Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pilot Previews Part III and Jekyll Arrives

So, number three. Last time I promised a review of the BBC series Jekyll as well as more pilots. This time, I deliver.
Over the weekend I was able to get my hands on four more pilots for the upcoming season. None of them are particularly special but one of them is truly BAD. Take a guess which one: Cane, Lipstick Jungle, Cavemen, and The Big Bang Theory. This should not be too hard of an answer to come up with, but to make it easier I’ll give you two clues. Geico. Commericials.

Whoever thought it was a good idea to convert this series of vignettes into a half hour comedy series seriously has no sense of comedy. This is no sitcom, this is not a television show. Instead, it’s just a mess of a half hour that relies on poor racial stereotypes to craft an insipid story. This is just one pile of crap. And still, Cavemen exceeded my expectations.
Critics have railed on the show and beaten to death. Rightfully so. Still, I do not know if I consider it as bad as so many say. It is embarrassingly bad, but is it insulting to all other television? I don’t know. Still, whatever you do stay away…if this even makes it to air. Word is that the network has ordered a completely new pilot and have not set a start date for the series. Many may be spared from this horror. And no, I’m not even doing it the service of summarizing its ridiculously dull plot. This is just something you should avoid!

The Big Bang Theory is also a show to avoid. Nowhere near as bad as Cavemen, this is just a show that feels like it was ripped out of the 1980s. A couple months ago I reviewed Revenge of the Nerds’ new DVD release at DVDfanatic.com. A special feature on that disc was a failed pilot for a TV show based on the film. The Big Bang Theory feels like that pilot. The jokes are old, the characters pure stereotypes and the story nothing new. Sure, there are some chuckle inducing moments, but none of it special. These moments all come from stupid humor rather than any real sense of comedy.
Basically, this CBS show is about two geeks Leonard (Johnny Galecki, Roseanne) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons, The Knight from Garden State) who have become very set in their hermit ways. Sheldon prefers one specific spot on the couch while Leonard prepares mathematical equations. The biggest thrill for the two is when Howard (a hilarious Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) come over with a DVD of a pre-disease-striken Stephen Hawking delivering a lecture. The dynamic of the group changes when Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moves in across the hall. Becoming friendly with Leonard and Sheldon, she soon gets drawn into their nerdy world. Lucky for Leonard he seems to be the only one with a chance of getting with her.
Written by Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men) I don’t think this show can fail. Does that mean I like it? No. But it is traditional and traditional has its fans. A simple multi-camera sitcom, The Big Bang Theory is a take it or leave it show. I choose to leave it.

Next up, Lipstick Jungle. A chick show through and through, I watched this merely to say I watched as many pilots as possible. With little new, this is Sex and the City redone with high powered women. Although all three leads are smartly cast, there is just nothing particularly appealing to a male audience. Female led, this soap opera copy may go on to develop a strong female following. Not as grating as I thought it would be, I’ll go light on the show because it is just not my cup of tea. The one thing I will give the creative team props for is actually making me care about these three women. I believe it was the good performances, not the heavy handed script that really made me appreciate these characters. Still, this is not something I can stomach following week in and week out.
Basically, Lipstick Jungle follows three high powered women in modern day New York. There is Wendy (Brooke Shields), the head of Paradour Pictures, Victory Ford, a famous fashion designer, and Kim Raver, a magazine executive striving to be even more effective in a man’s world. The major focus of the show shifts between these three women and their business and personal lives. Although billed as a dramedy, this is more along the lines of drama than comedy. The best way to describe the show is a less funny Entourage for women. It has all of the same character set ups but none of the wit and charm. Still, this could connect with a female audience.

