Friday, October 1, 2010

TV Pilots, Day 3 — My Generation, Outsourced, No Ordinary Family, Law & Order: Los Angeles

I couldn't even make it through these pilot review posts without the season seeing its first casualty, which, this being America, was of course the second best new show of the year (behind Boardwalk Empire), Fox's Lone Star. I'd love to rage against Fox for the decision (while throwing in some digs about them canceling Arrested Development, Firefly, and Undeclared), but truth be told the corporation wasn't in the wrong. The show just wasn't getting enough viewers to pay for itself. The best efforts of talented artists can never change the fact that most people are repulsed by the notion of watching anything except episodic procedurals, reality television, and laugh track sitcoms. Originality and ambition are kryptonite to TV viewers.

Which is unfortunately a perfect way to segue into today's topics, ABC's My Generation, NBC's Outsourced, ABC's No Ordinary Family, and NBC's Law & Order: Los Angeles:


The premise in ten words or less? Dramatic mockumentary about a high school class ten years later.

Any good? I occasionally see serialized shows derided as being "soap operas," but frankly, if all series can be categorized as either soaps or procedurals, I'll go with the soaps, thanks. Good dramatic television is serialized today, period. But I think the way to pick out a true soap opera is that it has no thematic ambitions beyond its characters. Friday Night Lights, for example, is not a soap opera because through its characters it's a comprehensive examination of life and culture in contemporary small-town America. The West Wing is not a soap opera because it's really about the intricacies of federal politics. It doesn't even have to be that ambitious; 24 is not a soap opera because it's about saving the world from terrorists.

My Generation is a soap opera. Oh, it tries to be about things — the pilot explains how Bush v. Gore, 9/11, and Enron touched the lives of its protagonists in a dizzying spectacle of wannabe relevance — but it all comes down to a bunch of characters whose lives seem bizarrely, borderline-creepily entwined around their high school drama ten goddamn years later. Even the guy who moved all the way to Hawaii gets pulled back by the end of the pilot when the girl he slept with on prom night calls him to tell him she got pregnant and they have a nine-year-old son. I just love that, the notion that this girl's parents didn't give enough of a shit that their teenage daughter was pregnant to have her inform the father.

Anyway, the show is basically all the worst aspects of a generic teen drama without the genre's inherent appeal of actually having these characters stuck together by school. They're just together, for some reason, still sleeping with and crushing on each other after a decade. It's also shot as a mockumentary (and much more of a "real" one than The Office, with the characters frequently trying to escape the cameras) to give it some reality show zest, which doesn't really add anything except letting narrators spew lengthy exposition about the characters' backstories.

Will I watch again? Nah.


The premise in ten words or less? American gets a job in India.

Any good? Outsourced is not very funny, but I still need to briefly defend it. Most TV blogs that discussed this show felt mandated to put on a pantomime show of phony outrage about its perceived racism because 1) the American protagonist and Indian supporting cast have cultural differences, 2) the protagonist gets an upset stomach after eating some spicy Indian food, and 3) at one point he is surprised to find a cow behind the office building (note that he doesn't freak out like "DAMN INDIANS WITH YOUR COWS!", he just sees it and is briefly surprised). I'm as liberal as they come but I despise phony liberal outrage over banal minutia; all that it does is undermine outrage over legitimate outrages. So PC whiners "offended" by Outsourced, please, for the love of god, shut up. If anything it's refreshing to see a prime time sitcom on a broadcast network with a mostly Indian cast.

All that said, as a sitcom, the show isn't very successful. The biggest problem is the lead, the brand new Ben Rappaport, in, according to IMDb, his first role ever. I don't know whose dick he sucked to upjump to prime time show lead but the man simply doesn't have any comic chops whatsoever. He's just a bland, genial pretty face better suited for commercials or maybe, if he must do sitcoms, the role of Waiter #2. Some of the supporting cast is a little better, notably Sacha Dhawan and (the Indian-despite-her-name) Rebecca Hazlewood, and I had a handful of chuckles here and there, but compared to the block of The Office, 30 Rock, and Community that lead into it Outsourced is clearly the Trig Palin of the NBC sitcom family.

Will I watch again? I'll give it one more shot. But if my laugh count doesn't at least double, I'm out.


The premise in ten words or less? Suburban family gets superpowers.

Any good? I go desperately out of my way to avoid commercials and I still wound up watching ads for this one in front of movies for months before I finally saw the pilot, which, not surprisingly, turned out to be stunningly mediocre, a sort of Heroes by way of 7th Heaven. Despite the super strength husband and speedster wife being played by Michael Chiklis of The Shield and Julie Benz of Dexter, two famously edgy shows, No Ordinary Family feels bloodless. The action scenes are turgid, the traditional discovery of superpowers sequence far inferior to even Heroes, and the high school scenes a unique sort of awful (the newly-telepathic teenage daughter's subplot, where she decides to wait to lose her virginity, is like something out of an after school special).

But the biggest problem of all is the family drama. This family lives in a nice big house in suburbia. Mom and dad are gainfully employed and love their children, two ordinary high school students. So of course half the pilot is dedicated to bizarre, hyperbolic rants from everyone about how this is a family in crisis on the brink of collapse. The daughter's screeching about how her parents are never there for her and how their family is broken is particularly absurd (and way, way beyond normal "teens are brats" behavior). It's honestly one of the worst violators of the "show, don't tell" principle I think I've ever seen. The most intense familial crisis we see is the kids running out without eating the breakfast their dad made in the morning, a scene regularly employed in white bread family sitcoms like Full House. But man oh man do they ever tell us about the crisis on hand!

Will I watch again? I'd rather watch a fifth season of Heroes. If you watched seasons two through four of Heroes I'm sure you know how dire a statement this is.


The premise in ten words or less? Law & Order in Los Angeles.

Any good? This is in close competition with NBC's Chase and ABC's Better With You for the title of most agonizing non-CBS pilot of the season. I don't even know what to say. It's a generic police procedural fused with a generic lawyer procedural, with Alfred Molina slumming it as one of the lawyers despite the fact that he's a still a gainfully employed film actor who I've seen twice on the big screen this year alone (Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with fairly major roles in each). The "twist" is that, get this, the setting has been moved to Los Angeles! You know, the place that most TV shows are set! How exotic, how daring!

This is the only pilot I've reviewed thus far in this series of posts that I simply couldn't make it through without simultaneously browsing the internet. I just couldn't. I checked the clock, sure that I was at least half an hour in, but no. Fourteen minutes. I then writhed in agony and said "well, it's not like I'm gonna miss any great moments if I just keep one eye on the screen." And guess what? I didn't! I'm sure the show will be an enormous hit.

Will I watch again? I'd rather eat my own severed dick on a bun like a hot dog.

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