Several network series return this week, but the fall season starts in earnest next week. Before the premieres kick off, here are SoS TV Editor Kate Kulzick, SoS Managing TV Editor Deepayan Sengupta, and SoS lead TV critic Randy Dankievitch with their initial impressions on the networks’ new offerings.
Note: Our thoughts are based on pilots that are works in progress, so there may be changes to these episodes before they air.
Forever (10 pm EST, ABC)
Premieres Sept. 22nd and Sept 23rd , 2014
Among ABC’s new fall shows is Forever, a series set to focus on a medical examiner in New York who has a distinctive trait; unlike the rest of the population, he is immortal. Every time he dies, Dr. Henry Morgan finds himself waking up naked in a nearby body of water, and he teams up with Detective Martinez to help solve the city’s crimes.
Based on the pilot, Forever fails to distinguish itself from a number of other shows already on the air, as it follows the model of the consultant with unusually procured knowledge of crimes working with a cop, one audiences can find amongst shows such as Castle and The Mentalist and whose similarities with Forever extend to the cop in question being a woman.
For this show to stand out from the rest of the television landscape, it will have to get the audiences invested in its characters. Unfortunately, much of the pilot’s attention is focused on the lead character of Henry Morgan, which means every other character is fleshed out only in relation to him. Seemingly set up as a co-lead, Detective Martinez has her character traits dictated to the audience by Henry, none of which bodes well for the show. With a cast that includes the likes of Judd Hirsch and Joel David Moore, the supporting cast has the potential to be entertaining in their own right, and whether the show allows them to will be a large factor in determining its quality. Ioan Gruffudd makes for a fine lead, but if the show around him doesn’t improve quickly, Forever will be a series worth skipping. [DS]
NCIS: New Orleans (9 pm EST, CBS)
Premieres Sept. 23rd, 2014
Following one successful spinoff, NCIS adds to its family this fall with NCIS: New Orleans, this time investigating crimes involving the military in the historic city. NCIS star Mark Harmon comes onboard as executive producer, with Scott Bakula, CCH Pounder, Lucas Black, and Zoe McLellan forming the core team for this incarnation.
While Sound on Sight was unable to see the pilot for this show prior to its premiere, the cast and location for this show are really the only differentiating factors, by all appearances, between this and its parent show. The decision to set the show’s backdoor pilot in NCIS instead of NCIS: Los Angeles, and the casting of Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder in key roles suggests that the producers intend to capture the audience from the originating show, rather than the first spinoff. This could be an indicator of how the series will play out, and it also means that unless the main cast brings forward a different energy in their interactions, or uses New Orleans as more than just a backdrop, it could threaten to be simply a pale imitation of its parent show.
This is not to say that the show doesn’t have promise; Scott Bakula continues to be a captivating presence, and it will undoubtedly be interesting to see him in a lead role once again. CCH Pounder has similarly proven herself worth watching, be it on The Shield or Warehouse 13, and Lucas Black may be well-suited to television. But NCIS: New Orleans faces a challenge no other show will be up against; having to measure up to two successful predecessors in the franchise. If the show proves itself a retread, it will not be worth sticking with, as those wo find it interesting can instead jump into NCIS. [DS]
Selfie (8 pm EST, ABC)
Premieres Sept. 30th, 2014
The latest project from Suburgatory creator/executive producer Emily Kapnek, Selfie is an unabashed My Fair Lady adaptation set in the Age of Social Media, centered on Eliza Dooley (like Doolittle… get it?) and her journey from self-obsession to self-enlightenment. And as one might expect, it takes the pilot awhile to get away from Facebook logos, cutaways of Instagram pictures, and visual overlays of iMessage conversations — but once it does, it begins to tap into the vapid underbelly of social media obsession, a more intelligent re-purposing of one of America’s famous stage stories than one might initially think.
