Month: April 2016

FOX 2016/2017 Comedy Pilots ranked

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FOX and comedies, a flop story that never disappoints! Once again this year, none of the comedies launched worked, but both Grandfathered & The Grinder managed to get a full first season. One of them might even get a pity renewal. Midseason entry Cooper Barret’s Guide to Surviving Life went down the drain quickly, same as animated comedy Bordertown. Even the past hits —The Simpsons, Family Guy & New Girl— pulled terrible numbers lately. Once promising Brooklyn Nine-Nine & The Last Man On Earth are already low. Meaning FOX expectations for next season are not very high. If one of the new comedies manage to stay above 1.0, they’re gonna be happy! And that’s a good thing since their okay slate probably doesn’t contain any possible breakout. Let’s see!

 

  1. MAKING HISTORY (20th Century FOX Television)

rate rate rate rate  revolves around three friends who find a way to travel through time for truth, justice, and riches, which complicates their lives in 2016.  They visit some of the greatest moments of the past as they try to resolve their personal problems, while history and pop culture comically collide… With Adam Pally, Leighton Meester, Yassir Lester…

In the time-travel craze of this pilot season (with Time at NBC & Time After Time at ABC), it’s the only comedy vying for an order and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t get it. It’s a brilliant and ambitious high-concept comedy with an awesome cast, from The Last Man On Earth and Lego movie team. They have plenty to do, so many time periods to visit, that it could last for years. Shortened seasons would fit better, but if it works they won’t resist to go full 22…

 

2. CHARITY CASE (20th Century FOX Television / ABC Studios)

rate rate rate rate  When Hailey inherits her late billionaire husband’s charity, the Waller Foundation, she quickly finds that changing the world is far less glamorous than she had imagined. With her team of assistants/nannies, she tries to become a good person… With Courteney Cox, Kyle Bornheimer, Dan Gill, Isiah Whitlock Jr…

A solid vehicle for Courteney Cox -and we only wish her the best, really, but maybe it’s soon to come back though- but it’s probably not the big broad comedy FOX is desperately looking for. The opening scene is hilarious, many lines made me laugh, secondary characters are more than okay, a number of situations still light up my face when I think about it…

Read the full preview

 

3. THE MICK (20th Century FOX Television)

rate rate rate  a hard-living, foul mouthed woman moves to affluent Greenwich, CT to raise the spoiled kids of her wealthy sister who has fled the country to avoid a federal indictment. She quickly learns what the rest of us already know — other people’s children are awful…  With Kaitlin Olson, Sofia Black d’Elia, Carla Jimenez, Thomas Barbusca…

Exactly what you’d expect from FOX when they’re at their best. Not much originality going on there but it’s both funny and irreverent. Made me think of Ben & Kate from a few years back.

 

4. CHAD (20th Century FOX Television)

rate rate rate  centers on a 14-year-old boy in the throes of adolescence is tasked with being the man of the house, which leaves him with all the responsibilities of being an adult without any of the perks… With Nasim Pedrad, Matthew Mindler…

The fact that a full grown-up woman plays a 14-year-old boy is the only original thing in this okay but predictable comedy pilot, that is supposed to be voiced-over by Kiefer Sutherland but I’m not sure ABC would allow him since he’ll be back on the network with Designated Survivor. It works very much like ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat by the way. Too much?

 

5. WINNING UGLY (20th Century FOX Television)

rate rate rate Jay “Havoc” Hammond,  an African American, ex-NFL lineman recently moved in with his white wife and her two oddball sons, as he struggles to win the most challenging game of his life: fatherhood. The project is based on Case’s experience as a teenager growing up with a black stepdad, an ex-football player, who married his white mom… With Becki Newton, Bill Bellamy, Joshua Carlon, Steele Stebbins…

The annual Becki Newton-led pilot, better than others she made in the past quite frankly. It’s a quite good interracial family comedy. Too many jokes about sports for me, but it’s broad, for once at FOX. It’s a bit like a CBS comedy disguised as an ABC comedy.

