Fall TV First Look: Pilot Reviews

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  • Publish Date: July 20, 2011

Updated Jul. 21: Cast change announced for Charlie's Angels, plus a new review for that show added. Also, new reviews added for Alcatraz, Person of Interest, and The Secret Circle after those pilots screened at Comic-Con.

The early buzz on the upcoming season's new shows

ImageZooey Deschanel's "New Girl" is already popular with critics

Though the start of the 2011-12 television season is still over a month away, it's never to early to begin gauging the quality of this year's new shows. To do so, we've sampled the initial reaction from critics to pilots for over two dozen of the season's most-anticipated programs.

Keep in mind that there are several caveats to consider when looking at pilot reviews. First, remember that these aren't really "reviews" at all; instead, consider these comments as brief first impressions or gut reactions rather than a thorough analysis (which will come closer to the shows' premiere dates, when critics will generally have more episodes of each series to look at). Also, pilots are rarely a good representation of a series as a whole, since they must devote a good chunk of their time to establishing the premise and characters. Even more important is the fact that pilots in some cases can be more like rough drafts than finished products; many of the pilots examined 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.

That said, there are certainly some pilots that consistently impressed reviewers, and others that appear to be duds (at least, in their original forms). Intriguing pilots in the former camp include comedies 2 Broke Girls, The New Girl, and Up All Night, plus dramas Awake and The River, while the flops include Grimm, Last Man Standing, and Whitney.

So let's dive in to what critics and TV observers are saying about some of the most talked-about pilots for the 2011-12 season, listed below in alphabetical order. (Click on any linked publication name to read their full review.) Note that Fox's effects-heavy dinosaur adventure Terra Nova is not included because a full, finished pilot was not made available to critics, while a handful of other shows (including several due at midseason, like NBC's Smash) are omitted because a much smaller number of critics have written about them so far.

CBS2 Broke Girls (Comedy, Mondays at 8:30p)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
AOL/Jean Bentley
AOL/Maggie Furlong
AOL/Alex Moaba
AOL/Laura Prudom
AOL/Maureen Ryan
BuzzSugar
The Daily Beast/Maria E Fernandez
The Daily Beast/Jace Lacob
The Futon Critic
Time
TV Addict
TVLine
AOL/Chris Harnick
HitFix
ShowBuzzDaily
AOL/Kim Potts

What it is: A female Odd Couple.

Created by comedian Whitney Cummings (who also has her own show, Whitney, on NBC in the fall) and Sex and the City's Michael Patrick King, this comedy centers on two young—and apparently, not very wealthy—New Yorkers, who work together as waitresses but aspire to open their own cupcake shop ... if only they could somehow raise the money to do so. Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Thor) and relative newcomer Beth Behrs star as the two girls, and the cast also includes Garrett Morris.

The good news: The Futon Critic calls it the best of the season's multi-camera comedies, and, indeed, most critics are generally bullish on the pilot—even the ones who were expecting to be unimpressed. The writing is both raunchy and (somewhat) smart. Dennings, especially, is drawing raves; look for her to become a breakout star should the series catch on. Newcomer Behrs also performs well in the other lead role, though her character seems a bit one-dimensional at the moment.

The bad news: Some jokes misfire, and the supporting characters don't make much of an impression yet. A few critics also find the pilot a bit outdated.

FoxAlcatraz (Drama, coming in midseason)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
AOL/Furlong
AOL/Ryan
Slashfilm
AOL/Bentley
AOL/Harnick
AOL/Moaba
AOL/Prudom
HitFix
Hollywood.com
IGN
io9
ShowBuzzDaily
The Daily Beast/Fernandez
The Daily Beast/Lacob

What it is: Lost meets The Rock.

A mysterious drama with elements of sci-fi, set on an island? It could only mean one thing: another show produced by J.J. Abrams. This time, however, we know where the island is; the mystery surrounds a group of Alcatraz prisoners and guards who have resurfaced in the present day after disappearing 30 years ago. Lost's Jorge Garcia stars alongside Sam Neill, Robert Forster, Jonny Coyne, and Sarah Jones. The show will debut in the winter.

The good news: Many critics find the premise interesting and the San Francisco setting compelling, and most are also praising the cast. Slashfilm, especially, thinks the "leads have great chemistry across the board." Respected AOL TV critic Mo Ryan seems to be the pilot's biggest fan; she deems it "well crafted" and "intriguing."

The bad news: Everyone else seems a bit disappointed—or even bored—by the hour, finding major flaws in the pacing, characters, and storytelling. io9's Charlie Jane Anders notes that Alcatraz is "very slow to unfold, and it doesn't do very much to make you care one way or the other about what's going on," while Hollywood.com's Daniel Hubschman describes it as "42 minutes of eye-rolling frustration." The Daily Beast's Jace Lacob rejects the pilot as "shockingly awful," describing it as "a headache-inducing exercise in frustration that confuses narrative convolution for mystery and obvious plotting for dramatic twists." Still, many reviewers hold out hope that these flaws could be fixed once the series moves past the introductory stage, and that something better could emerge.

