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Ecks Factor: Pilots Revisited, Part II

After a self-imposed break from my column to accommodate the great Oscar coverage on the main site, I'm back with the second part to my Pilots Revisited column. This week I'm taking a return trip to Suburgatory, as well as another look at the two breakout comedies of the season: 2 Broke Girls and New Girl.

But first...

**Hart of Dixie**

Original rating: C+
Episode reviewed: Episode 13, "Sweetie Pies & Sweaty Palms"

What Did I Say Then?
"Rachel Bilson is giving only half of what her talents can offer. [...] Bilson plays it safe, bordering on the unlikable and arrogant. I realize the character is a big city girl adapting to Small Town America, but I feel more could have been accomplished by playing down the culture divide between the character and her new surroundings."

"As a medical drama, it fails to provide any excitement akin to ER or House. As a teen drama, it's a bit too mature in its presentation. As an adult drama, it's too wrapped up in trying to please a younger audience. Confused? Not as much as this show."

"It deserves to be better, and I feel it will be eventually."

My biggest complaints
-Rachel Bilson not giving it her all
-Confused in its genre

My revised opinion
Well, of all the shows I re-reviewed, Hart of Dixie has addressed my complaints. On the downside, there are bigger fish to fry now. First, Rachel Bilson is endlessly cute. I could watch her read the phone book. Not because she's necessarily an exceptional actress, I just think it would be fun. She's playing less arrogant and way more silly and down-to-Earth on the show. There's still a sense of detachment between her and the rest of the show, but not as much as in the pilot.

And it's not really confused about the genre anymore. Any hints of a medical drama have evaporated, as far as I can tell. Maybe it's more of a background thing now, but it's not center of attention. And it's definitely not the teen drama in the same vein of Gossip Girl or 90210, but it's not so mature in its presentation like Ringer or Nikita. If I could describe it accurately, it's a soap opera with a bigger budget. There is a seemingly endless supply of characters, one less distinguishable than the next, all looking for love (aka trying to get laid). But it sucks you in to the drama. Even though I have no clue about these characters' histories, I still had to watch.

But why are the characters so boring? For the guys, there's an attractive Southern guy, another attractive Southern guy, a mean yet attractive Southern guy, an attractive black Southern guy who might as well be white and an older attractive guy who is so clearly from the South, he says things like "I loves me some huckleberry pie". That is a real quote.

On the girls side, there's an attractive Southern blonde, an attractive Southern brunette, an attractive-- can you see where I'm going with this? These shows live and die on pretty people in pretty people situations, but there is some sort of life in the characters on Gossip Girl and Revenge. On those shows, the characters are fleshed out. On Hart of Dixie, they're written with the same exact tone. I know there are a ton of jokes about everyone being related in the South, but here you would assume these people are of the same family. The same boring, white family.

What the future now holds...
It's the CW. Everything is a crapshoot unless your show is about vampires or models. Vampire models? Oops, I just created a new CW show and took away a time slot from another series. That's kind of the mentality of the network. So I don't really know where Hart of Dixie resides in that world. Something tells me it won't make it to Season 2.

Original rating: C+
Revised rating: C

**Suburgatory**

Original rating: C+
Episode reviewed: Episode 13, "Sex and the Suburbs"

What Did I Say Then?
"Suburgatory is too funny to be ignored, and too quirky to be funny, all at once. At times, I felt like I was witnessing the next great television comedy. In the very next scene, I felt as though they tried too hard to create something more offbeat than it needed to be."

"The main problem is [the supporting cast]: they're all too weird. Cheryl Hines is the kingpin in suburbia: Sarah Palin meets the plastics in Mean Girls. In a movie, she's perfect. On a week-to-week basis, I'm finding it difficult picturing how I can possibly relate to her character in any way."

My biggest complaints
-Too quirky/offbeat
-The rogues' gallery of weird in suburbia
-Jeremy Sisto as The Dad in a sitcom?

My revised opinion
First, let's address the actors involved. I have come around a bit on my opinion of Jeremy Sisto. I still think it's a big step in a different direction for the actor known for much different roles, but he's rather enjoyable to watch. His chemistry with Jane Levy is a sight to behold. The whole dynamic feels very real without verging towards too sweet or too contrived. It's somewhere in the middle of real. And Cheryl Hines lives up to her acting potential this time around. The quirks are still there, but she's more tolerable and much, much funnier.