 

6. THE ENFORCERS (Warner Bros. Television)

rate rate rate about two wildly different single mothers with dreams of being police officers who find themselves partnered as inspectors in the Code  Enforcement Department. Instead of fighting crime, they have been relegated to handling petty code breaking, like noise complaints, tree trimming and water misuse… With Niecy Nash, Christine Woods, Ian Gomez, Ryan Hansen…

I really like this cast. The script is okay. But doesn’t FOX already have Brooklyn Nine-Nine in the same vein? Actually, it made me think even more to Angie Tribeca. Same kind of humor. It’s not broad enough. It’s not for FOX. Or any network. It belongs on cable. FX?

 

7. HR (20th Century FOX Television)

rate rate rate around Jane, who is caught between trying to manage her charmingly incompetent human resources department and a new eccentric CEO who dreams of bringing the New Jersey plastics plant into the future… With Judy Greer, Jon Daly, Patton Oswalt, Esai Morales…

I adore Judy Greer but I still think she’s better in a secondary role or as a sidekick than as the lead. HR is a nice little workplace comedy that doesn’t reinvent the genre. It can’t compare to The Office or Parks And Reacreation. FOX has better options.

 

SON OF ZORN (20th Century FOX Television) – Picked-up to series

Upon arriving home for the first time in ten years, an animated Barbarian father finds that reconnecting with his moody, live-action teenage son, Alan, and ex-wife while suffering a mundane office job and the banality of suburban life is harder than waging actual war in his distant, animated world… With Jason Sudeikis, Cheryl Hines, Tim Meadows, Johnny Pemberton…

Not available

 

NBC Comedy Pilots Ranked

CBS Comedy Pilots Ranked

ABC Comedy Pilots Ranked

Broken (ABC) pilot preview: Half-baked, half-bold, half-good

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Also known as “Please don’t go“. Created and executive produced by Meaghan Oppenheimer (We Are Your Friends). Directed by Jeremy Podeswa (Six Feet Under, The Tudors, Game Of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire). Also executive produced by Reese Witherspoon (Gone Girl, Wild, Hot Pursuit), Casey HaverBruna Papandrea (Harvey Milk, Wild, Gone Girl, Warm Bodies). For ABC, ABC Studios & Pacific Standard. 62 pages.

Description: The personal and professional life of Gemma Avon, a ruthless divorce attorney in Dallas. Raised in the trailer parks of Texas, she has left behind a life of struggle amid squalor, working her way into a corner office and mansion in Dallas’s most prestigious neighborhood. But beneath her facade of togetherness, she’s plagued by self-destructive tendencies and long hidden family secrets that begin to unravel her life when her sister Jules comes back into her life…

With Anna Paquin (True Blood, Roots, X-Men, The Piano), Blair Underwood (Agents of SHIELD, The Event, LAX, Sex & The City), T.R. Knight (Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, 11.22.63), Charity Wakefield (The Player), Penelope Ann Miller (American Crime, Mistresses, Kindergarten Cop), Enrique Murciano (Bloodline, Power, Without a Trace), Thad Luckinbill (Nikita, The Young and the Restless)…

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This year, ABC execs are into procedural shows while Castle is coming to an end. At least that’s what have been said in the news. But their pilot slate doesn’t reflect upon it yet. Next year, maybe. Not that it is a good idea anyway… After Conviction, which is the closest they have to a straight procedural (read the preview), and John Ridley’s heavy-serialized detective show Presence (read the preview), here comes Broken, previously known as Please Don’t Go (which was a way better title I think), starring Anna Paquin. But first, it’s not a police procedural. In fact, police is not involved in this, at all. And the procedural element is tiny. It’s mostly a legal drama dealing with one of the most public and expensive divorce cases in the state of Texas where billions of dollars are at stake. We will follow its twists and turns throughout the season, with probably a few minor cases added to the mix along the way. As I see things, it’s a good compromise, more in ABC’s wheeelhouse, but it also makes it a weaker contestant for a series pick-up. This, plus the fact that it could have been better.