ABCApartment 23 (Comedy, coming in midseason)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
AOL/Bentley
AOL/Furlong
AOL/Harnick
AOL/Potts
AOL/Ryan
The Daily Beast/Lacob
ShowBuzzDaily
AOL/Alexis Moore
The Futon Critic
HitFix
The Daily Beast/Fernandez

What it is: Another female Odd Couple.

A naive young woman (Dreama Walker) moves to Manhattan to start her dream job—with a company-provided apartment—only to be thrown out on the street when her employer unexpectedly goes under. After grabbing a job at a coffee shop, she quickly meets another young New Yorker (Krysten Ritter), who swindles her, sleeps with her fiancé, and, naturally, becomes her friend and roommate. Oh, and she's friends with James Van Der Beek, playing himself.

The good news: Walker and Ritter are strong, likeable leads and work well together (though The Daily Beast's Maria Elena Fernandez doesn't like the pairing). Many critics also like the Beek playing himself; in fact, a few think he's the best thing about the pilot.

The bad news: The concept is similar to CBS's 2 Broke Girls, and the latter seems to have a more impressive pilot. The Futon Critic calls the Apt. 23 pilot "a harmless collection of silly moments" that falls flat more often than not, while HitFix's Daniel Fienberg points out that he didn't laugh once (despite the fact that he actually felt it was the best comedy pilot this year). But critics seem to think that if the series can retain the pilot's dark sensibility, it has potential.

NBCAwake (Drama, coming in midseason)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
AOL/Bentley
AOL/Furlong
AOL/Prudom
AOL/Ryan
The Daily Beast/Fernandez
The Daily Beast/Lacob
HitFix
Time
AOL/Harnick
ShowBuzzDaily
 

What it is: Sliding Doors as a cop drama.

Awake is the second TV drama from Lone Star creator Kyle Killen (also screenwriter of The Beaver). The series, which will arrive in midseason, follows a police detective (Brotherhood's Jason Isaacs) whose life is split into two alternate realities after a terrible car accident: one in which his teenage son lives, the other in which his wife survives. The split reality will, understandably, present challenges for his personal life as well as his crime investigations; fortunately, he has a therapist in each world. Cherry Jones (24), Laura Allen (Terriers), B.D. Wong, and Wilmer Valderrama (That '70s Show) co-star.

The good news: This may be the best pilot this year, period; it is certainly the stated favorite of several of the critics cited above. The Daily Beast's Fernandez finds it "trippy and compelling," while Time's James Poniewozik deems it "moving and fascinating," adding that, "Emotionally and structurally it's something close to a tour de force." HitFix's Fienberg is especially enamored of David Slade's direction and the show's immense visual appeal.

The bad news: ShowBuzzDaily finds neither world to be very interesting, calling them "sketchy and undeveloped." Many critics are speaking to the potential challenges in sustaining the concept over the course of a full season, though others note that having a standard crime procedural element in addition to the ongoing mystery should help in that regard.

ABCCharlie's Angels (Drama, Thursdays at 8p)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
BuzzSugar AOL/Harnick
The Daily Beast/Lacob
HitFix
ShowBuzzDaily
AOL/Bentley
AOL/Furlong
AOL/Potts
AOL/Ryan
The Daily Beast/Fernandez
Time

What it is: A modern-day remake of the iconic 1970s series.

This Miami-set reboot of the 1970s ABC series about a trio of female private investigators comes from Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and is also produced by Drew Barrymore (who appeared in the 2000 movie version and its sequel). Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights), Annie Ilonzeh (General Hospital), and Australian actress Rachael Taylor star as the Angels, while Robert Wagner provides the voice of their unseen boss. [On July 21, ABC announced that Wagner would no longer be a part of the series; the part of Charlie will be played by a still to be determined actor.]

The good news: Unfortunately, the pilot has little to recommend it; BuzzSugar is alone so far in finding the hour "fun."

The bad news: Simply put, most critics are bored by this pilot. Many had low expectations going in, and the hour still underwhelmed. The Daily Beast's Fernandez notes that "the angels have no chemistry, the writing is weak, and it's all trying too hard." At HitFix, Fienberg points out that so much of the pilot is spent on tedious, premise-establishing exposition that it is hard to get a good read of how the actual series will turn out, though the pilot's terrible dialogue and the miscasting of Minka Kelly doesn't help matters. Time's Poniewozik doesn't entirely fault the actors; he thinks that the inconsistent writing (which strives to blend a dark tone with "glib" dialogue and zingers) makes "the performances feel stiff and the characters indistinguishable." ShowBuzzDaily just finds the pilot bland, and predicts a quick demise.

