Fall TV First Look: Pilot Reviews

  • Publish Date: July 9, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 9 user comments

The early buzz on fall's biggest new shows

ImageThe anti-Alias

The start of the fall television season may still be several months away, but there's no time like the present to get an early read on the quality of this season's new shows. To do so, we've collected the initial responses from critics to a dozen of fall's most-anticipated programs after a viewing of each show's pilot.

There are several caveats to consider when looking at pilot reviews. First, consider these first impressions or gut reactions rather than official reviews; a more thorough analysis will come closer to the shows' premiere dates, when critics will generally have more episodes of each series to look at. Even more important is the fact that pilots in some cases can be more like rough drafts than finished products; many of the pilots reviewed below will undergo changes and improvements before they are broadcast to the public. In some cases, parts may be re-cast, scenes may be added or deleted, or in the extreme, the entire episode may be re-shot. So there is still hope for even the worst of the programs listed below.

With that in mind, here's what critics and TV observers are saying about the most talked-about fall pilots. (Click on any linked publication name to read their full review.)

The most anticipated new dramas

Note that some major new shows -- most notably HBO's Boardwalk Empire -- have not yet made pilots available, and thus are not included below.

Undercovers (NBC)
Has Potential Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
The Futon Critic
Los Angeles Times
TV Squad

What it is: Alias with more laughs.

We wish we could say that critics were excited about the prospects of watching more Undercovers, but don't be fooled by all of the reviews in the green column above; the early reaction was generally positive, but almost reluctantly so. No doubt NBC's biggest hope for a fall hit, this J.J. Abrams-produced spy drama (he also co-wrote and directed the pilot) is similar in some respects to Abrams' earlier show Alias, while also adding aspects of Chuck (a lighter, more comedic tone) and Hart to Hart (romance). In fact, The Futon Critic writes, "There are so many moments that feel straight out of 'Alias' it's almost disconcerting."

The good news: The relatively unknown leads (Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are appealing, as is TV veteran Gerald McRaney in a supporting role. HitFix's Daniel Fienberg writes that "the 'Undercovers' pilot looks amazing and has energy to burn."

The bad news: The Futon Critic is concerned about the show's lack of ambition; the Los Angeles Times by the drama's "cheesy" dialogue. Critics also found the pilot's story generic. Time's James Poniewozik finds the show's tone inconsistent and the series potentially too lightweight; he writes, "I get the feeling that a perfectly executed Undercovers would probably not be a show I'd feel compelled to watch every week."

No Ordinary Family (ABC)
Has Potential Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
Fancast [Take One]
Los Angeles Times
TV Addict
The Live Feed (THR) Fancast [Take Two]

What it is: Heroes meets Modern Family.

Almost like a live-action version of Pixar's The Incredibles, the hourlong dramedy centers on a married couple (The Shield's Michael Chiklis and Dexter's Julie Benz) who, along with their two teenaged children, develop unique superpowers after surviving a plane crash. Many reviewers were impressed, and are genuinely looking forward to watching the show.

The good news: "This feels like a potential breakout," writes HitFix's Daniel Fienberg, who loves the cast and calls the show "bright" and "funny." In fact, the show's leads (especially Chiklis) were a high point for most critics.

The bad news: The Live Feed's James Hibberd finds that the pacing needs to be slowed down and that the tone is perhaps too comedic, adding, "When fighting crime is played this softly, it's tough to take the action seriously." Fancast’s Julie Zied, meanwhile, complains that the show doesn't know whether it's comedy, drama, or sci-fi, and that some of the characters are poorly written.

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)
Has Potential Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
Fancast [Take One]
Fancast [Take Two]
The Live Feed (THR)
Los Angeles Times
The Futon Critic
TV Squad

What it is: CSI: Honolulu, with explosions.

