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Network Television Rundown: Upfronts Week Is Totally Awesome, Except Not Always (Part I)


So, this week, in addition to being the final official week of the television series, all the major networks have come out with their Upfront Schedules, a week of conferences where our beloved television critics are forced to sit through advertising presentation after advertising presentation and are berated with clips and promotional material for the huge amount of new shows. For that grinding work, I commend you, professional TV critics of the world.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, those of us who are big TV fans get access to a lot of this stuff, but without the requirement to sit inside a conference room at a hotel all day. In this post, and Part II coming next week, I break down each of the new shows presented at this week's upfronts and add a percentage likelihood signifying my best guess at the odds of the show meeting this test: "Will It Be Any Good?", much like Chris's "Will I See It" percentages in his Off the Couch features. (A comprehensive site featuring trailers and descriptions of all of the shows below can be found at The Futon Critic.)

Without further ado, here we go.

NBC:
Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (22%) stars Laura Prepon as Chelsea Handler, and (the real!) Chelsea Handler as, get this, Chelsea Handler's sister. (How totally meta.) If you like Chelsea Handler and extremely broad characters with some "edgy" dialogue, then you'll like this. Me, I'm not a big Chelsea Handler fan, nor am I a Laura Prepon (That 70's Show) fan, so I don't think I'll like this.

Awake
(89%) is conceived by Kyle Killan, the creator of last year's most highly acclaimed (and shortest-lived) network series of the year Lone Star, and the writer of the soon-to-be-coming-out Mel Gibson reclamation project The Beaver. Basically, it has the same premise as Lone Star plus an "Is He Actually Dead?" mystery twist, plus he's a cop, all things that make TV shows more appealing to the masses. So, basically, it's more TV-friendly than the short-lived Lone Star, but with the same, possibly better, emotional core. Stars Jason Isaacs, BD Wong (Oz), Cherry Jones, (24), and Steve Harris (Friday Night Lights, The Practice), this show, despite sounding less great on paper, looks awesome.

Bent (47%) looks kinda Gilmore Girls-y, which is sorta promising. Creator Ted Quill worked on Scrubs and a whole lotta garbage, too, but Amanda Peet and David Walton (one of the guys from Perfect Couples) seem to have deece chemistry, and I automatically chortle at anything featuring Jeffrey Tambor, as evidenced by my constant chortling at everything he did when I saw Win Win by myself on a business trip and laughed creepily while I drank my movie theater beer alone.

Free Agents (39%) is definitely in the mold of super-frentic-cuz-we-don't-have-a-laff-track single cam sitcoms, starring Hank Azaria and featuring Jo Lo Truglio (The State) and Kathryn Hahn (Crossing Jordan. On the plus side, those guys are funny, as is writer John Enbom (Party Down, Veronica Mars). On the minus side, the trailer definitely strains for laughs. Given NBC's mostly spotty record at developing shows, I'm not entirely sold.

Grimm (42%) had me until the whole "You're the last of the Grimms" line in the trailer. It stars David Giuntoli as, yes, the last of the Grimms, which apparently is a story I'm supposed to know? (Is that the same as "The Brothers Grimm?") Anyway, he can see that some people are monsters, so it's kinda True Blood-y (and frankly, I'm kind of a sucker for the old "That's Not Really A Human, I Can See Their Real Monster Face" trope.) And the writers wrote for Buffy and Angel. Yet, the trailer made me laugh more than the trailer for Free Agents, so that's not a good sign for an action-thriller-drama.

The Playboy Club (9%) is for dudes who heard about Mad Men but are too busy reading Maxim and also don't care much for feminism, but also like murder. So...yeah, if you're into that kind of thing. Also, if you are into that kind of thing, you're a horrible person. Yeech...that Don Draper wannabe is still giving me the heebee-jeebees.

Prime Suspect (62%) is a US version of the Helen Mirren-led British show of the same name, with Maria Bello (A History of Violence) in the Mirren role. This is NBC's return to scripted drama on Thursday at 10/9c, and, like most cop procedurals these days, has the whole gritty cinematography thing going for it. On the other hand, I kinda like Maria Bello, and the trailer, despite inexplicably milking a "Isn't It Crazy She's A Woman Detective In The Homocide Division" angle that makes no sense since, oh, Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: SVU might take some offense to that, looks downright decent.

Smash (4%) = Glee + Broadway instead of a glee club. Pass.

Up All Night (86%) stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as parents, and, surprisingly, Will Arnett as a pretty regular guy, alongside Maya Rudolph and yet another guy from Perfect Couples (again, despite being a pretty bad show, had a deece cast.) The good news is it's created by Emily Spivey, one of the writers on Parks and Recreation. As it turns out, lots of bleeped out gentle cursing in front of a baby makes me laugh a lot. Maybe it's cuz I'm getting older, but I can totally get behind a sitcom that's about early parenthood. Hooray for that!