How about those supporting characters? They all feel a tad more developed in this latest episode compared to the pilot. Back then, they felt one-dimensional. Some of the characters still have those qualities, but it's not unbearably so. Perhaps the biggest shock was Allie Grant. One would expect the best performer would be either Levy, Sisto or Hines. But I feel there is a serious star in the making in Allie Grant. Her comedic timing is perfection. Her mannerisms are spot-on. Honestly, the cast works so well together and is full of such strong actors, I can't explain why this show wouldn't work.

But there's still something that's off. I'm not sure if they're finding a right balance between the normal characters and the quirky suburbanites. With so many great, funny sitcoms on the air, Suburgatory is getting lost in the shuffle it would seem. Yet it does deserve the chance to grow. Some shows start off on the right foot. Some take a while to gain their footing. And some shows never get it. I really hope Suburgatory lands in the middle, because it deserves success.

What the future now holds...
ABC struck gold in the sitcom department in the last three years, thanks to Modern Family and The Middle on Wednesdays and Last Man Standing on Tuesdays. Happy Endings is worthy, but the retention is atrocious. Meanwhile Suburgatory is average at best. ABC could be doing better, but they could be doing a lot worse. With Man Up, Work It and potentially Cougar Town falling by the waste side at season's end, Suburgatory might stand a chance at a second season. Unfortunately, it may come down to Suburgatory and Happy Endings.

Original rating: C+

Revised rating: B


*************

New Girls on the Block

Something interesting has happened at two of the top comedy pilots of the season. At the start of this season in September, much of the network buzz surrounded Zooey Deschanel's New Girl and the Kat Dennings/Beth Behrs-led 2 Broke Girls. Both have been hits for their respective networks, with 2 Broke Girls far and away the leader in viewers and the 18-49 demo, coming dangerously close to surpassing sitcom veteran Two and a Half Men, but New Girl is staying strong on Tuesdays, regularly scoring big in the key demographic, even beating CBS's NCIS: Los Angeles.

In terms of quality, the shows went in separate directions. After a stellar pilot (my personal pick for the best network pilot of the season), New Girl stalled a bit, unable to recover from losing Damon Wayans Jr. from the first episode and wobbly on its legs in finding a balance between Zooey's kooky Jess and the rest of the cast. Certain viewers felt Deschanel just wasn't funny on the show, a point I brought up in my review. She's definitely a love her or hate her actress on the show, akin to a Sarah Silverman. Ultimately the quality in the episodes was greatly mixed: certain episodes worked perfectly, while others struck out completely.

2 Broke Girls, on the other hand, has been consistently great all along. Stereotypical, one-note supporting characters aside, the comedy has had no trouble attracting the laughs. Dennings and Behrs have become a comedy dream team, an Odd Couple for a new generation of viewers. Dennings is the quick-witted, insult-ready Max, while Behrs is the prissy, sweet Caroline. No matter how many characters they create, Max and Caroline are the heart of the show, the titular Girls.

Sometime in January, things turned around for both shows for different reasons. New Girl has started finding a certain rhythm in its presentation. The jokes are firing at a better accuracy, the cast has gelled together and storylines have been playing up each character's greatest comedic strengths. That's not to say there still isn't work to be done, but improvements have been great. Is the ratings damage too much to overcome? Once it anchors a night of comedy in a few weeks, pairing it with a bunch of unproven sitcoms will only work against it. But that's FOX.

Meanwhile, over at 2 Broke Girls, amid sexual innuendos and racial stereotypes, they have cast Jennifer Coolidge as Sophia, the tall, buxom blonde that lives upstairs to Max and Caroline, running her own cleaning service. She's Ukrainian (the actress is not) and has a kooky, albeit strong demeanor, being the first to properly silence the ever-horny Oleg. Unfortunately the character, a great idea on paper, has brought the series to a grinding halt. The writers have found a delicate balance between the two leads and the three supporting characters, careful not to overexpose the weaknesses of the sassy black man, the hilariously stereotyped Asian or the sex-crazed (craved?) Russian while keeping the action primarily on Max and Caroline. With the introduction of Sophia, the series is trying to fit six characters into a five-character show. It's not working. Sophia's humor is strained at best, mining laughs in strange places that aren't that funny to begin with. To make matters worse, she has become a prominent character thus far, almost matching Max and Caroline for screen time, something the writers need to seriously re-evaluate.

