Summer TV: Pilots

TV-on-the-BeachSometimes summer TV can be a blessing in disguise. It’s true that real crap can premiere during the summer, but the stuff that lasts is usually a delight! I love warm summer nights with my window open, cuddled in bed with my fav ice cream and wine, totally engrossed in Pretty Little Liars or True Blood. We’ve got some interesting new-comers this summer, and maybe a few of them are worth watching! Below are my quick thoughts on the new summer pilots this year. I’ll be updating this as shows begin, so be sure to check back!

Here’s a summer premiere guide by E! if you want a full and organized list of everything going on these next few months. I’m only going to talk about new the shows (excluding most reality, TV movies, and TV events).

Sunday, May 12

  • Family Tree HBO @ 10:30: This mockumentary-style comedy from the king of the mockumentary, Christopher Guest, is cute and quirky, but honestly not holding my attention. I enjoy looking at and listening to Chris O’Dowd, but I’m not hooked yet. I’ll keep with it, though, if only for posterity’s sake. B+

Monday, May 20

  • The Goodwin Games, ABC @ 8:30: As much as I love TJ Miller and Scott Foley (so much), this pilot gets a C+. Not optimistic about it sticking around. It’s about a group of extremely childish siblings whose eccentric Father played mind games with them from time to time. When he dies, he develops a game/test for them in order to get his money. The moral of the test is for them to bond and be a family again. It’s horrible.

Thursday, May 23

  • Save Me, NBC @ 8pm: God awful. Can’t even talk about how bad this is. A woman spiraling down the drain of self-loathing and destruction survives a dead scare and begins hearing God speaking to her. She tries to repair her relationships with her family and friends, all while acting a bit crazy. It stars Anne Heche, so one can assume it’s autobiographical. C-
  • Motive, ABC @ 9pm: Pretty typical procedural in the vein of CSI and NCIS, but the writing is quite bad. Twitter was ablaze with calling out plot holes and shoddy dialogue throughout the entire episode. Apparently, creators thought it would be new and inventive to reveal the killer right away and work backwards to reveal the motive and means. It’s definitely not anything super crazy awesome, or new. I’m sure it will find it’s footing, though. These things always do. B-

Monday June 3

  • The Fosters, ABC Fam @ 9pm: Well, I think One Million Moms just inadvertently made this show a hit. They’ve been complaining about its “anti-family” message (which I believe it’s sending just the opposite message, one of love and unity) so much that the ratings actually went upThe Fosters is great. Like really really good. I think it idolizes the foster system a tad, but they do talk openly about how garbage the system actually is. It also does NOT sugar coat the issues gay parents run into on a daily basis. The Fosters focuses on a young delinquent being placed in a healthy foster family for a time. She has issues with male authority figures so they place her with a picturesque lesbian couple who have adopted a set of hispanic twins from the foster system and raised them up with their biological son. We soon find out things aren’t as perfect as they seem. This show is just a melting pot of awesome! So much great drama and discussion can come from this. The potential for cultural significance is so great here that I’m actually nervous ABCFam will squash it. I give The Fosters an A+, watch it!
  • Mistresses, ABC @ 10pm: I noticed my Dad sneakily watching this on my Hulu+ account. Hahaha…NAILED YA, STEPHEN! It’s definitely his kind of show, too. Sexy ladies being slightly witty but mostly dramatic in the midst of tawdry love affairs. Mistresses feels like Alyssa Milano’s version of The Client List. There’s a crazy character named Jocelyn, but she spells it Josslyn. Ugh. It’s not quite as bad as it seems. It’s actually pretty interesting, but it does brush off sexual harassment as sexy flirtation. Not something I’m cool with. The pilot ended with a hint that the show will be driven more by scandals and serious threats than frivolous love affairs. That could be the thing that hooks me. B+

Tuesday June 4

  • Twisted, ABC Fam @ 9pm: This is super typical ABCFam fare. I enjoyed the pilot. It’s about a kid who murdered his aunt when he was 11 and was just released from juvie. His idiot mother decides to send him right back to the same school where everyone knows what he did. Needless to say, he’s a pariah. And yet his two oldest friends who were there the day of the murder end up rekindling their relationship with him. It definitely sets up a lot of mystery, which I like, but I wish it was a bit darker. It’s got that uppity ABC Family feel to it that somehow doesn’t seem all that appropriate. I also wish that Denise Richards wasn’t included. She’s pretty unnecessary in every way. I’ll stick with this for a while and see if I get more into it. B