It all starts with a flashback of Gemma’s childhood when she was a scared eleven-year-old girl taking charge of her fragile 3-year-old sister the day their mother hustled them out of the house, because of a man who may or may not have been their father. Stepfather? And may or may not have been dangerous. We’re not given any answers to those questions, yet. In fact, most of our questions in this pilot are left unanswered overall. It’s a good strategy so we come back to the show. But for that, we need to care. And I’m afraid we don’t. Too many secrets? In present day, Gemma is a successful lawyer but not that good a person. She’s tough as nails. She has a big mouth. She can be chilly and a real bitch. She knows how to hurt people. Her clients love her for that. She never gives up. She’s restless. But it has a price: other people hate her. She don’t have any friends but many enemies. Even in the firm she works for. Her biggest nemesis is Mark (T.R. Knight), a very competitive colleague. One of them is meant to become a partner soon. Their rivarly is an exciting perspective with sharp dialogues. Classical but efficient.

And then, we learn something that changes everything and makes Gemma a real ABC heroine in the vein of Olivia Pope & Annalise Keating. And the show a bit more dramatic. No, she doesn’t kill anybody. She sleeps with her boss, James (Blair Underwood) even though she’s happily married to a nice rich guy. Too nice probably. She asks him to join her in the middle of the night and they fuck like animals in his car. He asks her to tell him “I want you to fuck me“. Which she does. Needless to say, ABC won’t let that happen. I mean, it’s written “he fucks her, hard, his hand wrapped tight around her neck.” We won’t see that exactly. In fact, the words “fuck” or “motherfucker” come back like 10 times throughout the script. I guess it was written for cable, before they realized the content was not cable-worthy. But the language is, on paper. Sorry, Anna. You’re not on HBO anymore. I think the whole problem of this script resides in the fact that it’s not written as a network show. It takes too much time establishing the story, the characters. It’s okay on cable. It’s not on a network. You need to make sacrifices so the viewers get hooked quickly before they’re tempted to change the channel. It’s sad, but that’s how it works now. Broken might be too old school for its time.

The other problem is that it’s too reasonable, sane. The sister character should have been crazier, more disruptive. Maybe we’ll discover later that she’s a real psycho but for now she’s just a lost girl who’s making the same mistakes her mother did, which means falling in love with the wrong guys and going full drama queen when it gets complicated. The sisters’ relationship is interesting though. Plus, we don’t have much of them on television right now. And since we’re talking about what’s good in this pilot script, let’s talk about the legal part! This one is perfectly executed and exciting. The big case is emotional and realistic. It doesn’t seem to be very original –can any divorce case be?– but it’s not what we’re asking for. We just want to feel something for those people and see every aspect of their failed marriage. Who’s to blame? What about their kid? It seems promising. The scenes where Gemma does her magic are incredibly enjoyable, especially for legal drama suckers like me. And again, the dialogues are really delicious.

Broken actually is a bit broken. It wants to be both network-y and cable-y, both broad and edgy, but the writer had to choose which way to go. So we’re in the middle of something that is half-baked, half-bold, half-good. If you add the fact that Anna Paquin is not the kind of actress that is widely appreciated –but at least this role is very different from True Blood‘s Sookie– what are the odds of this project getting picked-up to series? I’m not optimistic but I wouldn’t mind watching it if it was on… 

The Mars Project (The CW): From the network that brought you The 100

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Also known as “Colony”. Created and executive produced by Doris Egan (Reign, Dr House, Tru Calling, Smallville). Directed by Bharat Nalluri (The 100, MI-5, Emily Owens). Produced by Robert Zotnowski (House of Cards) & Frank Marshall (Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic World, The Goonies). For The CW & CBS Television Studios. 59 pages.

Description: a team of explorers arrive on Mars to join the first human colony on the planet, only to discover that their predecessors have vanished. Led by Gina Nolan, a woman whose husband is among the missing, the colonists are forced to change their mission from exploration and settlement to investigation and survival, while navigating the hostile planet and their own personal demons…

With Georgina Haig (Once Upon A Time, Fringe), Neal Bledsoe (The Mysteries of Laura, Smash, Ugly Betty), Mouzam Makkar (The Vampire Diaries), America Olivo (Degrassi: the Next Generation, Chicago PD), Mark Leslie Ford, Carl Beukes (Dominion), Tongayi Chirisa (Crusoe), Peter Mark Kendall (The Americans, Chicago Med)…

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I remember exactly how I felt when I read The 100 pilot for the first time. I was more than hooked but anxious too. I wanted to watch it right away and see if they were able to deliver. At the time there was nothing like it on the CW. It was ambitious, riveting and exciting. And they delivered. Quite beautifully. It had problems and the next few episodes rode on a bumpy road. It was too Gossip Girl and not enough Lost, too many love stories, not enough adventures. It took time before it got great again. But it did. I can say I’m almost as impressed by the Mars Project pilot script as I was by The 100‘s and the good news is, now I know The CW can meet our expectations with this kind of ambitious tale, and they know what not to do, so this time I’m not anxious, just excited.

