Development season is right now, and with the scripts picked to pilot about to be shot, the next best thing besides watching the finished product is reading them. As well as reviewing them. I’ll also venture a guess as to whether I think they’ll go to series or not (all of which is announced as usual at the Upfronts). So here goes.
Let’s start with ABC, land of the soap and female viewership.
This season, they’re definitely trying to go a little more male-skewing while cashing in on the family comedy genre. With Lost now gone and Desperate Housewives winding down, they’re also on the lookout for the next big high-concept drama.
Georgetown (Will Fetters)
Logline: A soapy dramatic series about the young political careerists living together in DC who are just learning the ropes and need to find the balance between idealism and reality.
With: Daisy Betts, Katie Cassidy, Joe Mazzello, Condola Rashad, Jimmy Wolk
When you think about a political show, your mind goes straight to The West Wing. Here again, Georgetown is a tough sell as a stand-alone show.
It takes more than half of the pilot to get used to the idea that, no, Sorkin isn’t coming to the rescue and, yes, these are indeed 20-something youngsters apparently running the political capital of the country.
As expected, the show is heavily soapy, but this is fortunately no CW show (we’re a long way from Gossip Girl territory). By the end of it, you can see why ABC picked it. Now, whether it’s…
Going to series? Yes. Joss Schwartz (who’s an exec on the project) is now a known commodity, and with the 2012 election right around the corner, everyone’s waiting for a political show to pop up (that isn’t going to fail like ABC’s last try, Commander in Chief).
Good Christian Bitches (Robert Harling)
Logline:A dramatic series with comedic elements based on the book of the same name by Kim Gatlin. The series centers on a woman with two children who tries to start over by moving back to the wealthy Dallas enclave where she grew up after the death of her disgraced husband. Now living with her overbearing mother, she remembers that she left for a reason, because her old “friends” are ready to sabotage her with gossip and worse. It doesn’t help that she wasn’t exactly an angel in her youth. She turns to her true allies and faith to get her through.
With: Jennifer Aspen, Leslie Bibb, Kristin Chenoweth, Marisol Nichols, Annie Potts, Miriam Shor
If any project is striving to be a Desperate Housewives replacement, this is the one.
Disappointingly, the pilot wasn’t as strong as its predecessor. Whereas Housewives succeeded in bringing, both, the serious drama and the funny comedy, Good Christian Bitches barely scratches the surface.
Ultimately, Christian Bitches is to Housewives what The Talk is to The View. Get from that what you will. And about that not-so-provocative title? You can bet they’ll change it.
Going to series? Yes, but… Is ABC confident enough in Desperate Housewives to carry over a few more seasons, or do they want a new ensemble soap right now? Plus controversy is always welcome.
Hallelujah (Marc Cherry)
Logline: A dramatic series set in the small town of Hallelujah, Tennessee in which the forces of good and evil are personified by two men. One is hard-working diner owner who’s had a run of tragic luck and the other is a corrupt and immoral millionaire. When it appears evil is winning the battle, a mysterious newcomer arrives in town and things start looking more optimistic for “good.”
With: Arielle Kebbel, Donal Logue, Jesse L Martin, Frances O’Connor, Terry O’Quinn
I came in expecting nothing, I came out not only liking the pilot but anticipating the series.
Some people may call me crazy for comparing Hallelujah to it, but I got a strong The Stand–like vibe from the show.
The way Cherry weaves religion/faith into the story, and how everything quietly builds up to a battle between good and evil in the purest sense is definitely reminiscent of the Stephen King classic.
I don’t want to spoil too much about either The Stand or Hallelujah, but I thoroughly enjoyed this world.
Overall, it is eons more intriguing than, say, Happy Town, which was much more a Twin Peaks wannabe than Cherry’s project is.
Going to series? Yes. Solid cast, solid writer, solid story. And it’s Marc Cherry’s highly anticipated new project.
Identity (John Glenn)
Logline: A dramatic series based on the UK ITV series centering on an elite team that investigates identity thieves. The detectives are chasing electronic footprints – surveillance camera footage, parking tickets, credit card purchases – looking for impostors who can be anyone they want.
With: Angela Bassett, Orlando Jones, Wentworth Miller, Colin O’Donoghue, Jay Paulson
Very classic procedural (which I’m not a fan of generally). Main case is well thought-out but the execution of the premise feels somewhat tame. The protagonist is borderline unlikeable and the visual style is pretty much a copy of all modern CBS procedurals.
