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Ecks Factor: Pilot Roundup - Midseason Edition

After an extended two week break, I am back with my take on the midseason pilots of the season. We're lacking in anything brilliant like Homeland or loaded with the funny like New Girl and 2 Broke Girls, but there are a few diamonds in the rough.

**Rob!: C**

What you need to know: Co-creator Lew Morton worked on Futurama, Newsradio, Undeclared and Saturday Night Live, presumably where he and Schneider first met. This is possibly Rob Schneider's first role in years where he doesn't play a stereotypical character. Unless you count dumb as a stereotype.

What I think: Ugh... it's not as bad as I was expecting. In fact, I'd go as far as to say with some major tweaking, it could improve greatly. I like Rob Schneider. I think he acts in some awful movies (namely the Adam Sandler ones... which are almost the only ones), but I like his style. He was underrated on Saturday Night Live, forced to live in the era that produced Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Chris Rock, among others. And I like even more that he's completely serious here, not playing an outrageously offensive character. Okay sure, he's really out of touch with his Mexican/Latino/Hispanic history and has no clue how to act around his new wife's family. But it's not mean-spirited; he comes across as naive. The best scenes involve Schneider and Cheech Marin.

Unfortunately, here's what's wrong: I really didn't laugh. That's kind of a big no-no in comedy, wouldn't you say? And the wife is so lacking in any likability or charm, it's hard to watch. She and Schneider share zero chemistry. It verges on painful at times. I just don't think the show is beyond repair. Assuming they cannot re-cast the part, maybe she shouldn't be the focal point of the show. I'd much rather see Rob continue to integrate himself into her family. And like I said, it should be way more about Schneider and Marin than anything else. Give them a few more episodes and they'll work together like a well-oiled machine.

What the future holds: I don't know. Premiere numbers were big, scoring 13.47 million viewers and a 4.1 in the 18-49 demo (leading out of The Big Bang Theory's 16.13 million viewers and 5.3 in the demo). But will anyone share my sentiments above and give it another shot? Hard to say. Previous casualties of the time period include Shit My Dad Says, How to Be a Gentleman and Rules of Engagement (let's assume). I'll predict it will go down, but CBS may give it a second season order and save it for a different night, perhaps with the next shortened season of Rules of Engagement (let's assume).

**Are You There, Chelsea?: C-**

What you need to know: Based loosely on "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" (they really mangled the show title... it doesn't make sense now), Chelsea Handler's book about her life, Are You There, Chelsea? teams up two of today's top female comedians on NBC Wednesday nights: Handler at 8:30, following Whitney Cummings' Whitney at 8pm. However, Handler only guest stars as sister Sloane on the series, leaving her portrayal up to That 70s Show star Laura Prepon.

What I think: Ugh... again. Unlike Rob!, I don't know if Chelsea is worth saving. I'm not really familiar with Chelsea Handler, but I can't imagine she's content with the finished product here, even though she does play her sister on the show. Laura Prepon has potential to be a strong sitcom star, but this cannot be the best vehicle for her after That 70s Show. Her performance comes across as an imitation of Handler rather than her own character, which is hard not to do when she's playing opposite you playing your character's sister, which is her own sister. Oh, the confusion of it all.

What else works? Ali Wong plays Handler's best friend, and she is a future star. She elevates every scene she's in, even when she's weighed down heavily by co-star Laura Lapkus as Dee Dee, some bizarre love child of Jack McBrayer's Kenneth the Page and Ellie Kemper's Erin. And it's nice to see comedian Lenny Clarke with some serious weight off. But he has turned into a death knell for sitcoms.

All that aside, it just doesn't feel worth saving. It unfolds like a half-hearted attempt to cash in on Handler's successful book series and career, as though everyone delegated the work to someone else, assuming SOMEONE would do a bang-up job and make this show watchable. Unfortunately, no one does. Laura Prepon and Ali Wong would work great together on a different show, with a different plot and better writers. Here, they're wasted.

What the future holds: NBC is in such a sorry state that I don't think they'll be eager to let go of their Whitney/Chelsea combo on Wednesdays. Both shows pulled in above 6 million viewers on premiere night, which might as well be 30 million for today's NBC. Not to mention both shows bested NBC's entire Thursday lineup. Will it hold? Not likely. But they'll need something stable when the season ends. The Office is on the way out. 30 Rock will return next season, but for what benefit? Parks & Rec, Community and Up All Night are toss-ups. Hate to say it, but unless these shows bomb completely (which they're starting to), they'll be back next season.

