Fall is upon us, dear friends, and that means football, changing weather (just kidding, I live in Texas, today it was 99 degrees), and, of course, TV pilots. As an ardent supporter of TV in general and an irredeemable completest, there was a time when I looked forward to the pilot season with great fervor, a task to complete involving a medium I quite enjoy. That time seems a bygone age. Each year, due to a combination of a horribly inefficient system, a failure to understand the reality of what ratings look like in the current environment, and a staggering number of TV options across a vast cable landscape, the product of the pilot process gets a little worse. Among the 25 plus shows debuted by the five networks, only nine shows from 2014’s pilot season received a second season, which includes The Mysteries of Laura, a show that I hold directly responsible for the election mess we’re in right now for having made America dumber by its very existence. 2015 also managed only nine successes, including Supergirl which had to switch networks. Combine these factors and you wind up with a collection of new pilots that almost all seem doomed for failure which will, in turn, lead to an even more watered down selection of shows this time next year. We are undoubtedly living in the darkest timeline. But, still, I persist and I invite you to join me in the torment, if for no other reason than it’s so terribly cold here and I long for your company.
NOTE: At the time of this writing, both of the FX shows (Atlanta, which is excellent, and Better Things, which I haven’t seen yet) have already debuted so they are not included. Likewise, I skipped the Amazon offerings, partly because some have debuted and partly because the Amazon format is still in flux and doesn’t quite fit in this space yet, at least in my mind.
PLEASE BE GOOD. PLEASE BE GOOD. PLEASE BE GOOD.
Once upon a time this section might’ve been titled, “The good shows I think will be good and hopefully do good with the viewers and critics so they can stay on the air.” But I’ve been broken and thus, I simply cross my fingers and hope for okay-ness.
The Good Place (NBC, September 19)
There’s a lot to like about this one, including Kristen Bell, a Fargo-invigorated Ted Danson, and creator/showrunner Michael Schur. Of course, these are all reasons why it could also get the axe six weeks in. Bell probably isn’t a star, Danson probably doesn’t bring in any friends of Becker, and every show Schur has ever been involved with struggles in the ratings. I *think* NBC wants to be in the Schur business after missing on Brooklyn 9-9 but I’m not totally convinced The Good Place will get the time it needs to find an audience.
Designated Survivor (ABC, September 21)
I think TV is a better place when Keifer Sutherland is appearing weekly. Sure, I’d rather he just take down ISIS or something as Jack Bauer but I can’t blame him for wanting to do something else. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Survivor being all that good but I’m pulling for its success. Also here’s hoping Kal Penn’s character dies quickly because even in the trailer he. Is. TERRIBLE.
Luke Cage (Netflix, September 30)
This is easily the safest bet of the entire pilot season. Netflix’s leadership gets it, Luke Cage already has a strong following thanks to the comics and his appearance on Jessica Jones, and the full season drop allows for a cultural moment that most of these shows can only dream of. Mike Colter is excellent in the titular role, too, and I think he’s about to seize the day with this one.
Son of Zorn (FOX, September 25)
Basically the 180 opposite of Luke Cage in that there’s almost no way this makes it through a full season. Personally, I think the trailer is great and I’m all in on the concept. But it’s way too micro to make it in prime time on network TV. The only hope is that the critics embrace Zorn and FOX feels pressure to keep it around as part of an unseen-but-brilliant comedy block with Last Man on Earth.
Westworld (HBO, October 2)
The bad news is, the production of Westworld has been a long-gestating mess. The good news is, the production of Westworld has been a long-gestating mess and HBO continues to stand by it. HBO doesn’t tend to dump bad money after good and they’ve been very steadfast about this one, the origins of which reside in a fun-if-forgotten movie of the same name.
IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME
This section is reserved for the shows I think have a chance to be a hit with either viewers, critics, or both but don’t appeal to me personally.
This Is Us (NBC, September 20)
I’m not totally opposed to This Is Us and I think, if it’s given time to mature, it could fill the Parenthood void left in so many people’s hearts. I just happen to not be one of those people. This has great bones (a solid if unproven cast, creators and writers I appreciate, etc.) but the trailer is just so pander-y that my eyes involuntarily start rolling.
Insecure (HBO, October 9)
I acknowledge up front that the following assessment is completely unfair and I feel bad about it. But I was interested in Insecure until I heard someone in the know describe it as, “Girls for African-Americans” and I…I just don’t hate anything as much as I hate Girls and now that’s all I can think about Insecure comes up and I can’t shake it. I’m sorry, okay?