Finally, Whitney!(*) (52%) stars Whitney Cummings (friend of Chelsea Handler) as, well, Whitney! Just a slightly-less-than-regular gal trying to make it in this crazy world! Actually, Cummings herself seems surprisingly well-situated for a multi-camera sitcom (totally making a legit comeback this year! I can feel it!) Cummings herself is also the head writer, and despite her stand-up comedy not totally tickling my funny bone, I see this as a step above the "three couples in different stages of their relationships" formula that NBC has been hammering on us lately (*)Note: exclamation point added by me.

FOX
Alcatrez (47%) is, yes, from JJ Abrams, and yes, he helped bring Lost to the air. And yes, Alcatrez also features Jorge Garcia from Lost, along with some fun actors like Sam Neill. And yes, it's about a mysterious place where there might be time travel and stuff. And yes, Lost writer Elizabeth Sarnoff is the showrunner. But, the buzz is not good, and I can see why: it appears to be yet another muddled Lost ripoff that seems to appear somewhere on the air on an annual basis. I'll definitely check into this one based on the pedigree and the people in the show, but I don't have a lot of faith that it will turn out well.

Allen Gregory (52%) is a new member of the FOX "Animation Domination" block mercifully free of Seth MacFarlene, and seems to feature a deece snarky attitude and a totally different style of animation than we've seen on other FOX shows. Plus, Jonah Hill as the title character, so that's neat.

The Finder (24%) is an old-fashioned spinoff of Bones! With a pilot that even heavily features Lady Amy's favorite will-they-or-won't-they crime solving duo! Only this one features a guy who lives on a boat and Michael Clarke Duncan solving crimes by using his newly acquired "finding" skills he got from an IED explosion in Iraq (what?!?) Sounds like a snoozefest. An unusually high-concept snoozefest at that.

I Hate My Teenage Daughter (37%) stars Jamie Pressly as the character who "hates" her teenage daughter. Its another in the multi-cam studio audience comeback of 2011-12 (I'm telling you, I can feel it!) written by Sherry Bilsing, who wrote for Friends and The New Adventures of Old Christine (which, as it turns out, isn't terrible.) This one also doesn't look terrible, but I might give it the old "wait until the internet buzz builds to a reasonable The Middle/Raising Hope type level to step in."

Napoleon Dynamite (-999999%) is an animated version of the popular move that I hate. Nope. (Weird that this movie would turn into an animated series. Remember the Clerks animated series? I liked that one. But I really, really hate Napoleon Dynamite, a lot. Not even worth trying to convince me. Sorry.)

New Girl (59%) rides entirely on the shoulders, nay, big doe-eyes of Zooey Deschanel, who I'm still not sure is a good, interesting actress, or, just a hottie. On one hand, I'm slightly charmed by the trailer that shows her making up lots of impromptu jingles, which is something Brigitte and I do a lot (see: Blogulator Radio Episode 6: Likely Cancellation.) Actually, it appears the show rides even more on the cast of dudes who play her friends. You're right on the edge of being potentially watchable, New Girl. And hey, head writer Elizabeth Meriwether wrote for Blogulator fave Childrens' Hospital, so you never know.

Finally, Terra Nova (31%) is the much-ballyhooed huge-budgeted dinosaur drama produced by Steven Spielberg that involves citizens time-traveling from the year 2149 AD to 65 million years ago to discover dinosaurs, and also to escape the year 2149 which is, as it sounds, inhospitable because of all the pollution (topical, folks!) Hey showrunner Brennan Braga (FlashForward), if I wanted to watch a show about a different world than the one we live in now with a bunch of poorly conceived characters, I'd just turn on The Walking Dead! Hey-oh! Seriously, this looks like a high-budgeted train wreck. Can't wait to see it!

Part II, featuring the Upfront Schedules for ABC, CBS, and CW, and a whole lot more Tim Allen than anybody could ever want, is coming next week.

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 6:50 PM |  

    I watched the preview clip of Whitney, after hearing some respectable sources say she was funny...

    Jesus.

  2. Blogger qualler | 10:22 AM |  

    I truly believe she could be funny-ish on a sitcom, and half of a sitcom is having funny sitcom actors. Her holding a hammer for sexiness sold me. But...yeah, it'll still probably be m'eh.

  3. Blogger Anna | 2:41 PM |  

    I gotta say, as a secret lover of Bones (okay, not so secret), I'm excited about The Finder. The episode of Bones that served as a sort of back door pilot was super, super fun, sort of like Psych, or Pushing Daisies without all the visual effects. A lighthearted take on heinous crimes, basically, which is what we all need more of in our lives. Also, it's got one of those guys from October Road, which I also not-so-secretly loved back in the day even though it was terrible.

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