**Work It: D-**

What you need to know: It's canceled.

What I think: Is it every bit as bad as everyone says it is? Yes, it sure is. Never have I felt so embarrassed for everyone involved after watching a TV show. Let's list the top ten reasons this show is horrendous:

1. Five o'clock shadow on stars Ben Koldyke and Amaury Nolasco.

2. The Superhero Syndrome: Angel didn't recognize his friend Lee even dressed up as a woman? He didn't go Doubtfire in his transformation. Makeup and a wig doesn't change Koldyke that much.

3. Amaury Nolasco is a fine actor. In fact, he could make this show work. But the jokes aren't there.

4. Creators Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen wrote for Friends. But they also wrote for Welcome to the Captain and Romantically Challenged. You're forgiven for not knowing what those shows are. You're doubly forgiven if you remember Alyssa Milano was on one of those.

5. Rebecca Mader's first regular role since Lost is just sad. She deserves better too.

6. Why do these two accept dressing up as women so easily? Mrs. Doubtfire worked because you believed he needed to dress as an old woman. I don't even understand the reasoning here.

7. Which leads me to ask: is it really that bad that men have no other choice but to dress as women to work? Of course not.

8. LGBT advocacy groups protested the series for trivializing transgender people in the workplace. That's fine. But let's not get carried away: a concept like this could work easily if done right. But it's done so horribly wrong here, you can't blame anyone for being offended. Personally, I'm offended that someone thought this was fit to air on network television in 2012.

9. John Caparulo is one of the most annoying people ever.

10. Bosom Buddies lasted two seasons. It launched Tom Hanks career, sort of. I'm going out on a limb that Ben Koldyke will not win back-to-back Oscars in ten years.

What the future holds for the time period: Cougar Town will inevitably return in the post-Last Man Standing time period. Unless they decide to shift a Wednesday comedy to Tuesdays. If Cougar Town does return to Tuesdays at 8:30, does anyone believe it'll succeed? Me neither. Enjoy it while you can.

**The Finder: B**

What you need to know: Creator Hart Hanson spun this series off from a backdoor pilot created on his other FOX show, Bones, last season. Based on the series of The Locator novels by Richard Greener.

What I think: Going into this with little knowledge of the original series (Bones) and no knowledge of the original source material (The Locator), I was setting myself up for disappointment. Thankfully, the series is actually quite fun to watch. It involved a brain-damaged former Army major (Geoff Stults) and his ability to help people find missing things. Riveting, no? But it plays out very well in the pilot, in the same light-hearted tone of series like The Mentalist and Psych. Walter (Stults) is helped by a rag-tag team, including Isabel (Mercedes Masohn), Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan) and outcast Willa Monday (Maddie Hasson). The cast gels together well. I find myself more intrigued with Leo Knox and Willa Monday than the two leads, but there's a quirky charm to Geoff Stults in his portrayal of Walter. He's not as good at it as James Roday or Simon Baker, but he's acceptable as The Finder.

What the future holds: Despite a disastrous pilot airing (5.5 million, 1.7 in the 18-49 demo), it will be given the benefit of an American Idol lead-in for a few weeks. Idol has been instrumental in Bones' success over the years and The Finder might find the same benefit. I'm going to bet it'll pull in decent-enough numbers to merit a second season order.

**The Firm: C-**

What you need to know: The Firm, the series, is based on the 1991 legal thriller (are there any other kinds?) by John Grisham, which had previously been adapted into a Tom Cruise-led 1993 film of the same name. Having only read a couple of Grisham novels, one of which is not The Firm, I cannot vouch for how close to the original source material the pilot resides.

What I think: There are so many different outstanding factors in deciding whether a television program is good. The acting, the plot, the twists, the dialog, the setting, the budget, the atmosphere, the little details you think wouldn't matter. But rule number one, for me personally, in Entertainment 101 is this: don't be boring. The Firm fails this on every level imaginable. The opening chase scene involves lead character Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas) being followed by three men in suits. An unwritten rule is broken here: don't wash out the color of the scene unless it's necessary. Here, the bleached-out scene makes an already sketchy show opener that much more uninteresting. I'm not against washing out the color in a scene for effect. It worked great on Damages during its first two seasons, drawing the line between the washed-out present and the colorful past. It works because Damages established an exciting and thrilling present day scenario against the backdrop of an otherwise-normal past. But it doesn't work here at all. This scene is meant as the hook for the rest of the episode (and the series), and they've already screwed it up. Score one against The Firm.

