Friday, September 24, 2010

TV Pilots, Day 2 — Detroit 1-8-7, Raising Hope, Running Wilde, Better With You, Undercovers

Tuesday and Wednesday's series premieres were a mixed bag, a disappointment for anyone looking for fresh, exciting appointment viewing to add to their regular schedule but with only one true disaster in the bunch (barring CBS shows, which I won't watch or review, but can all be safely assumed disasters). Lots of stuff in the B- and C+ range; the TV equivalent of McDonald's. It looks like this fall's new series may ultimately just be filler to bide time between new episodes of Boardwalk Empire and already-proven returning shows (and I would say Lone Star, but much as I predicted, Lone Star is proving too good for the diseased masses and will probably wind up having a mayfly-esque lifespan).

But let's not mourn the good TV that's probably going to get cancelled, let's look ahead to the mediocre TV of the future! Today we'll be examining ABC's Detroit 1-8-7, Fox's Raising Hope, Fox's Running Wilde, ABC's Better With You, and NBC's Undercovers:


The premise in ten words or less? Cops in Detroit solve murders.

Any good? Well, it's way better than NBC's Chase, I'll give it that much, but it's still just another police procedural. There's some cops, the men tough and the females attractive, with the protagonist being an arrogant, slightly off-kilter antihero cop who plays by his own rules. There's a murder, they parse the clues, get the lead, do the chase, make the arrest. Americans love episodic police procedurals because they're unambitious and easy to watch, and on that count Detroit 1-8-7 delivers. I'm sure lots of people will watch but I can't imagine anyone ever excitedly telling their friends about last night's amazing episode the next day.

What Detroit 1-8-7 admittedly does have is a strong sense of location. Other cop shows set in Manhattan or Miami or LA try to make their locations look sexy and vibrant, all epic skylines and gorgeous lights, but Detroit 1-8-7 proudly displays Detroit in all its grey, ghetto, semi-apocalyptic glory. Unlike The Wire they weren't courageous enough to actually have the cast reflect the city's demographics (real Detroit: 81.6% black, Detroit 1-8-7's main cast: 37.5% black), but there's still a genuine texture to it that most cop shows don't have. Shame the storytelling is so generic and uninteresting.

Will I watch again? I don't think so.


The premise in ten words or less? White trash twentysomething unexpectedly winds up a single parent.

Any good? It was neither great nor as bad as some critics made it out to be. It's quite cinematically shot for a televised comedy, with palpable grunge to the white trash settings, and there's a couple of pretty subversive, out-there moments for a broadcast sitcom that made me laugh out loud (namely a comedic cutaway to a woman being fried in the electric chair in front of her baby, and the same baby getting thrown up on later in the episode), but these moments are sandwiched between wide dry stretches and capped off by a generically sitcommy warm hugs ending. The show's most tired element is probably the Alzheimery grandma who lives with the main family, because old ladies saying inappropriate things (and, in this case, running around naked) is not nearly as funny as sitcom writers seem to believe it to be.

Will I watch again? I dunno. I'm not completely averse to the idea of watching a few more but at the same time I can't really imagine spending my twentieth episode with these people, let alone my hundredth. I can easily see this one taking the same path of Greg Garcia's previous, equally white trash series My Name Is Earl, one I enjoyed for the first half of its first season but quickly grew tired with and eventually just vaguely disgusted by the very continued existence of.


The premise in ten words or less? Vain rich man reunites with his do-gooder childhood sweetheart.

Any good? I think we (and by "we" I mean people with taste) can all safely agree that Arrested Development is the greatest TV comedy ever. Everything about creator Mitch Hurtwitz's magnus opus came together perfectly for its brief yet beautiful run; its style, its pacing, its blisteringly brilliant joke structure, and of course its cast, one of the best comedic ensembles ever assembled. The show was true lightning in a bottle. But you know the thing about lightning — it never strikes in the same place twice.

