Welcome to the 2015 Matinee Culture fall pilot watch. As usual, this fall Ryan will be watching (almost) all of the scripted network TV pilots and bringing you some brief reviews, hopefully cutting down on the time you might otherwise waste checking out “Minority Report.” Shows will be rated on a scale of “Watch it,” “Try it,” “Skip it” or “Avoid it.” Let’s dive in!
This time, we’re looking at the new shows that have come out in the last week: “The Muppets,” “Rosewood,” “Heroes Reborn,” “The Player,” “Blood and Oil” and “Quantico.” All times are eastern. Part one is here.
One-sentence summary: The Muppets’ lives are seen behind the scenes of Miss Piggy’s talk show in a modern-day mockumentary.
Everything in ABC’s “The Muppets” feels like someone doing a parody of The Muppets franchise – the mockumentary style, the more sarcastic characters and, perhaps most notably to Muppets nerds, a slew of character voices that are just different enough to be constantly noticeable. Dave Goelz is the only main original Muppet performer returning to “The Muppets,” and it seems like even longtime replacements like second generation Kermit Steve Whitmire have lost a step. Of course, a parody of Kermit, Piggy and the gang is all fine and good, but not so much when it’s supposed to be a continuation of the real thing.
There are two main problems with the pilot of “The Muppets,” a show which I will continue watching in the hope that it improves. The first problem is that it seems overly cynical. The Muppets have been sad, sarcastic and angry over the years, but underlying that sentiment was always a sense of niceness, optimism and goodwill toward others. In “The Muppets,” Kermit in particular seems beaten down by his circumstances, and when he describes his life as “a living hell” post-breakup with Miss Piggy, it sits wrong. Kermit should make the best of his situation, not wallow.
If the mood is a big problem, the comedic tone may be an even larger one. While there are a few bright spots (I am 100 percent on board with Gonzo’s “Dancing with the Tsars” pitch), much of the humor shies away from the classic Muppet style of comedy, both physical and wordplay-based. The one slapstick piece, when Scooter is violently manhandled by Elizabeth Banks, arguably goes too far, and the puns and language jokes are mostly downplayed for showbiz gags, slice of life humor and biting comebacks. I’m all for the Muppets experimenting with new types of humor, but I laughed more at guest star Tom Bergeron than I did at anything Kermit or Fozzie did or said, and that’s a problem.
Ryan’s recommendation: Try it if you like the Muppets. Otherwise, there’s nothing to really keep you here right now.
One-sentence summary: A rich, privately-operating pathologist (Morris Chesnut) with a likely-fatal heart condition teams up with a new Miami cop (Jaina Lee Ortiz) to solve unusual murders and act real sassy.
“Rosewood” is all about style over substance, and sometimes that’s almost enough to carry its pilot. Morris Chestnut is a very charming man, and his charm, some shooting choices and a bouncy, vaguely Latin score go a long way to making an hour of Rosewood breezy and light. However, this is still a formulaic procedural show, and Chestnut’s charm can only go so far to cover the problem that most of what comes out of the titular Rosewood’s mouth is a barrage of smug rejoinders.
The tone also masks a variety of other logical problems with “Rosewood,” though I’m not sure if the target audience is concerned about such matters. As I watched, I wondered why a pathologist was following a detective around during an active investigation, and I further scratched my head when Ortiz’s detective broke about a million rules regarding police brutality and warrantless searches in the pilot’s final minutes – all of it seemingly endorsed by the show’s creators.
If you want to watch a new procedural, there are certainly worse options out there this year (like “Minority Report”). Chestnut really is charming, and as a turn your brain off show, “Rosewood” isn’t terrible. What it is, however, is strictly junk food, and if you want really good junk food, right now it looks like “Limitless” and “The Player” will offer you a better option.
Ryan’s recommendation: Skip it.
One-sentence summary: It’s the return of the X-Men-inspired “Heroes” but with a new cast of “evos,” as well as the return of the former show’s best character, Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman).
If you liked “Heroes,” “Heroes Reborn” is definitely more of that. If you didn’t watch “Heroes,” “Heroes Reborn” is not necessarily incomprehensible, but at the very least, it will feel like walking into a movie that’s already half done. If, like me, you loved Season One of “Heroes” but found further seasons to be grating and tedious, you may find “Heroes Reborn’s” two-hour premiere intriguing even as your enthusiasm is dampened by the knowledge that it could easily fly off the rails again. It really does feel like the same show, with all of the good and bad elements that entails: the odd assortment of powers, the anthology style that leaves you with some fun characters and some annoying ones, and the sense that each storyline could reach new heights at any moment or just noodle around forever.
