Thursday, June 08, 2006

Take Me To The Pilots: NBC [Part One] Edition

[As I may have mentioned, 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: "Heroes" (NBC - Drama)
The Pitch: "Superheroes Of Tomorrow... Today!"
Quick Response: I think if "Heroes" had been created by Jonathan Lethem as a sortta television series equivalent of his acclaimed novel "Fortress of Solitude," I might be even more intrigued. As it is, the pilot is interesting, but scattershot -- there are too many characters, too many situations, too many ideas to properly be introduced in an hour (though there's apparently a two-hour pilot -- featuring cast regular Greg Grunberg -- that NBC didn't feel like critics deserved), which is likely to frustrate casual viewers as much as it fascinates fans of genre mythology shows. In our opening episode, we have a lot of ordinary people discovering they have extraordinary abilities, but there are also plenty of hints as to dark directions the show either will go -- there's a horrible event they're all going to have to join together to stop, presumably -- or could go -- if you have possible superheroes, you're bound to get supervillains. The cast is full of familiar people -- Milo Ventimiglia, Adrian Pasdar, Hayden Panettiere, Ali Larter (proving, as she often does, that she's more than just a pretty face) -- but there are also some interesting twists on the pilot casting formula. There's an Indian character! There's a Japanese guy! I'll leave it to the more sensitive advocacy groups to decide if our Japanese hero (named Hiro) is wildly stereotypical, or if he actually undercuts many of our Japanese stereotypes. It's still interesting. If Lethem were working on the show, New York would be as much of a player as any of the lead actors. I'm skeptical if Tim Kring ("Crossing Jordan") has either the skills or aspirations to pull that off.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate-to-Strong -- Sorry, "Runaway," but "Heroes" will have my attentions, at least for a few weeks.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: If a pilot already has Milo Ventimiglia, does it really need Eric Balfour? And is Eric Balfour a poor man's Milo Ventimiglia or is Milo Ventimiglia a poor man's Eric Balfour? I guess one is tall and lanky and the other is short-ish and skinny.

Show: "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC - Drama)
The Pitch: "NBC 'SNL' Series: The Drama One"
Quick Response: In the "Simpsons" episode "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner," Homer's new job as a food cricket, leaves him unsatisfied even after a pork chop dinner and he turns to Marge and says, "Marge, I'm sorry, but your cooking's only got two moves, Shake and Bake." Marge replies in confusion, "You like Shake n' Bake. You used to put it in your coffee." And Homer says, "People change, Marge. My palate has grown more sophisticated." That's sortta the way I feel about Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme's return to prime time. Every second of the "Studio 60" sounds like Sorkin and looks like Schlamme and thus it's all familiar and reassuring and intelligent and nowhere near as smart-seeming as it was back when "The West Wing" premiered. The pilot has some typically catchy Sorkin dialogue along with many of his worst flaws, including an entirely unmotivated rant against the religious right in the final act. Schlamme's camerawork is a bit less exhausting than it sometimes seemed on "West Wing," but the lighting and framing are straight out of his highlight reel. My favorite part of the pilot was getting a reminder of what an impressively talented actor Matthew Perry really is. At some point, though, he and Bradley Whitford (not, in fact, Bradley Cooper) are going to have to come to an agreement on which of them is playing Josh Lyman, because they can't *both* do the same thing. I'm not sure if I'm going to necessarily care on a week-to-week basis about the ratings for a sketch comedy show and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. But I'll keep watching.
Desire To Watch Again: Strong
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: It's a big ensemble. You could drop Balfour somewhere off to the side (the sketch show's newly added hot-headed lothario with bad facial hair?) and he wouldn't even drag the show down.

Show: "30 Rock" (NBC - Comedy)
The Pitch: "NBC 'SNL' Series: The Comedy One"
Quick Response: There's an attempt at a "Mary Tyler Moore" or "That Girl" retro vibe that I find interesting, but I only laughed at select parts of the pilot. I laughed at every word out of Alec Baldwin's mouth and I don't think he had a single line that was funny on the page. I laughed at a good portion of Tracy Morgan's madcap energy. I laughed at Judah Friedlander. I didn't laugh at Tina Fey and I usually find her funny. It would be disappointing if she opts to be entirely a straight woman. And I REALLY didn't laugh at Rachel Dratch. On "SNL" I've always found her hit-and-mostly-miss, but maybe she'll be funny in the second episode. As above, I'm not sure if I'm going to necessarily care on a week-to-week basis about the ratings for a sketch comedy show and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Also, between the two shows, aren't they going to run out of viable ideas for parodies of bad comedy show sketches?
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: He could play the new hotshot lothario in the writer's room? But probably not.

Show: "Friday Night Lights" (NBC - Drama)
The Pitch: "'Friday Night Lights: The Book' meets 'Friday Night Lights: The Movie' On The Small Screen"
Quick Response: This is the best pilot I've seen so far this summer. It's partially because I'm a soft-hearted man who loves himself some quality sports programming, but also because I think that with the pilot, Peter Berg has set the groundwork for what could be dramatic, exciting, provocative and powerful series about high school football. I love the show's look, a slightly less gritty and slightly less desaturated version of what Berg did in the movie. I loved the show's texture, which made it seem as if there were countless potential stories to be told. I liked the few supporting actors we were introduced to, the relative unknowns who play the football players and the cheerleaders. I appreciated Kyle Chandler stepping into Billy Bob Thornton's shoes and Connie Britton stepping into her own shoes. I liked the way the football was staged and I loved the sense of local color on all sides. And I fear that none of what I most enjoyed will be reproducible if Peter Berg isn't behind the camera and in the editing suite at all times. If they get things right, "Friday Night Lights" the series could be to "Friday Night Lights" the movie what "M*A*S*H*" was to "M*A*S*H*" -- an opportunity to take an already interesting universe and show its depth and heart. I'm really going to be sad if they botch this one. I'm also going to be sad if they don't eventually introduce us to somebody on the defensive side of the football.
Desire To Watch Again: Extremely strong -- Can't wait for the first new episode.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Keep on lookin', Eric.

Which of these are you looking forward to?


  1. Anonymous4:07 PM

    Thanks for your first impressions. It's so funny, everyone seems to have enjoyed Friday Night Lights but me, and I'm a HUGE sports movie fan. Heh. Maybe it was because I watched five pilots in a row before that and I was on burnout. I'll have to give it another chance in September.

  2. I'd noticed that you weren't a fan. Wassup with that?

    Loved me some Friday Night Lights. I also liked the book and the movie. I'm just a sucker for the material apparently.

    But what I wanna know, Carrie, is how you got your hands on the ABC pilots... I've got a couple colleagues -- yeah, that's you, Alan -- who are having little fits waiting for the network to set us those 20 or 30 new shows.

    Now, though, I should probably try to sit through Kidnapped before going to see Superman Returns tonight...

  3. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Daniel, I loved the movie and especially the book. For some reason, though, I thought the character development in the pilot was a bit lacking. Or maybe I'm finally realizing I'm a girl. I don't know. The one thing I did appreciate in the pilot was actually dealing with the race issue, which the movie so blatantly ignored.

    As for the ABC pilots...I have my sources. As far as I know they are floating around Hollywood pretty freely now. What I really want to see is Heroes, so I'm jealous you got your hands on that one first. Hee.