I’m somewhat skeptic about the longevity of the show. It’s one thing to come up with six stories about identity theft, but 22 original ones? Ouch.
Going to series? Maybe. Recognizable name in the cast, based on existing property, and ABC wants a more male-skewing procedural. Are those criteria good enough to warrant a series order?
Once Upon a Time (Adam Horowitz/Eddie Kitsis)
Logline: A dramatic series set in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine, where all of the characters in Fairy Tale Land have been in exile, following an epic battle between Good and Evil, which Evil won. Only a ten year old boy knows the truth; everyone else in the town is under the spell of the Evil Queen, who has erased their memories of their past glories. The boy escapes and finds his birth mother, who is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and together they work to topple the evil queen.
With: Robert Carlyle, Joshua Dallas, Jamie Dornan, Jared Gilmore, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Raphael Sbarge
Mixing the fairy tale and real world in a serious (i.e. for adults) way is a novel and interesting concept. I really enjoyed the execution. Sure, they’re taking a heavy cue from Lost by alternating two timelines (“past” fairy tale world with “present” modern day), but it works. I can definitely see them going even further and focusing each episode on a given fairy tale character (with flashbacks).
I’m very curious as to how they can make some of the characters work on screen without seeming ridiculous (e.g. Jiminy Cricket). Wait & See.
Going to series? Yes. Highly anticipated premise and top notch cast. (Assuming the SFX don’t fall flat on their face).
Pan Am (Jack Orman)
Logline: A period dramatic series centering on flight attendants for cutting-edge new clipper on Pan American World Airways in the mid-1960’s. It’s the dawn of the space age, but on board, the crew deal with various crises, from love affairs to a bit of international espionage.
With: Kelli Garner, Jonah Lotan, Michael Mosley, Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie
Mad Men definitely made the 60s look sexy (male-wise), and now Pan Am is striving to do the same with women. With a historical twist.
Indeed, unlike its AMC rival, we get a deeper look into the Cold War era with, for instance, some good Cuba espionage storylines (although no Alias–worthy action). Don’t worry, it isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. You still get the ABC vibe (i.e. soap elements), but it’s a solid historical drama.
Plus the fact that an episode is set in a given flight is pretty cool. And of course, you have flashbacks (organic and compelling ones, I promise).
Going to series? Why not. In so many ways is this not an ABC show, but I still think it has a shot (mainly thanks to Ricci’s presence).
Partners (Ed Bernero)
Logline: A dramatic series centering on two half sisters, Jess and Mattie, who are also police partners and work as a team to take down criminals, manage their personal lives, and deal with the boy’s club at work. The coolly rational Jess seems like the caregiver for her hotheaded younger sibling, but she is actually covering up a terrible secret in her past, a secret she is anxious Mattie never learns.
With: Michael Beach, Frances Fisher, Larry Gilliard, Jr., Kenneth Mitchell, Scottie Thompson, Annie Wersching
The ABC version of a cop procedural. Need I say more?
You also have an overbearing voice-over. Actually two of them (the sisters), which gets even more confusing once the action starts to roll in.
Going to series? Depends. The only reason ABC would pick it up is if they plan to play it safe, and if this pilot list is any indication, that’s not what they want to do.
Poe (Chris Hollier)
Logline: A dramatic series centering on writer and early detective Edgar Allan Poe, who investigates strange mysteries in the Boston of the 1840’s, with a contemporary and fun tone. Poe is a reporter who also helps the police investigate difficult cases. He’s smart, charming and sometimes irreverent, and doesn’t rule out the paranormal when solving crimes.
With: Christopher Egan, Tabrett Bethell, Natalie Dormer, Kevin McNally, Leslie Odom Jr.
Is this Sherlock Holmes (2009): The TV Show? Pretty much.
Still, you’ve got to give props for developing what some might consider a niche show, but is actually much more universal. The mysteries (and techniques employed) end up being almost timeless, and so do the characters. It may be another modernization of classics, but it’s done so well that you can’t complain. Fans of Poe will also be delighted with the many visual shout-outs.
Going to series? Possibly. ABC might want to try something new by picking this up, and with Sherlock Holmes having a sequel released, the timing is perfect.