NBCFree Agents (Comedy, Wednesdays at 8:30p)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
AOL/Bentley
AOL/Harnick
AOL/Ryan
The Futon Critic
AOL/Furlong
BuzzSugar
The Daily Beast/Fernandez
The Daily Beast/Lacob
AOL/Prudom
ShowBuzzDaily

What it is: Yet another workplace comedy, but with more sex.

Adapted by Party Down co-creator John Enbom from the British series of the same name, this single-camera workplace comedy follows the reluctant romance between two PR executives (Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn) who are each coming off of a long-term relationship. Joe Lo Truglio and Anthony Head (reprising his role as the sleazy boss from the UK version) also star.

The good news: Azaria and Hahn are the clear highlights of the pilot, though there are also kind words for Head. Critics seemed to have low expectations for this comedy, and are generally surprised not to dislike it. In fact, several are "charmed" by the pilot.

The bad news: Critics differ on whether or not the pilot is actually funny (some think not), and BuzzSugar and ShowBuzzDaily don't sense any chemistry between the leads, which is problematic, given the premise.

CBSA Gifted Man (Drama, Fridays at 8p)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
AOL/Ryan
The Daily Beast/Fernandez
The Futon Critic
HitFix
TV Addict
AOL/Bentley
AOL/Moaba
AOL/Potts
AOL/Prudom
BuzzSugar
The Daily Beast/Lacob
ShowBuzzDaily
AOL/Furlong
AOL/Harnick

What it is: To quote The Daily Beast's Fernandez, it's "House meets Ghost"

Medium might be gone, but that doesn't mean CBS characters won't be talking to dead people on Friday nights. Patrick Wilson (Angels in America) stars as a gifted but self-absorbed surgeon who begins seeing visions of his dead, but apparently still idealistic, ex-wife, who convinces him to take a different, more compassionate approach to his practice. The drama was created by screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), and the pilot was directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), who doesn't typically work in series television. Recent Emmy nominee Margo Martindale (Justified) co-stars, along with Julie Benz and Jennifer Ehle.

The good news: This is another show that critics seem to like more than they were expecting. Wilson, and the cast in general, are universally admired (even if some, like Martindale, didn't have enough to do in the pilot), and Demme's direction is also (unsurprisingly) drawing praise. BuzzSugar's Becky Kirsch feels the pilot does a good job of balancing the medical and supernatural elements. The show also offers something a little different compared to a standard procedural.

The bad news: If you aren't willing to embrace the supernatural aspect (as some critics aren't), the show will not be for you. The series has the potential to be overly sentimental. Critics aren't quite sure how the premise is going to play out over the long term. A few reviewers feel the pilot is almost too "subtle" or "ethereal."

NBCGrimm (Fantasy/Drama, Fridays at 9p)

Has Potential Mixed/Uncertain Doesn't Look Good
  ShowBuzzDaily AOL/Bentley
AOL/Furlong
AOL/Harnick
AOL/Prudom
AOL/Ryan
BuzzSugar
The Daily Beast/Fernandez
The Daily Beast/Lacob
The Futon Critic
HitFix

What it is: A police procedural where the criminals are fairy tale characters.

A police detective discovers that fairy tale creatures are living among us—at least, in Portland, Oregon—in this crime drama from David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Jim Kouf (Angel). David Giuntoli plays the cop charged with protecting humans from these not-so-friendly characters; Silas Weir Mitchell (Prison Break) and Sasha Roiz (Caprica) also star. Oddly enough, it's not the only fairy tale-themed drama debuting this season; ABC has the similar Once Upon a Time.

The good news: It's on Fridays, so you'll probably have something better to do than watch TV.

The bad news: Grimm has one of the least liked pilots of all of the new fall shows. Despite a premise that "ought to be entertaining," writes Fienberg at HitFix, the pilot consists of "44 minutes of the dullest murder investigation possible." The Daily Beast's Lacob doesn't pull any punches in his assessment, noting the "bad acting, worse writing, and even sillier storytelling" and concluding, "This is like a 1990s syndicated Canadian drama airing on Saturday afternoon, only not as good." The Futon Critic complains that "the most striking thing about 'Grimm' is how bland everyone feels and acts," while AOL's Ryan declares, "It felt as though this pilot was twice as long as it actually was."

Continued on the next page ...

Continue reading for reviews of The New Girl, Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, and more new shows ...

Comments (4)

  • yesrelation  

    What about Shonda Rhime's "Scandal"??

  • pennstpat  

    Awake looks amazing. You guys should really put up the trailer for it that uses The Cinematic Orchestra's "To Build a Home" as the soundtrack. Really incredible.

  • Iswearimsmart  

    What about Smash? That looked like a more mature and grounded version of Glee.

  • LamontRaymond  

    Outstanding article!! Keep this sort of thing coming..... Watched every preview - wondering how the hell I"m gonna watch that much TV this fall.....

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