Pilots screened at Comic-Con 2014

During the pilot episode of Constantine, the eponymous character (Matt Ryan) says something about impatience being a 21st century disease. It’s an apt observation in comparing the two pilots screened last night at San Diego Comic-Con, The Flash and Constantine.  Constantine_Official_Trailer

The two shows had more in common than just being derived from comic books. Themes of weather and dead parents recur, for example. I’m not analyzing them in terms of how faithful they are to their origin materials, or whether characters lived up to expectations, but only how each pilot functions as a pilot.

The Flash told its story as though to an audience sans patience. With so much build-up to this show’s premiere, including a not-quite-backdoor-pilot on fellow DC drama Arrow, die hard fans were undoubtedly chomping at the bit. It gushes information at us like a fire hose, starting with main character Barry’s action-packed childhood. Everything is explained. Love interest Iris clumsily monologues about how she and Barry are like brother and sister, in other words, he’s in something even more bleak than the Friend Zone.

Similarly, other character relationships and back stories emerge. The most awkward was Caitlin, the beautiful scientist who definitely does not in any way resemble Simmons from Agents of SHIELD. She’s presented as stand-offish, but then blurts out her personal tragedy — namely, her fiance was killed in the same accident that gave Barry his powers. “My once promising career…,” she begins. Who talks like that?

In usual CW fashion, the show also tries to remind us, through slang, how hip it is. It manages to squeeze in the words “twerking,” “cronuts,” and something about Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”  

Stuff happens at lightening speed, so to speak, but even with no knowledge of the comics, outcomes were predictable — who’s going to wind up in a love triangle with whom, who’s a bad guy masquerading as a good guy, etc.

It should be noted that the scene in which Barry meets with Arrow‘s Stephen Amell got a lot more cheers from the room than the scene in which The Flash actually vanquishes the villain-of-the-week. Which makes me wonder, in a show with a built-in audience from Arrow, why work so hard to win them?

In contrast, Constantine unwound slowly. It was action-packed, to be sure, opening with a scene that I had to watch between my fingers. Still, it didn’t spoon feed information to its audience.

It helps that Constantine himself is a sort of anti-hero. The black-and-white good-versus-evil of The Flash doesn’t exist here. It also helps that the character Liv spends most of the episode confused as hell, and the audience can identify with her. “I don’t understand half of what you’re saying,” she says. (I also enjoy that her name is Liv as in “live.”) We can’t look away, since we’re constantly trying to figure out what’s what.

We don’t need to see Constantine’s whole past — at least, not in the pilot — to grasp his dilemma. His situation can be boiled down to: he’s suffering from the guilt of damning a little girl to hell. We don’t need to be told that this is the worst mistake he’s ever made in his mastership of the dark arts. We get to wonder — why this girl? What went wrong?

It sounds like the creators have a plan to make the female lead stronger and more integral to the story, which I can appreciate, but will be sad never to get to know Lucy Griffiths, whose part has been recast. She’s kind of a more soulful Zooey Deschanel.

Constantine spent more time setting up its long arc than fussing with the villain-of-the-week, too. He vanquished some demon who was possessing a security guard. The battle gave a sense of Constantine’s tactics, and the rules of demonology. Meanwhile, The Flash can’t defeat every enemy in the same way he did a giant tornado. It could have been any enemy.

Go ahead and hate me. Most of the internet is raving about The Flash. It just didn’t work for me, but I’ll be watching Constantine come October. 

 

What makes a good sci-fi pilot?

Any fan of genre television probably has a mental list of dos and don’ts when it comes to pilots. With so many entries into the sci-fi category in the past few years, we’ve seen them all. You probably have your own. These are a few of my “dos.”

firefly-pilot-episode

Mal Reynolds. Awesome. Not crazy.

1. Don’t overdo it on the exposition.

Nothing kills a pilot like heavy exposition, but there’s a little room for forgiveness with science fiction or supernatural settings. There’s simply more that needs explaining. Still, a long voice-over that tells us a bunch of information that we’re going to learn anyway, more organically, is a waste of time. The single episode of Delirium is the best recent example of this. In addition to boring the audience, the opening VO revealed a character much more mature and aware than the one who belonged to the voice. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Orphan Black pilot, which left us saying “WTF”? In a good way. Continue reading

Wilfred

Wilfred is one of those high concept shows that was so bizarre when it was new, it was hard to imagine it could last. If you’ve hung with it over its four seasons, reflect on how weird it seemed then and how weird it seems now. A pilot can “teach” us to accept a show’s premise and then *bang* we’re on board.

