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!
For the final review of this fall’s pilots, we’re looking at a few of the straggler shows that premiered a little later than their mid-September kin: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Supergirl” and “Truth Be Told.” All times are eastern.
Comedy, The CW, Mondays at 8
One-sentence summary: An unstable junior attorney (Rachel Bloom, also the show’s creator) ditches her high-paying job to recapture the last person who truly made her happy: her ex-boyfriend Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), who dated her for a summer while they were in high school.
Of all my one-sentence summaries, that one may be the most inadequate. That is indeed the plot of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” but the plot is a distant concern compared to the tone and sensibility. The pilot contains musical numbers, off-color humor, sound effect gags and a hearty helping of metatext. Bloom gives a manically committed performance as a woman in denial about why she’s (probably) uprooting her life, with enough ambiguity that you’re not sure if the title’s “crazy” is meant to describe the girlfriend or the show.
Though the pilot’s delivery system is novel and fun, I’m curious to see if the show’s story has the legs to keep me interested in the long run. In the first episode, it seems clear that the overall arc will see Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch fawn over Josh before realizing that cute bartender Greg (Santino Fontana) is really the right guy for her. It’s a stock rom-com plot, and while there’s nothing wrong with a stock plot as long as it’s executed well, it’s also not a story I usually find compelling. The show is a strange beast, however, so I’m game for sticking around for a while to find out if it will subvert expectations or perform well enough to keep me caring.
Ryan’s recommendation: Try it.
Drama, CBS, Mondays at 8
One-sentence summary: Though she has all of her cousin Superman’s powers, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) has been living in hiding for years until she realizes she can do good after saving a plane with her sister (Chyler Leigh) onboard.
One-sentence summary: “Supergirl” talks a good game. It has a lot of good things to say about feminism, female empowerment, marginalization and media representation. Unfortunately, the show’s words are countermanded by its actions, in which Supergirl is consistently stripped of agency, usually by a man.
Over the course of the pilot, viewers see a man hook Kara up with caretakers, a man make her costume and a man keep her from getting fired. She does save the plane by herself and stand alone to beat the final villain – a former Phantom Zone prisoner – but she only flies off to attack the baddie after getting permission from a man to do so. After she defeats the superpowered criminal, there’s some light gloating about underestimating her because she’s a girl, but it rings false; throughout the whole episode, she’s shown as needing a man’s help or blessing to do her job. It’s disappointing messaging for a show that’s been eager to claim its feminist bona fides.
Besides the strange gender dynamics, there are other tonal problems with “Supergirl.” Kara’s interactions with boss Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) at her newspaper job are painfully cliched, and Beloist’s mousy demeanor in her alter ego is grating rather than cute. Tack on some unearned emotional climaxes in the final minutes, and you have a mess of a first episode. I may watch another just because I really want to like a superhero show (try as I might, “Arrow” and “The Flash” don’t do it for me), but what I’ve seen so far doesn’t make me hopeful.
Ryan’s recommendation: Skip it.
Truth Be Told
Comedy, NBC, Fridays at 8:30
One-sentence summary: Two suburban couples (Mark-Paul Gosslear and Vanessa Lachey along with Tone Bell and Bresha Webb) engage in allegedly humorous exploits as they share allegedly edgy, alleged “insights” into politics, race, gender dynamics and other topics.
“Truth Be Told” is horrible. I’ve been doing the pilot watch for five falls, and this show is on the short list for one of the most unpleasant outings I’ve had to review. It makes me angry all over again that NBC unceremoniously jettisoned its late 2000s smartcoms to bring “more accessible” dreck like this to the marketplace.
It’s one thing for a show to be utterly unfunny, for each attempt at a joke to be delivered with a pained smirk and followed only by, if anything, the hollow laughter of a forced-to-guffaw studio audience. “Truth Be Told” has this in common with recent network failures like “Mulaney,” “Whitney” and “We Are Men.” However, it’s quite another thing for a show to be this dull and unfunny while also purporting to give hot takes on a variety of topics, assuring viewers that it’s willing to “go there” and say the things everyone’s really thinking. Its confidence is absurdly misplaced, and what’s left is a show that’s insufferably assured of its own brilliance.
The plot of the pilot, which is bookended with two jokes about black people being valets and also contains a scene solely to unfunnily elaborate on white people’s desire to use the n word in a non-racist context, follows Gosslear and Bell as they worry about marital jealousy after Gosslear and Lachey hire a hot babysitter. “Seinfeld” could get away with making a whole episode about such a stupid, nothing plot, but “Seinfeld” was also very funny and featured appealing characters. “Be like ‘Seinfeld’” is probably too much to ask of “Truth Be Told,” but “If you’re going to be smug, don’t be so insipid” is an axiom every show should follow.
Ryan’s recommendation: Avoid it.
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