I may not be good at keeping up this blog, but dammit, I’ve been writing about fall network TV pilots either here or other places for at least seven years, so I’d feel guilty if I stopped doing it now. This season doesn’t look particularly good, per se, but at least there’s some stuff of interest. There’s a new Star Trek, for one, and then there’s another show that really wants to be Star Trek, but isn’t. Who knows? Maybe there’s a good show amongst all the baby Jim Parsons and interchangeable shows about special ops teams.
As per the last few years, these shows will be rated on my definitely unpatented scale of Watch it, Try it, Skip it, and Avoid it. All times are eastern.
Part one will review all network pilots that have premiered as of Sept. 29. Right now, I’m expecting one or two more parts that will cover the rest of the fall network pilots, except “SWAT” because that’s premiering so long after everything else.
Star Trek Discovery
Sundays, 9:30 p.m., CBS All-Access (but the pilot was on CBS, which is why I’m writing about it)
One-sentence summary: It’s Star Trek, but this time the main character is the first officer (Sonequa Martin-Green).
This was better than I thought it would be, but not as good as I was hoping. I’m not a giant Trek fan – I love the original series, but the other iterations I’ve seen have yet to click for me – but I really like the idea of the franchise, so I was hopeful “Discovery” would be able to fill that niche for me. There’s certainly promise there, but I was frustrated by a few choices made in the first two episodes (both of which were on All-Access the night of the premiere).
As a viewer who’s unsure whether I want to subscribe to All-Access, the most frustrating thing about the opening of “Discovery” is that it’s pitching a fundamentally different show than what the show will ultimately be. The story takes place on the U.S.S. Shenzou, not the titular ship, and it appears that much of the cast from the first two episodes will not be transferring to season regulars (which is perhaps why the first two hours are pretty light on character development, with the exception of Martin-Green’s Michael, Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou and Doug Jones’s Science Officer Saru). I’m open to buying CBS’s bill of goods, but two episodes in, I don’t really know what that bill of goods is, which tries my patience to invest more time into it.
The other problem with the show is that there really didn’t seem like a lot going for it in the opening hours other than the fact that it’s Star Trek. It looks good, and Saru is an immediately arresting character, but the Klingon bits are overlong, there’s more fighting than philosophizing, and I found Michael to be relatively uninteresting as a main character in the early going (essentially, she’s the human version of Spock, but slightly more prone to her human side than he is). Throughout the two hours, I frequently found myself thinking, “I wish this show was about Captain Georgiou instead,” which isn’t a good sign, especially since Yeoh is most definitely not a part of the series’s long-term plans.
Ryan’s rec: Try it if you’re into Trek, but it’s hard to give this one a solid recommendation either way because we don’t know what it is yet. I’ll probably check back on this one later on.
Mondays, 8:30 p.m., CBS
One-sentence summary: “The Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons narrates the adventures of his preteen, genius, socially tone-deaf self (Iain Armitage), growing up with a family that doesn’t understand him and entering a high school that ostracizes him.
I no longer watch “The Big Bang Theory,” but the reason the Sheldon character often can work in that show’s context is that the other characters are annoyed by his foibles and the audience is allowed to laugh. In “Young Sheldon,” the foibles themselves are meant to be the sole joke, an the audience is meant to feel bad for Sheldon when teachers get mad at him after he calls them stupid. I didn’t feel bad. In fact, this might be the only TV show outside of “Game of Thrones” that has ever featured a child I wanted to see bullied.
There really isn’t a lot there in this pilot. The show’s writers do an accurate simulacrum of “What if Sheldon was young?” but the family dynamics are stale and the plot doesn’t elevate itself much above the premise. Still, I didn’t hate it, thanks mostly to the performance of Zoe Perry, who turns in a performance as Sheldon’s mom that is much, much better than the caliber of show she’s in. Her mixture of love, frustration and fear in her relationship with her son is compelling, but nothing else about the show is.
Ryan’s rec: Skip it.
Me, Myself, and I
Mondays, 9:30 p.m., CBS
One-sentence summary: A comedy that plays like a wannabe inspirational movie, the show follows Jack Dylan Grazer, Bobby Moynihan, and John Larroquette as the same person in three different stages of his life, trying to make the best of a bad situation he’s found himself in.
This was… fine. It’s not particularly funny, but Moynihan and Larroquette are charming screen presences, and the child actors in the past are pretty good, and nothing is aggressively bad or anything. So why am I so disappointed?
I think the reason is that Moynihan, whose character Alex Riley is an inventor, can be so much funnier than “loser dad who loves the Bulls,” and the inventions on the show could be so much funnier than “chopstick that is also a fork,” and ultimately this is a show that is less about comedy than it is about making you feel warm fuzzies at the power of family and friends and the human spirit, and that’s not why I watch sitcoms. I watch sitcoms because they’re funny.
Plus, not only is “Me, Myself, and I” not very funny, it’s also strangely depressing for a show that’s supposed to be about overcoming obstacles. Alex clearly has a good life at various intervals between the portions we’re being shown on the show, but watching a human being experience three separate existential crises simultaneously does lend itself to a bit of existential dread for the viewer. Will I also be unable to determine the success of my life and be haunted by missed opportunities from my youth well into my 60s?
Ryan’s rec: Skip it.
The Good Doctor
Mondays, 10 p.m., ABC
One-sentence summary: What if Dr. House had autism? Or, wait, maybe, What if Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” was a little nicer, and a doctor? Yeah, yeah, more than one sentence.