Honestly, the best thing working for this pilot is the cast: from a charming, wonderfully unhinged Karen Gillan as Eliza to John Cho as the 2014 Henry Higgins (don’t forget David Harewood and Samm Levine, either — we won’t talk about this news of Mrs. Wiz Khalifa, Amber Rose, in a recurring role), Selfie has one of the most talented casts in an otherwise-underwhelming lineup of new fall comedies (undeserved hype over Mulaney aside, it’s a pretty empty fall for new sitcoms). Yes, it’s rough around the edges (in particular, Cho’s Henry can be rude as hell), isn’t extremely funny, and tries too hard at times — but Kapnek’s penchant for snappy, energetic dialogue is front and center, more than able to shine above the social media screen shots and obligatory “look, these two good-looking white people would make a fun couple, wouldn’t they?” material. Led by Gillan’s scene-stealing performance and a clever script, Selfie is one of the few surprising, promising pilots of the fall — though I’m afraid it may not have time to fully realize its potential as a reflection on our increasingly vapid and lonely society. [RD]
Manhattan Love Story (8:30 pm EST, ABC)
Premieres Sept. 30th, 2014
Comedy pilots are notoriously tricky. It often takes even great series a handful of episodes, if not their entire first season, to find their footing and grow into the confident, best version of what they’re trying to be. It’s prudent to withhold too much judgment until after seeing at least a few episodes—and yet, based on the material currently available, this critic won’t be sticking around to see if Selfie’s timeslot neighbor blossoms into something more. Manhattan Love Story has a charming lead in Analeigh Tipton’s Dana, a young woman who heads off to the big city (NYC) to chase her dream of becoming a writer, but it lets her down by falling prey to 2014’s worst trend: voiceover narration. The hook of the show is that it lets audiences in on what its leads, Dana and Peter (Jake McDorman), are thinking as they navigate the waters of eventual coupledom. The two get off to a rocky start, but this is a sitcom, so after a few more rounds of bickering and mixed messages, they’ll assuredly realize how silly they were and wind up in each other’s arms.
Where Manhattan Love Story falls down is with the very element it’s attempting to capitalize upon, the glimpses audiences get into Dana and Peter’s minds via the voiceover. It’s hard not to be annoyed with the stereotypical and almost offensive introduction the two get: Peter strolls down the sidewalk, gauging the attractiveness and bang-ability of every woman he sees while Dana enviously ogles their purses. If this entire series will feature voice-over, giving the audience a peek into what men and women are actually thinking (as it claims), the characters need to have far more interesting thoughts. Manhattan Love Story makes a bad first impression and at least initially, it isn’t original or funny enough to recover. [KK]
The Flash (8 pm EST, CW)
Premieres Oct. 7th, 2014
Following the success of Arrow, The CW once again dips its toes into the DC superhero universe, this time with The Flash, a spinoff focusing on Barry Allen as he wakes from his accident to discover the presence of new superpowers that include super speed and super-quick healing. Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg will be pulling double duty on both shows.
The pilot indicates a promising series, and one that manages to successfully distinguish itself from Arrow, despite a crossover cameo. The key point of differentiation is the tone, which is noticeably lighter in The Flash, helped in large part by the fresh-faced appearance of lead Grant Gustin. Co-star Carlos Valdez also has the potential to be a secret strength of the show, and both Barry and Cisco’s clear awe at the former’s newfound powers is a refreshing change of pace. The presence of Danielle Panabaker’s Caitlin Snow is also a promising development, as the pilot opens the potential to explore her platonic relationship with both Barry and Cisco, and positions her as a key member of the team from the get-go, all of which bode well for a strong female character who is defined outside of any potential romantic relationships. The final scene also suggest that the writers have an idea of what direction they’d like the series to go in, further adding to the show’s potential.
The success of the show will rest in its ability to effectively differentiate itself in the long run, as well as appeal to viewers who have not seen Arrow. While there are crossovers planned in the early episodes that may hinder this progress, if the show continues to go in the vein of the pilot, it is likely to become atleast a fun show to watch, and quite possibly more. [DS]
Marry Me (9 pm EST, NBC)
Premieres Oct. 14th, 2014
From Happy Endings creator David Caspe and starring Casey Wilson and Ken Marino, Marry Me centers on long-term couple Annie and Jake who are ready to take plunge, but can’t seem to get the proposal right. After disastrous attempts from each of them, they are forced to reexamine their relationship and decide if the Universe is trying to tell them something. Happy Endings was a cult hit for years and Caspe and Wilson bring a lot of good will with them, as does the fantastic Marino, but Marry Me, at least initially, strains at the seams. The comedy is incredibly broad, as should be expected from this team, but lacks the creativity that made Happy Endings such a success. There’s more than enough material surrounding weddings to fuel a series, but if moving forward, this continues to hew closely to expectations, the show could be in trouble.
The other red flag is the characterization of the central couple. They fall squarely into the crazy or controlling girlfriend/understanding boyfriend dynamic, limiting the potential of both characters. Not only does the pilot not take advantage of Marino’s versatility, it keeps the game Wilson at 11 for much of its runtime. These are two very talented comedians who are more than happy to commit to heightened, over the top characters, but big moments and performances only have power when counterpointed with smaller ones. Given the caliber of the cast and crew, this series deserves the chance to find its feet, and as mentioned above, plenty of great comedies have start out shakily, but it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed with Marry Me. [KK]