Thursday June 6

  • The Hero, TNT @ 8pm: I love the Rock. I really, really love him. His Twitter (@TheRock) is so inspiring and funny. He makes you want to push yourself to the limit, just like he does on a daily basis. The concept is that a group of people are faced with terrifying challenges every week that they complete as a team. Then they elect one person from the team to advance onto the solo mission. If that mission is completed, that person is given $50k to either keep or throw in the pot that the ultimate winner will take home at the end. The Rock coaches these players through their fears and weaknesses. I also love the cast of people they’ve pulled together for this (Marty in particular). You will certainly fist pump through the entire episode and then go sky diving, or run a marathon, or go deep-sea fishing. They also donate a lot of money to the Red Cross every week. A+!
  • Graceland, USA @ 10pm: Using hit Burn Notice as a lead-in, this pilot from White Collar creator Jeff Eastin focuses on a group of undercover agents from many different government agencies living together on a beachfront out in SoCal. The hope is that it will take over for Burn Notice next year as the anchor for USA’s Thursday lineup. It stars fellow Ithaca College alum Aaron Tveit (you would know him from Les Mis or Gossip Girl), and is standard USA fare but with a darker tone that usual (save for an arbitrary surfing scene that is completely unnecessary). The content on USA usually feels super shiny and clean, but I can tell that recently they’ve been trying to darken up their subject matter. Just wait for the adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s When The Women Come Out To Dance… A

Saturday June 8

  • Sinbad, SyFy @ 9pm: This is a BBC show acquired by SyFy, so I’m guessing that means it’s already aired in Britain, but now we get it as a “new” series in the US. It follows a young Sinbad who has been cursed after the death of his brother and can’t remain on land for more than a day at a time. Guys, I can’t find a working link to watch this. I very much want to watch it. If you have a way that I can in fact watch it without having SyFy, please let me know. Thank you.
  • Primeval: New World, SyFy @ 10pm: This was ALSO a British series by the same producers as Sinbad. Very interesting, SyFy! This spin-off of the British Primeval (which I’m told is MUCH better) first aired in Canada, and I’m assuming SyFy just snagged it. The pilot of Primeval: New World was interesting, the plot wasn’t all that bad, but it was definitely covered in a layer of thick Velveeta cheese. Weird magnetic tear in our dimension create portals to the past where dinosaurs pass through, I think? I’ll stick with it for the next couple eps, but it might get the boot fast. B-

Monday June 10

  • King & Maxwell, TNT @ 10pm: This crime procedural focuses on ex-Secret Service Agents now working as PIs. There’s action, humor, crazy cases, and some delightful banter! All-in-all, it’s pretty typical, but I like the characters and I like the world they exist in. The pilot took a pretty crazy turn, and it kind of felt like it wasn’t sure if it wanted to explore standard criminal circumstances or those with an extra kick, so to speak. There was an odd thing with a savant and advanced technology that only he can operate, making the twist a bit outlandish. The characters of King and Maxwell had to spoon feed the situation to the audience in a back-and-forth verbal exchange near the end that was just full-frontal exposition. They’re cute together though, and I would definitely watch this over Motive. I also think Rebecca Romijn does a great job! She’s a lot of fun to watch. Solid B!

Sunday June 23

  • Crossing Lines, NBC @ 9pm: This drama stars Donald Sutherland and William Fichtner, and is about an elite cross-border police unit who catch international criminals all over the world. They joke that they’re like a version of the Justice League, but they really are. The two-hour pilot features awkward, film-noir-esque voice over and is a bit too earnest for its own good. While the acting is good and the characters are slightly interesting, I’m not buying it. It all still feels like well-worn territory. B-
  • Whodunnit?, ABC @ 9pm: This game of Clue brought to life is a great idea for a reality show! It’s a playable version of And Then There Were None. Contestants arrive at a mansion manned by the overly stoic butler Giles (it’s about as cliché as you can get). Right after the initial meet and greet, one of their own ends up “dead” — the victim of what looks like a violent altercation. The others have to participate in investigations, glorified treasure hunts, and tests to figure out who the killer is. The only thing they know is that it’s one of them. Instead of being “voted off the island,” participants who are eliminated are actually “killed.” The contestants then need to solve THAT murder to help them get closer to the killer. They’re then tested on their knowledge, and the cycle continues. Throughout each episode, the events of the show are punctuated by Tweets from @WhodunnitKiller, offering even more clues for the audience watching at home. It’s a great way to both make the fans feel involved AND get them interacting with each other online during the episodes every night. I can see how this approach would promote appointment viewing. Anyway, it’s a lot of fun, and I’m a MASSIVE fan of mysteries, so I’m enjoying it! A-
  • Devious Maids, Lifetime @ 10pm: This is an Eva Longoria-produced show about Latina maids in Beverly Hills who find themselves in the middle of their employers’ messes and twist them to their advantage. When this show was being shopped around last year is caused quite a stir from Latinas and activists because it seems to promote degrading stereotypes. As I watched the pilot, I did feel that it depends on negative generalizations on both sides. I don’t know much about the lives of maids working for the rich and famous, but I can imagine that the horrible way they’re treated in the show isn’t far from the truth. It’s not great, but kind of entertaining. The core of the premise is a murder mystery, and those are always fun. I’d say it’s pretty good for Lifetime, but as it stands now it’s a B- in my book. I’ll add, however, that it has a touch of promise to it.

