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

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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

Pilot-Finale Symmetry

This post contains SPOILERS for the series finales of Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Eureka, Friends, Chuck, Gilmore Girls, Smallville and Parks and Recreation.

glee-series-finaleA series finale can be an oddly polarizing event. When people have invested themselves in a group of characters for years, they develop strong opinions about how a story should turn out. That’s why, when there are too many surprises, people are either really excited or really pissed.

Some series, on the other hand, have completely uncontroversial outcomes. Ross and Rachel end up together. Clark Kent becomes Superman. Lorelai realizes she belongs with Luke. That’s all fine and usually leaves the audience feeling good. Others go purposefully crazy, almost like they want the audience relieved that it’s over. (I never watched Seinfeld, but have read several accounts that such was the case with the end of that show.)

Wherever characters wind up in their personal or professional lives, what makes a finale brilliant is what I call pilot-finale symmetry. By far, the best example I’ve ever seen of this device was in Syfy’s Eureka. I wasn’t a huge fan of that show; I had only ever seen the pilot and a handful of episodes in each season before watching the finale. But my mind was blown when Jack and Zoe are leaving Eureka for the last time and they drive past themselves driving in. That, my friends, is payoff. It doesn’t change the storyline of the characters, per se, but it shifts our whole understanding of the story.

Some finales execute a smaller scale pilot callback. Chuck (Chuck), though his spy skills have grown a hundred fold, disarms a bomb the same way he did in the pilot. Lorelai and Rory (Gilmore Girls) are last seen eating at the diner just as they were when we first met them. But when I talk about symmetry I’m taking about taking something we already know and deepening it. Glee did this really well, but more on that in a moment.

Many finales flash forward, as if to oblige the audience’s need to know that everything turns out okay. This can be fun, but I think it underestimates the viewer’s imagination. I’m loathe to admit it, but I found the recent farewell of Parks and Recreation disappointing. It bent over backwards to prove to us that everyone in Leslie’s circle had a happily-ever-after, squandering precious time that could have been used to just tell a story to its conclusion. There were a few brief flashes of the pilot, but they were used as set dressing, for cheap tears. Although the final season was an absolute hoot, the ending made the show’s swan song feel like a gimmick.

Glee tried to have it both ways. The second hour was the flash-forward-everything-turns-out-peachy variety. (Seriously, everybody ended up famous?) It was the first hour that was truly creative. Titled “2009,” it told the same story as the pilot, but with a fresh perspective, by filling in action that originally took place off-screen. It tapped into the originality that made that made people sit up and take notice when the show premiered — that made it groundbreaking and unexpected — but was eroded in a deluge of guest stars and themed episodes. We found out things we didn’t know about characters we’d just spent years getting to know, most notably Kurt. Kurt has always been the “star” of the show for me, his relationship with his dad being the most moving story. We knew that Kurt had suffered while isolated in the closet, but this showed us how much.

The finale also gave us a taste of an Everyone Meets Everyone episode. Such a device could have been stuffed in as filler anytime during the course of the series, but this gave the show bookends that allowed us to focus on the original set of core characters including, significantly, one who died along the way. The initial performance of “Don’t Stop Believin'” led by Finn and Rachel blended smoothly into the “new” action.

We needed a little more of course, considering that Cory Monteith, and not just his character, died tragically in 2013. In the finale’s second half, it was impossible not to tear up when the McKinley gang dedicated the auditorium to Finn. But then, did they even need to flash forward to do that? It would have been just as touching in the present (2015).

As a pilot enthusiast, I love a finale that knows its roots. So I could have stopped watching after the first hour and been perfectly satisfied.

Spock: the “most human” all along?

I’ve been waiting a long time to blog about the pilot of Star Trek, in part because I couldn’t decide which “pilot” to choose. The unaired one, “The Cage,” would not have been the world’s introduction to the character of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), being unaired and all, but it now serves as a record of how that character was first imagined. As we mourn Nimoy’s passing earlier today, it’s time to think about the character with whom he was virtually synonymous.spock-the-cageUpon Spock’s sacrificial death in Star Trek II, Kirk famously declares, “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.” Spock’s heritage doesn’t get unpacked in “The Cage,” but apart from his appearance, he doesn’t come across as any different from his human shipmates.

Spock speaks the first words of the episode. He’s giving instructions on the bridge regarding a strange signal that The Enterprise is picking up. Although Capt. Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) sits in the captain’s chair, it’s the pointy-eared half alien Science Officer we first see in control. When it turns out the signal may be coming from a marooned Earthling ship, Pike wants to stay the course and ignore it. Spock wants to go investigate — a compassionate and not exactly logical choice.

