Pilot Reviews: September’s Good, Bad and Unwatchable

BESet in Whales during King Edward’s reign, The Bastard Executioner (BE) is one of TVs most expensive pilots (episodes 1/2) at ten million dollars and ninety-one minutes. It explores a hero’s double life as an executioner and rebel leader, who follows a Slavic witch’s council (Annora) and tries to avoid a political maverick (Milus) to find love.

The ten minute opening sequence introduces us to Wilkin Brattle and Baroness Lowry ‘Love’ Aberffraw Ventris. The scene is grounding and revelatory, showing us much of the show’s DNA. First, it presents an interesting juxtaposition of the fated lovers’ current relationships. Wilkin’s is clearly loving and playful, resulting in the pending birth of his son while Baroness’ is harsh and obligatory. Second, it highlights the show’s use of the supernatural or mystical. A healer, angel, and dragon oh my! Third, it unveils a story that is an epic fight for love, independence, and religious freedom (catholics, pagans, muslims). In short, the opening is masterful storytelling from the history lesson via the title cards to the flashback via Wilkin’s dream and foreshadowing in Baroness’ words and long look at the village through her window. The opening ends with the shows gripping original song performed by Ed Sheeran, “King of Kings.” Unfortunately, the remainder of the episode isn’t as successful!

Bastard Executioner is intriguing and classic Kurt Sutter, in title and premise, but fails in its execution. It is unclear how this show is genre bending as Sutter has classified it. It sets-out to tell a historical or epic tale, which warrants it focus on war, religion (including the supernatural) and love. The premise is Game of Thrones meets Outlander and Vikings, but the execution and scale is more Reign or Atlantis. The international cast is formidable, particularly Baroness (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), Annora (Katey Sagal)), Milus (Stephen Moyer), but Lee Jones -thus far-lacks the range needed to carry a show focused on themes of identity, vulnerability and trust.  The show is particularly flawed in its use of dialogue, which lacks Sutter’s usual quips and introspection. The show’s direction and editing deliver disjointed scenes, lack luster battles and clumsy, choppy camera work.  Simply put, this isn’t vintage Sutter. Yes it has echoes of his style and sensibilities, but the characters aren’t richly developed. The show is a chessboard of characters with cliche identities and motivations. Sutter and FX would have done well to invest more time in this show. More time for the writing and more episodes to give the premise justice. The fear is, that the remaining eight episodes won’t improve upon the pilot and the show will free fall to its death. This would be unfortunate.

Update: 11/19 Bastard the Executioner has been canceled.

minority reportFox’s Minority Report is set in a future Washington, DC when cops’ jobs are more difficult without the use of the pre-cogs–Dash, Arthur and Agatha–premonitions.  No longer held by the government, the pre-cogs live separate lives. Dash is committed to using his premonitions to stop the atrocities he sees, but he has yet to save anyone until he meets cop, Lara Vega. He reluctantly works with her to save a mayoral candidate and his family. He comes to trust Lara, but his siblings do not. His brother Arthur is leery of Lara at Agatha’s suggestion. Agatha remains the strongest of the three. While Dash gets the vision and Arthur the names, she sees it all. And she sees a future where Lara will cause not only Dash’s death, but theirs also.

The show holds closely to the premise put forth in the film with Tom Cruise, but it is plagued by poor casting, especially Wilmer Valderrama, over-use of technology and a lackluster script. This show feels rushed and Goode’s performance is pedestrian, which isn’t helped by the director’s focus on her assets. Hopefully in the next episode she delivers in spite of the obstacles this show presents as she won’t have many more opportunities to lead on TV.  Fox has not had success with sci-fi and this show will not change that. Like Michael Ealy’s Almost Human, there is much to like about this show, but it is not likely to see a renewal, much less a complete season. Though salvageable, this show will never reach Fringe’s quality or cult fandom.

