Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TV Pilots, Day 2 — Lights Out, Being Human, Harry's Law, Skins, Perfect Couples

Yikes! I've fallen behind on my TV pilot reviews! All of the shows I'm about to discuss actually debuted way back in January, but what the hell, I just recently got around to watching most of them for the first time so I'm gonna go ahead and talk about 'em anyway. Now that Friday Night Lights is over I'm gonna need like five new good shows to fill the gaping hole that leaves in my heart, and while nothing I talked about last time truly did the trick (Episodes was alright, but more in a "this is amusing" way than a "need more now!" way), this time we have something truly interesting. I'm also hoping that HBO's Game of Thrones will fill one of those good show slots come April.

But April ain't til April. Today, let's talk about FX's Lights Out, Syfy's Being Human, NBC's Harry's Law, MTV's Skins, and NBC's Perfect Couples:


The premise in ten words or less? Retired boxer contemplates a comeback.

Any good? Oh yes. This is real television right here; by no means perfect, but really interesting, brawny and brainy fare all at once. For the record, I've actually seen a lot more than just the pilot of Lights Out — five episodes, in fact — but all those episodes have done is confirm the good stuff I suspected after the first. While I enjoyed the recent boxing film The Fighter I had pretty big issues with its pacing, namely how difficult it was to discern the narrative's time frame and how rushed Micky Ward's rise from the bottom to the top felt. Turns out the real way to tell a boxing story is patiently and methodically, in a serialized, weekly format. Setbacks are much more gripping and heartbreaking when you don't know redemption is coming a few scenes later.

Actor Holt McCallany is awesome in the lead role of former heavyweight champ Patrick "Lights" Leary, giving the part more intelligence, cynicism, and alpha male swagger than Rocky Balboa and making you wonder how McCallany never took off as a movie star. American History X's Stacy Keach also does a great job as Lights' father, tired and aging but with the fire for training still burning in his heart, while The Wire's Reg E. Cathey amps the sleaze and the charm up to eleven as boxing promoter Barry Word. Catherine McCormack fares a little more awkwardly as Lights' wife Theresa, her natural British accent occasionally exploding out of her American character for a line or two before she covers it up again. But the real star outside of McCallany himself has to be the gritty atmosphere and muscular vibe, giving stuff we've seen a million times before like boxing training sequences an entertaining kick and a compelling freshness. This is a great show.

Will I watch again? As I said, I already have, and I'm looking forward to watching through to the end of the season and can't wait to see where it goes. Unfortunately, the fact that the show averages under a million viewers makes me suspect the end of the season is also going to be the end of the series, and Lights Out will follow the late, great Terriers into FX heaven. I'd love to be wrong, but one thing I've learned over the last decade or so is that me liking a show is the best way to guarantee its swift cancellation.


The premise in ten words or less? A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost all live together.

Any good? First off, I feel I should be clear that the premise I've just described is not the setup for a punchline, but the show's actual plot. That's actually, literally what it's about. And it's not a comedy either, it's a drama! The immediate temptation is to begin making Twilight jokes, which the show attempts to judo by directly referencing and then dismissing Twilight in the pilot, but the bluish-tinted visuals, the Smallville-looking vampire super speed, the mysterious and probably evil cabal of ruling vampires, and even the lead's suspiciously Robert Pattinson-esque voice and jawline speak louder than any dialogue. But it is harsher than Twilight, to give credit where it's due; bloodier, more violent and more sexual, plus it doesn't weakly pussyfoot around the fact that our lead vampire has killed innocent people to stay fed.

However, I still wouldn't go so far as to call it good. Watchable, maybe. The second best show I'm discussing today, absolutely, and by a comfortable margin, too. But it's also choked with melodrama, angst and cheese wafting off of it in eye-stinging waves. Although the characters aren't teens (in fact, the lead vampire is supposed to be hundreds of years old), there's definitely a teen drama-esque soapiness to the narrative and lack of subtlety to the dialogue. The evil vampire who comes around to harass our heroes also just comes across as annoying, not intimidating. This is one of the only shows I've seen that actually seems to crawl to a halt when the bad guy arrives rather than leaves.

Oh, and like Shameless from my last batch of TV reviews, Being Human is a remake of a British series of the same name, and like Shameless, I've never seen the original, so I can't compare. Just thought I'd mention that so no one thinks I don't know.