Channel Zero (SYFY, September 27)
I love the idea of anthology series so much. Pretty much sight unseen, I’ll back any anthology series the networks want to throw at us. It’s a great medium. I want less than nothing to do with CreepyPasta, however, and thus, I’m not sure I’ll even make it through one episode of Channel Zero even though, in principle, I’m all for it.
Pitch (FOX, September 22)
I like the talent involved here and of all the, “Woman makes it to a men’s professional sports league” concepts over the years, this one (a young pitcher who throws a screwball/knuckle-ball) makes the most sense. But Pitch also looks to be extremely over produced and I’m not sure I can handle all of the “I don’t like her because she’s a girl” and “You don’t think I can do it because I’m a girl” statements that are bound to fill up the dialogue of the first few episodes.
The Exorcist (FOX, September 23)
Anyone who listens to our shows knows how squeamish I am about horror movies, demons and witchcraft especially. So it should come as no surprise that a show based on the greatest horror movie of all-time (which I think is actually a decent idea) is not my cup of tea.
THIS CAN’T BE GOOD. BUT MAYBE…
The shows that probably can’t be good because of one factor or another (bad casting, bad formatting, inevitable network interference) but that have something going for them that MIGHT shine through.
Lethal Weapon (FOX, September 21)
I don’t actually think Lethal Weapon can be good, based on the casting and the horrible “look how much cool attitude we have” trailer. But I also don’t think it’s a bad idea, at least in theory. TV is better when cop shows are prevalent on the networks and we’re currently low on quality cop shows. So, yeah, this one probably isn’t a quality cop show but I’m open to the idea that perhaps it should exist.
American Housewife (ABC, October 11)
I honestly can’t imagine that I am personally going to love American Housewife. The format kinda bums me out but I really, really like Katy Mixon and I think she’s the perfect face for this show. American Housewife needs to tap into the energy of The Goldbergs and Modern Family in order to be successful but it seems like ABC is trying to push it more toward a CBS-style show instead. If it can weather the early storm, this could work. I’m rooting for it, anyway.
No Tomorrow (CW, October 4)
The tagline (“A risk-adverse quality-control assessor who falls for a free-spirited thrill seeker only to find out he lives his life this way because he believes the apocalypse is coming”) is terrible. The trailer…is…not…so…bad… I don’t know, maybe I’m just tainted by Jane the Virgin which thoroughly surprised me with its goodness but No Tomorrow has a little charm to it that MIGHT make it fun.
Falling Water (USA, October 13)
USA has been quietly making shows that range from “decent to good” for quite some time but now Mr. Robot has pushed the network into a grander position (and rightly so). Falling Water wants to build upon (or at least draw from) that newfound prestige but to me, it looks too convoluted to work without perfect execution. “Perfect execution” is virtually impossible in this situation, though, so I think this fails in spite of its interesting premise.
Aftermath (SYFY, September 27)
If Aftermath was being housed by, say, AMC, I’d be much higher on its possibilities. I’m a known mark for all things post-apocalyptic and this certainly fits the bill. But, as much as I like the direction SYFY is trying to take, the network is still a dumping ground for decent ideas filled out by weaker actors and weaker still effects. The short trailer for Aftermath leads me to believe it’ll be just another in a long chain of SYFY shows that have a decent, multi-level run that I’ll never stick with.
Timeless (NBC, October 3)
Okay, this can’t be good, you guys. It just can’t. There’s no way. Not a chance. And yet…people I trust have been weirdly excited about it? And people who have seen the pilot has been relatively kind about it? And I like both Abigail Spencer and Malcolm Barrett? So…maybe Timeless actually can be decent?
Speechless (ABC, September 21)
I had this one much lower on the list initially based on the HORRENDOUS TV spots and the fact that (*whispers*) I really do not like Minnie Driver. But the full trailer shows the heart of the show that might possibly break through all of the cringing that will undoubtedly swallow up the first two acts of the pilot. If Speechless gets decent ratings early, it’s not impossible to suggest that it finds its way through the course of a whole season and comes out strong for season two.
These offerings almost certainly cannot be good and will not take away more than one hour of my life.
Frequency (CW, October 5)
Of all the movies that came out in 2000, the Jim Caviezel-Dennis Quaid starrer Frequency would’ve been pretty low on my list of films to be rebooted into a series in 2016. (This would, indeed, be a very specific list you would’ve ostensibly asked me to create in 2000.) It’s nothing against Frequency, a movie I remember fondly if distantly. It just seems an odd project to reboot and even if this is successful initially, I don’t see how it manages to squeeze out a long run with any staying power.
