Merry Pilots

JesusYou wouldn’t think Christmas would be a particularly propitious time to set your pilot. Pilots usually air in the fall, or just after the holidays. And Christmas is the season for marathons of shows and movies you already know and love. But when you think about it, the holidays are rife with drama and emotion — often of the familial warfare variety. So there’s some material there.

There are a handful of pilots — that I’m aware of — that are set during the holiday season. Here’s a list. Are there others? Please leave comments if you know! Continue reading

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25 Years of Fox Pilots

Since the Fox network is celebrating its 25th anniversary on April 22, I thought I should write a blog post in honor of it. First I thought I’d pick a show that Fox prematurely cancelled, but that would be like shooting zombies in a barn.

Then I realized, I have already blogged about enough Fox shows to keep the inhabitants of Omicron Persei 8 entertained until someone decides to reboot Single Female Lawyer. So, here’s a list in roughly chronological order. Some selections fit squarely into the “cancelled too soon” category while others, deservedly or not, continue to air. I’m up for suggestions as to others I should cover — just leave a comment. Continue reading

Abed’s Master Key

In case we weren’t already excited enough about the return of Community on March 15, the fine folks at NBC have decided to whet our whistle with some animated shorts. The obvious question: Why didn’t they think of this a long time ago? That animated holiday special in 2010 (has it been that long?) rocked.

The pilot episode of Abed’s Master Key is only a precious minute and 56 seconds long, but to fans so long deprived of a meal, these are succulent little crumbs. The episode just gives us a quick look at all of the main characters–the study group and Dean Pelton–hanging out in their usual spot, the study room that has seen everything from a zombie uprising to some Jeff-Britta coitus. Continue reading

A Few Recent Pilots

I haven’t been blogging much these past few weeks, but there has been plenty to watch. Here’s just a quick look at a few pilots I’ve caught recently.

Alcatraz

In case you haven’t heard, this is the latest J.J. Abrams tale of alternate realities. It tells the story of what really happened to all of the prisoners who were in Alcatraz when it was closed down.  The pilot came with a bonus second episode on the same night. Two episodes were enough to worry me that show is just another procedural. If it’s just going to be about searching out the murderer of the week, we don’t care. Even if said murderers haven’t aged since 1960-whatever. Basically, it’s a cop-with-an-unlikely-partner show. The partner in this case is a comic book store owner (Jorge Garcia), so there’s tons of potential for geek jokes. Continue reading

Family Guy: Back to the Pilot

If, like me, you have given up on Family Guy, you probably didn’t bother to watch the Nov. 20 episode. The show has become really repetitive and juvenile. They even managed to F up Star Wars–their Return of the Jedi episode, “It’s a Trap,” was terrible. Here is a good article from 2009 about the show’s decline. Continue reading

Bob’s Burgers

For my last post I tried to figure out what I disliked about the pilot of what sounded like a great show; now I’m trying to figure out what I love about the pilot of a show that sounds hopelessly derivative.

The first time I saw the pilot of Bob’s Burgers, when it debuted on January 9, 2011, I was bored to tears. Hearing H. Jon Benjamin‘s voice and not LMAO off is actually a little disorienting. But his character, Bob Belcher is just a dumpy, boring guy; another animated oaf with a family of five. I’ve only stuck with the show–and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this–because it’s sandwiched into the middle of Fox’s Animation Domination. Ratings are good but critical reaction is less than stellar.

Somehow, the show has grown on me, and when the pilot re-aired recently, I found myself cracking up. It’s definitely one of those shows–like The Office–that gets funnier the more you feel like you know the characters.

The pilot is set during Labor Day weekend, as the Belcher family restaurant is prepping for it’s grand re- re- re-opening. The whole family is part of the act; the three kids are left in the restaurant to welcome the onslaught of business while husband Bob (Benjamin) and wife Linda (John Roberts) grind meat–not a euphemism–in the basement. We also learn that it is Bob and Linda’s anniversary, which he has forgotten, and she optimistically reads his ignorance as a ruse. From their conversation we learn that they have worked hard for their little family business, even on their wedding night–again, not a euphemism.

One of the primary tasks of this pilot is to establish its mashup of family and workplace comedy. Many of the jokes stem from the supporting characters’ dual roles as Bob’s offspring and employees. “My crotch is itchy,” reports Tina. Bob’s response: “Are you telling me as my grill cook or as my daughter?”

Like King of the Hill, for which Executive Producer Jim Dauterive was a writer, the show has a slower pace than the Seth McFarlane panoply has conditioned us for. The charters even talk a little slowly. What’s gotten really old, though, is shows with fat guy protagonists who mistreat their wives and kids.

