[Guess what? 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: "Kidnapped" (NBC - Drama)
The Pitch: "Well, see, there's this kidnapping..."
Quick Response: In the battle of kidnapping conspiracy shows, I prefer this one to FOX's "Vanished." It's a darker, moodier, more testosterone driven show that FOX's and it also doesn't seem to have come out of FOX's serialized drama factory line. That means that I can't necessarily predict all of the vast conspiratorial plotlines, which is both a positive and a negative -- i.e. while I know basically where "Vanished" is going forward, after watching the pilot, I'm a bit less sure how "Kidnapped" will string itself out over a full season. I'm also a bit iffy on Jason Smilovic's writing. Unlike "Vanished," "Kidnapped" has a very clear voice, which is the same muscular sub-Mamet blather than was cute for a while in "Lucky Number Slevin" but ran out of steam. Mostly, the biggest advantage "Kidnapped" has is its cast, which is phenomenal. Heck, I was able to accept Jeremy Sisto as a tough guy within seconds. And I have a policy wherein I endorse ANYTHING featuring Ricky Jay. Plus, it has James Urbaniak from "Henry Fool" as a badass assassin. Throw in Tim Hutton, Dana Delany, Mykelti Williamson, Delroy Lindo and Linus Roache and there's some crazy acting going on in this pilot, certainly enough to make me want to tune in a second time.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: I'm not sure that there's an obvious part for Balfour, but in future episodes, he could probably play either a hotshot young FBI agent or a hotshot young kidnapper.
Show: "Twenty Good Years" (NBC - Drama)
The Pitch: "Shticky Old Men"
Quick Response: Yeah, yeah. John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor are television comic treasures. You don't need to convince me. And, apparently, you don't need to convince them. I don't recall the last pilot I saw that features this much mugging. There are several instances where Tambor's character actually seems to look out at the studio audience with a "That Crazy Lithgow!" shrug. Yes, these two pros produce chuckles where no other living actors possibly could, but there's so much schmaltz they might as well bring in John Larroquette and just let them all eat scenery for 22 minutes per episode. The pilot has exactly two characters and no hint at a viable or interesting ongoing plot. Also, despite the numerical similarities, this isn't going to make a good lead-in for "30 Rock," which is smarter, more innovative and just plain better.
Desire To Watch Again: Minimal
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Sure. Balfour could play Tambor's son, a goofy male model with no professional aspirations beyond just being pretty. The character isn't funny in the pilot, so Balfour couldn't hurt.
Show: "The Black Donnellys" (NBC - Drama)
The Pitch: "The O'Sopranos" (I'd have gone with "The O'Soprans," but that might have been confusing)
Quick Response: I've always liked Paul Haggis more as a TV guy than as a movie guy, even if my appreciation for him on TV is mostly due to the brilliance of "EZ Streets" and my antipathy for him in film is mostly due to the overblown melodrama of "Crash." And you'd know in an instant that this was a Haggis show, even if it didn't close with a five minute musical montage that sets up the rest of the series. There are interesting characters and near-literary depth, despite the brief running time. I like the New York settings (that's another thing I preferred about "Kidnapped" versus "Vanished," that I actually knew where it was taking place) and the cast is an interesting mixture of fresh young faces and really familiar older character actors. I was particularly impressed with how attractive Olivia Wilde is as a brunette. As my colleague Rick observes, though, "The Black Donnellys" really doesn't feel like it should be a contemporary show. It should be set in the '30s or in the '50s or in the '70s, but it seems a bit disconnected with anything pertaining to modern New York. But what do I know?
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate-to-Strong
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: As sad as it may be, Eric Balfour is probably too recognizable for this ensemble, despite the fact that he's aesthetically and demographically appropriate for any of the four main parts.
What're you lookin' forward to?