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

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New Girl

Just in case you’re not one of the reported 10 million people who tuned in for the much-ballyhooed premiere of New Girl last week, here’s the deal. It’s terrible. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but as someone who loves most of Zooey Deschanel‘s work going back to Almost Famous, I found this show to be a huge disappointment. You can pick apart whether the jokes are cliche or the characters are likeable, but I don’t generally expect much from network sit-coms in that regard.

My main problem: Why Dirty Dancing? What is the fascination with that movie? And is Zooey’s character Jess even old enough to remember it?? It came out in 1987, and she’s probably supposed to be 30, tops, so what exactly is her attachment to a trite film about a skeevy old guy (no disrespect to the late Patrick Swayze, who played said skeevy old guy) preying upon an idealistic teenager wearing Keds? Continue reading

Breaking In, or Trying to Speak Geek

Some pilots want nothing more than to convey to the viewer what the creators imagine to be the unique style and tone of the show. Breaking In, which debuted last night on Fox, wants you to know it’s for geeks. They really, really want you to know it. I can just hear the pitch meeting: “It’s a show about smart geeks who work together to foil security systems and have a crazy boss. It’s like Chuck, meets Archer, meets The Office! With a dash of The Big Bang Theory!”

I won’t rehash the entire plot since there are any number of reviews out there. Basically, a smart but understated guy named Cameron (Brett Harrison of Reaper and The Loop) is not so much recruited by as coerced into working for a security company. The gang at the company, led by Christian Slater as Oz, pull off creative and highly challenging heists for a living.

Star Wars references seem to pop up in everything these days. How I Met Your Mother and Bones incorporate them really well, making you believe the characters think of Star Wars as part of their lives. (Marshall will cut a Thanksgiving turkey with a light saber one day.) In Breaking In, the character Cash (Alphonso McAuley) is introduced wearing a Han Solo costume. His first joke wraps up a nerd joke with a race joke–about how black guys don’t always have to play Lando. It would have been funnier if he just went around dressed as Han Solo with no explanation, leaving it for the audience to notice. (Does it matter what race he is? Meg played a freaking worm in Family Guy’s Star Wars universe.)

That bit is quickly followed by one in which Cash references Avatar then asserts that he speaks Klingon. We get it-you’re a geek!

As the New York Times points out, Christian Slater’s leering coercion of Bret Harrison looks an awful lot like the goings-on on Harrison’s previous geek-friendly show Reaper. Another more subtle geek reference, and one of the episode’s bright spots, was the appearance of the nearly-unrecognizable Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville’s Lex Luthor) as Dutch. He is hilariously doofy in his trailer trash-duds and monster-sized truck. When this show crashes and burns, he could have a future on Raising Hope.

It’s not that this pilot wasn’t entertaining or have it’s funny moments. It just seems like it’s trying way too hard to tell us what it is and what it is not, without allowing us to figure it out over a few episodes. It wants geeks to know they’re the intended audience, but it doesn’t know how to talk to them.

I feel pandered to. Raise your hand if you feel pandered to.

Neighbors from Hell

I am always up for a new animated series, especially one that is NOT by Seth MacFarlane. (Nothing against him, he just has enough airtime.) Neighbors from Hell is being promoted by TBS as “from the studio that brought you Family Guy,” but is written by Kyle McCullouch (South Park). There is little resemblance to Family Guy. Except for the dog—I”ll get to that.

This pilot takes no time at all to introduce the premise: a demon is assigned by his boss, Satan, to transfer to Earth where he will infiltrate and bring down an oil company called Petromundo. We’ve seen the misfit-family-moves-to-new-neighborhood premise before. What makes this one a bit different is that all of the information Balthazar Hellmanneighbors from hell and his family have about Earth comes from watching television. So, we know we’re in for tons ‘o references. What I don’t get however, is why there is a 20-year delay on shows getting to Hell. I mean, it’s not England. They are watching Growing Pains, Alf, and The Cosby Show. That’s not the only thing that is out of date…

Characters are introduced with no unnecessary fanfare or backstory. The main character, Balthazar, has a wife, a son, a daughter, an uncle, and a dog that talks and seems smarter than the rest of the family, ala Brian Griffin. He winds up being the dues-ex-machina that undoes the mess the family finds itself in, and we can surmise that will be his ongoing role.

It is too perfect that this show is hitting the airwaves right now, as the villain (not Satan mind you, the real villain) is an oil company. The company is devising a giant drill that will bore to the center of the Earth, ostensibly disrupting life in Hell. Apart from that coincidence, some of these jokes seem like they have been gathering dust for a while. A demon tortures a damned man by making him listen to Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did it Again.” How old is that song? We’ve also got some jokes about Ugg boots and Criss Angle. The funnier jokes are the ones without an expiration date. Balthazar walks into the house to find bodies all over and inquires calmly, “Tina, did you kill the neighbors?”

The story seems headed for a quick resolution as Balthazar plots to destroy the engineer who is in charge of getting the drill up and running. Toward the end we find out what will give the premise an excuse to last past the first episode; the fact that Balthazar—aw, shucks— likes the guy he needs to destroy. There is also a racist neighbor how apparently practices beastiality with her poodle, and another who’s addicted to Valium. But, um, where are the TV references? The writers teased us with the possibility of Kirk Cameron jokes and there’s not a one.

The animation style is refreshing. (i.e. It doesn’t look like a Seth MacFarlane show) It’s stylized, and deceptively kid-friendly.

This pilot is all over the place. It has the feel of having been revised and rewritten to within an inch of its life. Not sure if that’s the case, but we’ll see where it goes.