A less campy, more action-filled remake of the 1970s-era police drama with the famous theme song (which returns here), Hawaii Five-0 stars Alex O'Loughlin (Three Rivers), Scott Caan (Ocean's Eleven), who are supported by Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) and Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica). The writing team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Fringe, Transformers) also serve as producers. The show looks like it could be slightly less of a standard procedural than other CBS crime series -- there are some story arcs that may continue throughout multiple episodes -- and critics generally were impressed by the well-produced, movie-like, big-budget pilot, while worrying about the show's ability to replicate that success weekly with less money and time to play with.

The good news: Every critic who has seen the pilot compares it to an action movie, and a pretty fun one at that. "It's a somewhat dizzying, over-edited, slightly over-directed movie, but the Hawaii cinematography is breathtaking, the stunts are proficient and the explosions are fireball-tastic," writes Daniel Fienberg of HitFix. Several critics also praise Caan's entertaining performance.

The bad news: The Futon Critic's Brian Ford Sullivan finds a lack of chemistry between the two leads, while TV Squad's Joel Keller complains that the pilot sets up the heroes as invulnerable "supercops," which won't make for a very compelling series. And some storylines in the pilot were more interesting than others. And every reviewer seems uncertain of how the show will play out in subsequent episodes.

My Generation (ABC)
Has Potential Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
The Futon Critic
Los Angeles Times

What it is: We Love the 2000s.

A soap opera about 20-somethings shot as a fake documentary, My Generation revisits a group of nine people in the present day who graduated from an Austin, Texas high school in 2000. In the decade since graduation, each of these people have been affected by events ranging from 9/11 to the Enron scandal. It's one of the more ambitious shows on the fall schedule, but the execution of the pilot, at least, seems to be lacking.

The good news: As a group, the reviewers seemed to think the concept has potential. Time's James Poniewozik writes, "As gimmicky as the setup is, the show has a voice and some nice light touches that keep it from wallowing in premature worldweariness."

The bad news: Nobody seems to like the faux-documentary style. The Los Angeles Times complains that there were too many characters -- making it hard to get too involved in any one story -- while several other reviewers find those characters too generic and Zap2It faults the chemistry between the stars. A number of critics find that the show worked too hard to make sure that all of the decade's biggest events were shoehorned into the story, and The Futon Critic's Brian Ford Sullivan calls My Generation "trite" and formulaic, even offering the formula:

It's almost as if our nine heroes were Mad Libs instead of characters: (name) was (popular or unpopular) in high school, hopelessly in love with (name of opposite sex) and hell bent on becoming (idealized profession) however (historical event between 2000 and 2009) came along and made them want to be a (opposite of what you expected) but it doesn't complete them in the way that (previous name of opposite sex/facet from their high school years) did, or something to that effect.

Lonestar (Fox)
Has Potential Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
The Futon Critic
Los Angeles Times
TV Addict

What it is: Dallas meets Big Love.

Actually, our one-sentence description doesn't do this show justice; if this isn't the best-received pilot of the season, it's close. Directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer), Lonestar (Fox can't seem to decide if the title has a space between the two words) is an ensemble drama revolving around a Texas con man (James Wolk) living a double life, in two different cities, with two different women, while trying to get rich off of an oil industry magnate played by Jon Voight.

The good news: Many reviewers indicate that this show is unlike anything else currently on TV. Despite the soapy premise, the pilot is deep, emotional, and complex. Critics like Wolk's performance, and The Futon Critic also calls Webb's direction "simply stunning," while noting that the drama seems more like something on HBO or AMC than a Fox show. Some reviewers also mention "Friday Night Lights" as a comparison point, though the show doesn't seem to be at that high level yet.

The bad news: The pacing is slow, and many of the reviewers worry about how long the premise can be dragged out before becoming completely implausible.

Nikita (The CW)
Has Potential Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
Fancast [Take One]
Fancast [Take Two]
Los Angeles Times
TV Addict
The Futon Critic  

What it is: Dollhouse without the clever writing.