I can't ignore the acting on the show. Josh Lucas, the lead, is a far cry from Tom Cruise. But I'm not asking for Tom Cruise. Just give me somebody with charisma, with a personality, with believability. I get none of that from Lucas. When the show turns more serious involving the courtroom scenes, Lucas drones on and on in a monotonous tone. If you want to present me a thrilling chase scene, flawed as it was, you better make sure the rest of the show is exciting in its own subdued way. It isn't. Meanwhile, Molly Parker continues to look like she's one serious dilemma away from a mental breakdown. Callum Keith Rennie, an accomplished character actor I recall best from 24 and Californication, looks like he's been given tranquilizers for the show. I expected better from him. The only bright spot in the cast is Juliette Lewis, in a fantastically oddball performance. But she's so out of the ordinary in the bland setting, she doesn't elevate the show in any way. But on her own, I could watch a show based around her.

Finally, I just don't care about these characters. It's so dreadfully tedious following the opening scenes. It puts so much stock in those first five minutes that it figures it can coast on auto-pilot for the remainder of the episode. But what happens when the opening scene leaves me bored?

What the future holds: Cancelation for sure. Episode 3 attracted a depressing 4.23 million viewers and a 1.0 in the 18-49 demographic. That's what we would call anemic. That's off of an already low 6.3 million viewers for the two-hour premiere. But what's shocking is that NBC went along with a 22 episode order from Sony Pictures Television. The standard-by-anyone's-standards 13 episode order is the agreed-upon number in television. Rarely will a show have its order cut from that before airing, but those instances are saved for the truly vile shows. NBC, a network already in the red, has done itself no favors by banking on an unproven franchise that produced a successful novel and film twenty years ago.

**Napoleon Dynamite: C+**

What you need to know: Another "based upon" series, this time on the 2004 indie hit of the same name. It launched the career of then-future star Jon Heder! Then a year later, we all realized he actually talks like that. And acts like that.

What I think of the movie: Not much. I was not a fan of the 2004 "comedy". A few cute moments here and there didn't elevate what I felt was an overrated mess of a movie. I had little opinion of the show before it even aired...

What I think of the show: ... which makes it surprising how much I liked the first episode! It has some flaws, namely the gross-out plot line of Napoleon attracting numerous forehead zits after being pelted with fried chicken skin, but it's actually funny in a weird way. It's by no means perfect, but for some reason, this peculiar group of characters fits perfectly in an animated world. It's like the movie was written and made specifically to be adapted eight years later into cartoon form. But of course a pre-requisite for the animated world is comedy, and it's not exactly the funniest cartoon I've ever seen. And it doesn't mesh at all with FOX's The Simpsons or Family Guy. If the ratings keep up, FOX may think about expanding its animation domination to a second night.

What the future holds: It should come back again. But it has only six banked episodes, two of which just aired last Sunday, with seven more scripts ordered. Will FOX commit to another season next January, with Bob's Burgers and The Flintstones in waiting in the next two years? If they expand from Sunday animation, sure.

It's interesting to note that 13 years ago, FOX tried to expand its animated lineup beyond The Simpsons and King of the Hill with Family Guy, Futurama and The PJs. They remained quiet for a few years, adding only American Dad, but in the last three years, FOX has tried to launch Sit Down, Shut Up, Bob's Burgers, The Cleveland Show, Allen Gregory and now Napoleon Dynamite. Two of those are canceled (Sit Down, Shut Up and Allen Gregory), The Cleveland Show is a modest hit while the remaining two could help FOX move past the Groening/MacFarlane monopoly on all things toon-related on the network.

**House of Lies: B**

What you need to know: This is Kristen Bell's first starring role in a series since Veronica Mars, while this is Don Cheadle's first regular television role since Picket Fences. Didn't know that, did you? Creator Matthew Carnahan previously wrote for short-lived Fastlane, Thieves and the 2000 Tim Daly remake of The Fugitive. He also created FX's Dirt.

What I think: It's very slick and stylish. Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) leads a group of management consultants (Kristen Bell, as well as Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson) who will do anything to get business deals done. Cheadle and Bell are solid in their roles, as well as the chemistry between their characters. Not much is given on Schwartz or Lawson in the pilot. The cutaways from the action are well-placed but feel overused. It's becoming difficult to find programs that don't feature characters talking to the camera.