Conviction (ABC, October 3)
“What if Scandal was whiter and didn’t have Shonda Rhimes writing and producing?” That seems to be the tag line for Conviction. I love Hayley Atwell and unfortunately I think she’s significantly better than what she is about to be put through. It’s possible that Conviction finds its way at some point but I’m not sure how I’ll even be able to stomach the pilot.
Eyewitness (USA, October 16)
Eyewitness has a well-regarded source material but everything about it screams, “Super generic cable crime drama.” From the rehashed cast on down to the bland color palette of the trailer, everything about this seems bored.
Van Helsing (SYFY, September 23)
Can we please, as a society, stop trying to make Van Helsing a thing? It didn’t work for Hugh Jackman, it didn’t work for Daniel Radcliffe, and it won’t work for SYFY. Oh, this time it’s based around a female descendant of Van Helsing? *Yawn* Stop it. Stop it now.
Man with a Plan (CBS, October 24)
I have had numerous conversations with my friends (this is an actual true statement, I’m not making it up) concerning which person from the cast of Friends we’d most like to hang out with. I argue FERVENTLY for Matt LeBlanc every time. I love the guy. That said I don’t need to see Matt LeBlanc in a CBS sitcom, especially one that features the tagline, “A dad finds out that parenting is harder than he thought after his wife goes back to work and he’s left at home to take care of the kids.” Quite the hot, fresh take from CBS, right?
I AM ACTIVELY ROOTING FOR YOUR FAILURE
Now You See Me sequels notwithstanding, I generally try not to fill my heart with hate toward movies or TV shows before I’ve seen them. Well, I tried and failed with these little gems. Also, it should be noted that I thought CBS was making strides in the last couple of years toward appealing to viewers who are not in their 50s but nope, I was wrong.
Divorce (HBO, October 9)
I considered putting Divorce in the “It’s Not You, It’s Me” category since I’m clearly not the target audience for this thing. But you know what, I can’t think of many things worse than watching Sara Jessica Parker and Thomas Hayden Church, equally insufferable, go through a divorce.
MacGyver (CBS, September 23)
This looks like the most CBS drama-y show of all time. Like, MacGyver might just be a greatest hits of scenes from CBS dramas past cut together into one giant eye punch. Also, how dare you try to reinvent MacGyver, CBS, when we already have MacGruber. This means war.
Notorious (ABC, September 22)
Here’s a good rule to live by: if your show or movie depends on Piper Perabo in order to succeed, then guess what, your show or movie doesn’t need to exist. (With apologies to Ms. Perabo who, I’m sure, is a great person.) I honestly couldn’t even finish the trailer for this one.
Pure Genius (CBS, October 27)
This is basically just an incredibly generic version of House. And that’s good, because the part of House that most people seemed to like was definitely not its edgy, moody, mean spirited title character, right? My goodness, what an awful trailer. Also, we should probably stop casting Dermot Mulroney in any TV show and while we’re at it, let’s include Dylan McDermott in that as well.
Bull (CBS, September 20)
“Hey you wanna watch a show about the early career of Dr. Phil?” “Nope.”
The Great Indoors (CBS, October 27)
There comes a time in every TV actor’s life when he has to ask himself, “Do I want to keep chasing this dream of creating quality shows that broader audiences won’t watch or do I want to get paid by CBS?” That’s the spot Joel McHale has found himself in, apparently. I like McHale and I think he’s better than CBS sitcoms but I definitely KNOW he’s better than THIS CBS sitcom. If you can sit through the trailer for The Great Indoors and feign excitement then we probably can’t be friends.
Kevin Can Wait (CBS, September 17)
This has to stop. The long national nightmare that is the proliferation of Kevin James’s career continues to wreak havoc on our society and honestly, the damage it’s doing to all of us is incalculable. Think of all the transgressions Kevin James has committed against us. Paul Blart. The Zookeeper. Pixels. Grown Ups. Here Comes the Boom. James supporters will cite King of Queens as a quality entry and to those people I say, FOR SHAME! SHAME! That show is AWFUL and would be widely recognized for its awfulness were it not for the presence of actually funny comedians in the cast, like Jerry Stiller and Patton Oswalt. We will stop you, Kevin James. Somehow, someway, we WILL stop you. To arms! To arms!