Thursday, June 15, 2006

Take Me To The Pilots: ABC Disc One Edition

[You know the drill: These capsules aren't meant as reviews. Most of these pilots will undergo at least minor -- and possibly major -- alterations, tweaks and recastings before they make it on air in the fall. These are, however, my first impressions:]

Show: "Betty the Ugly" (ABC - Dramedy-type-thing)
The Pitch: "Not-So-Beautiful Girls"
Quick Response: Seriously, can we change the title of this show to "Ugly Betty"? I mean, I understand that the original telenovela is literally translated as "Betty the Ugly," but I feel like there's some level of idiomatic confusion at work here. There'll be some general audience confusion once this starts airing as well. It's not surprising that ABC has tried developing "Betty" in several different forms over the year and while they settled on an hour-long dramedy format rather than a half-hour coma (that's a mix between comedy and drama in a half-hour form), they didn't settle on much else. The pilot is a mixture of mugging not-so-funny comedy and vague and confusing seriousness. Actually, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's an accurate reproduction of the "Betty la Fea" telenovela's tone, but you're going to have to convince a lot of viewers and without much of a launching pad, given that ABC has been kind enough to place "Betty" on Friday nights. The only critical consensus you're likely to get on this one is that America Ferrera is excellent and it's a relief that they didn't cast, say, Sofia Vergara and put her in glasses and an ugly blouse. Sure, anybody who's seen "Real Women Have Curves" or "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" knows that Ferrera is an attractive woman, but... Hmmm... There may not be any way to say anything here without being insulting. She good. Really good. No matter where the show's tone goes from here, she'll be able to handle it.
Desire To Watch Again: Low-to-Moderate
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Given that Eric Mabius is playing an hotshot lothario who becomes an inept magazine editor, but still beds an endless string of models, there's no reason why Balfour couldn't have played the part. I'm sure he could fill other roles as well.

Show: "Let's Rob..." (ABC - Comedy)
The Pitch: "'Ocean's 11' Meets 'The Dream Team'"
Quick Response: I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I like the concept -- an ordinary schlub (Donal Logue) rounds up a crew of other ordinary schlubs (plus one hot Colombian woman) and they decide to rob Mick Jagger... Because how hard can it be? And I often liked Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman's "Ed," so I felt OK about the talent behind the scenes. Part of the show's hypothetical charm is in how loose it all is -- these people know nothing about crime beyond what they've seen on TV and in movies -- but the pilot came across (for me, at least) as less loose and more sloppy. The punchlines didn't hit exactly right. The visual gags weren't staged exactly right. The performances were a bit broader and more stereotype-driven than I'd have liked. I think the actors, particularly Logue, Maz Jobrani and Kevin Michael Richardson, are capable of selling this material well and Sofia Vergara is already being treated with more respect than she ever got on last season's awful "Hot Properties." I also liked the little inserted bits of Jagger, who seems to be approaching this show with exactly the right attitude. But I didn't really laugh as many times as I'd have liked to. I just smiled a lot. If Burnett and Beckerman are smart, they'll troll the writing ranks for whatever "Arrested Development" alums are floating around out there and see if future episodes can be tightened. ABC picked this one up on potential, though.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate -- I'd like to see where they're going with this, but not enough to watch it instead of "House."
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: I don't think Balfour could play the nebbishy communications student who joins the crew as an intern thinking he's working as a PA on "Taxi 2," so he's probably out of luck. But maybe future episodes could introduce a hotshot young thief with experience but not common sense? Yeah. That'd work.

Show: "Notes from the Underbelly" (ABC - Comedy)
The Pitch: "She's Having a Baby Without the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Connections"
Quick Response: ABC seems fairly sure that the concerns of attractive white 20-and-30-somethings on the cusp of full-on adulthood are fascinating and that the vaguely self-obsessed Gen-Xers (and a few Gen-Yers) are the future of comedy. It's like the networks took a couple years off from looking for the next "Friends," but now ABC is back in the hunt with this and "Big Day," which are appropriately paired in a nice Thursday-at-8 hour designed just to show that "Grey's Anatomy" is powerful enough to work without a lead-in. Because here's the thing: I kinda enjoyed "Notes from the Underbelly." Certainly more than I'd have expected to. The two leads -- Jennifer Westfeldt and Peter Cambor -- are very natural and possess good comic timing, aided by a solid enough pilot script. And the supporting cast isn't bad, particularly Rachael Harris, who was always my favorite "Daily Show" correspondent and I've never understood why more writers and directors haven't tried to take advantage of the fact that she's very funny and surprisingly brainy-hot. The problem? I, um, don't really care about spending the first season watching a couple go through the hilarity of pregnancy, much less seasons about the hilarity of having an infant, or the hilarity of the terrible twos, or any of the other endless permutations that could allow this show to last forever... except that nobody else is likely to care either. It's a little bit sad.
Desire To Watch Again: Low. If I didn't watch "Survivor" and/or "The Office" at that time? Sure. Maybe.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Absolutely. I like Cambor, but most of the other male leads -- especially the couple's unmarried buddy -- could be filled by Eric Balfour. Sortta.

Isn't it cute that Blogger knew I turned a year older today? Exactly... Damned automated systems...


  1. Anonymous2:04 PM

    huh. i turn a day older everyday . . .
    but happy birthday, nevertheless.

  2. Yea, none of those seem like one's i'd be interested in all...i can't see any of them lasting longer than a season.

    But If i had to choose one it would be betty the ugly...two seasons.

    --RC of

  3. See, I've just gotta stop thinking of lack of editing as one of the advantages of blogging and start actually reading what I write... But thanks for the birthday wishes, anonymous...

  4. RC... ABC probably has the most invested in "Betty," from a diversity standpoint as well as from the standpoint that all of the networks keep nattering about about trying telenovelas and ABC actually has done one.

    "Let's Rob..." is likely to win the most critical support, but I can barely imagine them keeping it up for two or three episodes, much less multiple seasons.

    And "Underbelly"? Dead already...