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Ecks Factor: 2012 Pilot Roundup, Part I

Can it really be one year since I started writing these silly TV columns? Yes, yes it has. Last year, I began with my first pilot roundup, and continue the tradition this year. Just remember: I watch the bad pilots so you don't have to. Let's get right into it, shall we?

(Mild warning for spoilers: I do spoil most of the pilots, so if you don't want to know what Guy With Kids is about, you better not read on.)


Guys With Kids - Wednesdays, 8:30pm NBC

What You Need To Know: Uh, it's about guys with kids? And that's basically it. The guys (Anthony Anderson, Zach Cregger, Jesse Bradford) are a modern take on fatherhood, with all the relatable moments and zero comedy. It's executive produced by Jimmy Fallon, who also serves as co-creator. Any wit or charm that Fallon possesses did not transfer to the pilot.

What I Think: I owe Animal Practice an apology. Heck, I may owe Free Agents and Work It an apology. Animal Practice has some miniscule likability in it, thanks to its cast. Work It had a so-bad, it's-still-really-bad quality that was admirable. Free Agents had Anthony Stewart Head. Guys With Kids has Jamie-Lynn Sigler. I'm not joking that Sigler is the only part I genuinely liked, mainly because she's attractive and it was fun seeing Meadow Soprano in a new role. It takes so little to impress me sometimes.

The comedy is boring, obvious garbage that may not make it on TV Land, much less NBC. The subject matter is so universally relatable. Even if you don't have kids, you know someone who does and may even get to be around them yourself. It's all relatable, and they nail that part fairly well. But that's as far as they go with it. Dads playing video games: yeah, guys in their 30s do play video games like children! Dads wearing their babies on their chest: yeah, guys do that too! Mommy and Daddy finding alone time in the bathroom while their kids are banging on the door: oh my God, it's like they're chronicling my life!

That's basically how each joke goes. It's painfully insipid. I'm not someone that hates Jimmy Fallon, but if this is what he has to offer as a sitcom, he should stick to his late night job. Co-creator Charlie Grandy worked on The Office. The pedigree is there, but they're stuck on cruise control. And unfortunately, they don't have strong actors to back up the weak script. I like Jamie-Lynn Sigler, but she's not winning any Emmys.

Grade: F

What The Future Holds: The one-two punch of Animal Practice and Guys With Kids will be gone by sweeps.


The Neighbors - Wednesdays, 9:30pm ABC

What You Need To Know: Debbie (Jami Gertz) and Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito) move to a new community that's inhabited by strange neighbors, led by Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye). Hahaha? The neighbors are aliens and named themselves after sports stars. What will the humans teach their alien neighbors and vice versa? Oh, so so much.

What I Think: I wanted to hate it. And in the first five minutes, I was ready to label it Worst Pilot Ever. But something happens halfway through. There are a few clever moments peppered into an otherwise awful episode. First, it's cute that the aliens have named themselves after legendary sports figures, but the joke gets old immediately. Maybe they should have observed the human fascination with celebrities too. Then you can't deny a show that features the line "Oh, I'm afraid our little Dick has exposed himself again." as Father and Mother Alien talk about their son. The funniest sight gag on a show full of bad sight gags was the picture of Mother and Son Aliens. It's a really funny alien interpretation of family pictures we take.

But those moments are few and far between. I'm not against aliens in primetime. Heck, television has long been a home to them, even in comedy form: 3rd Rock From the Sun, ALF and Mork & Mindy come to mind. But especially with 3rd Rock, the peculiar tendencies of the aliens was overrided by their ability to adapt. These aliens have been here for ten years. Have they honestly not been able to adapt at all? Did they really stay secluded this long? On 3rd Rock, you had John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. They were great. No one here is outstanding, although newcomer Toks Olagundoye shows signs of life as Mother Alien. But Simon Templeman is too quirky, cancelling her out entirely.