Bob’s kids are horrible. They were described (accurately) by an IGN reviewer as “two Barts and a Milhouse.” The eldest, Tina, (Dan Mintz) is the Milhouse, shuffling around scratching her genitals and mumbling.

Louise: “She’s autistic, she can’t help it.”

Tina: “Yeah, I’m autistic.”

Bob: “You’re not autistic, Tina.”

Middle child Gene (Eugene Mirman) is the showman, happily donning a giant burger suit and using a noise-maker to attract/harass customers. We learn that youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal) has told her class at school that her family’s burgers contain human meat. Throwing a wrench into plans for a profitable weekend, a pasty-faced health inspector, who turns out to be an ex-boyfriend of Linda’s, slaps up a yellow warning sign until he can conduct a test on the meat. Only when the lovesick inspector works through his issues can the day be saved.

So, we’ve got horrible kids, a wife who’s a little off, but here’s the thing. As on King of the Hill, the husband is the grounded center around which the lunatics revolve. He’s imperfect–he forgets important dates from his wedding anniversary to his own birthday. Still, he’s basically a good, hardworking guy trying to make an honest living. He’s likable, something we cynics are so used to anymore. So, just don’t compare him to Archer, who despite sharing a voice, is his polar opposite, and you might find that he and his brood are pretty funny.

Pilot-y Tidbits from Comic-Con

H+

This new web series, produced by Bryan Singer, was teased to minimal fanfare–actually, lumped together in a panel with Mortal Combat: Legacy–but it looks highly promising. The premise is that a good chunk of the world’s population has been tied into some futuristic version of the internet, where information is downloaded straight to your brain. Due to a glitch, a third of those people have dropped dead. Those remaining are left to figure out what the frak happened. Here’s a trailer.

What sounds cool about this series is, you will be able to view the episodes (48 total) in the order of your choosing, organizing them by character, chronologically, or geographically. This approach capitalizes on the uniqueness of the medium, rather than just creating a show as one would for television and throwing it up on the web.

Effin With Tonight

This animated series created by former Tonight Show writer Jim Shaughnessy is set to launch on the web at Crackle.com. They screened a clip and it looks pretty damn funny. It stars Patrick Warburton (The Tick, Family Guy, Venture Bros., etc., etc., etc. This guy is in everything.) as well as Joe Cipriano (the voice of Animation Domination). It’s basically an animated late night talk show that parodies everything that Shaughnessy despised about his old gig. And, in the panel, he made no bones about how much he hated it. They’re hoping to take it to a network, but I can see it being about as successful as the equally irreverent and highly underrated Sit Down, Shut Up.

Writing for TV

This was just a random tidbit I picked up in a panel on writing genre TV. It used to be you needed to write spec scripts of existing shows to break into writing. Now, according to the panelists, there is more demand for scribes who have written their own pilots. Still no solid advice on how the hell you get that script into the hands of anyone who gives a damn, but one writer had an interesting story about how she wooed Joss Whedon.

Archer

This was not a pilot, but the first of three-part story arc that will run this September. It was too awesome not to mention. This mini-story takes our hero, “Duchess,” out of his usual surroundings at ISIS and places him on the high seas, and introduces a new character, played by–you guessed it–Patrick Warburton. There are pirates. ‘Nuff said.

Partial or complete pilots of a number of other shows were screened during the Con, including Terra Nova, Alcatraz, Person of Interest, The Secret Circle and Locke & Key. Reviews and opinions abound so I won’t rehash. But the fall season is looking up.

Archer

You can literally blink and miss things in this pilot*. Watch it twice. Or three times. First just let the absurdity of the situation wash over you, then go back and soak up all the sight gags and the often casually tossed-off hilarious dialogue. Then absorb the animation; it’s amazing, with remarkable depth of field and subtlety of facial expressions. In the scene where Archer is eating breakfast, pause it and just look at the detail of the food on the table; it’s gorgeous.

The first moments of the pilot give you the idea you’re watching something really dark. Our hero, Sterling Archer/code name Duchess (H. Jon Benjamin), is about to be tortured for information by an old guy with a vaguely Russian accent and a golf cart battery. But the female face that appears on the far side of the observation window looks far more intimidating.

Thus we have our set-up. Archer is a super spy who works for his mom (Jessica Walter). As evidenced by their first scene together, they’re a solidly matched in toughness, narcissism, and vitriol.

Acher’s uniqueness is its successful mash up of spy action with workplace comedy. It’s like if the chick from Alias went to work at Dunder Mifflin. At ISIS, we get pithy axioms like, “When your co-workers put food in the refrigerator, that’s a bond of trust.” They worry about expense accounts and break room etiquette.

