Fall Pilots, week three: Here’s the bad stuff!

Here we are, readers! There are a few more pilots trickling out throughout October, but last week was the last of the big fall premiere weeks. I watched all of the non-CW entries, and this week was definitely home to the worst of the bunch. Was there anything worth watching? Find out below. All times are eastern.

Betrayal

ABC, 10 p.m. Sundays, Drama

Would Watch Again? No

betrayal still

Premise: A married photographer (Hannah Ware, utterly charmless here) begins a torrid affair with a wealthy family’s lawyer (Stuart Townshend, whose character is also married). But – oh no! – can their relationship hold up when Townshend is forced to defend his family against a fiery prosecutor who – gasp! – just happens to be Ware’s husband?!?

How Was It? So, so bad. This is a pilot so desperate to show its leads’ attraction to one another that there are two separate scenes in which they accidentally say the same thing in unison and then look at each other meaningfully. Two!

The writing is corny, the performances are almost universally unbelievable (save for James Cromwell, slumming it here as the wealthy family’s patriarch), and perhaps worst of all, there’s no plausible spark between the two leads and little to no time spent fleshing out why they’ve been drawn to each other. They’re just two selfish, unrelatable people.

ABC clearly wants this as a companion piece for Revenge on Sundays, but this is less pulpy fun and more just perspective-free mush. Skip it.

We Are Men

CBS, 8:30 p.m. Mondays, Comedy

Would Watch Again? No

We are Men still

Premise: Three loser dudes of various women troubles and socioeconomic backgrounds (Jerry O’Connell, Kal Penn and a wasted Tony Shaloub) take a new man (Chris Smith) under their questionable wing when he moves into their temporary housing complex after being dumped by his fiancé.

How Was It? In an alternate universe, the three older men would have actual wry, interesting advice for young Smith, and We Are Men would be a gentler, pleasant comedy. Instead, it’s a comedy of bros and “awesomeness,” an over-the-top land in which arrested development (the condition, not the show) is celebrated and every woman is a terrible shrew.

As a pilot, We Are Men’s premiere was also a bit bland, almost all exposition and setup and complete with a scene ripped straight out of Happy Endings’ first episode. Ratings were pretty bad for the first episode, which I’m pleased about; let’s cancel this stinker and get Shaloub into something more suited to the three-time Emmy winner.

Super Fun Night

ABC, 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Comedy

Would Watch Again? No

Super Fun Night still

Premise: In a show that’s a bit “Bridesmaids,” a bit Happy Endings, standup comedienne Rebel Wilson writes and stars as Kimmie Boubier, an upstart lawyer with two strange friends, the three of whom get together every Friday to try some new fun thing.

How Was It? Even for a hangout show, “three people get together to do something once a week” is rather thin for a premise, so Super Fun Night lives and dies on how much you want to spend time with these characters. After spending a half hour with them, I can say that they’re nice people, but not ones I’d want to catch up with every Wednesday.

Wilson certainly has an audience – one that likes singing and her own brand of physical comedy – but I’m not among them. There was an awful lot of mugging in this show and an awful lot of moralizing. I understand if the rather portly Wilson wants to take a stand on self-esteem and body image issues, but her third-act motivational speech was too corny and too telegraphed for my taste. More power to you, Rebel, but may you find your viewership elsewhere.

Ironside

NBC, 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Drama

Would Watch Again? No, and judging by the ratings I may not be able to

Ironside still

Premise: Robert Ironside (Blair Underwood) is a paraplegic New York police detective. He solves cases with his crack team and broods about the on-the-job shooting that caused his paralysis.

How Was It? Ironside wasn’t the worst show I watched this fall (that would be Betrayal), but it was the most unpleasant. Ironside’s pilot puts little focus on the character’s disability – and when it does, it’s terribly glib – and instead invests its time in making him incredibly unlikable. He’s an angry, bitter, rude man, a Dr. House of detectives who regularly engages in police brutality and/or does away with due process – but it’s OK because, in the hoariest of TV cop show tropes, he gets results. His team is little better, most of them smug, sarcastic jerks who care more about personal accomplishment than actually helping anyone.

Even without the unpleasantness, this was a pretty tepid mystery, involving a young woman’s suicide (or was it?) after she gets involved in Albanian “flower parties,” strange orgy-esque activities that are poorly explained and mostly just there to suit NBC’s idea of “edgy.” With a premiere that scored NBC’s lowest demo rating in history, Ironside probably doesn’t need me recommending that you don’t see it, but I’m going to anyway.

