Favorite Pilots of 2016

In the spirit of year-end lists, which I love, I offer my own mini-list. I’m calling this “favorite” rather than “best,” considering there are probably lots of great pilots out there I have yet to see. Inspired by other “best of 2016” lists, I’m eager to watch Search Party, Insecure, and Westworld. But for now, here are my faves.braindead

  1. Stranger Things

Do I even need to explain? The pilot featured Dungeons & Dragons, heart-warming humor, heaps of nostalgia, a hint of government conspiracy, and a scary-ass kidnapping scene. By the end of the episode, you still don’t know quite what you’re dealing with, but you know it’s something special. Continue reading

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Going Off Your Meds

Two shows I’ve been binging lately — and enjoying tremendously — open with the trope of the protagonist quitting mental health medication. Both United States of Tara and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend feature strong lead female characters struggling with their mental health. Both shows are noteworthy for their darkly comic, complex, honest presentations of mental illness. But they both lean on the shorthand device of the main character quitting medication.

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“Going off your meds” could be called a sub-trope of the popular pilot plot line I call “First day of the rest your life.” I can’t say I’ve seen it a lot, but it appears in movies like Garden State. (If you have other examples, please tweet them to me @meek_the_geek.) It was subverted in the pilot of Wilfred, where Ryan decides to take all the meds. Continue reading

Wayward Pines and red herrings

Wayward Pines is the kind of show that defies you to answer the question “What is it about?” without giving away what it’s about. As soon as you hear the name M. Night Shyamalan, whatever you’re watching, you’re going to start scouring each scene for clues… clues to the almighty Twist. (Spoilers start mid-way though this post, with a warning.)

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Produced by Shyamalan, Wayward Pines is based on a series of novels of the same name by Blake Crouch. Season 2 just started, and I couldn’t decide if I was excited about it or not. So I rewatched the pilot, which I remember a suspenseful and riveting. The first half of the first season, up to The Twist, kept me guessing, theorizing, and eager for the next week. After that investment, I wanted to stay engaged — it was the summer TV season, after all — so I kept with it and more or less enjoyed it. It’s now, having all of the information about what the show is about, that I realize the pilot isn’t that good. It’s pretty awful. Continue reading

Younger and suspension of disbelief

I really wanted to like Younger. I can’t resist the if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now fantasy (see Being Erica). Also Sutton Foster. Sutton Foster is fabulous and adorable as a theatre actress, but her talent hasn’t translated too well to the tube. If Bunheads couldn’t figure out how to make the most of this shining star when she was playing a dancer… which she is… this one needed to work extra hard.

LizaandKelseyat work1.jpg

Younger follows the misadventures of a woman in her 40s posing as a woman in her 20s to facilitate her transition back to the workforce following stay-at-home-mom life and a painful divorce. Continue reading

Jessica Jones

Fragility and toughness form the juxtaposed themes of the pilot of Jessica Jones, which debuted yesterday on Netflix. I know nothing of Jessica Jones from the comics, and I haven’t read any reviews of the show, so this is an unadulterated first impression.

JonesI couldn’t not think about the Veronica Mars pilot in the first few minutes. A female private detective spies on a tawdry hook-up as her voiceover provides exposition. We’re then transported to a hallway outside a dingy office where the textured glass proclaims the name of the business, Alias Investigations, not unlike the door to Mars Investigations. Then a client’s head comes through the glass and the similarity is, shall we say, shattered. (Doors are a recurring symbol, as well.) Continue reading

Other Space

It takes a lot to think of something new to do within science fiction, but that doesn’t mean the old tropes have been exhausted. Other Space owes influences to many of the shows on this list of the 50 Greatest Sci-Fi TV Shows, but manages to find a unique voice of its own. In fact, it proves you don’t need a big name star or even explosions to succeed — although the name Paul Feig probably doesn’t hurt — he created, directed and produced it.other_space

Opening titles tell us that a “multi-national corporate coalition” was formed in the mid-21s century to map the cosmos, and that we’ll be following the adventures of a ship that went missing in 2105. We’re then thrown into action on the bridge of a spaceship, which could be any spaceship on any show. People are frantically shouting for the captain to make a judgment call when he enters with a tray full of hotdogs to share. It’s a ham-handed joke, but tells us all we need to know about central character Stewart.(Karan Soni). Crew morale is his utmost priority and his aw-shucks need to be liked will always trump his professional obligations. And that’s okay, because he’s just passed this simulation (we knew it was a simulation) with flying colors. Continue reading

Scandal and things of the week

The sum total of my knowledge about Scandal was this: The Limited has a clothing line named for it. So I’m reacting to this pilot unbiased. (Spoilers ahead.)

Olivia compares herself to the accused

Olivia compares herself to the accused

As any pilot of a procedural, this one has to introduce a season-long story arc while delivering a case/mystery/monster of the week. Things of the week are a tricky thing, and some shows put more weight on them than others. Some shows use the thing of the week only in support of the A plot, and it really doesn’t matter that much. For others, the main focus is on the thing of the week and little bits of series arc simply bookend the episode. (I have more to say on this subject with regard to iZombie, but I’ll get to that another day.) Continue reading

Blindspot

I had every intention of blogging about this right after watching it during preview night at San Diego Comic-Con. But then there was this whole con, you see, and parties and panels and the need for sleep. So if you’re interested in Blindspot, coming to NBC this fall, you’re probably already read or seen something about it. So I won’t recap the plot but rather just give some of my own impressions.blindspot-nbc-pilot

I went into the screening labeling it in my head “John Doe with a female lead.” I wish I could tell you that I was way off base. Not that John Doe was a bad show, it just doesn’t feel that original as a premise. Blindspot doesn’t hold back as much information in its pilot as the other, which makes it even less interesting but possibly more network-friendly. Continue reading

iZombie

I was fully prepared to dislike this show, and I don’t even know why. It could simply be a bias against the CW, which typically caters to a demographic that is not me, or just a feeling that zombies have overstayed their welcome. But I didn’t expect to like Veronica Mars, either, which is from the same creators, and it turned out to be my favorite show, probably ever.izombie-pilot-episodeWithin the first few minutes of watching the pilot, a few associations were made or unmade… Liking this show will have no correlation to whether you like The Walking Dead or other, more traditional zombie fare. Ditto for police procedurals although that’s technically what it is. Your enjoyment of iZombie may, however, correlate with your enthusiasm for quirky, darkly humorous shows like Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Being Erica and, of course, Veronica Mars. Continue reading

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.”

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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