WILFRED: L-R: Elijah Wood as Ryan and Jason Gann as Wilfred. CR: FX.Go back and re-watch the pilot. I forgot how funny it is. It might actually be funnier now, since I’m not wasting mental energy trying to figure it out. Is Ryan dreaming? Is he dead? Is he high? Can he possibly keep it secret that his neighbor’s dog is coercing him to commit petty crimes? It doesn’t matter. Continue reading

The Last Ship, and point of view

Let’s talk about The Last Ship. It’s been on for several weeks now, so if you were planning to watch it you probably already are. It’s what you’d expect from a basic cable show executive produced by Michael Bay. But the pilot — which has lots of explosions — got me thinking about the character from whose point of view a writer can choose to tell a story.THE LAST SHIP I know, I know, it’s based on a book. I haven’t read it, but I’m assuming that, like the show, it’s told through the eyes of Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane). He’s a big, tough white guy who, no doubt, has proved his mettle serving in the U.S. Navy. Plot developments in the pilot demonstrate for us that he’s brave, dedicated to his men, and loves his wife and children. Basically, he’s an all-around Good Guy, complete with the white hat, which he places on his head with great symbolic purpose. Continue reading

Pilot Titles, Part 3

If you’ve read this blog before, you know I enjoy titles of pilot episodes, and television naming conventions in general. Can you identify the show by the title of its pilot? Air dates range from the 1970s to just last month.

  1. Natural Selectionpramface
  2. Happiness
  3. Mark 8:36
  4. Welcome to Camelot
  5. Winter is Coming
  6. La Sicaria
  7. Ghosts
  8. Like Narnia But Sexy
  9. Phase Six
  10. The Lights of Mystery Mountain

Continue reading

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Now that its premiere season is behind us, it’s a good time to look back at the pilot of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and remember how we got here. A re-watch of the pilot serves as a reminder not only of the show’s charm — maybe the reason we hung on through some slow weeks — but the Whedon/Tancharoen family’s skill at storytelling. Despite the lukewarm reaction when it first aired, this is a hell of a good pilot, in hindsight. It kicks off the season arc, the story of Coulson (Clark Gregg) building his team and gradually learning about TAHITI, and all of the relationships therein. But instead of making its B-plot a one-off, it too sets up a long, methodical hero’s journey.

MikePetersonThe latter is what interested me most. Even though we had a long stretch of Mike-less episodes, this season was very much Deathlok‘s origin story. In fact, Mike (J. August Richards) himself says that at minute 30. Continue reading

Orange is the New Black

I almost didn’t give Orange is the New Black a chance, based simply on hating the title. It suggested to me that we’d be watching “Elle Woods Goes to the Big House.” I envisioned a main character who would apply for dispensation to wear Manolos with her jumpsuit, or teach her cell mates whatever is the 2013 equivalent of the bend-and-snap.

oitnb

A show about a woman going to prison, produced exclusively for Netflix, could as well go the other way: all rape-y and terrifying. Also not something I was eager to embrace.

Somehow, this show–evidenced by the pilot–pulls off a delicate balance of realism, drama and humor. I was surprised at how much I laughed. More amazing, it actually made me, an average middle-class white woman look at the central character, Piper (Taylor Schilling), and think, “That could be me.” If, somehow, I had done something in my past that came back to bite me in the ass, I would totally go on Amazon and buy books to prepare for prison. Continue reading

Orphan Black

ImageIf you are lucky enough to have no idea what Orphan Black is about, don’t hit the jump. But do tune into the inevitable marathon that will take place before season 2 kicks off April 19. Orphan Black is one of those shows that, the less you know about it going in, the better. When I first watched, I hadn’t heard anything more than one little tweet about it, and even that contained what I now consider a spoiler.

I love a pilot that surprises you and makes you go, “Where is this going?” If you’re into suspense, amazing acting and East London accents, you’ll like this show. Continue reading

Why I Didn’t Hate the HIMYM Finale

bluefrenchhornhimym…because I feel very alone in my non-hatred. Need I warn you that there are major spoilers ahead?

  1. I never, for a second, bought Robin and Barney as a couple. They had no chemistry. She had played witness to too much of his debauchery. Even with his vow to never lie, how could she trust him? Although I love Barney as a character, I would never wish a marriage to someone like that on a woman I cared about. I actually wanted her to run out on the wedding, but I’ll take this outcome just as well.
  2. Continue reading

Batgirl Mini-sode, 1967

Arrow seems to be rolling out another DC character practically every week now. I don’t watch the show regularly, even though I keep hearing how much it’s improved since its cheesy debut season. I just can’t stay interested, maybe because Laurel and the sister look the same to me, or that every action sequence takes place in the dark with super-fast cuts, so I have idea what’s going on. Still, it’s hard, within the geek community, to miss the spoilers. Everybody’s talking about this show. Possibly it’s the introduction of juicy new characters that keeps the buzz alive.

This all brings up two questions for me. The first is, how the hell did Birds of Prey not succeed? The other, a broader and more agonizing question is, why are all the female comic book characters in supporting roles? Much has been written about feminism as it relates to comic culture, so I’m not going to delve into that. I am, however, going to take you back to what may have been the first attempt to spin off a female comic book character into her own TV show.

Although not technically a pilot, this “mini-sode” was made in 1967.

Continue reading