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Fall 2013 Network TV Preview: FOX pilots among the best and worst of the season

Fall 2013 Network TV Preview: FOX pilots among the best and worst of the season

This Monday, Sept. 16th, FOX kicks off the 2013 Fall Network TV season with the return of fan-favorite procedural Bones and debut of the network’s first new drama offering, Sleepy Hollow.  Tuesday, Sept. 17th will bring their two new comedies, Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as well as the return of New Girl and The Mindy Project, with the final new series of the fall, Almost Human, starting its season in November. The Mindy premiere is now available for interested viewers to preview, either online or OnDemand, but curious viewers will have to tune in to get a glimpse at Sleepy Hollow, Dads, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (as well as the various returning series). Excited TV fans already had a chance to see and react to Almost Human this past July when the pilot was screened at San Diego Comic Con (check out my initial thoughts), but here is a look at the rest of the new offerings this fall from FOX.

Sleepy Hollow cast photo

Sleepy Hollow, “Pilot”
Written and created by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Phillip Iscove, and Len Wiseman
Directed by Len Wiseman
Airs Mondays at 9pm EST on FOX

Sleepy Hollow is being billed as a modern retelling of Washington Irving’s classic short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but it’s actually a far cry from the famous tale, borrowing only a couple character names from the original text. Whereas Irving’s story of a love struck, superstition-plagued schoolmaster has a decidedly earthly, if atmospheric, resolution, this pilot establishes apocalyptic stakes, a centuries-spanning love story, and a thankfully self-aware tone. Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is a British soldier sent to America to fight the Revolutionary War. After switching sides to spy for General Washington, he is struck down during a battle with a large, hulking man, only to wake up in the modern day just as his opponent, the now-headless Horseman, returns to wreak havoc. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) is a young deputy one week away from leaving Sleepy Hollow and starting over as an FBI recruit when she sees something she can’t explain (for the second time) and is drawn into the town’s strange happenings.

While Sleepy Hollow has the potential to go off the rails or fall prey to any number of common genre mistakes, there’s a lot this pilot gets right. The leads are likeable and have solid chemistry (without falling into the all-too-common UST dynamic) and the cinematography and design are appealing, with memorable visuals to boot, but most importantly, the story is straight-up crazy. The creators don’t play it safe- they take the supernatural element up to 11 and quickly, weaving in secret societies, shadowy disappearances, childhood trauma, and more before they even get to the alive again (TM Pushing Daisies) male lead. There’s some fun peripheral casting that helps things along as well- it’s great to see Orlando Jones and John Cho in the pilot and there are presumably more fun guest stars to come. It’s definitely the spaghetti approach, throwing a bunch at the wall to see what sticks, and it would be nice to see the creators up the camp or humor just a little bit more, but this is a confident pilot that could easily grow into an entertaining show.

Dads cast photo

Dads, “Pilot”
Written and created by Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
Directed by Mark Cendrowski
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm EST on FOX

Dads came out of the Television Critics Association fall press tour (where the networks give presentations to members of the TCA to promote their shows) with terrible buzz and this pilot manages to live down to the incredibly low expectations created by the TCA response. In an economy where (as of 2012) 36% of Millennials are living with their parents, sitcoms based around parents and adult children cohabitating make sense, and there are several other series in this vein airing this calendar year. However, rather than explore the myriad interesting possibilities this premise allows, Dads opts for lazy, tired humor more at home at CBS paired with Two and a Half Men or 2 Broke Girls than with the otherwise great FOX Tuesday comedy block.

While some will undoubtedly take umbrage at its attempts at humor, most of the jokes in the Dads pilot aren’t cutting or interesting enough to be truly offensive or even memorable. There’s arguably a level of skill in the deft way the writers manage to combine sexism, racism, ageism, and pretty much every ism into this pilot (one particular line manages to insult women, non-whites, and the over-50 crowd separately without turning into a run-on). However, Dads’ most egregious crime may actually be its utter waste of a really strong cast. Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi should be great as best friend leads of a buddy comedy. Martin Mull and Peter Riegert have decades of fantastic work behind them and Brenda Song was a welcome addition to New Girl last season in her recurring role as Winston’s girlfriend Daisy. And yet, none of the characters feel relatable, real, or likeable in any way, and they’re certainly not funny. With Seth MacFarlane onboard as executive producer, along with creators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, FOX may stick with this series for a while even if it doesn’t immediately find an audience, but hopefully it will be the first of the inevitably long yearly list of fall casualties.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine cast photo

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Pilot”
Written and created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm EST on FOX

Created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, two of the minds behind Parks and Recreation, and starring Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, it’s no surprise that Brooklyn Nine-Nine has one of the very best fall pilots. Joining Samberg and Braugher in this workplace comedy about police officers are Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, and Chelsea Peretti, to name a few, and while a great cast does not a funny pilot make (see above), the combination of Goor and Schur’s character-based approach to comedy with this cast’s specificity and attention to detail makes for an entertaining, comfortable watch. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hardly the first precinct-set sitcom (Barney Miller being one obvious antecedent), but its combination of Miller-style interpersonal humor with its clear Lethal Weapon-style buddy cop influence works well.

While Melissa Fumero’s Detective Amy Santiago remains rather bland throughout, particularly for a character seemingly set up as a romantic foil for Samberg’s Detective Jake Peralta, the central rapport between the deliciously underplayed Braugher and broad Samberg works wonderfully and promises many entertaining hijinks to come. Of course, a lot can change after a pilot, but the group dynamic and larger cast should give the writers plenty of comedic options and make the show a natural fit with both New Girl and The Mindy Project (if only Ben and Kate were still around to round out the comedy block!). If Brooklyn Nine-Nine can live up to and hopefully surpass its pilot’s potential, FOX’s Tuesday will be a real contender (with a certain Dads-shaped exception) for the best night of network comedy.

Let us know what you think of FOX’s pilots! Post your reactions in the comments below.

Kate Kulzick