Finally, I was able to catch a glimpse of Cane. CBS’ new drama about a close-knit family in charge of a rum and sugar fortune in South Florida. Billed as a Hispanic Version of The Sopranos, there is nothing more to say. This is a network friendly, Hispanic version of the show. With Jimmy Smits leading the talented cast, Cane could have and should have been much more than what was delivered. Not necessarily bad, the show is just bland. The twist at the end is not too surprising and the overall development of the episode is a bit slow. Airing in the same spot as the quickly cancelled Smith (CBS program starring Ray Liotta) Cane may also find difficulty grabbing a foothold on Tuesdays at 10. Sure the cast is strong, but outside of that there is nothing making this a must see show.
That could be a big problem. Slow, just like Smith, Cane could fall victim to an early cancellation. Another problem I see is with the title. While it discusses the important crop at the center of the Duque family, it is a bit of a head scratcher. Los Duques would work much better as a title in my opinion.
Anyway, Alex (Smits) married Isabel (Paola Turbey) when they were young. Since then he has become apart of the Duque family. While she chooses to raise their three children, Alex actively participates in the Duque business. With patriarch Pancho (Hector Elizando) the company has developed a successful rum franchise. Introduced to the family as Alex, Frank (Nestor Carbonell) and Pancho are discussing the potential sale of the companies’ sugar crops, Cane never really leaves this nestled world. Focused on the internal and external struggles of the family and Alex, the program does not expand its focus. Limiting the potential for interesting characters and storylines, this centralized program really feels tired. Perhaps a hit with an older audience, I do not see how Cane can last on the trigger friendly CBS. (Jericho, anyone?)

Now for a quick update…here is how I rank all of the pilots I have seen thus far.
1. Sarah Connor Chronicles
2. Chuck
3. Reaper
4. Pushing Daisies
5. Aliens in America
6. Bionic Woman
7. Cane
8. Lipstick Jungle
9. Big Bang Theory
10. Cavemen

The final show to discuss today comes to us from across the pond. The BBC and BBC America co-produced the latest horror/action piece from Dr. Who writer Steven Moffat. Starring James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday) Jekyll is one of the best programs I have seen in a long time. The first episode of series one truly gripped me when I watched it six weeks ago. Wonderfully acted, interestingly scripted and well directed, Jekyll is fresh, new and totally special. Just as the show has finished up its BBC run, it now jumps over to BBC America to start airing this coming Saturday Night. Completely worth your time, Jekyll is something that is highly entertaining while also being thought provoking.
Nesbitt is the reason this series works. He stars as Dr. Jackman, a modern day family man who also happens to be a scientist. After a sudden discovery a couple of months ago, Dr. Jackman soon realizes that he is loosing control. Taking steps, including hiring another scientist Katherine Reimer (Michelle Ryan, Bionic Woman) Dr. Jackman does all he can to learn more about the monster inside him. That monster’s name is Hyde. A modern day retelling of the classic story, the series begins very pedestrian and soon becomes more and more complicated. This is not just about man vs. himself, nor man vs. nature but something else entirely. Enveloped in mystery and conspiracy, Dr. Jackman soon realizes that there is more to Hyde and his friends and family then he ever could have imagined.
James Nesbitt is genius as these two distinct individuals. While they are said to actually physically change, Nesbitt carries off the changes in Dr. Jackman better than any one can ever imagine. Just by changing his expressions and his facial movements, Hyde is so distinct that it is clear which mind inhabits the body at what time. There is a spellbinding, jaw dropping genius at work here that makes the character so much more than myth and even much more than a scripted being. This is an individual pure and simple.
Jekyll is simply sublime entertainment and best of all, includes twists and turns I never saw coming. Even the tag to the series is so good that I gasped. In an age where most television shows can get a bit caught up in their own formulas, to genuinely surprise me takes a lot. Jekyll has done that twice, and both times they are awesome. Although there has been no word on a second series (British term for season), I do hope that the series returns. Even with all that was uncovered in these six episodes, there feels like there is a much more substantial story that can be told.

As always thanks for reading. While I hope to have some more pilots to review soon, the well has dried up for now. Next time I don’t know what I’ll talk about but I’m sure something good will come up. There’s always something on…right?

Tonight’s TV:
My two favorite guilty pleasures of the summer air tonight: On The Lot and America’s Got Talent. While AGT is a pure sideshow, and enjoyable because of it, On the Lot is a show that just went off the rails somewhere. Still, I watch because I love filmmaking, but for the rest of America, it is no surprise that they tuned out. I mean, look what happened to Project Greenlight.
Also, be sure to catch Damages, the new FX drama starring Glenn Close. Good TV Tuesday….


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