The French film La Femme Nikita (and its American cousin, Point of No Return) was turned into a television series once before -- USA's long-running La Femme Nikita -- but The CW and executive producer McG are hoping to introduce the concept to a new audience. Maggie Q stars as an assassin for a secretive government organization known only as Division who goes rogue and threatens to expose the group, while Lyndsy Fonseca co-stars as another assassin who is trained to replace her. Critics actually found encouraging elements in the pilot (which many compared to Joss Whedon's Dollhouse), though the show is slotted in a brutal timeslot (Thursdays at 9pm).

The good news: The pilot has an intriguing thematic darkness absent from other CW shows. The show is a "visual treat" (Zap2It) and the action sequences are solid, though not quite spectacular. Maggie Q -- a star in Asia but relatively unknown here -- earned positive marks as an action hero, while the cast as a whole is, for the most part, solid. The pilot ends in a twist that intrigues reviewers.

The bad news: The Los Angeles Times was "bored" halfway through the episode. HitFix finds elements of the script a bit "clunky," while Zap2It's Hanh Nguyen longs for some humor or distinction in the dialogue. The pilot suggests that Nikita will be a highly serialized series, but some critics aren't yet sure how it would play out in the long run.

The Defenders (CBS)
Has Potential Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
The Futon Critic
TV Addict
TV Squad
Los Angeles Times  

What it is: Lawyers in Las Vegas.

Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell star as colorful defense attorneys with troubled personal lives in this somewhat comedic legal procedural set in Las Vegas. Our only question: How long before there is a CSI crossover?

The good news: The Futon Critic's Brian Ford Sullivan seems almost embarrassed to call it "one of the better new dramas this season," while other reviewers are equally surprised to find themselves enjoying the show -- and enjoy it they did. The highlight for everyone is Jim Belushi, who turns in an impressively balanced performance.

The bad news: The Times' Maria Elena Fernandez writes, "It starts slow but gets better in the second half"; she also isn't as taken with O'Connell as she is with Belushi.

The most anticipated new comedies

Continue to the next page to read what critics are saying about new fall comedies ...

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (9)

  • Andy G.  

    Nikita is definitely a show with potential - which is gonna be wasted at CW.

  • Christopher  

    I feel that of all those listed, Lonestar has the best potential. Fox has done a great job lately and has really grown as a network.

    NBC on the other hand is run by the worst executives in television, so I can't find anything to be excited about. No amount of JJ Abrams can save that tired and dying network.

  • elryan  

    Who cares about this network crap? Why aren't you talking about quality stuff like Boardwalk Empire and Rubicon?

  • brillo p.  

    elryan said it best. I was wondering if that's all there was, then I too realized there was no mention of non network/basic cable stuff.
    Surely Showtime will rock our world with something new?

  • Allyson Conrad  

    [Nikita] "has an intriguing thematic darkness absent from other CW shows. " Excuse me? Haven't you ever watched Supernatural??? Where have you been for the last 5 years? Going to hell and starting Armageddon and self-sacrifice aren't thematically dark enough for you??

  • Melos5543  

    running wilde and outsourced look like they could be good.

  • Brian N.  

    completely agree with elryan, Boardwalk Empire and Rubicon both stand to be the best of the fall season, yet no mentions here. Network television is dead, long live HBO and AMC.

  • UTM  

    Maggie Q on a weekly basis! My like has meaning again!

  • Erin  

    Not Nikita AGAIN. Seriously? I didn't like the movie and I didn't like the first TV run. Why why why do they feel they have to remake this again? Lonestar looks good. If FOX doesn't cancel it. I was too young for Dallas when it first aired, but I remember it being a big deal. So if Lonestar is anything like Dallas, it may be safe to start watching without fear of it being canceled. (Speaking of Dallas: weren't they supposed to be making it into a movie?)

    I might check out No Ordinary Family. If the characters are interesting at all, I might keep watching it. I was really upset about Rita (Dexter) and I'm glad she got a new show so quickly.

    The rest I'll probably skip. I already have enough TV to watch.

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