rosewood

Fox’s Rosewood is a light-hearted crime drama set in Miami about a private pathologist, Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, who advertises on billboards in Miami, Florida. He meets and is instantly attracted to the self-assured Detective Annalise Villa, and he inserts himself into her case in response to his mother’s, played by Lorraine Toussaint, plea for justice for her old student. This typical procedural is made palatable by the vulnerabilities of its leads. While the successful and handsome Dr. Beaumont Rosewood is crippled by his severe hearth problems, Detective Villa is in mourning for husband. This is an excellent vehicle for Morris Chestnut and Jaina Lee Ortiz. They have good chemistry and their performances are solid, but the show seems more interested in hitting demographic marks than developing a solid much less a unique story: there’s the lovable doctor, his caring mother (Lorrain Toussaint), the lesbian sister, the cool lab, the cooler location-Miami and the inevitable relationship. The solid performances, undeniable hotness that is Chestnut, and time slot, lead-in for Empire, will likely lead to success!

scream queensScream Queens is set at Wallace University where the premier sorority is led by mean girl Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) who has to accept all student pledges at Dean Munsch’s (Jamie Lee) incidence. When a string of murders begins, pledge Grace begins to investigate and we learn of a similar murder two decades before.

The demographic is clear with pop stars Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas, Gleek star Lea Michele, fresh off-Broadway Keke Palmer and Little Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin. The show’s simple plot dragged in the two-hour pilot. It is more a collection of one-liners, gotchas and mayhem than it is any resemblance of storytelling.

Though it has all the elements of our favorite cult horror classics, the show misses its mark. Yes, we have the mean girls, pop-stars, pretty boys, funny-gruesome death scenes, great one-liners and even the always funny Niecy Nash listing all the ways horror characters fail, but the show added nothing new to the genre.

Using Emma Roberts may have been a mistake as she is essentially the same character she played on American Horror Story: Coven. Most troubling is the fact that the show does not veer away from the horror racial stereotypes and its racial jokes are troubling to say the least; what do twenty-first century sorority girls know about Gone With the Wind? With some funny if not fresh commentary on social media addiction, promiscuity, and pop-stars, Scream Queens would have been better served as a half-hour comedy with a more daring casting.  It will be interesting to see where it goes as it has packed so much into the pilot that it will have to dig deep into horror tropes to snag multiple seasons. The only innovation or creativity is the gory, funny and ridiculous death scenes. After watching this pilot, you’ll never listen to Taylor Swift, text incessantly or eat a deep-fried treat without a gruesome Ryan Murphy image.

quanticoABC’s Quantico is a fast-paced espionage thriller set at the FBI’s Academy in Virginia. As we meet NATS (new agent trainees) Alex, Ryan, Nimah, Shelby, Simon and Caleb we find that they all have secrets, from a twin sharing training to murder. When the story jumps forward at least eight months, Alex is found in the ruble of a terrorist bombing in NYC. She is eventually arrested when bombing materials and a probably dead Agent Ryan Booth is found in her apartment. Director Shaw helps Alex get away and she becomes America’s number 1 fugitive.

Though unlikely that FBI Recruits could hide significant secrets like the ones these NATS did, this is central to Quantico’s premise. Also unrealistic is the likelihood that either Director Shaw or Deputy Director Liam O’Connor could be involved in or orchestrate a terrorist attack and cause the death of a recruit and agent. Once the premise is accepted, the viewer is hooked into the mystery and will likely be betting on who the real terrorists is!  Is it Alex? Is it Simon or is he a red herring? How about Nimah and her twin? Don’t forget the underestimated Caleb and Ryan.

The show’s pacing and momentum is viewer friendly and respectful of the medium. It’s amazing how many tv shows don’t consider the impact commercial breaks have on storytelling.  The show nicely used flashbacks to further establish the characters, but this may become tired as the season proceeds. The cast is diverse though their roles are generally cliché in this episode. As Alex, Priyanka Chopra is terrific and may have a hit with Quantico!

blindspot 2Blindspot  is NBC’s much promoted crime drama starring Strike Back’s Sullivan Stapleton (Curt Weller) and Jaimie Alexander (Jane Doe). In a striking opening highlighting NYC, a cop finds an unclaimed duffel bag and the bomb squad opens it to find Jane Doe naked, covered in tattoos without any memory. The FBI connects Weller to Jane Doe because his name is prominently tattooed on her back. As the team attempts to decipher the tattoos and her identity she gets involved in Keller’s case which illustrate her skills–shooting, language and combat–as well as her inclination to help those in need. After she helps Keller stop the bomber, she’s identified as special forces with a heavily redacted file. Her identity is only complicated by her first memory and her relationship with her eraser. The series will encounter domestic and international crime as Jane, identified as Meg, and Weller solve crimes related to her tattoos. The performances are competent, but bland. The show does a better job using NYC than Stapleton’s charm or Jean-Baptiste’s range. Weller’s FBI team are little more than window dressing, but Alexander does make some interesting choices which elevates her performance of an amnesia special forces officer who may not be as innocent as her amnesia suggests. With Blindspot, NBC picked a safe predictable show that will follow the procedural  template into mundane, repetitious story telling.