Monday June 24

  • Under the Dome, CBS @ 10pm: Just as I hoped, Under the Dome is this summer’s best new show. I’ve already watched it twice! Based on the massive novel by Stephen King, this is the tale of a little town cut off from the world after an unexplained dome descends over them, trapping locals and outsiders inside and separating them from family and friends on the outside. The cast of characters forced to interact is diverse and mysterious. The show opens on a man burying a body in the woods, but later he saves the life of a local boy. A young cop is newly married to a firefighter, but they’re separated when the dome comes down. A biracial lesbian couple and their troubled daughter are trapped while passing through on a trip to take her to camp. A young woman is stuck with an abusive summer fling with a violent obsession for her. A conspiracy with roots stretching much further back than the dome is coming to a head. Nothing can get in or out, supplies are doomed to run out, as is the good will in the town, and no one has the slightest idea what’s happened. The cast is unbelievable, including Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Jeff Fahey, and Britt Robertson. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of talent. If you aren’t watching this show, do yourself a favor and get on it. A+

Sunday June 30

  • Ray Donovan, Showtime @ 10pm: With great cable shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter coming to an end, we need fresh blood to take their places. This series starring Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight could be just the thing. The family of a professional fixer in LA feuds over the past after the sinister patriarch is released from prison. The performances are incredible, but the subject matter is familiar. It’s kind of Scandal meets The Sopranos. I think this is the kind of show that will grow into its own. A-

Monday July 1

  • Siberia, NBC @ 10pm: A group of reality show contestants travel to a remote area in Siberia where over a hundred years ago a massive meteor hit Earth. They begin their survival game like any other reality TV show, but when strange, paranormal occurrences start happening and people start dying, they realize this is no longer a game. It’s shot like a reality show, but this is scripted. This show might actually bump Under the Dome down to my second favorite new show of the summer! It’s amazing! If you didn’t know any better, you’d really think you were watching a reality TV show gone wrong. Everyone tune in tonight! A+

Wednesday July 10

  • The Bridge, FX @ 10pm: Adapted from the Scandinavian show Bron. We follow an American detective (Diane Kruger) and a Mexican detective (Demian Bichir) as they work together to catch a serial killer who is preying on victims on both sides of the border. I’ve been following news on this show for a while, so I’m pretty excited that it’s finally here! Kruger is amazing as the slightly autistic Detective Sonya North, and Bichir is damn charming! The writing is great and the conflict between North and Bichir’s Marco Ruiz is excellent. This is one to follow! A
  • Camp, NBC @ 10pm: Six Feet Under‘s Rachel Griffiths stars as a summer camp director overseeing a group of wild campers, which include adults and teens, as they kick back for some bound-to-be-dramatic fun. The show is generally light summer fare, but it takes some surprising turns as you get into the pilot. I wasn’t very optimistic about it, but it’s actually a lot of fun! B+

Thursday July 11

  • Orange Is the New Black, Netflix: Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is The New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison, this Netflix original stars Taylor Schilling and Jason Biggs. It’s based on Kerman’s experiences after she was thrown in prison due to her relationship with a drug smuggler, and it’s amazing. I blew through it faster than any other season of a show, but at this point I don’t need to sing its praises to you — you’ve already watched it! A+

Saturday July 20

  • Cedar Cove, Hallmark @ 10pm: This is Hallmarks first ever original drama series. It seems fairly simple, a small town judge (Andie MacDowell) is presented with the option to leave her home and accept a Federal judgeship elsewhere. It wouldn’t be much of a show if she left, however. Grade to Come.

Wednesday July 24

  • The Vineyard, ABC Fam @ 9pm: Set in Martha’s Vineyard, this “docu-series” follows a mix of locals and transplants as they live and interact together. It’s clear that they want to do a Laguna Beach meets The Real World sort of thing here, but it’s the worst reality show I’ve ever seen. The magic with reality TV is that it’s scripted, but you can almost believe it isn’t. In The Vineyard they might as well be holding their scripts in their hands. Their acting is on par with my own…which is awful. It’s pretty gross. F-

Monday July 29

  • The Writers’ Room, Sundance @ 10pm: Hilarious and talented Jim Rash holds a weekly round table of TV writers to talk about the most awesome thing in the world — TV writing. As an aspiring TV writer I’m always on the lookout for resources to absorb. A few great one are the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast hosted by Ben Blacker, the Script Notes podcast hosted by John August and Craig Mazin, and fellow IC alumna Amanda Pendolino’s blog The Aspiring TV Writer, which has a list of further resources and learning materials. This show on Sundance is basically the same idea as Blacker’s podcast. Rash brings on a staff of writers from the best TV shows on air today and they talk about the conception and execution of the show. The pilot features Vince Gilligan and the staff of Breaking Bad. I’ve already heard Gilligan speak at length about the show, but it’s nice to hear it again. Sometimes he’ll talk about working on the X-Files too, so my little fan girl brain gets to squeal. Watch the pilot episode here on the Sundance channel’s website. If you’re a writer or just a TV fan, you’ll enjoy these 20-minute peeks into the background of your favorite shows. Solid A!

Which shows are you most excited for this summer??

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