On the down side, it feels like a diamond in the rough at spots. It's good, has potential to be great but lacks something extra. Perhaps as the show continues, it will only get better, but after such a riveting beginning to Homeland, I feel slightly disappointed by House of Lies. But not to the point where I would write it off. The pilot works on many other levels. Just needs to be tightened up here and there.

What the future holds: Ratings are good following Showtime's hit drama Shameless. And the pilot is too much fun to let it fall by the waste side. Cheadle is a shoo-in for a future Emmy nomination for the series (the Emmys loves their cable network stars). It'll likely be back for a second season, as the smaller network is only just starting to expand its lineup.

**Touch: B**

What you need to know: This is Kiefer Sutherland's first regular TV role since playing Jack Bauer for eight seasons on 24. This is Tim Kring's fourth television series, following Strange World, Crossing Jordan and Heroes.

What I think: The special preview pilot works very well establishing the key characters. At roughly 50 minutes, the pilot could actually have shaved off about 8 of those minutes to just craft a normal-length pilot, but alas.

Kiefer Sutherland is solid here. There are scenes in which he comes across as Jack Bauer in a slump, working at a luggage handler and living with his mute son, who is obsessed with numbers. All of the stories are connected in some way, a signature for Tim Kring after doing the same on Heroes. Speaking of Kring, most will remember him for creating one of the most exciting shows on television six years ago with NBC's epic Heroes. He helped establish Horn-Rimmed Glasses, Claire Bennett the Cheerleader, Sylar and "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World". That first season is close to perfection. Then the season finale aired, leaving all of us disappointed. But we were willing to forgive and forget! Then the trainwreck that was Heroes continued to plummet beyond rock bottom, despite casting Kristen Bell in a recurring role. After the dust settled, Heroes was a shell of its former self. A decent superhero drama, but compared to that first season, it was comparing a beautiful turkey dinner to that turkey Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn prepared for the Griswolds in Christmas Vacation.

Fortunately, Touch is just beginning, and it's not exactly a superhero drama. Although Jake Bohm (the mute boy) does seem like a character Tim Kring had proposed for a fifth season of Heroes that never came to be. Luckily for us, he saved him for his own show, because Touch can be a really gripping, powerful drama in those 50 minutes.

What the future holds: A solid premiere number is hardly indicative of its future, as the series will return with House on March 19th. It was intriguing enough for me to come back. Given the competition from newcomers The Finder, Terra Nova and Alcatraz on FOX, I think Touch stands the best chance at returning. Speaking of Alcatraz...

**Alcatraz: B-**

What you need to know: Executive Producer JJ Abrams is busy this year with three productions on the air: FOX's Fringe, newcomer to CBS Person of Interest and this FOX drama. Jorge Garcia previously worked on Abram's Lost on ABC.

What I think: It has all the right elements. I particularly like Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia and Sam Neill as the main trio of the series. The look of the pilot episode is colorful, without being overly vibrant, and certainly not the exact opposite of being washed-out and dull, like so many procedural dramas. Of course this is no ordinary procedural show. Each episode, presumably, will focus on a different prisoner on the war path, leaving our trusty leads to find the prisoner before too much damage is done. The twist? Each prisoner disappeared from Alcatraz. Fifty years ago. No, they are not old and decrepit. They have not aged. And the mystery begins. I'm not sure where the show will go, or whether I will follow, but if it were to succeed, I might give it another shot in the summertime. It's a quick and painless way to pass an hour.

What the future holds: The dramas of FOX are wearing down: House is on the way out, Glee is failing but will return, Bones has been inexplicably jerked around by the network this year with a minimal episode order and Fringe has been on borrowed time for ages. New shows like Terra Nova, Touch, The Finder and Alcatraz are fighting for remaining spots on the network as the season wares on, and I don't see why Alcatraz won't survive. It will likely end up being the luck of the draw: those that finish their seasons latest will be given closer consideration. Which doesn't bode well for Terra Nova.

GOLDEN GLOBE REACTION

Let's set the record straight: Ricky Gervais did a fine job for what he was given. He was obviously muzzled on certain celebrities, namely Brad and Angelina, as well as Ashton Kutcher. Thankfully other celebs didn't mind being poked at, including Johnny Depp. He'll never live down The Tourist as long as Ricky's around. Too bad they wouldn't cut to Angelina when he chided Depp for his Tourist involvement.