It wouldn’t be that interesting to draw comparisons between The 100 and The Mars Project any further. They share some DNA, that’s for sure. They are both offering the exploration of a new and dangerous territory, whether it’s our very own Earth or the Red planet. And luckily for them, New Mexico can pass for it easily. But that’s it. We’re with a group of adult characters here, which is a relief. No stupid teenagers doing stupid things and taking wrong decisions all the time. Adults can be stupid sometimes too but our heroes are not deliquents but intelligent and highly trained individuals, harshly selected for what they can bring to the colony in various areas of expertise. Some of them might be in love, but that’s not the main focus. It just helps bringing more emotion and higher personal stakes.

For those who are allergic to the Shonda Rhimes’ style of storytelling, sorry to tell you writer Doris Egan chose to follow the How to Get Away With Murder/ Quantico trend, at least to introduce the story. Maybe longer. We’ll see. One part of the pilot is told through flashbacks, showing us how our group of very competitive –and young and beautiful– people met during training, how they fell in love –or in hate– how some of them betrayed the others, mostly for the win. It’s very Quantico, but less fun. Entering the FBI academy is not an easy thing to do but leaving for space, colonizing another planet and proving you are able to resist to an incredible amount of pressure without going back, ever, is one other thing. They are put through numerous tests, both physical and psychological. It’s an efficient way to present the characters. They all have at least one thing in common: since they are ready to leave their whole life behind to go to Mars, it means they are damaged one way or another and we’ll find out more about it later. There is a lot to learn about them I guess.

We alternate with scenes in the present day when the mission has already started, at the very moment when everything suddenly goes wrong. Their vessel is litteraly crashing on Mars. There’s nothing they can do to save the day. Some people die. Others are severely injured, like the beauty queen of the show, Chandra Devi, and they now have to walk towards the camp, many miles away. Weird noises and difficult landscapes are part of their journey. And in the end, as the pitch says: when they finally arrive, the first colonists seem to have disappeared. There’s a message on the wall: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust“. And that’s it. It raises many questions without immediate answers: what happened? Was the crash part of the plan? Was it a sabotage? Is there a mole in the group? You see, there is no murder here –yet– but a lot to chew on anyway. It takes a thriller/horror turn that’s very exciting and probably broader than “simple” sci-fi.

Like The CW couldn’t afford to leave The 100 behind after they shot the pilot, they have to give The Mars Project a shot. It won’t be a rattings juggernaut, probably, but a critics favorite and a hell of a ride, I bet it will be. There’s still work to do so we can care more about the characters, who are just outlined for now, but it’s both a character-driven and a plot-driven show and those are the best. 

NBC 2016/2017 Comedy Pilots ranked

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It was a very good year for NBC, as the number one network from start to finish, but they couldn’t escape their comedy curse anyway. Superstore is the only one that showed some promise among the newbies, and got its renewal, with companion show Eva Longoria-starrer Telenovela dead on arrival. Truth Be Told was a huge flop on fridays, as predicted, and Undateable Live was miserable. Second season of The Carmichael Show is doing okay. But in a slot right after surprise success Little Big Shots, it should be doing better. Same goes for family sitcom Crowded. Both have a shot at renewal.

Where will they put their new comedies next season? There’s simply no slot available but they will have to make room for them. The Carmichael Show could be sent to fridays, with or without Crowded. They developped a few ethnic multicamera comedies that look compatible. At least one should be given the honor, even though none are produced in-house. Superstore needs a new companion. It could be straight-to-series Good Place, unless one of their pilots looks like a better fit (Powerless?). And they’ll probably order a couple more comedies for midseason. Here’s all they got:

 

  1. THE TRAIL aka TRIAL & ERROR (Warner Bros. Television)

rate rate rate rate  follows a young big-city lawyer and his oddball defense team during a high profile murder trial in a small southern town. Conceived as a spoof of crime documentaries like the The Jinx or Making a Murderer… With Nicholas d’Agosto, John Lithgow, Sherri Shepherd, Jayma Mays…

This cast is AMAZING. The script is AMAZING. Laughed out loud, literally. Top-notch writing. This ia a serialized comedy between The Naked Gun, Angie Tribeca & the Serial podcast. They have to give it the thumbs up for obvious reasons but it’s not an easy sell. It was a better fit with a cable network or a streaming platform honestly but it’s important to try.