Pike is experiencing an existential crisis, having recently lost three crew members during a mission. He’s pondering whether to abandon his present occupation for a small town life of leisure back home. The ship’s doctor (John Hoyt) changes his mind with the help of a martini and the observation, “You treat everyone on board like a human being except yourself.”

The episode gives us a bit of insight into how Starfleet treat women versus men; the ship’s First Officer and Yeoman are both women and, although Pike indicates that he views the latter as more feminine than the former, this episode has nothing on the actual pilot for sexism. That’s probably another post.

When a landing party that includes Pike and Spock beams down to the site of the crash, they find a world not unlike Earth. From that point on, Spock gets little screen time, but first there’s The Smile. Much has been written about how uncharacteristic it is of Spock to smile at the simple novelty of an alien plant, but he grins like he’s in a Crest commercial. It’s sweet. Since he’s half-human, it seems — ahem — logical that he would exhibit spontaneous human joy, but some fans have taken strong issue with this “mistake.”

The plot of the episode concerns a race of people who communicate telepathically and want to build a colony of humans like a zoo exhibit. They have their “Eve,” thanks to the crew that crash landed 18 years earlier, but they’ve been seeking their “Adam.” Their choice, Captain Pike, can’t be contained, of course. The zookeepers take out the power on The Enterprise, attempting to use the ship and crew as bargaining chip. This time, it’s Spock who wants to cut the crew’s losses and bail. Perhaps bookending the story with these two antithetical orders was an attempt to illustrate Spock’s dual nature.

There’s surprisingly little action in tin the episode, which is likely what was “wrong” with it. There’s some cool technology, including of course the transporter. But other than a nifty laser, we don’t see much in the way of weaponry or pyrotechnics. The focus is more on human emotions, desires, and dreams. The pacing is slow, and one can imagine a network not wanting to introduce its new sci-fi action series this way. That’s okay. It lives on, if just a step outside of canon.

And Spock lives on. Smiling aside, Nimoy is the only member of the cast who hung around for the series, so apparently he hit the mark. Geeks around the world have shed tears today, in unabashedly human grief. LLAP.

Everybody Hates Chris

WARNING: Spoilers for season 5 of The Walking Dead.

In honor of Noah, the latest addition to the Ricktatorship, played by Tyler James Williams, I decided to evaluate his fighting skills in the pilot of the show that made him famous. And while we’re talking about Tyler James Williams, how cute is this?

Continue reading

The Secrets of Isis

Mallory Archer and her ad hoc family on Archer will no longer work for ISIS, thanks to a certain bunch of a-holes who are using the same name to rain death and destruction in the real world. Sad as I am about that, I can’t help but remember that Archer wasn’t the first pop culture use of the name Isis.secrets_of_isis

I had only the vaguest memory of The Secrets of Isis, and the corresponding Viewmaster slides that I once owned. It’s about a teacher, Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) who possesses an amulet belonging to the Egyptian goddess Isis. The amulet allows her to channel the goddess and fight for justice. Andrea/Isis also appeared in DC comics in the late 70s but the TV show came first, rounding out the Shazam!/Isis Hour on Saturday mornings on CBS. She’s said to be the first female superhero to star in a live action TV show. Continue reading

Mork and Mindy

Mork form Ork wasn’t Robin Williams’ first role, but it was certainly the one that made him a household name. So, as we mourn the passing of a man whose life’s work was to bring joy to others, I thought I’d take a look at the pilot of Mork and Mindy. It premiered in 1978, after the character earned raves in a dream sequence on Happy Days.

Mork’s story is told in linear fashion, with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment. The show opens with him being called into the principal’s office, so to speak, as he appears before the shadowy Orson, his boss. Orson (named for Orson Welles?) reprimands Mork for his constant joke-making. Humor has no place on their planet, so Mork is being sent on assignment to Earth.

mork-and-mindy-rip-robin-williams

His ship lands in the woods near Boulder, Colorado, where Mindy (Pam Dawber) is being sexually assaulted by a date, who then steals her Jeep. This is an interesting scene, because in a more clichéd show, Mork would have rescued her from the douchebag, and then she would have fallen for Mork romantically. Instead, in the show’s emblematic fashion, she mistakes Mork for a priest because he’s wearing a suit backwards and the collar looks vaguely like a priest’s. He walks her home, where she offers him some iced tea, and his true identity comes out. Continue reading

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. 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.”

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