the playerRelying heavily on CBS’ Person of Interest with a healthy dose of Escape Plan, The Player is a crime drama/thriller set in Las Vegas and filmed in Arizona. The show’s lead, Alex Kane, thwarts the kidnapping of a high-value target which puts him on the radar of Mr. Johnson and Cassandra King. They invite him to join their psychopathic high-stakes game that only the wealthy and those desensitized to evil can fathom. As the player to Johnson’s pit boss and Cassandra’s dealer, his role is to save the identified victim. Though he is told the game predicts crime using surveillance technologies and various algorithms, as a security expert, ex-FBI Agent and assassin he knows there are too many factors to accurately predict crime, so when he accepts the role he does so to untangle their involvement in his wife’s death.

The pilot was weakened by its lack of attention to the actual game. One scene with the betters would have helped the premise which isn’t any more inconceivable than Blindspot’s. Whether the game is predicting or orchestrating the crimes, it is only the casts’ strong performances that will have viewers returning as the action sequences,  dialogue and plot are not stellar. Strike Back’s Philip Wincester, Wesley Snipes, Charity Wakefield and Damon Gupton deserve better.

Off the air for five years, NBC’s heroes 2Heroes Reborn triumphantly returns with a thirteen episode mini-series, “Volume One Awakening”.  In  the two-hour pilot, “Chapter One: Brave New World and Chapter Two Odessa” we find Claire’s father Noah Benneth on his way to the Humans and Evos (evolved humans) United Summit in Odessa, Texas on June 13th The event and city are destroyed by what comes to be labeled a terrorists attack by Suresh. With induced selective amnesia he lives as Ted, becomes engaged and mourns Claire for a year. During this time the world becomes unsafe for evos; they are regulated, hunted and killed. Most frightening is the fact that the anti-evo climate was created by Renautis. When Noah learns this along with the fact that he was involved with the bombing he becomes obsessed with finding Molly Parker to thwart Renautis’ plans.

The pilot is successful in balancing the needs of old and new viewers, however it is over-packed with storylines. There are at least six evo story lines so far.  Noah and Quentin; high schoolers Tommy and Emily; LA evos Carlos, Oscar and Jose Gutierrez; mourning parents and evo assassins Luke and Joanne Collins; gamers Mito and Ren; evo finder Molly Parker, Dahlia and the gambler; and Malina.

The show will be successful if it can adequately develop these storylines before Noah-Quentin and Renautis storyline intersects to address the end of world situation.  There will be many fan favorites among the new evos, but Casper Abraham as the pennyman and Joanne Collins as the gun-toting son avenging psychopath will be hard to beat. Surprisingly the show’s quieter moments were some of its best, Noah eating an apple with voice-over of a message he left for Claire was purposeful…

limitless

An adaptation of Bradley Cooper’s film, CBS’ Limitless introduces Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) as a shiftless man-child whose life is forever changed after he takes NZT-48 and becomes intellectually enhanced. The show follows a typical and cliché journey. First he uses his new abilities selfishly, then he uses it to save a love one and finally he finds purpose and uses it to help others. Of course the turning point is his implication in a murder when he finds his drug connect dead and becomes the number one suspect. His ally is Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter (Rebecca) who becomes his FBI handler as he works with her to solve the crime. Though the show has the backing of Bradley Cooper, who is a recurring character, and a decent time slot, this show is bland-from storytelling to action sequences. Though some may classify this as sci-fi lite, this is a simple procedural with a lead who has a special skill. Shows like Fox’s Almost Human, NBC’s Believe and CBS’ Intelligence did much more with the intelligence-enhanced premise.

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