New Pilots: Surprises, Riffs and Duplicates

Like the 24-7 news cycle, pilot premieres are no longer limited to the television calendar of our youth, September to June. Pilots premier in the fall, spring and even in the summer. This latest crop of pilots have some surprises, some interesting riffs on old themes and of course the reliable if not expected duplicates. Check-out my reviews and let me know what you think.

SURPRISES

london spy 2Though London Spy (BBC) is clearly a spy show, at its core it is the story of polar opposites who fall deeply in love; their love is as big as Claire and Jaime’s in Outlander. Danny is the skinny, scruffy, drug-using club-goer and Alex is the OCD and Asperger like investment banker who disappears when they decide to go away for a weekend after dating for eight months. Though this five part mini-series has an all-star cast, it is Ben Whishaw’s layered performance that truly captures the yin-yang of the loneliness, digital connectiveness  and desperation of millennials in the 21st century. Most interesting is the show’s ability to achieve this complexity with a quietness and depth one usually only finds in one person plays or films like David Oyelowo’s Nightingale. The show’s five episodes will only whet our appetites for more of this riveting and culturally spot-on story.

Shades of blue

Single mother and dirty cop Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez) is forced to turn on her boss Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta) when she is caught by, FBI Agent Robert Stahl (Warren Kole). Jennifer Lopez shines in this role as she goes toe-to-toe with the Godfather of bad cops, Ray Liotta. Like Southland and The Shield, Shades of Blue has succeeded in adding texture to the often cliche crime procedural. Though not as dark as expected for a show wading in the tub of bad apples, this show is surprisingly thoughtful and the dialogue is far from the trite saacharine of Blue Bloods and SUV. Harlee Santos may not satisfy all feminists, but the character is whole and complex and not a bad feminist herself. This show does a lot right, and it will be interesting to see how it pushes the story of corruption forward without being repetitive or ridiculous. On the heels of the 2015 documentary  The Seven Five and others about police corruption, this show is timely and with any luck may do for police corruption, what The Wire did for the war on drugs.

am crime 2With 10 Emmy nominations for Season 1 including Outstanding Limited Series or Movie, anticipation was high for season 2 of American Crime (ABC).  This show has not disappointed! This season’s crime is an alleged rape but in true AC fashion it unfolds a broader examination. Like, Sundance’s Rectify, this show dives deep with complex and authentic writing that is only matched by the casts’ performances. This show illustrates what one hope justice does, peel away the many layers of a case to find and address injustice. Is this show the anecdote to the injustice of The Making of a Murderer? Probably not if season 1 is any indicator, but it does help us understand crime just a bit better and maybe push us to affect change in our communities.

recover road 2

Freeform is quickly becoming the go to network for this generation’s authentic young adult shows. Like some of the network’s other shows, The Fosters in particular, this is no Afterschool Special with unrealistic lectures and happy endings. Recovery Road follows biracial Maddie Graham’s (Jessica Sula) journey after her mother and school counselor place her in a sober/recovery house while still attending high school. The show expertly deals with recreational drug use, addiction, sex and relationships. The cast is dynamic and captures the cacophony of recovery and high school. Trish Collins (Kyla Pratt) and Vern Testaverde ( Daniel Franzese) are stand-out characters the fans will love. This show achieves what 16 & Pregnant, Teen Mom and Sober House did not. It provides a portyal of teen life that isn’t sensationalized, sexualized or inauthentic.

zoe ever after

Recently single Zoe (Brandy Norwood) is determined to succeed in the cosmetic business after she leaves her philandering star athlete husband Gemini (Dorian Missick). She struggles with her business, dating and parenting but she looks great while doing it. Zoe Ever After (BET) attempts to take the premise used by housewives and reality tv to show that celebrities don’t have to succum to ratchet tv to thrive. This is admirable but the show fails on several fronts. As a comedy, it is handcuffed by the genre and half-hour format. The writing and production are stale. It is more Tyler Perry and less Mara Brock Akil or Yvette Lee Bowser. It pales in comparison to the polished, culturally significant and funny Blackish. Shows like Living Single and the Jane the Virgin have reached heights that few others have. If BET and creator Erica Montolfo-Bura had truly examined the landscape and her lead Brandy, she would have created a drama about a child star who wants to return to the top of her industry after a divorce or similar life change; that would be a hit for the network!

 RIFFS

x-files i still want to believe.jpg

After a fourteen year hiatus, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are back in action as FBI Agents Mulder and Scully. The tenth season consists of six episodes that aim to upend their alien and government conspiracy beliefs. When we meet them, surprisingly they are living very separate lives. Mulder has sunken into despair and Sully is working as a surgeon. The pair quickly fall into a comfortable and loving rhythm as they team-up to investigate what maybe the ultimate x-file. The show still works; this season is familiar and new, answering some old questions and posing new ones. This is sci-fi! It premiered to a 7.8 rating among adults 18–49, behind only the premieres of AMC’s The Walking Dead and Empire this season. Fox has another hit though it is not the X-Files of old.