Natch, there’s intra-office schtuping. Archer used to date machine gun-toting uber-bombshell Lana (Aisha Tyler). They broke up over–you guessed it–his mommy issues. This woman scorned is now with Cyril (Chris Parnell), who has no earthly business dating the likes of her. He is so painfully dull that his scene with Archer is literally the only boring moment of the episode.

Archer is sleeping with the secretary, Cheryl or Carol. He can’t get her name right. Remember that–the joke lasts beyond this episode.

Archer pretends he thinks there’s a mole in the office, as a ploy to gain access to the ISIS mainframe. When he is forced to break in, he reveals how painfully inadequate the company’s security is. It turns out there is a mole in the office and he is only caught by complete accident.

This thing is just packed with oddball lines ranging from the unexplained “that thing with the mayonnaise” to the twice-used “Johnny Bench called.” (Look it up. I had to.)

The pilot gives a taste of what every episode will be about; It’s not that the agents are complete bumbling idiots. That would be too easy. They’re totally cool and skilled, it’s just that their extreme self-interest blinds them to half the stuff going on around them. And they hate each other, but it’s as a team that they somehow win the day.

And, whether Archer loves his mother or hates her, he does so too strongly to be healthy. At any rate, they’re eerily alike from their piercing blue eyes, revealed in the pilot’s first moments, to their peculiar vehemence about ants, revealed in the last.

*This is actually episode 1.1, “Mole Hunt.” There is an unaired pilot available on DVD through Amazon.

Pilot Titles

How well do you know the titles of episodes of your favorite shows? Do you even give them a thought? Some shows get pretty creative. Some naming conventions are discussed here.

Pilot episodes are usually just called “Pilot,” possibly because the creators don’t know quite where the show is headed. But some shows have really cool pilot titles. Often, titles are added after the fact, possibly when the show is released on DVD.

Here are some of my favorite pilot titles I’ve come across. See if you can guess what shows they belong to. Answers are after the jump.

  1. Chuck Versus the Intersect
  2. Welcome to the Hellmouth
  3. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
  4. Pie-lette
  5. Genesis
  6. Days Gone Bye
  7. Space Pilot 3000
  8. The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate, a.k.a. The First One
  9. Sex and Violence (actually a second pilot, whatever that means)
  10. Everybody Lies

Continue reading

Project G.e.e.K.e.R.

You’d be forgiven for having never heard of Project G.e.e.K.e.r., an animated sci-fi series that aired for just three months in 1996. And, you wouldn’t be crazy for thinking that the protagonist kinda looks like a worm; or that he sounds an awful lot like Philip J. Fry. Actually, the only two reasons worth watching this little show are that Doug TenNapel of Earthworm Jim fame created it and Billy West voices Geeker.

The animation is after school quality. After school in the mid-90s quality. We didn’t demand much from our animated series until later in the decade when we started to see more of it in prime time, with shows like Futurama and King of the Hill. Futurama fans watching Project Geeker today may get a brief second of déjà vu; both pilots open with a voiceover by the main character (played by the same dude, you remember) pontificating, “The future…” before explaining things to the audience. (Of course, in Futurama, it’s a goof, as it turns out that Fry is explaining a video game. Have I mentioned that Futurama rocks?)

As with a lot of kids’ shows—I’m assuming kids were the target audience—the premise is explained fully in the opening so the pilot could just as well be any random episode. The plot of this one doesn’t matter. Something about a destruct sequence. The overall plot of the series is that an evil genius, Moloch (Jim Cummings, most recently of Gnomeo and Juliet), is trying to track down the AI he created. The AI is Geeker, or Project GKR, and he wasn’t quite fully baked when he was stolen. Now he is in the hands of a voluptuous cyborg whom he calls Becky but who calls herself Lady MacBeth (Cree Summer, of a million different projects including Dragon Age: Origins). Brad Garrett, who I didn’t even realize has done a ton of animation, plays a big talking Tyrannosaurus who hangs out with them. The trio runs around trying to escape the reach of Moloch, while Geeker shape-changes, getting them in and out of various scrapes.

What else can I say? It’s a kids’ show. There’s a lot of noise and color and predictable jokes. The bad guy talks like a Bond villain. Geeker is kind of loveable, though. He’s one of those unlikely heroes who succeeds by screwing up. Kind of like Jar-Jar Binks. Wait, I said loveable. I don’t know, it’s a weird show. In prime time it could have been edgier and echoed the brilliance of the original Earthworm Jim game.