 

2. POWERLESS (Warner Bros. Television)

rate rate rate rate  Emily Locke works at the worst insurance companies in America, in the universe of DC Comics where superheroes do exist and cause a lot of collateral damages. How is it like working for a normal, powerless person in a world of superheroes and villains? It’s hard, really hard. You have to be strong, really strong. And that’s the beauty of it. Isn’t it? With Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Alan Tudyk, Christina Kirk…

NBC is the right place for this DC Comics show and the series order looks like a formality to me, even though it will be expensive, a lot of special effects are required. A very promising workplace comedy, a really funny half-hour piece of television that everybody can enjoy.

Read the preview

 

3. WHITE SHEEP (Universal Television)

rate rate rate rate   Andrew and Josie, a happily married interracial couple, lives take a turn when they move close to Josie’s family in Missouri… With Chris Smith, Elizabeth Ho, Jack McBrayer, François Chau…

This cool comedy could have been born on ABC. It’s exactly in their wheelhouse, and not in NBC’s. It’s as good and funny as the pilots of The Goldbergs or Fresh Off The Boat were. Loved the bitchy grandma character. Loved the sweetness of it all.

 

4. DUMB PRINCE (Universal Television)

rate rate rate rate  After years of partying that earned him the “black sheep” label, Karl, a reluctant Crown Prince, returns home to compete with his brother for the family throne…  With Nico Evers-Swindell, Tim Baltz, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon…

Pretty good overall, with a Parks And Reacreation vibe, as expected from Amy Poehler as a director and executive producer, and there’s something of Galavant too, which is less of a good news, from a ratings point of view. It has potential. I think it should be tried. It’s the kind of family comedy that could never work on ABC, but has a chance somewhere else.

 

5. SUNSET PPL (Universal Television)

rate rate rate rate   A group of millennial friends struggles with their own made-up rules for personal and professional success… With Julianna Guill, Cass Bugge, Brandon Kyle Goodman…

Not sure how this comedy can fit in NBC’s schedule right now, but it’s damn good on the page! Fresh, modern, funny…

 

6. IMAGINARY FRIEND (Universal Television)

rate rate rate rate  an intelligent yet unmotivated woman discovers a special and unexpected way of dealing with her mediocre life: an imaginary friend, who’s everything she’s not: confident and powerful… With Megan Neuringer, Kalia Prescott, Brandon Scott, Allan McLeod…

Top-notch writing. Not surprised it won NBC playground contest. But it’s a cable comedy, not suited for a network. Too bad. (BTW, what’s with this imaginary friend trend??! Angel From HellImaginary Mary… when did it become a thing?)

7. GREAT NEWS (Universal Television)

rate rate rate  When an overly involved New Jersey mom gets an internship at her daughter’s workplace, a cable news network, things are starting to get more difficult for her than ever… With Briga Heelan, Andrea Martin, Adam Campbell, Horatio Sanz…

NBC, didn’t we already tell you you had to stop doing comedies about fake TV shows?! That being said, this one looks fun. The mother-daughter dynamics at the center is the best part. The rest sounds a bit too much like 30 Rock. No surprise here: it’s from Tina Fey after all. Same obsessions, same jokes.

 

8. ME & MEAN MARGARET (Universal Television)

rate rate rate  The story of a fiercely candid and often offensive legendary actress and the ambitious 27-year-old lawyer forced to babysit her… With Gavin Stenhouse, Stockard Channing, Justin Lupe, Jane Lynch…

There’s something very classical and not particularly modern in this multicamera comedy pilot script but I liked it. Could be fun. Made me think a bit of The Nanny somehow. And The Nanny for me is just extraordinary. I’d be curious to watch it. But it’s a better fit with TV Land, probably.