Jami Gertz is a good sitcom actress. And she plays it well here. But Lenny Venito is not right for the part. Templeman should have been replaced with a better actor as well. It's almost as if they traded in newcomers in exchange for meager special effects. Which brings me to my last point: we should not see the aliens in their alien forms. We didn't see Mork or the 3rd Rock gang (as best as I remember) in their alien forms. We didn't need to. The comedy worked on the quirks alone. It's an unnecessary visual and it's not worth it, for the money or the pilot itself.

Grade: C-

What The Future Holds: It's way too quirky and much too high-concept for its own good. It doesn't jive with ABC's programming at all. Why it's in the post-Modern Family timeslot is beyond me. If it survives a full season, color me shocked. And deeply angry, considering it bumped the superior-in-every-way-imaginable Happy Endings.


The Mob Doctor - Mondays 9pm, FOX

What You Need to Know: Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) is a doctor who has taken on the mafia debts of her brother, Nate. She's harrassed by mob leader Moretti (Michael Rapaport) until family friend (and retired mobster) Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe) intervenes. She's ordered by Moretti to kill a patient that's part of the witness protection program. Will her morals get in the way? It's network TV, so you know the answer.

What I Think: This is why The Sopranos would never work on network television (fun fact: David Chase originally imagined The Sopranos as a network TV drama). Combining the most boring medical drama cliches with the mafia world makes for a show lacking in drama, tension, violence (it is a mob show at heart, as empty as that heart is) or levity. It gets nothing right. Jordana Spiro is not convincing as the doctor plagued by demands from the mob. William Forsythe chews scenery like it's his job. The pacing hits dead ends here, then kicks into overdrive there. Worst of all is the complete wasting of Zeljko Ivanek. He's a terrific character actor, and while it's nice to see him in a role that shouldn't become villainous, he's not right for the part. He's way too good for it.

The climax may be the best (worst) part. After she refuses to kill anyone (again, network TV), Moretti holds her family in their home. Is this really how a mob boss reacts to insolence? She ends up driving into Moretti's car, which has to be the breaking point, right? No, he's pissed but he starts a high-speed chase. She arrives at Constantine's, who promptly shoots and kills Moretti. It's seriously as anti-climactic as that. It happens so fast and unceremoniously, you wonder if he's really dead. The closing seconds feature Spiro model-walking (seriously) to the camera, which is the funniest part of a show never meant to be funny.

Grade: D

What The Future Holds: Ratings are abysmal. Network honchos will be putting a hit out on it very soon. Too corny? How about this: The Mob Doctor will be getting whacked shortly by FOX. Not good? One more: The Mob Doctor will be entering the witness protection program soon, alongside Lone Star, The Finder and Breaking In. Okay, I think that was pretty good.


Partners - Mondays 8:30pm, CBS

What You Need To Know: It's loosely based on the real life relationship of straight-and-gay writing partners David Kohan and Max Mutchnick. Joe (David Krumholtz) and Louis (Michael Urie) are best friends, working in an architecture firm. Joe is straight and newly engaged to Ali (Sophia Bush) while Louis is gay and dating nurse Wyatt (Brandon Routh).

What I Think: Kohan & Mutchnick have a great comedy style for TV... in 1999. They created the kind-of similar Will & Grace to much success, but their writing hasn't really evolved. Krumholtz and Urie have a likable chemistry in their bro-mance, but neither is particularly strong enough to elevate the weak material. Urie spends his time channeling Sean Hayes' Jack. Sophia Bush is about as good as you would expect. But the surprise in the cast is Brandon Routh as Louis's dummy boyfriend. His few lines, as obvious as they are, are the funniest in the pilot. Which doesn't bode well since he's hardly the emphasis.

If you want to strip the two shows down, they've essentially re-created Will & Grace. Perhaps Will & Grace was meant to be the relationship of the writers, except the man was gay and the woman was straight. Here, they're just the correct genders to the writers. Then again, I would hate to give Partners that kind of compliment because it doesn't deserve it. Improvements can be made, but I feel they won't. David Kohan & Max Mutchnick may need to try their hand at a TV Land series instead.

