The fall season is upon us – and rather than cover dozens of pilots individually, I’ll be posting brief reviews of new shows, grouped together by the night they debut. Tonight, we’ve got three: two crime procedurals (one decent, one terrible), and FOX’s most-anticipated new drama of the fall. Enjoy – and let me know what you thought of these new shows in the comments!
Forever (ABC, 10PM ET) – C+
My track record against white-washed, formulaic crime procedurals is long and noted (see my Scorpion review below) – so I think it’s worth nothing that Forever is actually a pretty decent entry in the genre, if only for Ioan Gruffudd’s energetic performance as Dr. Henry Morgan, a man who hasn’t been able to stay dead for the last 200 years (as one might expect, he “dies” multiple times in the pilot, and many times in the years before the show begins). At first, this particular dramatic hook only seems to serve to make him an asshole protagonist along the lines of House or CSI: Anything, but there are moments where his immortality gives situations interesting perspective – not to mention spicing up the typically-tepid main character backgrounds of these types of shows, giving his expected personality quirks and genius-like abilities (spoiler: one of the things he’s good at is dying) a unique, if completely ludicrous and barely-plausible-even-with-extreme-suspense-of-disbelief, twist.
Plus, it’s a got one of the most solid pilot casts of the fall: Alana de la Garza, the lovely Lorraine Toussant (who was killer on Orange is the New Black this summer), and Judd Hirsch round out the supporting cast, a strong group of character actors who should be able to bring the same kind of performance energy to the otherwise typical (and in some circles, awfully familiar) character material on the show. Is this a show that’s going to keep people entertained for an entire season? Odds are it will get tied down in its already-goofy mythology (the end of the pilot episode adds a groan-worthy twist to the series it really doesn’t need, at least not in its first season), but there’s plenty of potential for Forever as simple escapist entertainment – something that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but kind of is, given the genre Forever squarely fits itself into.
Gotham (FOX, 8pm ET) – B-
Honestly, it’s impossible to tell by Gotham‘s pilot (like many other high-profile drama pilots that came before it) whether this show will be any good. The talent is certainly there, both on the creative side (creator Bruno Heller’s credits include HBO’s underrated Rome), and in front of the camera (Ben McKenzie, Jada Pinkett Smith, Donal Logue), but the show’s first episode is overloaded with DC mythos, too concerned with introducing ancillary characters to move beyond the broadest of beats with young Jim Gordon, the show’s true protagonist.
There are certainly elements to enjoy in the show’s first episode; the not-quite-present, not-quite-past setting of Gotham is great, as is Logue’s performance as Gordon’s crooked partner Harvey Bullocks, which gives such much-needed energy to the otherwise dour proceedings. I’m also excited to see how many badass faces JPS will get to make as Fish Mooney, an up-and-coming mobster in a crowded, competitive and violent Gotham. But the pilot gets in its own way trying to wink at the audience about other, flashier and more recognizable DC faces: from a young Ivy who likes plants to a man who is nicknamed Penguin because he holds umbrellas a lot, Gotham‘s overt self-referencing undercuts the intended dramatic impact of seeing such an impressive rogue’s gallery of Gotham villains (and we ALL know The Joker is lurking somewhere).
Although I wouldn’t say Gotham is worth all the hype it’s enjoyed the past few weeks, I also won’t say that this can’t grow into a fine little serialized crime show, provided the show finds some pathos for Jim Gordon beyond “cop who deals with corruption, and stalls bad guys until Bruce Wayne grows up”, or else Gotham is going to fold fast under the sheer weight of audience expectations and fanboy criticisms. If the show can grow out of its pilot and firmly establish that it has a unique story to tell, Gotham could be the breakout hit of the fall – if it turns into populist fan service, however, it could easily be the most disappointing.
Scorpion (CBS, 9PM ET) – F
Not only is Scorpion a defiantly bland crime procedural – where the most exciting moments literally come from an ethernet cord being plugged in – but it’s oddly tone deaf, a self-proclaimed story about geniuses with mental and social disabilities, but unable to actually say anything about mental disability except “not normal” and “different”. At one point, protagonist/genius/computer expert Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel) tells waitress Paige (Katherine McPhee) “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your child… is a a genius.” Seriously?
This inability to maturely address its own material – or even be cognizant to the tone it’s taking – is definitely the most heinous thing about the Justin Lin-directed pilot (yes, a show where computer geeks sit in a room and stare at monitors was directed by the man behind Fast and the Furious); however, wasting Robert Patrick in an empty suit (instead highlighting Eddie Kaye Thomas as the “badass” of CBS’s latest bunch of misguided geniuses) is a close second, which has to be considered a cinematic disgrace in some circles. It’s hard to even notice that, though; this pilot is so lifelessly formulaic – and when it comes to how it handles the much-loved cliche about “not fitting in”, downright offensive at times – it feels more like a neatly-arranged collection of dramatic buzzwords (9/11! Complicated, Shady Past Between Leads! Man Tells Woman How To Understand Her Child, So She Can Become A Good Mother! Nerds are Weird!) than anything truly unique or creating. It almost avoids an F thanks to a completely ludicrous climatic scene involving a plane, however, forcing myself through the first 40+ minutes of cardboard characters and a laughably implausible story line was a thoroughly unpleasant experience I never want to have again.