Mitch Hurwitz's new show Running Wilde is about a dumb, blustery rich man played by Will Arnett, born into money with zero clue and zero responsibility. Or in other words, Gob Bluth. He's not named Gob Bluth ("Steve Wilde," if you must know), but Gob is obviously who he is, giving the vaguely tragic impression of Hurwitz as a man still wearing his high school letter jacket seven years later, trying to remind everyone of the glory days. Keri Russell is about 35% Michael Bluth everyman and 65% Lindsay Bluth daft wannabe humanitarian as Steve's childhood sweetheart Emmy, the daughter of a former maid of Steve's father, who decides to move back in with Steve to try to make him a better man when her daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen, filling Ron Howard's Arrested Development role as narrator, not bad for a child actress but without any compelling hook as a character) expresses desire to live back in America.

The show has scattered laughs in its more absurdist moments but the dialogue scenes are pretty dry and it quickly becomes apparent that Arrested Development would not have stood as the masterpiece it was with Gob as the protagonist and a small handful of supporting characters. It's not bad but it's kind of heartbreakingly mediocre. I suggest that Running Wilde change its title to the more accurate A Portrait of Mitch Hurwitz As a One-Hit Wonder.

Will I watch again? Well, it's the closest we're gonna get to Arrested Development until they finally put that long-rumored feature film together, ain't it? I doubt Running Wilde will see a second season so I might as well see it through to the (possibly very) bitter end.


The premise in ten words or less? Two sisters, their boyfriends, their parents, and a laugh track.

Any good? Better With You is a notable entry in the television subgenre I affectionally refer to as "complete pieces of shit." A bland, sleepy regurgitation of Friends with a hint of How I Met Your Mother that feels a million years old by the end of its first scene, the show features three Manhattanite couples that have been together for lengths of time ranging from seven weeks to 35 years, and constantly presents us with the same scenario, but, get this, three times to show how couples change.

For example, we see the seven-weeks couple in a taxi cab, where they can't stop making out. We then see the nine-years couple in a taxi where they talk about their days. We then see the 35-years couple in a taxi where they, get this, sit in silence! Oh, ho ho! Later, we see the seven-weeks couple deciding to fool around because "it's been like six hours." We then see the nine-years couple deciding to fool around because "it's been like a week." We then see the 35-year couple sitting in silence. Hilarity! This is the main "joke" the show keeps repeating over and over, as the laugh track brays constantly like an ass in pain.

This show is the most generic, lowbrow, cookie cutter sitcom imaginable, lacking a single moment that attempts to genuinely stand out from the crowd or subvert expectations in any way, a show that has no business existing as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. You can almost see some ABC studio executive sneering with contempt, cackling "here, enjoy this multicamera piece of shit, you flyover fuckheads!" before squatting over and taking a wet dump in America's mouth.

Will I watch again?


The premise in ten words or less? Sexy spy couple goes on James Bondian secret missions.

Any good? Undercovers is a slick, sexy, cool little spy show about two insanely attractive people (seriously, female lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw is one of the most mind-bogglingly gorgeous people I've seen on TV in years, enough so that I actually need to take a moment here and emphasize that she is a Greek goddess come to life) who are married and go on secret missions together. The pilot is vibrantly directed by J.J. Abrams of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible III fame, opening with a sweet chase / shootout scene that wouldn't be out of place on the big screen and retaining a cinematic look the whole way through (or at least until a final car chase in a strangely Californian-looking "Russia"). The leads have peppy chemistry and the whole thing is a polished, glossy spy action package.

But I can't say I really want to watch it again, and I'll explain why: it's too cool. "Cool" to the point of having no personality. "Cool" to the point of smugness. The two leads have absolutely no character flaws whatsoever; they are the sexiest people in the world, the smartest people in the world, the best fighters in the world, possess every single talent and skill the plot can possibly ask of them, and never seem to struggle with anything, including catching a terrorist arms dealer in about two days that the CIA has been unsuccessfully tracking for five years when they finally get put on the case. If you compare it to NBC's other spy show Chuck, a show equally lighthearted but with a wry, knowing, self-depricating tone and a flawed protagonist in over his head in the spy game, the difference is clear. Chuck is for people who want to watch real characters, Undercovers is for people who just want a vague, detached sense of cool badassery.

Will I watch again? Not terribly likely. If I was the sort to channel surf I could imagine a worse way to kill an hour, but I really only have the inclination to keep up with one lighthearted action / comedy / romance spy series at a time, a role which Chuck will continue to fill exclusively.

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