The primary difference, other than the new cast, is that “Heroes Reborn” is set a few years after the end of the final season of the original show. In that time, evolved humans, or “evos,” have become well-loved by the community, or at least they were until a terrorist attack on an evo-human alliance rally is blamed on pro-evo radical Mohinder Suresh (the heard but not seen in the pilot Sendhil Ramamurthy, the only other returning character on the show thus far). Since then, Noah has started tracking down the facts about what really happened on the day of the attack, and evos have been hunted by the government and vigilantes alike as they are forced to keep their identities secret from a public who fears and hates them.
And yes, in case you were wondering, the show is pushing the “mutants as persecuted minority” angle hard enough to put the X-Men to shame, complete with “God Hates Evos” signs modeled exactly like the infamous Westboro Baptist Church placards. “Heroes” has always been obvious and earnest, and if that appeals to you, then you may find yourself falling back into this new iteration. I found the new setup diverting – I haven’t even talked about any of the new characters, though Robbie Kay and Caitlin Green as a pair of uncertain teenage crushes was a highlight – but the show is almost too similar to the one I used to love. I can almost see the lack of direction preparing to rear its head.
Ryan’s recommendation: Like “The Muppets,” try it if you have a previous affection for the material.
One-sentence summary: A future-predicting syndicate run by two enigmatic supervisors (Charity Wakefield and an immaculately-coiffed Wesley Snipes) send out a “player” (Philip Winchester, playing a cop framed for murder) to fight crime as the uber-rich gamble on the outcome.
There isn’t a lot to say about “The Player” beyond the description of its plot. It is just as dumb as that synopsis would lead you to believe, but it knows it’s dumb, and as such it has a lot of fun. There are some big tonal shifts – for a show this jokey and stylish, you still see the protagonist’s wife die in front of him – but “The Player” is mostly silly chases and gunfights, with Winchester being incredulous, Snipes being suave and Wakefield being charming and British.
I won’t keep watching this. I know it won’t keep my attention for long, and even with the twist, this is still ultimately a show about fighting crime, and there’s no genre that has to struggle against my bias harder. This is no “Forever,” which was crazy and charming enough to fend off my procedural phobia for half a season, but its high concept is good enough to appeal to discerning fans of the format.
Ryan’s recommendation: Try it if you like procedurals or Wesley Snipes.
Blood and Oil
One-sentence summary: An upstart young couple (Chace Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse) move to Williston, N.D., home of a recent real-life oil boom, and tangle with the region’s biggest business force: the Briggs family, including patriarch Hap (Don Johnson).
Have you noticed the theme of this week’s reviews yet? It is “not for me,” from competent procedurals to lukewarm adaptations of beloved properties to this, a nighttime soap opera that seems like a less glamorous sequel to ABC’s recently-canceled “Revenge.” There’s plenty of sex and power struggles and family feuds, and while it’s all a bit melodramatic for me, I certainly recognize the place this kind of show has in a network’s lineup. Even with my reservations, I found things to like about “Blood and Oil,” including a compelling cast and a father figure in Johnson who may be more than he appears.
However, the best thing about “Blood and Oil” is its setting. I’ve never been to Williston, so perhaps the depiction of chaos in the overpopulated hamlet is incorrect, but as a Minnesota resident, I know some of the broad strokes regarding crowding and lack of services are true. Really, it’s just refreshing to see a show set somewhere other than the coasts, portraying a life that can be profitable for some and ugly for others. If nothing else, “Blood and Oil” is trying something different, and that’s admirable.
Ryan’s recommendation: Try it.
One-sentence summary: A young FBI trainee (Priyanka Chopra) is framed for a deadly terrorist attack as the show flashes back to the first days of her class’s training in Quantico.
Though the other shows on this list might not be for me, “Quantico” shouldn’t be for anyone. There is no TV trend more baffling than ABC’s steadily increasing, Shonda Rhimes-inspired crop of stupid, unsympathetic genre schlock, of which “Quantico” is the latest entry.
Like “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder” before it, “Quantico” portrays professionals working in an environment we hope is populated by those we can trust, and then asks you to root for these characters and justify their behavior as they lie, cheat, kill and generally behave like immature teenagers. All of the trainees are supposed to be in their late 20s or early 30s, but they’re unable to keep their minds on their jobs and off of sex, they disrespect the cultural traditions of their fellow trainees, and they’re more concerned with competing with their peers than excelling in their studies. I’m not advocating for a stodgy show where everyone does everything exactly by the book, but like its ABC forbears, “Quantico” shoves its seedy characters in your face and demands that you love them because they’re so pretty.
It is, in short, the epitome of exploitative, trashy TV. It is pitched at an audience who will love the shock value of a recruit killing himself after he pays for an illegal abortion of an underage girl who dies on the table. I don’t deny that an audience for this exists, but I deny that it’s a demand that needs to be filled.
Ryan’s recommendation: Avoid it.
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