Mission Control (CBS) pilot preview: Too big a challenge

Written and executive produced by Andy Weir (The Martian, The Egg). Executive produced by Simon Kinberg (X-Men, Legion, Designated Survivor, Mr & Mrs Smith), Charles H. Eglee (Hemlock Grove, Dexter, The Shield, The Walking Dead), Aditya Sood (Deadpool, The Martian, Designated Survivor), Brian Buckner (True Blood), Courtney Conte & Quan Phung (Whitney). Directed by Jeremy Podeswa (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, The Tudors). For CBS Television Studios, Genre Films & Slingshot Global Media. 63 pages. 10/18/16.

Description: The next generation of NASA astronauts and scientists juggle both their personal and professional lives during a critical mission with no margin for error…

With Poppy Montgomery (Unforgettable, Without a Trace, Glory Days), David Giuntoli (Grimm, Privileged), Peyton List (Frequency, The Tomorrow People, FlashForward, Mad Men), Levi Fiehler (The Fosters), Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives, Santa Clarita Diet, Scandal), Wunmi Mosaku (Guerilla, Fearless, Jo, In The Flesh), Vinny Chhibber (No Tomorrow)…


You’ll like it if you already like: Quantico, Grey’s Anatomy, Extant The Martian

Likely timeslot: Summer-bound?

Last year, CBS was heavily criticized on their lack of diversity in almost every every new series they picked up, all prominently featuring white males (Bull, MacGyver, Pure Genius, The Great Indoors, Kevin Can Wait, Man With a Plan) with only Doubt and to some extent Training Day going on another direction but considered as second thoughts on the schedule. They promised to do better next year. And here we are. We’ll have to wait for the orders to see if they improved but by the look of things right now, apart from SWAT starring Shemar Moore, Higher Ground which is a long shot and sitcom pilot Brothered Up, it’s once again very male and very white. Mission Control is the perfect example of what’s going wrong at the Eye: the two leads were supposed to be a bilingual Latina and an African-American man, they chose Poppy Montgomery and David Giuntoli. Mindfuck.

You think it’s a detail? It’s not. This pilot tries hard to be in the vein of the Shonda Rhimes bona fide hits -after they already failed with Doubt– and they’re not even capable of having a diverse cast for starters. Oh, there are Ricardo Chavira and Nigerian-born actress Wunmi Mosaku in secondary roles though. In October, CBS launched a Drama Diversity Casting Initiative to find African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ actors and performers with disabilities to join current series and pilots. None were cast in any pilot. Just one of the participants, Alexa Adderly, has been cast in an episode of Bull… Seems like it’s just their way of saying “we care” but when decisions time come, they don’t anymore. Anyway, the characters in Mission Control are not properly fleshed out so the loss is not on the actors but on the network. The writer Andy Weir doesn’t seem like someone who watched a lot of Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal and it shows when he’s asked to mimic them. I’m even thinking he may not like them at all. The characters ARE the key in this type of projects. They can’t be one-dimensional. Especially when the world they live in is quite complicated to connect with for the audience. Sometimes, the show goes very technical and I was totally lost. The same way as a medical show can throw a lot of specific terms we don’t understand and we’re still fine because we care. Here, the problem is we don’t really care.

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what this show is about ultimately, what’s the story, what’s the purpose of it all. One thing I know, there’s a sex scandal -as in 2 or 3 other pilots this year- with public affairs officer Rayna trying to clean up a nude pics leak from one of their astronauts, Deke, a rich heiress. She’s not too bummed out about it by the way. It’s a little bit overwhelming to offer this particular story in a pilot. It sounds more like a plot B in episode 4. And it’s used to introduce two of the most important female characters of the show, which doesn’t sound very flattering to reduce them to this. Did I say sexist? I guess it’s their way to insist on “we’re light, we’re cool, we’re timely”. Anyway the case is resolved by the end of the episode so everyone at CBS is happy. As long as the women are sexy and the men are funny nerds… It’s a bummer because those people are supposed to be brilliant, amazing, but we’re stuck with a sex scandal instead of them doing incredible things.

There are two factions of people in Mission Control: the folks down in NASA’s control unit, lead by whip-smart Julie Towne as the flight director, and the people up on a next-generation space station called Durga, lead by Stevenson, a cocky astronaut. Those two have indeniable chemistry but right now it’s impossible for them to act on it for obvious reasons. Though cam sex should be on the table if you want my opinion. And so the critical mission is to move Durga from low-orbit to high-orbit, where it will eventually fly to Mars. And 14 months in the future, there is a giant explosion above earth. Is it Durga? Is it the Russians’ shuttle (‘cos of course the Russians are involved and they are not supposed to be the enemies this time)? That’s the only hook Andy Weir has found to give us a reason to stay a little bit longer since it’s not the characters obviously. Unless they reworked the damn thing extensively, there are too many problems here to warrant a series order and it’s a shame. It was a great pitch idea.

Mission Control is the waste of a good idea. CBS turned the once promising project into of one those half-baked summer fares they’re now renowned for like Extant, Under The Dome or Zoo. It’s a creative mess that wants to be both Grey’s Anatomy or Quantico but doesn’t know how to, and The Martian, banking on the author’s name. But those two genres -soap and science- just don’t mesh well, especially with an unexperienced writer who never worked for television before. It was too big a challenge.

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