 

9. MARLON (Universal Television)

rate rate rate  an inappropriate but loving father is committed to successfully co-parenting with his polar opposite ex-wife… With Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Bresha Webb, Diallo Riddle…

Could turn into a pretty decent multicamera comedy, but a hit for NBC I doubt it. The Carmichael Show is way better… Marlon Wayans is still very popular. It will be hard for them to resist…

 

10. CRUNCH TIME (Universal Television)

rate rate rate  intercuts between a real game show and the scripted workplace that centers on an up-and-coming producer trying to wrangle the volatile host… With Craig Ferguson, Andrea Anders, Kyle Howard, Kellee Stewart…

High concept show. Good idea. Not so good execution. The real game part is uninteresting, so small. One scene at the beginning, another one in the middle and one in the end. It’s gimmicky. The scripted part is okay. But compared to other behind-the-scenes comedies like 30 Rock, it feels weak… Craig Ferguson can save it though.

 

11. GOOD FORTUNE (20th Century FOX Television)

rate rate rate  a hyper-structured young woman’s life is upended when she starts taking advice from a mysterious fortune teller… With Jessy Hodges, Blake Lee, Tone Bell, Beau Mirchoff, Diane Guerrero…

It’s okay. And just that. Nothing special. Nothing different. Funny, but just a little bit. The characters work on the page. Individually, and as a group of friends. But I don’t see it ordered. The premise is not strong enough to sustain.

 

12. SEBASTIAN (CBS Television Studios)

rate rate chronicles Sebastian’s old-school values, instilled by his opinionated Italian father, which are constantly put to the test by his new wife, her family, and the absurdities of the modern world… With Sebastian Maniscalco, Tony Danza, Maria Canals-Barrera…

Damn, that was painful. Everybody’s pretty irritating in that show, especially the father. NBC should pass on this one. But if you compare to Bronx Tale, with more of the same premice, this one is slightly better…

 

13. BRONX TALE (Warner Bros. Television)

rate rate   Inspired by Caamaño’s real-life family dynamic living with his Dominican father and older brother in the Bronx, which is often featured in his stand-up. In the show, Vlad, the son of Dominican immigrants, wants to carve his own path in life which proves difficult as his father has no desire to change their extremely co-dependent relationship… With Vladimir Caamaño, Josh Segarra, Lilah Richcreek…

Mostly irritating because of the not so funny dad character. Most of the jokes rely on his accent. I get what they tried to do there about family values and origins, but it’s not working. It just made me want to watch Master of None episode 2 once again… The Carmichael Show does the same thing way better. It’s a pass!

 

GOOD PLACE – Ordered to series (Universal Television)

Eleanor, a woman from New Jersey comes to realize that she hasn’t been a very good person. She decides to turn over a new leaf by learning what it actually means to be “good” or “bad,” and then trying to make up for her past behavior… With Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper,

Not available.

Spark (ABC) pilot preview: Can the new Empire be a dystopian steampunk soap?

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Created and executive produced by Michael Cooney (Identity, 6 Souls). Directed by James Kent (Testament of Youth, The White Queen, Marchlands). Also exexutive produced by Ian Sander & Kim Moses (Ghost Whisperer, Profiler). For ABC, ABC Studios & Sander/Moses Productions. 58 pages.

Description: It is current day America, but not as we know it. Imagine electricity had never been discovered – in its place, gas and coal run the world and power our everyday devices. Now imagine the amount of power the people who own the gas and coal in this world would command. Two rival families, the Stocktons and the Lavelles, are battling for ages until a rebellious young woman, a tinker named Pin Jones, can level both their empires with a spark of invention…

With Antonia Thomas (Misfits), Regé-Jean Page (Roots, Waterlo Road, Fresh Meat), Tom Brittney (The Five, The Syndicate), Lena Olin (Alias, Welcome to Sweden, The Ninth Gate), Alex Lanipekun (Homeland, 24, MI-5), Austin Hébert, Tracy Ifeachor (The Originals, Crossbones), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Daredevil, ER, Chicago Hope), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Home Fires)…

