Winter TV Roundup, Week Seven
In these weekly posts I review new shows' pilots and second episodes. If you don't see a new show this winter listed below, please check previous weeks.
Schitt's Creek, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on POP (Premiered February 11)
About: This is the first original series for POP (formerly the TV Guide Network), and it centers on a wealthy family that loses everything due to some shady practices by an accountant. All they're left with is a town — Schitt's Creek — they bought as a joke. Now they have to live there, seemingly for a long while, as they try to pick up the pieces. The first two episodes of the series debuted on Wednesday, adding to the glut of original programming on networks, cable, and premium cable outlets — not to mention streaming services. Nowadays, you just need to create a niche audience to be a success. That's possible for "Schitt's Creek," which stars Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and Chris Elliot, among others. That's a potent comedy lineup, and they give good performances here. The show was conceived by Levy and his son — Dan, who also stars as his son in the show. The problem for me was, aside from some mildly amusing gags, I didn't really care about the characters and the world. Others may feel different, and given the diverse and competitive market you don't need a big audience to be a success. But you need a hook to pull people in — especially for a network that is just getting off the ground and doesn't have a big following. "Schitt's Creek" has some big names, but it doesn't have much in terms of a compelling reason to tune in each week.
Pilot Grade: D
Second Episode: C-
The Slap, Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC (Premiered February 12)
About: This is an "event series" on NBC, an eight-episode mini-series based on a novel and an Australian mini-series of the same name. It has a big cast — including Peter Sarsgaard, Zachary Quinto, Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Brian Cox, and Melissa George, reprising her role from the original mini-series. The biggest problem here is that the mini-series feels like it's constructed the same way a novel would be. The first episode comes, mostly, from a single characters point-of-view, including voice-over narration. In written form, that works well to flesh out the story, the characters, and the events. In TV, we like to see, not be told. Hearing the inner monologue of one character isn't nearly as effective, and feels a little off-putting. The narrative isn't all that interesting, either. It's a large, Greek family with problems who gather for Hector's (Sarsgaard) 40th Birthday party. There, the unruly child of family friends is slapped by his cousin (Quinto). That's pretty much where the pilot ends, but you see that it sets off a chain of events that will pit family and friends against one another. The show means to examine life in middle age, family issues, and the question of how far is too far when you're talking about a child and discipline. But the pilot was clunky, the characters flat, and the action too pedestrian. This could improve, but given its short run and lack of a hook, this feels a bit like another flop for NBC.
Pilot Grade: D
Allegiance, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC (Premiered February 5)
About: This is another of NBC's new dramas, as they've tried to construct a lineup around "The Blacklist" to compete with the juggernauts on ABC and CBS. This isn't the way to get it done. This feels a bit like a watered down version of "The Americans." It's about a CIA officer who doesn't know that his parents and sister are Russian spies. Whereas "The Americans" is set in the 1980s, during the height of the Cold War, it feels a little weird to have a 2015 narrative about Russian spies trying to put one over on the CIA. There are some good actors here — including Hope Davis and Scott Cohen, who play the Russian spy parents — and the series has a hook, but how do they make it last. This feels like the kind of series that defies logic, and the kind of hook that will be a little hard to sustain. Given the ratings, though, it may not be a question NBC has to worry about for long.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C+
Fortitude, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on PIVOT (Premiered January 29)
About: This is another in the myriad of original shows premiering on tiny cable outlets throughout the dial. This one — a co-production with the BBC — is a murder mystery set in a small arctic town that's never totally identified. At the end of the first hour, a professor (Christopher Eccleston) who may have found part of a Mammoth in a glacier — derailing a potential project to bring in tourists — is found dead. The local authorities are investigating, but they may have ulterior motives. London also sends an investigator (Stanley Tucci), who begins his own search. The place is cold, the Polar Bears are plentiful, and everyone seems to have a motive. What, on the outside, appeared to be an idyllic, sequestered little town is really a place full of secrets, lies, and hidden danger. That's how the first two episodes — which aired on January 29 together — come to an end. There's plenty of questions. This is a series that has a fascinating hook, some good actors, and a unique location. That's what it takes to try and build a following among a myriad of options. "Fortitude" isn't for everyone, but for fans of mystery this is a slow burn of a different kind.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: B-
Bosch, streaming on Amazon Prime (Premiered February 13)
About: Just about a year ago "Bosch" was part of a group of Amazon pilots. It was ordered to series, nine additional episodes were filmed, and the first season was released on Friday. Here's a snap shot of my review of the pilot from February, 2014: his series had a bit of a slow burn in the pilot, and that's a good thing. The show comes from Eric Overmeyer, a producer and writer from "The Wire" and "Treme," as well as Michael Connolly, upon whose books the series is based. Titus Welliver (pictured above) does a good job in the central role, and there are plenty of familiar faces here for "Wire" fans. Not to mention this was a vastly more compelling crime drama than any network pilot I've seen in several years. Of course, given the language and construction, this would be a cable show, or more likely a pay cable show. While I'm a fan of what HBO is doing with "True Detective," I see more promise in "Bosch" as a potential series. Of the five on Amazon, this was the one that I liked the best.
Pilot Grade: B