Meanwhile, during the actual awards, Modern Family captured Best Comedy, while Matt LeBlanc and Laura Dern pulled off the leading wins. I correctly predicted Modern Family's overdue Comedy win, while I kept going back and forth between Dern and Zooey Deschanel for Best Actress. Ultimately, I did think Deschanel would take it, but I'm not shocked. I am shocked for LeBlanc. And I quote "I don't think it'll be Matt LeBlanc for Episodes." And I was wrong.

Over on the drama side of things, I got it right predicting Homeland for Best Drama as well as Claire Danes for Best Actress and Kelsey Grammer for Best Actor. No surprises here obviously. The surprising winners would've been Callie Thorne and Jeremy Irons. Either way, good for Danes and Grammer. Deserved wins.

Supporting Actor for Peter Dinklage left me with 5 for 8 right, but I wrongly predicted Maggie Smith for Supporting Actress. I didn't see them giving these to two TV regular performances, especially considering the competition, but Jessica Lange walked off with the win.

Let's just hope The Emmys don't leave out 2 Broke Girls and Happy Endings in the fall.

RATINGS-to-GO

-American Idol returned to a diminished 21.93 million viewers and a 7.4 in the 18-49 demographic. It's not bad news by any means. Of course audition episodes are typically higher-rated, but even anything in the mid-to-high teens, in terms of millions, is enough to make it one of the top-rated shows on television. In other words, it's still higher-rated than your favorite show.

-2 Broke Girls tied Two and a Half Men in the 18-49 demographic two weeks ago with 4.6. It's equally impressive and depressing, respectively, that 2 Broke Girls is performing so well at 8:30 while Two and a Half Men is down from its better days. CBS will stick with Two and a Half Men next year, but 2 Broke Girls already deserves the anchor position.

-Two Sundays ago, ABC's Pan Am crashed and burned with 3.93 million viewers and a 1.3 in the 18-49 demo after Desperate Housewives' equally sad 7.83 million and 2.7 demo. Let's stop kidding ourselves, ABC: Pan Am's ratings suck and it's not sticking around. Now someone write a proper role for Christina Ricci already.

That's all for my midseason take on the Pilot Roundup. I'll be back later this week with an all new topic and plenty to say.

Until then, stay tuned.

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Total Comments: 5
Crux
Crux    Jan 29 2012 3:14pm
I've actually read Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea and enjoyed it quite a bit. To my chagrin the show does not live up to the book. The book is basically a collection of short stories from Chelsea's life that are funny as hell but don't tend to lend it self well to a tv series. I also totally agree with you that seeing Chelsea play the sister, Sloane, is very confusing. There might a laugh or two in an episode but I don't think anyone is really craving this show.

Great article!
Bluebomb
Bluebomb    Jan 29 2012 4:55pm
The premiere of Touch was pretty good. I just hope it's able to sustain it for the season. I don't really see it having more than 3 seasons. I can't see how it has anywhere to go for so long without cliched writing and filler seasons.

Ah American Idol...still better than your show yes, but it is going down. The format just seems tired. I don't know how long The Voice will be able to keep up its ratings if the supposed "Death Star" is falling at an accelerated rate this season.
Mister Ecks
Mister Ecks    Jan 29 2012 7:44pm
Crux, I've never really took much interest in Chelsea Handler. But upon watching the show, I decided to read one of her books, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang. It took a few chapters for me to get into the different style of humor, but after I finished it, I picked up her other books. The only one I haven't read is Are You There Vodka? It's Me Chelsea. I can't imagine she's thrilled with the show. More or less a paycheck.

Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed it.
Mister Ecks
Mister Ecks    Jan 29 2012 7:46pm
Bluebomb, Tim Kring will take care of Touch long before it reaches five or six seasons. I just don't have faith in him. He destroyed Heroes, which wasn't that difficult a concept to maintain. But I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

I think The Voice will probably do well. The X Factor was a massive disappointment and if Idol is free-fallin', The Voice might pick up a few viewers that heard good things.
David
David    Jan 29 2012 10:03pm
Alcatraz is a fun watch, though I do wish it would play around even more with its mythology. I'm afraid the format will get old. This new trend of injecting Lost atmosphere and quirkiness into standard-issue cop-procedural series (Person of Interest being another) is odd. I s'pose they're trying to bring the CSI: and Lost audiences together, but I half wonder if it doesn't just slightly alienate everyone. Too weird for the former, not weird enough for the latter.