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Despite the huge success of Hunger Hames worldwide and the honorable results of such movies as Divergent and The Maze Runner –-let’s not forget a few missteps like The 5th Wave recently– the dystopian genre has a hard time existing on television. Which is weird when you think about it since these movies work like series, through multiple episodes and cliffhangers at the end to make you come back the following year. We had The Lottery on Lifetime, if anyone remembers it. Guess not. The excellent The 100 of course. And not much else. Other attempts (The Selection at The CW, Delirium at FOX) were not picked-up to series. And I fear Spark will meet the same end. Even though I’m not totally convinced by its potential, I’d be curious to see what’s gonna happen in case it’s ordered. It could become another huge disappointment like Blood and Oil. Or maybe the new Empire is hiding behind it…

Most of the success of the pilot -a presentation was ordered first but they upped it to a full-length pilot then, which is a good sign– resides in its execution. The setting, the landscapes, as well as the costumes, need to be taken care of properly so that it doesn’t look cheap. The writer has a real vision of how this city and those people should look like in this alternate reality, circa 2016. It’s based on Steampunk, an aesthetic inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. He even offers a “look book” at the end of the script with visuals for cars working with coal cumbustion, underground bar and dance clubs, coffee machines or the heroine’s high heels. They decided to shoot in Prague, Czech Republic, to reduce the costs while most of the cast is coming from Europe, especially the UK. There’s no big name but promising newcomers, like Anthonia Thomas, a mini-Rihanna who was stunning in Misfits. Risky. But in case you haven’t notice, let me break it to you: the show can be labelled as “black”. 5 of the most prominent characters are. Good strategy. ‘cos that’s what it is. I’m probably going too far but imagine ABC slots the show on Wednesday at 10pm after Blackish, when Empire ends on FOX… Wouldn’t it be damn smart? Hire me ABC!

The network describes the show as a lavish primetime soap of passion, greed and hope. It’s true, it is. If it looks new and different from the outside, it’s very classical in the inside. Sometimes, it also feels a bit like a CW show with slightly older characters. Pin Jones is yet another Katniss Everdeen, a whip smart, courageous, independent, kind-hearted girl, soon to be torn between two men and two rival families: her boyfriend Captain Aidan Stockton, a rugged and sexy all man who’s deeply in love with her, he even hides a ring in his drawer; and Alex Lavelle, a more sophisticated handsome man, kind of douchy, who knows exactly who she is when he met her and has an agenda but can’t help liking her more than he should. You get the picture. A good ol’ love triangle. Pin’s mother is dead. Of course. She has a delinquent brother. A loving father. They’re tinkers. So they’re poor. Aidan’s mother is a great bitch. We’ll love hating her. Alex has a brother, who’s a terrible person. And an evil father. And Aidan’s most close friend and colleague happens to be Alex’s brother’s fiancée. Still following? Told you. It really is a soap.

But there’s action too, and many surprises. A few pages in, there’s a huge explosion, that kills someone. And later on, a coal train derails. And other people die. Won’t reveal you more but be sure a lot happens in this pilot. Like… maybe our Pin is on the verge of discovering something huge, that will change the face of humanity as they know it… At first, I had a hard time getting into the script. Those stories about gas and coal are so unsexy and sad. It lacks sparkle, electricity. It takes time before it gets interesting. It takes time before you can connect with the main characters. Too much time probably. But at some point, somehow, it starts to work. And you can see the potential and the emotional strength of this story. It resonates with our past and our present. It’s brighter than it looks. It’s more than a soap.

Spark is certainly a leap of faith for ABC. Sometimes, it’s good to take one. Especially since the network is in a tough situation. Before new boss Channing Dungey gets too scared of screwing her first little victories up –hoping she has some– there’s a window of opportunity to try new things, be bold. Spark is new. Sort of. And bold. A bit. And out of time. Why not giving it a chance? 

Midnight, Texas (NBC) pilot preview: True Blood, without the sex & the fun

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Created and executive produced by Monica Owusu-Breen (Charmed, Alias, Brothers & Sisters, Fringe, Agents of SHIELD). Based on Charlaine Harris (True Blood). Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (Game of Silence, Under The Dome, Unforgettable). Also executive produced by David Janollari (Six Feet Under). For NBC & Universal Television. 58 pages.