Will I watch again? Probably not. I actually did start the second episode, not so much out of a burning need for more as because the pilot ended in a cliffhanger, but as soon as said cliffhanger was resolved I found myself fast-forwarding, then closing the browser window a couple minutes later. Being Human isn't awful, but it's wholly unremarkable, a show that's just kind of there. If Being Human were a soft drink, it'd be RC Cola.


The premise in ten words or less? Lawyers in Cincinnati, Kathy Bates stars.

Any good? It's better than any of the new lawyer shows I talked about in the fall (Outlaw, Law & Order: Los Angeles, The Defenders, and The Whole Truth), I'll give it that much. I'd even go so far as to say it rises to the level of "not completely horrible," which by default puts it in the 90th percentile of its genre. But it still can't change the fact that I don't give a shit about episodic lawyer procedurals. I just don't. I never have and I never will, even if you make the protagonist a sassy older lady played by an Academy Award-winning actress who carries a giant magnum to her office in a crime-ridden neighborhood. I feel nothing but apathy and boredom when I watch the opening statements and witnesses taking the stand and a series of "Objection!"s and the jury foreman stand up to read the verdict. Even while avoiding these types of shows it's a scenario I've watched play out more times than I could possibly begin to count — I can't even imagine how many times people who actively seek this shit out have seen it. Thousands, probably?

The courtroom scene in the climax of Harry's Law is particularly hilarious. I'm no Bob Loblaw, but I'm pretty sure that if the defense attorney bolted from her seat and started yelling at the prosecutor in the middle of him questioning a witness that she'd be in deep shit, but here the two of them just have a minute-long shouting match right there in the courtroom, in front of the judge, witness, jury, and crowd, presented without a hint of irony. It was pretty shocking, but not in the way the show intended.

Will I watch again? "Has the jury reached a verdict?" "We have, Your Honor. The jury finds the show... not watchable."


The premise in ten words or less? Teens talk about / have sex.

Any good? Nope! Admittedly, Friday Night Lights has raised my standards for teen shows to a level that quite literally might never be reached again within my lifetime, but even powering my brain down to a Dawson's Creek level of expectations Skins remains a shockingly boring show for one that sells itself as the height of orgiastic excess. It's trying to be edgy, of course. It's trying so, so hard. It's almost adorable, like a nine-year-old who's just learned how to swear so you put on feigned show of shock to humor them. It's not that I'm offended in the least by the wall-to-wall sexual dialogue (and I do mean wall-to-wall; there's barely a line that isn't about sex) — hell, I watch Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which features considerably more sex and nudity in any five-minute window than Skins will throughout its entire run — it's just that without said dialogue coming from characters I find remotely interesting it's so fucking dull.

Oh yeah, and once again, Skins is a remake of a British show of the same name, and once again, no, I've never seen the original. What can I say? I don't watch a lot of British television.

The manufactured "controversy" surrounding Skins is actually far more compelling than the show itself. The Parents Television Council, an organization that should be nuked off the face of the earth, has spent weeks waging war against the show, getting numerous advertisers to drop their support and, in one of the most hilarious real-life drama queen maneuvers of all time, attempting to file child pornography charges against MTV. I know there's that saying that pornography is defined only as "I know it when I see it," but I confess being a bit baffled anyone born after World War I regards some sullen teen squeaking about how he needs to lose his virginity to fall even within those broad parameters. Who knew my high school years were so lurid after all?

Will I watch again? The supposedly far superior British original is up on Netflix Watch Instantly right now and I doubt I'm ever even going to watch that, so my chances of following this one are pretty fucking nonexistent. But at the same time I'm paradoxically rooting for it to get a second season, because the idea of the Parents Television Council successfully canceling a show should be viscerally horrifying to anyone who enjoys free speech.


The premise in ten words or less? Three couples who are all Friends... er, I'm sorry, friends.

Any good? No. Neither is it aggressively awful. It's just remarkably generic and white bread, a show that feels like it was created by a sitcom-writing computer. I mean, look at that male lead on the right there. He looks like he came off a bland, genial leading man assembly line. He and his wife are the levelheaded and normal ones. The couple in the middle are rash and impulsive and constantly teeter on the edge of breakup, while the couple on the left are unhealthily uptight. Together, these six friends will make you halfheartedly chuckle once and tilt the corner of your mouth upward for a split second twice. Sitting through Perfect Couples made for a long 22 minutes, but hey, at least there's no laugh track.

Will I watch again? Nope. Community, Office, Parks and Rec, and 30 Rock will do nicely as far as NBC sitcoms go. Hell, I'd be more likely to watch more of Outsourced. Not Mike & Molly, though. Never Mike & Molly.

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