The execution of “The Good Doctor” is fine. It’s your standard medical show, with your “House”-esque genius who knows all the rare conditions (“House” creator David Shore also made this show). It’s even slightly more interesting to watch for me, someone who does not like medical dramas, thanks to the magnetic Richard Schiff, who plays the president of the hospital that hires a young autistic man (Freddie Highmore) to be a pediatric surgeon. Highmore gets to show off his autism acting, his character Shaun gets to spout some arcane surgical knowledge that saves someone’s life, everyone learns a little something, etc. Normally, I’d be giving this a nominal “Try it” if you like medical shows.
However, while the premise of the show is inoffensive and competently executed, the pilot takes a sharp turn for the worse when it adds flashbacks to the titular doctor’s tortured childhood, which included childhood beatings, a dead brother, and the death of Shaun’s pet rabbit by his father’s hand, a scene so melodramatic that I laughed at its audacity. These flashbacks are among the most mawkish, emotionally manipulative scenes I’ve seen on TV in a long time, and I was mad at “The Good Doctor” for subjecting me to them.
Ryan’s rec: Skip it, or Avoid it if you’re an animal lover.
The Brave/SEAL Team
Mondays, 10 p.m., NBC (The Brave)/Wednesdays, 9 p.m., CBS (SEAL Team)
One-sentence summary: On both shows, a special ops teams goes into tough situations – in the pilots, both teams attempt to take out or capture terrorists while also rescuing civilians – aided and instructed by a remote command team.
Of these two, I liked “The Brave” a little more; I felt its team had a bit more charisma, and I liked the clear delineation between the team in the field and the office support staff back in Washington. “The Brave” also focused much more on the mission at hand over characterization, which is a welcome respite when “SEAL Team” is mostly just David Boreanaz feeling mentally tortured about his family life and the doings of his current and former teammates.
Still, there’s very little memorable about either show; both have standard plots, standard characters, and nothing to really hook you in beyond “Maybe you’d like to watch some stuff that SEAL teams do, but like, less violent than in real life.” Despite my comparative praise for “The Brave,” it’s also home to a character named “Preach,” (Demetrius Grosse), whose sole character trait is that the writing staff wanted a religious character and so decided to write a person who speaks only in motivational poster quotes.
Ryan’s rec: “SEAL Team” is just boring, so skip it. If you try either, “The Brave” at least feels like a short action movie with cheap thrills.
Thursdays, 9 p.m., Fox
One-sentence summary: “Star Trek” with the labels filed off and Seth MacFarlane as the captain.
OK, folks, I’ll be honest: I’m pretty into this show. The pilot is a strange, strange beast, tonally; it’s not sure whether it’s the “Galaxy Quest” style satire presented in its commercials, or the actual successor to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that it’s so clearly aping. However, since this show premiered a couple of weeks before the rest of the new network offerings, I can say, much to my surprise, that it’s grown on me as it’s quickly become the show it actually wants to be: basically just exactly “Star Trek” (specifically TNG), but if the ship was run by “regular people.”
Yeah, the pilot isn’t great, but I think “The Orville’s” bad critical start is due in large part to residual critical hatred for MacFarlane (who I don’t love, but don’t hate, either) and because the show was badly mismarketed by Fox. It’s not a comedy. It is an hour-long, dramatic, love letter to a franchise that MacFarlane clearly knows well and wants to do right by. Sure, there are parts of it that feel like the community theater version of “Star Trek,” what with the off-model uniforms and subpar graphics, but the show is so sincere in its desire to show you aspirational, issues-based sci-fi that those details – along with the occasional clunkiness of the philosophical concepts it’s trying to broach – are almost charming. They’re trying so hard, and it’s so rare to see a show that wears its heart on its sleeve, especially coming from a personality so typically drenched in irony as MacFarlane.
Ryan’s rec: Skip the pilot if you must, but definitely try this.
Fridays, 9 p.m. ABC
One-sentence summary: In Marvel’s latest TV offering, a royal family of humans with genetic differences that give them superpowers – the titular Inhumans – are exiled from their home on the moon to Earth after a betrayal among them.
“Inhumans” opens with a slow-motion, close-up shot of a sneaker splashing in some mud. That sneaker belongs to a fugitive Inhuman who looks like a normal young woman except that she has cat eyes. Her name and powers go unexplained, as she is killed just a few minutes into the pilot. What we are meant to make of her sneaker remains a mystery, at least for this week.
“Inhumans” is not a good TV show, but it is deeply, entertainingly weird. Not weird like, say, David Lynch is weirdly masterful, mind you. It’s just that it takes a premise that is essentially “’Game of Thrones’ on a budget but with superheroes” and makes a number of inexplicable choices that are fascinating to watch. Based on the advanced buzz it was getting, and the fact that it was brought to us by the guy who ran “Iron Fist,” I was expecting a thudding, ponderous, awful TV show. What I saw was a relatively straight-forward, bland but watchable pilot periodically intercut by things that made me laugh out loud.
Here is a picture of a bunch of extras considering a proposition from series baddie Maximus (“Game of Thrones’” Iwan Rheon). I think they’re attempting to appear thoughtful, but mostly they look like they’re in the first minute of a “Punk’d” segment, after the prank has just started but before Ashton Kutcher has revealed himself.
Here is a picture of Maximus crying as he cuts off his sister-in-law’s magic hair.
I downloaded a gif application just so I could capture this footage of Inhuman king Black Bolt, whose words create incredibly powerful shockwaves, accidentally killing his parents, in a scene I found funny enough to rewind and watch multiple times.
I didn’t hate watching this. If you’re a Marvel superfan, this isn’t even the worst thing you’ve made yourself watch. But the effects are bad, the performances are mystifying, and the villain is, unintentionally I fear, much more sympathetic that the series’ ostensible leads.
Ryan’s rec: Skip unless you want to watch the odd badness.