In the past few years, networks have chosen to make certain shows available to watch online in advance of their premiere dates. As a marketing move there’s logic to this: if people are curious about a new show and are able to check it out early, if they like it they’ll probably tell their friends. But this doesn’t guarantee higher ratings when the premiere airs, because those friends may decide to watch online too, and folks who have already watched aren’t necessarily going to tune in and watch again.
Regardless, it is nice to be able to watch a show’s first episode and get a sense of whether or not it’s of interest, even if pilots tend to do a poor job of representing what a show is really like (because they carry the burden of introducing a show’s premise and characters). So I’ve watched the pilots for some of the shows premiering next week, in an effort to help you decide if any of them are worth your time.Several of this season’s new network shows are romantic comedies, but frankly nothing I’ve seen so far comes even close to FX’s You’re the Worst.Several of this season’s new network shows are romantic comedies, but frankly nothing I’ve seen so far comes even close to FX’s You’re the Worst, which just completed its first season. That show worked so well because it turned the conventions of romcoms inside out while simultaneously embracing them, while the networks’ shows continue attempting to operate inside the narrow confines of tradition and expectations.
Forever (ABC, premieres Monday, September 22 at 10 pm; second episode airs in regular time slot Tuesday, September 23 at 10 pm): Fantasy is big business these days in books, movies, and TV shows, but the notion of immortality is rarely touched upon outside the realm of vampire stories. Forever addresses this shortcoming by introducing viewers to Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), a New York City medical examiner who happens to be around 200 years old. Henry has died numerous times, but each time he reawakens to find himself naked and in water.
Henry has one confidant, Abe (Judd Hirsch, doing yet another variation on his wise old man shtick), who runs an antique shop. Abe knows Henry’s secret, and by the end of the first episode it’s clear they have an even deeper connection. A subway accident leads to Henry meeting Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), who’s presumably going to be the next person to learn his secret, and I imagine romance will be blooming between the two as well.It would have been nice to establish the premise and let it develop somewhat before introducing a Big Bad.Structurally and logically, I have a couple of issues with the show. Henry “dies” twice in the first episode (not counting a flashback), but the writers conveniently skip over the part about how, when he revives, his body is no longer where he died. It will have to be awfully coincidental for these deaths to occur when no one else is around to notice that his body disappears. Also, an adversary is introduced that seems to be for the sole purpose of creating a long-term story arc. I guess this is a requirement of the genre, but it would have been nice to establish the premise and let it develop somewhat before introducing a Big Bad.
Otherwise, I enjoyed Forever more than I thought I would. I’m not sure I liked it enough to watch it regularly, but I think it offers a blend of fantasy elements, procedural mystery, and romance that viewers, particularly those who already watch ABC’s Once Upon a Time, will respond to—if they are aware of the show. I don’t think I’ve seen a single promo for Forever yet, but I haven’t watched anything on ABC since the end of last season, so I’m sure I’ve missed them.
Selfie (ABC, premieres Tuesday, September 30 at 8 pm): The unfortunately titled Selfie is a reimagining of Pygmalion for our social media age, in which self-absorbed pharmaceutical salesperson Eliza (Karen Gillan, making a game effort at an American accent) suffers an embarrassment in front of a number of her work colleagues that goes viral. Realizing that she has no real friends, she seeks the guidance and assistance of Henry (John Cho), a marketing whiz at her company, to reinvent herself.
Eliza begins her journey by learning to have some respect for other people, through efforts like learning the names of support staff and expressing genuine interest in the welfare of others. It does seem a bit far-fetched that someone could be so self-involved and oblivious that they wouldn’t know the name of their office’s receptionist, but the overall premise is being played for comedy, and fairly broad comedy at that.I suppose it’s somewhat naive to expect TV shows, especially sitcoms, to have a semblance of depth or realism.But then I suppose it’s somewhat wishfully naive of me to expect TV shows, especially sitcoms, to have a semblance of depth or realism to them. And while I didn’t find much of Selfie’s pilot all that funny, there were a couple of moments that suggested the show could develop into a more meaningful critique of our society’s current obsession with social media. Either that or it’s going to follow a middlebrow path of physical comedy and easy joke targets. I may watch a few more episodes online (I don’t consider it worthy of adding to my DVR load) to see which way it ends up going.
A to Z (NBC, premieres Thursday, October 2 at 9:30 pm): Affirming my earlier assertion, A to Z is a thoroughly conventional romantic comedy about Andrew, who works for an online dating service in some unspecified capacity, and Zelda, a lawyer. They meet cute when she comes to his company’s offices to meet with someone else regarding a problem she had as a user of the dating service.
Details about Andrew and Zelda (A to Z, get it?) and their relationship are filled in for viewers through voiceover narration by Katey Sagal, who does not otherwise appear in the story. This is suspiciously reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother, and in fact Zelda is played by Cristin Milioti, the Mother herself. For instance, we’re told in the first couple of minutes that their relationship will last “eight months, three weeks, five days, and one hour.” Ridiculous specificity aside, it’s a curious choice to provide this information up front; how will this self-imposed time limit translate into a show that is meant to potentially run for a number of seasons?
Andrew is played by Ben Feldman, who played the enigmatic and disturbed Ginsberg on Mad Men. As the romantic leads Feldman and Milioti do click, but I can’t say the same about the rest of the show. The Bearded Best Friend character (a TV trend this season) is especially obnoxious; their boss is a shrew; Zelda’s best friend comes across as rather vapid; and everything else about the show feels prefab, gimmicky, and lifeless. I could envision a scenario where the characters of Andrew and Zelda were the center of a different show with different friends and coworkers, but this isn’t that show, so I won’t be watching.