Welcome back to the 2016 fall network pilot watch. The second half of the first week of 2016 network pilots didn’t have as many debuts, but it did have one that will probably be among the most confounding this year. Before we begin, however, a couple of programming notes:
Note 1: There are no pilots premiering next week, so I’ll probably pick up again on Oct. 6 or 7 with reviews of “Conviction,” “Timeless” and “Frequency.”
Note 2: I didn’t watch “The Exorcist.” I was going to, but then I realized: I don’t like religious horror, generally speaking, and I’ve never read or watched any “Exorcist” media, and I just didn’t want to do it. People with more interest seem to like it, so take what you will from that.
Drama, ABC, 9 p.m. Thursday
One-sentence summary: An infotainment legal talk show producer (Piper Perabo) and a lawyer for the rich and famous (Daniel Sunjata) collude to benefit her show and his clients, until a hit-in-run involving one of the lawyer’s clients (Kevin Zegers, playing a tech billionaire) lands both of them in hot water.
“Notorious” is one of those shows, like “Quantico” last year, apparently aimed at wooing the Shondaland audience, soaked as it is in sex, violence and morally reprehensible but technically competent protagonists. Even more so than “Quantico,” “Notorious” is clearly trying to follow in the footsteps of “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder”: it’s scheduled on Thursday nights, for one thing, and it shares with both of those shows a compunction for rooting for genuinely terrible people.
“Notorious’s” initial hour is one in which the sympathetic characters blackmail each other, engage in extramarital affairs and frame an innocent man for murder (albeit temporarily). I don’t need my fictional characters to always line up with my moral views, but I find it hard to get behind a show that wants you to root unironically for terrible people, with the only argument for why we should do so being, “But they’re so good at their jobs.”
Besides all of that, however, “Notorious” is horribly written. Seemingly every fourth line or so is someone awkwardly using conversational dialogue to explain previous events or employment statuses to the audience. I’m not a TV writer, but as someone who has actual conversations with human beings on a regular basis, I’m pretty sure that I don’t spend large chunks of linguistic real estate telling my friends things like “You’re a federal judge now” or “You used to work at an escort service.” “Notorious” isn’t just uncharismatic and ethically dubious; it’s also stupid.
My rec: Avoid it.
Drama, Fox, 9 p.m. Thursday
One-sentence summary: The first female pitcher in Major League Baseball (Kylie Bunbury) experiences adversity and prejudice in her rookie season.
This is a tough one (and also, spoilers ahoy below). There are definitely things in the “Pitch” pilot that don’t work, from a conversation between Bunbury’s Ginny Baker and Mark Paul Gosslear’s cocky All-Star catcher about butt-slapping to Ali Larter’s unpleasant and seemingly unnecessary turn as Baker’s … agent, I guess? However, and maybe it’s just the baseball fan in me, there’s something in the pilot that just works. Despite a lot of little imperfections, the plot cooks, the twists of Baker’s opening two games are largely unexpected, and Baker’s relationship with her father (Michael Beach) doesn’t have the typical “committed dad” arc.
Therein lies the problem, however. While I was engaged by the revelation that Ginny’s father, in addition to being a dedicated baseball dad, is also an abusive dad, I shouted several expletives at the screen when the pilot’s final minutes revealed that he died in a car accident five or six years before she made her major league debut. Throughout the pilot beforehand, you see her dad sitting in the stands at her first two Padres starts and even fighting with her after a tough inning forces her out of a game. The reveal that she’s been talking to Ghost Dad in head means that she’s either delusional or suffering from an overactive imagination and is dumb either way – both for the inherent histrionics and for sapping the show of the real drama that could have come from her evolving relationship with her father.
There’s still a lot to like about “Pitch.” In particular, I liked how it doesn’t shy away from some of the realities of Ginny’s situation, like the fact that she has to use immaculate ball control to make up for her lack of pitch speed. I’m going to watch more, but if frequent conversations with Phantom Father are a part of it, I’m out.
My rec: Try it.
Drama, CBS, 8 p.m. Friday
One-sentence summary: In a remake of the 1980s hit show, spy Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) goes on missions so secret the CIA doesn’t know about them.
The main thing most people remember from the original “MacGyver” is his improvised gadgets, and the new pilot includes quite a few (mostly unimpressive) examples. At the same time, however, the show appears unsure of what it really wants to be; a fellow agent tells MacGyver that the former show’s signature chewing gum won’t work as an improvised device in a tight spot, and Till’s smug, jokey narration takes frequent breaks to allow the main character times of brooding and sullenness. Apparently, we’re also supposed to be OK with a good guy torturing a bad guy with a nailgun in this ostensibly light-hearted show.
However, the tone isn’t “MacGyver’s” biggest flaw; that would be the fact that it’s boring as hell. The pilot concerns MacGyver and his team trying to stop the detonation of a biological weapon in Los Angeles, and everything is shot, written and acted so woodenly that it’s impossible to care. I don’t care that MacGyver’s ex betrayed him or that two of the people on his team used to date or that they all have quips that are interchangeable in any situation. Everything clicks along at the same old pace as any middling procedural, and the “What if MacGyver was cool” premise only adds annoyance to sleepiness.
My rec: Skip it.
Son of Zorn
Comedy, Fox, 8:30 p.m. Sunday
One-sentence summary: Animated He-Man parody Zorn (Jason Sudeikis) leaves his home island of Zephyria to get a job in LA so he can be close to his live-action son (Johnny Pemberton), his ex-wife (Cheryl Hines) and her current fiance (Tim Meadows).
Like “The Good Place,” I was excited for “Son of Zorn” because of its pedigree: created by Chris Miller and Phil Lord (recently of “Last Man on Earth” and “The Lego Movie”) and starring Sudeikis and Meadows. Also like “The Good Place,” however, I left the first episode of “Son of Zorn” a little disappointed, but willing to give the talent involved another try.
Though the premise of “Son of Zorn” is amusing, I was left wondering if the show would have been more entertaining had Sudeikis actually been on set, dressed in barbarian garb. The other actors don’t appear quite comfortable talking to a character who isn’t really there, and as such, much of the patter involving Zorn seems just a bit off. There are still funny jokes, but you get the impression that they’d be just a bit funnier if they were edited differently or delivered with more conviction. It lacks the punch that sitcom casts with really great chemistry have.
Still, you can’t deny the talent of Sudeikis and Meadows, and there are a few pretty good gags in the pilot (most of them involving cartoon ultraviolence, which I hope the show continues). The fish out of water comedy seemed a bit rote in the pilot, but there’s potential there, too, so I’ll give this one a leash for a few more episodes.
My rec: Try it.
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