The Millers

CBS, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy

Would Watch Again? I’ll check back in around midseason

The Millers still

Premise: The always-welcome Will Arnett plays Nathan Miller, a TV reporter who’s been keeping his divorce secret from his parents (Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale). When he lets the cat out of the bag, it’s the last straw in his parents’ own marriage, and his mom moves in with him while his dad goes to the home of Nathan’s sister (Jayma Mays).

How Was It? This is a pretty stacked cast, and as such they make the most of material that wouldn’t be nearly as funny if it was delivered by less competent actors. Arnett, who showed that his range goes beyond “ignorant rich jerk” in the departed Up All Night, is particularly good at elevating The Millers’ content with his delivery, which ranges from deadpan to manic as the situation dictates.

Then again, this is a CBS multi-cam sitcom, so one can only expect so much. The fart jokes aren’t as prominent as the early promos suggest, and there are a few laugh lines here – more than most comedy pilots in this weak fall season – but this is still a show with a climax consisting of Arnett passionately dancing with Martindale to the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. I’ll keep my ear to the ground on this show’s quality and check back later to see if it’s any good.

Caveat: if this show keeps Martindale away from her recurring role on The Americans, then The Millers must be stopped.

Welcome To The Family

NBC, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy

Would Watch Again? No

Welcome to the Family still

Premise: A Latino valedictorian (Joey Haro) and his ditzy white girlfriend (Ella Rae Peck) find out that she’s pregnant, changing their post-high school plans and dragging their families into relationships with one another that they don’t want – particularly not their dads, played by Mike O’Malley and Ricardo Chavira.

How Was It? Welcome To The Family is not funny, but beyond that, it’s very confusing. What seems initially to be a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” premise is ignored, as neither family has a problem with the other’s race – and more power to them, but it’s a weird move for this type of show. The Yoders (the white family) might be a little better off than the Hernandezes, but their socioeconomic standings are hardly irreconcilable. Why, then, do the dads hate each other so much?

Mostly because they’re jerks, apparently. After a sour initial meeting – O’Malley’s Dan is treated poorly by Chavira’s Miguel in an incident that occurs prior to their knowledge of each other as potential in-laws – the characters grouse and mutter for the duration of the pilot in a way that’s clearly meant to be funny, but isn’t. I don’t need a show starring two families of different races to be about race, but that does seem to be Welcome To The Family’s ostensible premise, which is subsequently ignored in favor of general crabbiness. There’s not much else to say about this one; it’s pretty bland.

Sean Saves The World

NBC, 9 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy

Would Watch Again? No

Sean Saves the World still

Premise: Gay dad Sean (Sean Hayes) starts taking care of his daughter Ellie (Samantha Isler) after his ex-wife moves out of state. Also, the new boss at his online-retailer job is a jerk? I’m not really sure where this is going on a long-term basis.

How Was It? NBC just needs to embrace that it’s going to have low-rated Thursday night comedies for the foreseeable future and work on building up its brand, because the broader thing they’ve been trying the last couple of years with this, Whitney, Animal Practice and Go On just is not working. Sean Saves The World in particular sticks out like a sore thumb, as it’s the only laugh-tracked sitcom in NBC’s two-hour Thursday block.

Hayes tries too hard to be cute, and there’s an awful lot of 90s-era “what have we learned” speechifying in the pilot’s final minutes. What scant laughs there are to be had come from the amusingly calm deliveries of one of Sean’s co-workers, played by Echo Kellum. This is just too shapeless and samey to stick out, which NBC should know by now. It’s not going to beat CBS, so why not try to develop the more impassioned fanbases that come with singular shows like Community, Parks & Rec and 30 Rock?

—–

That’s a lesson that all four of the big networks could take this fall. There are a couple of good comedies out there (Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Trophy Wife) and a few schlocky-but-fun dramas (The Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow, and, let’s be honest, SHIELD), but so much of it isn’t so much actively bad as it is lazy and unremarkable. It doesn’t feel as if an ounce of energy went into the creation of Dads, The Crazy Ones, Betrayal and many more. Audiences understand that implicitly, the success of Two And A Half Men notwithstanding.

If you can’t be bothered to put effort into creating your TV shows, why should we put any effort into following them?

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