Lucifer

Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) left his father’s fold for Los Angeles and has taken up residence at the nightclub Lux. His father sends his brother Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) to ask him to return home, the underworld. Though Lucifer tells his brother that he’ll return between, “the 7th of never and the 15th of ain’t going to happen,” his resolve begins to shake on the second request. Two events strengthen his resolve and may help him prepare for the battles that are to come. If this show feels oddly familiar, it is Ellis’ performance which is ripped from the 2014 failed series Rush where he played a concierge doctor with dubious ethics. There is no shame in Lucifer’s (Fox) casting decisions, as it works. Ellis nails the bad boy with redemptive qualities and the chemistry among the cast is solid, especially the anglelic Chloe Dancer (Lauren German) and her scene stealing daughter Trixie (Scarlett Estevez). However, it is Lucifer’s therapist Linda (Rachel Harris) that elevates this show’s fun factor. So prepare for Lucifer’s redemption tales; it will be a bumpy ride.

colony

The presumed alien occupation of Los Angeles pushes everyone to collaborate or rebel keeping their loyalties secret from their friends and families. The Bowman family is no exception, but the stakes are raised when Will (Josh Holloway) is caught sneaking into Santa Monica to find his missing son. The occupation’s leader, Proxy Alan Snyder (Peter Jacobson) convinces the family that he will make their lives better if Will, an ex FBI agent, works with them. Though Will is the sought after agent, his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), is no shrinking violet. She too is in the fight, and it may not be the same as her husband’s. Desperation and the knowledge that there was really no alternative, places Will in the midst of not only the occupation, but the rebellion as well. Will he and his family survive in tact? Colony (USA) explores the effects of invasion. It asks two fundamental questions: What would you be willing to do to survive? To what extant can we push our humanity and remain human?  Though not original, the characters are well drawn and the story will have you returning for answers to the many questions posed.

the magicians

Based on Lev Grossman’s best-selling books, this supernatural or fantasy drama is set at the secret, Brakebills University for students of magical ability. When grad student Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) and his best friend Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve), are transported to Brakebills for an entrance exam, their world changes, forever. While Quentin’s magic is revealed, Julia’s isn’t and as a typical type A personality she obsesses on her failure, magic. She is lured into the web of ‘dark magic’ and unknowingly aligns with the one who is out to destroy Quentin and the other magicians at Brakebills. With really cool special effects and the fictious world of Fillory and Further this show is imaginative and fun.  While the cast isn’t really diverse, at least the characters are not mere sketches; they are more developed than expected and may anchor the show to success for SyFy.

Duplicates

shadowhunters 3

Follows the same story put forth in the book and movie. Clary’s (Katherine McNamarasupernatural gifts are realized when she meets Jace (Dominic Sherwood) and her mother is kidnapped.  She and her best friend Simon (Alberto Rosende) join the shadowhunters to find Clary’s mother. In the process Simon is kidnapped by vampires and she learns that she is not mundane; she is descended from a line of Shadowhunters; humans born with angelic blood who fight to protect the world from demons. Like Pretty Little Liars (Freeform), Shadowhunters sexualizes adolescents and focuses on fashion even in the midst of death. But the bigger crime is the show’s stilted acting, action and production. The reed thin lead, Katherine McNamara isn’t believable as a shadowhunter and her action scenes are anorexic and reminiscent of bad school plays. This show is a shadow of the movie; and like a bad burger that looks great, your first bite will be the only one unless you are starving or bored. 

Shannara Chronicles

The magical Four Lands is inhabited by elves, demons, psychotic bandits (rovers), changelings and even a seer. But it is Amberle (Poppy Drayton) who is chosen to save the most sacred Elven tree, the Ellcrys. With Allanon’s (Manu Bennett) guidance, she, Wil (Austin Butler) and Eretria (Ivana Baquero), a rover, are faited to save their world. This is the typical hero’s journey which is greatly enhanced by the high production, a heroine as the lead and the possibility of the adventures to come. Hopefully Amberle will grow more confident in her role and depend less on those around her as she works to achieve her goal. This is a good companion for MTV’s other supernatural show, Teen Wolf.

Second Chance

Fallen Sheriff Jimmy Pritchard (Robert Kazinsky),is resurrected by genius twins Otto and Mary Goodwin (Adhir Kalyan and Dilshad Vadsaria) who theorize that the altered man’s blood can save Mary from cancer. Before long, Mary and the revitalized Jimmy team-up to solve his murder and help his estranged son, FBI Agent Duval Pritchard (Tim DeKay). Second Chance (Fox) is boilerplate and will likely suffer the same fate as its predecessors, Almost Human and Intelligence.

 

Legends of TomorrowRip Hunter time travels to assemble a team of superheroes and villans, who can defeat Vandal Savage, a threat that endangers the planet. With Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson (Firestorm), Ray Palmer (The Atom), Sara Lance (White Canary),  Kendra Saunders (Hawkgirl), Carter Hall (Hawkman) Mick Rory (Heatwave) and Leonard Snart (Captain Cold) Rip sets out to prevent the destruction of the world. This baseball team for planet earth will encounter many adventures and assemble into a variety of configurations to reach their goal. CW President describes the show as, “a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy meets Doctor Who.” Though the show starts out slow, with such a big cast, it is the kind of fun we curled-up on the coach with as children reading comic books and blowing bubbles.

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