Adult Swim. It’s mean, nasty, rude, and completely hysterical. I’ll be tuning in.
4.) Bored to Death. HBO. Rushmore’s Jason Schwartzmann smokes way too much pot and hires himself out to people as a private detective, despite having zero experience, reasoning that he’s read so many mystery novels that he’s bound to be good at it. It’s a simple and brilliant idea and it comes off wonderfully, with that laid-back, slacker quirkiness that the kids all seem to love these days. Of note is his best friend, played by Zack Galafinakis from this summer’s “The Hangover”.
5.) Modern Family. ABC. Shot in mockumentary style about three different families. This looks promising. The clip we saw was about gay partners who adopt a baby girl. Hilarity ensues. The jokes are fresh, the actors obviously talented, the situations funny. Which means it will get canceled, so jump on this one while you can.
From the Non-Fiction category:
1.) Rescue Ink Unleashed. Natural Geographic. This one had me scratching my head. Think a pet-friendly verson of “Dog the Bounty Hunter”, where a group of tough-looking guys in leather jackets, black gloves, and do-rags go to people’s houses to investigate potential pet abuse cases. That’s it. At first, I was uncertain if this was a Reno 911! style mockumentary on bounty hunter style shows, but apparently it’s legit. Must be seen to be believed.
2.) PoV/Independent Lens: both shows on PBS that spotlight independent filmmakers. I’m sure there’s a difference between the two, but I’m not certain what that might be. In any event, we saw clips from two upcoming documentaries: one about rock legend Patti Smith that makes her look like an insane homeless person, and another about the history of sampling in hip-hop. The sampling doc looked great, with interviews with DJs and performers (Shock G!) The Patti Smith thing looked disjointed and inflated with self-importance, so unless the crew from A&E’s Hoarders show pops by to make Patti clean out her hideously messy apartment, I’ll be looking elsewhere.
3.) Brick City. Sundance Channel. A documentary about the inner political and social workings of the city of Newark, New Jersey, where the inhabitants are trying to rebuild a corrupt and decaying community from the inside out. Aaron described it as a real-life version of HBO’s The Wire and I’m inclined to agree. Worth watching out for.
1.) Human Target. Fox. Uncertain about this one. A secret-agent-style show starring Handsome In A Bland Way guy and Gorgeous Woman Who Was on That One Sci-Fi Show. He anticipates things and does cool action stuff, and she does something else. They’re after the Thing that the Bad Guys are after. Obviously it didn’t register much with me, and I’ll be skipping it unless it gets rave reviews.
2.) V. ABC. I was really looking forward to the remake of the beloved mice-eating 1980s miniseries that scared the hell out of me as a kid, but from what I saw, it suffered from the same malady that last year’s Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles had – overwhelming seriousness. Everything’s a life-or-death situation. No one laughs or smiles. Armageddon is around every corner. All that godawful seriousness weighs down everything, sucking the oxygen out of the show. I hope I’m wrong about this, or that it works itself out
3.) NCIS: Los Angeles. CBS. Yawn. This show, and others like it, are shows for older people. Generic catch-the-bad-guy-through-superior-technology stuff. What really bothers me about the clip I saw is that shows like this one treat technology like magic: FBI computers can hack into the most secure Zurich bank accounts in a matter of seconds and people’s cell phones can be traced with pinpoint precision through government satellites before the next commercial break, followed by a predictable shootout. It’s the older generations’ fears about technology used for entertainment. Again: yawn.
4.) White Collar. USA. Aaron was big on this one, but I didn’t quite see it. Looks like your typical FBI Agent teams up with Reformed Bad Guy to track down criminals – sort of like “The Mentalist” but without the humor. Or magic tricks.