Description: Midnight, Texas, a remote town where your neighbor could be a vampire, a witch, a werewolf, and even an angel. Mystery, horror and romance combine to both enthrall and frighten any outsiders who decide to venture into this unusual place. Like the new man in town, Manfred Bernado, a psychic hoping to start anew but the ghosts of his past and those of the town won’t let him rest…

With François Arnaud (The Borgias, Blindspot), Dylan Bruce (Orphan Black, Arrow, Heroes Reborn), Arielle Kebbel (Life Unexpected, The Vampire Diaries, Ballers, 90210), Sarah Ramos (Parenthood, American Dreams), Jason Lewis (Sex & The City, Charmed, Brothers & Sisters) Kellee Stewart (My Boys, The Soul Man), Parisa Fitz-Henley (Jessica Jones), Yul Vasquez (Magic City, Treme)…

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Can you believe Grimm is on the air for 5 years already? I would never have bet on this one. At some point this season, it was clear the supernatural procedural was poised to find an end soon. But despite meh ratings on fridays, NBC just decided to give it a 6th season –mostly for syndication purposes since they fully own it– possibly the last and possibly reduced to 13 episodes. Nothing’s set in stone right now. What it means for supernatural pilot Midnight, Texas, clearly an underdog from the get go, is: either it’s incredibly good and NBC takes a chance on it, hoping it becomes their next Grimm; either it’s doomed and at the very best they send it to sister-cable network SyFy, where it would fit perfectly. And the second solution may be for the best. Because it’s not “incredibly good” on the page. It’s okay.

When you adapt a story from Charlaine Harris, whose True Blood series was a hit in libraries and on HBO, you expect three things: lots of sex; lots of fun; lots of creepiness. I’m sorry to tell you Midnight, Texas has nearly none of this. Let’s start with the sex. It’s pretty simple: we’re not on HBO or other cable outlets. On NBC, you just can’t have the same amount of sex scenes and they certainly can’t be as graphic as they were in True Blood, with a lot of gentlemen’s very fine asses, perky boobs, orgies and raw fuck. In this pilot, we follow the arrival of Manfred Bernado in Midnight. As sexy as he is supposed to be, he’s not fucking every women of the town yet. He quickly finds his Sookie though, a charming, timid, innocent lady called Creek. She’s a waitress. Like Sookie. In the only diner/bar in town, like Sookie. He’s not a vampire like Bill, neither a monster. But he’s a dark man too, with many secrets. He’s tortured because of his visions, because ghosts can litteraly jump under his skin, invade his brain. So their relationship is similar to Bill & Sookie. And it was not the best part of True Blood. There are other romances, and a tiny bit of sex thanks to them but really, don’t expect that from Midnight, Texas. That’s too bad. They assembled a very sexy cast! It will get frustrating. You’ve been warned!

Told you it lacked fun. Let me be clear about that: when you’re doing a show where there is a psychic, a vampire, an angel, a werewolf, a witch and a talking cat (yes, a talking cat like in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch!), the least you can do is having fun with all this. Like True Blood did. Like Supernatural does for 12 years. This pilot is way too serious in my opinion. You get an occasional joke and the character of the vampire is clearly designed to be the funny/cynical one –as always, hum– but he can’t do all the heavy lifting by himself. He needs help and he doesn’t get it. That’s something that can be worked on though. They can add more humor in subsequent episodes…

Regarding the creepiness, apart from the ghosts, it’s very soft. No horror. There are strange and horrible things supposed to happen. We’re teased about them but we don’t see them yet. We’re told the town of Midnight has been built where the veil between the living and dead is the thinnest. It explains why supernatural creatures decided to live there, together. At peace. At least until a murder happened and caused the attention of the media. ‘cos of course there’s a murder in the middle of this… What did you expect? There was a serial killer in True Blood season one too. Charlaine Harris tends to tell the same story all over again anyway… There is the exact same atmosphere in Bon Temps and in Midnight. It’s reassuring in a way. But we’ve already been there, haven’t we?

Midnight, Texas is simply a network version of True Blood, a cousin of Grimm, which doesn’t take any risks and leaves us mostly indifferent even though there’s a bunch of interesting relationships and a lot of stories to tell starting from here. Not an incredible pilot, but potential nonetheless. If you have never seen True Blood, maybe you can tolerate it. NBC has way better and/or safer pilots to bet on this year. Except if they’re planning a summer run or a midseason start after Grimm ends, if Grimm ends.