Grade: D+

What The Future Holds: Ratings were terrible between CBS anchors How I Met Your Mother and 2 Broke Girls. With Mother and Two and a Half Men very close to their series endings, CBS may want to look harder for replacements and nix Partners quickly.


Revolution - Mondays 10pm, NBC

What You Need To Know: It's totally not a revised version of CBS's Jericho, though it kind of is. Fifteen years ago, something caused all electronics in the world to disable, leaving humanity without computers, technologies, car engines, jet engines and batteries. How will humanity ever survive on Earth like that?! With the collapse of government, warlords and militias rule many parts. In our part of the story, we follow Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos), whose father is murdered in the pilot and her brother is taken. In order to restore her life (and hopefully everyone else's) to normalcy, she tracks down her uncle Miles (Billy Burke) at the behest of her dying father. She's joined by Aaron (Zak Orth), Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips) and Nate (J.D. Pardo) on her quest to Chicago.

What I Think: I haven't felt this conflicted about a pilot in a long time. On the one hand, the show has horrible pacing. It moves at breakneck speeds in parts where the storyline would benefit from being fleshed out. On the other hand, by episode's end, I'm actually intrigued with what happens next. I'm fascinated by Tracy Spiridakos' Charlie, by Giancarlo Esposito's villainous Captain Neville. On one hand, why does everyone look so good and clean and well-clothed after fifteen years of no electricity. It looks like a weekend-long blackout, not a decade-and-change. On the other hand, everyone looks good and that's what counts on television!

Seriously, let's talk about the liabilities first. The pacing is way off, but as the series progresses, it should settle in to something the audience can grasp. It's also a series that would be nowhere without Lost, Jericho, Flash Forward or The Event. That's not a bad thing, but only Lost enjoyed success. For some reason, people don't respond well to humanity being rocked by a huge, life-changing event. People prefer 47 different procedurals. And that's this season alone! And several of the actors and characters are completely wrong for the show, namely Billy Burke as Miles Matheson. He's meant to be an anti-hero, but comes off more anti-everything. He doesn't have what I believe it takes for such an important role. Prove me wrong, Billy.

What does work? I'm really fascinated by Tracy Spiridakos as Charlie. At times she's a little wooden, but the character kind of calls for it. She's playing an amalgamation of Lost's Kate, The Hunger Games' Katniss and Alias's Sydney Bristow. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it's always a joy to see Giancarlo Esposito, and here he's playing the lead villain to the series. Would we have it any other way?

And the entire plotline, as limiting as it is, I find to be exciting. I have a soft spot for dystopian futures represented on television or in film. If I can find any fault in the main story, it's that we've seen it all before and I'm not sure if Revolution will offer anything new. But purely based on the pilot, I liked it a lot, despite all its flaws.

Grade: B

What The Future Holds: Numbers are good, AND it's on NBC? Wow. As long as things don't break down fast, NBC should stick by it for the season. Beyond that depends on many factors: when episodes aired, when breaks are taken, character and story progression, audience interest growing or waning, etc etc etc. More than any other genre, the ensemble sci-fi drama has fickle viewers.


This concludes Part I of the 2012 Pilot Roundup. Wow, it's not good when the only shows I wholeheartedly recommend (including my previous column) are NBC's Revolution, The New Normal and Go On. If we can learn anything from the really bad pilots, which make up the rest, is that casting is key. You can take a bad idea and breathe life into it with the right actors. But bad ideas and bad acting make for a bad show. Shocking math, I know.

Will the pilots get any better in Part II? Next time, I'll take a look at Vegas, Ben & Kate, The Mindy Project and more. Also cooking are columns devoted to Modern Family and Happy Endings.

Until next time, stay tuned.

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