Is the show losing it? Do they need to excise Sophia entirely to improve the show? No on both accounts. 2 Broke Girls has introduced a character more befitting of a sixth or seventh season character than one brought on in its rookie year. But the damage is not exactly done. Cutting back on the character and allowing her the same amount of screen time as Han, Oleg and Earl would be beneficial. Cutting her out entirely? I'm not saying that's the only option just yet. There's time to grow the character. But at this moment, 2 Broke Girls is suffering from the weight of the blonde bombshell in Coolidge.

If I had predicted from the beginning of the season which show would be my favorite of the two, I would have chose New Girl. Now in retrospect, it's a long, strange journey how we got to this point, but I would still agree. I didn't think this would be how it would happen, but after staying strong for so long, 2 Broke Girls is failing with the Sophia character while New Girl is improving week-to-week. I can only hope that A. New Girl re-discovers its audience, and B. 2 Broke Girls fixes what is clearly broken in its supporting cast.

New Girl Pilot Rating: A-
New Girl Season Rating: B+
2 Broke Girls Pilot Rating: B+
2 Broke Girls Season Rating: B+ (C for the Sophia episodes)

****************

TUBE NEWS

-Dancing With the Stars announced its latest cast today for Season 14. Celebrities include Sherri Shepherd, Maria Menounos, Jaleel White and Gavin DeGraw. When your biggest celebrities are Sherri Shepherd and Urkel... well, I guess that's the norm.

-FOX has moved the premiere of Touch from Monday, March 19th, to Thursday, March 22nd, allowing it the privilege of the American Idol lead-in. This will send Bones in its place to Mondays, beginning April 2nd, while The Finder will end its season (series) on March 8th. What does it all mean? Alcatraz is on life support, while Terra Nova is sci-fi toast.

-Lindsay Lohan returns to SNL for the fourth time this Saturday on NBC. Looks like Ms. Lohan is taking my advice. Could a TV project be in the works this fall? Yeah, probably not. Linds, you can always fall back on... um... jail?

*****************

WoKJ user Madgez made a terrific suggestion to start covering some of the developmental news for the upcoming fall season in September. News comes every day on potential pilots for next season, and I will begin to take a look at the most noteworthy news makers of the week in television. Keep in mind that any or all of the shows covered may not end up making it to air. These are just pilot commitments, not series orders.


PILOT NEWS

-Comedian Martin Lawrence is set to star in his own sitcom for CBS, playing a widowed father of two teenagers who, after losing his job in construction, decides to go to the police academy and become a cop at the age of 46. So I guess it won't be Big Momma: The Series?

-Roseanne Barr and John Goodman will reunite for NBC's Downwardly Mobile, about a family living in a mobile home community. AKA a trailer park? Also, haven't we done a good job turning our back on Roseanne recently? What makes her think this will turn out any different than Roseanne's Nuts? If you haven't heard of that one, you're forgiven. You're equally forgiven if you didn't know Roseanne once hosted her own talk show.

-Over at The CW, they're cranking out a new medical drama called First Cut. Emily Thorne is a new doctor discovering that the hospital life ain't so different from high school. I predict lots of romantic angst and pretty people using medical instruments they can't pronounce.

RATINGStoGO

-The 84th Academy Awards scored 39.34 million viewers and an 11.7 in the 18-49 demo, rising above last year's critically-panned telecast hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Meanwhile, 3,934 of those viewers actually saw The Artist.

-On Friday night, FOX's Fringe continues to nosedive, barely eking out 3.08 million viewers and a 1.2 in the demo. When The CW is catching up to you, you're failing fast.

-The Big Bang Theory officially bested American Idol on Thursday, pulling in 16.20 million and a 5.3 in the demo, against Idol's 15.64 million and 4.5 demo number.

That's it for this week's expanded Ecks Factor. I'll be back next week with a brand new column.

Until then, stay tuned.

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Total Comments: 2
Bluebomb
Bluebomb    Feb 29 2012 7:01pm
So Emily Thorne's on a mission for revenge and a doctor? Robert Ledgard now has some competition.
Mister Ecks
Mister Ecks    Feb 29 2012 10:06pm
Ha, I noticed that too. I assume they'll change the name, if the pilot goes to series.