San Diego Comic Con 2012 officially kicked off Wednesday with badge pick-up at 3pm. For many, Preview Night is a chance to scour the exhibit floor for that particular Con exclusive that’s a must-have or to take care of any shopping that may prove difficult once the larger crowds show up for the official Day One. For others, it’s a chance to catch up with long-distance friends met and made at previous years’ Cons. Unlike the rest of the convention, on Preview Night there’s only one panel- the WB’s pilot preview. This is the fifth year the WB has premiered pilots at SDCC and, for the first time, they brought five to show. There was fairly positive reaction from the crowd to each of these, and most episodes had at least one extremely ComicCon-friendly gag (a Twilight joke in Arrow got by far the biggest laugh of the night). Last year’s slate of pilots was widely panned as one of the worst ever- hopefully this year will bring better fare. Here’s a brief look at each of the pilots previewed.
666 Park Avenue: As should be expected when you’ve cast Terry O’Quinn as the devil (or something similar), this pilot drips with menace and foreboding. O’Quinn leads a strong cast, including Vanessa Williams as his equally-manipulating wife, Dave Annabel as the man who’s come to their attention (which is somewhere it’d seem you never want to be), and Rachael Taylor as his beautiful wife, whom O’Quinn and Williams seem most focused on. The set design is striking and the scares are come by honestly, but there is a central unavoidable problem with this premise- it’s been done. Many, many times. So while the performances are solid to very good, the effects are fairly seemless, and personal favorite Beethoven’s 7th Symphony makes a prominent appearance in the score, 666 Park Avenue will have to get creative, and quickly, to avoid feeling like a retread of The Devil’s Advocate or Rosemary’s Baby.
Arrow: This pilot is downright bad. Bad writing, uninteresting performances, and a terrible score make for a laughable viewing experience, at least for this critic. The cast are all very pretty and most are likeable enough, but the script they get handed to work with does them no favors and exciting action sequences can only go so far to wipe the hokey narration and inconsistent flashback structure from our minds. There are plot holes galore (how does someone stranded alone on an island for five years learn hand-to-hand combat? or Russian? or study Buddhism? And why does no one within this character’s life notice this?) and, other than the violence level, almost nothing that happens comes as a surprise. Even so, all of this could be overlooked if the pilot struck just the right tone of camp and fun, but instead we get an overly dour, self-serious hour that, while it may please a certain demographic eager to see a favorite character on screen, no matter how, in no way holds up to even the most basic critical scrutiny.
The Following: Casting Kevin Bacon as the lead of a psychological crime procedural seemed like a great idea, he’s a good actor with huge name recognition, but unfortunately, the character The Following gives him in no way utilizes his abilities and his ex-FBI serial killer hunter is about as generic as they come. The pilot also wastes James Purefoy as Bacon’s main antagonist and the only actor who comes out of it well is Natalie Zea, who TV fans will recognize from the infinitely superior Justified. The main problem with this pilot is not the script or the performances, however, it’s the level of fetishization of and revelry in violence, particularly against women. The camera lingers on brutalized corpses and gory crime scenes and there’s a particular moment that makes this an absolute must-miss for any and all dog lovers. Pilots often ratchet up the violence or gore or sex, but given the premise, that Purefoy’s serial killer has brainwashed a wide net of followers who are now doing his killing for him, this pilot’s fascination with attacking and degrading young women will assumedly be a recurring element to the series. There are already too many series like this on television- hopefully this one won’t catch on and add to their number.
Revolution: The latest from both Eric Kripke (creator, also creator of Supernatural), JJ Abrams (producer), and Jon Favreau (director), this high-concept speculative fiction series could easily have gone either way. Luckily, after a somewhat wobbly opening, Kripke makes a few quick calls that put this squarely among the better half of JJ Abrams pilots. After the inciting event, all technology failing at once, we jump 15 years into the future, allowing viewers to skip the “But I really miss my iPhone!” segment of the story. Once the action starts rolling, there’s a good sense of pace and momentum, making Revolution the first pilot of the night that surprised this critic with its endpoint, rather than feeling overlong. The cast is good, for the most part, with the clear standout being Giancarlo Esposito, who demands your attention whenever he’s onscreen as the pilot’s more tangible villain, and apart from a less-than-stellar potential romantic entanglement, the relationships work. It may not be for everyone, given its genre trappings, but this is definitely one to check out.
Cult: If Revolution seems high concept, it has nothing on Cult. This series, about a journalist and PA who investigate the disappearances and odd occurrences around the fan community of show-within-the-show “Cult”, is definitely walking a tightrope, and a thin one at that. The cast is appealing, though the cast of “Cult” is perhaps more engaging than those outside the show-within-the-show, and there’s a lot of potential in the premise. However, while this pilot is interesting and definitely shows promise, the chance of it collapsing in on itself and falling into eye-rolling territory is decidedly high. This is currently set as a mid-season replacement for the CW, so hopefully this extra time will allow Kripke and co. to make sure they know where they’re going. If you’re into high concept series, or want to see what Rockne S. O’Bannon (creator of this as well as Farscape) is up to, keep an eye out for Cult.