Revenge (Mike Kelley)
Logline: A dramatic series centering on a young woman whose family is disgraced when her father is framed and sent to prison for a white collar financial crime he didn’t commit, which led to his death. As a result, she went from living in the lap of luxury in the Hamptons to foster care. Years later, in her twenties, she returns to the wealthy enclave where it went down under an assumed identity to get revenge on each and every one of those responsible.
With: Ashley Madekwe, Gabriel Mann, Connor Paolo, Emily VanCamp, Nick Wechsler II
A revenge drama reminiscent of the Count of Monte Cristo. It’s grandiose, it’s epic, and it’s a soap. What more could ABC ask?
Going to series? Maybe. It’s a crowded field for soaps this ABC season and this one might not be different enough. Although the fact that the story can be close-ended (a la mini series) might push it for mid-season/early summer
The River (Michael J. Green/Michael R. Perry)
Logline: A dramatic series shot in a documentary style centering on a famous television naturalist who is lost and presumed dead while on an adventure in the Amazon. Believing he is still alive, a group of his loyal friends, led by his reluctant medical student son, assemble a rescue mission. But something deadly in the river awaits.
With: Joe Anderson, Paul Blackthorne, Bruce Greenwood, Leslie Hope, Eloise Mumford, Sean Parks
I’d like to preface this by stating that I’m not a fan of Oren Peli. It will therefore come as a shock to no one that I didn’t like this pilot, at all.
For me, a standard Peli drama (Paranormal Activity, Area 51) is a) done in mockumentary style, b) 85% of nothing happening, c) 15% of build-up, and d) no pay-off. Lo and behold, The River is exactly that.
And it’s another Lost rip-off. You’ve got a weird monster roaming around, you’ve got flashbacks right in the middle of (supposedly) intense moments, and a mysterious island/jungle of sorts. The stakes and mysteries are borderline uninteresting, and the characters are almost unlikable.
Going to series? Yes. ABC wants a new Lost as quickly as possible. Not that such a thing exists but if they want to try, so be it.
Multi-camera Comedies (Half-hour)
The Last Days of Man (Jack Burditt)
Logline: A multi-camera family comedy series centering on a man who is fighting for his manhood while surrounded by a world of women.
With: Tim Allen
I’ll say it: I thought the script was misogynistic. What is Tim Allen doing?
Main character is unlikeable (if not despicable), and the humor is pretty much tired.
Also, a multi-cam on ABC? What?
Going to series? Maybe. Tim Allen is the only reason this show would get picked up.
Work It (Ted Cohen/Andrew Reich)
Logline: A multi-camera comedy series centering on two men who find success as sales reps for a pharmaceutical company when they do the job dressed as women.
With: John Caparulo, Ben Koldyke, Rebecca Mader, Amaury Nolasco
What the hell was that?
Hands-down the worst of the pilots on this list.
The script is plain unfunny, and not right for ABC at all. The transvestite storyline is not only plain weird in this context, but it’s also doubtful they can make it believable for an episode (let alone an entire season).
Going to series? I hope not.
Single-camera Comedies (Half-hour)
Bad Mom (Sharon Horgan)
Logline: A single camera comedy series centering on a “bad mom,” who has relied on her own mother to raise her kids. When her mom decides to reclaim her life, she has to get her act together and be a real parent.
With: Jenna Elfman, Sharon Horgan
Cute comedy, but overall forgettable. Sadly there’s nothing outstanding about it.
Going to series? Possibly. I can see it as a mid-season show that never finds a real audience.
Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23 (Nahnatchka Khan)
Logline: A single camera comedy series about a sweet girl from the heartland who moves to New York City and her roommate is a slightly crazy, sexy party girl.
With: Michael Blaiklock, Krysten Ritter, James Van Der Beek, Dreama Walker
Now that’s an edgy comedy for broadcast.
The meta elements of Van Der Beek playing Van Der Beek might go over the head of some of the viewers but we know who ABC is really targeting with this.
Going to series? Yes please?
Man Up! (Christopher Moynihan)
Logline: A single camera comedy series centering on a happily married father of two who struggles with his identity as a modern, sensitive, hand sanitizer using guy versus his father and grandfather, “real” men who were war veterans. He commiserates with his two male best friends and struggles to be a role model for his own son.
With: Amanda Detmer, Dan Fogler, Christopher Moynihan, Teri Polo, Henry Simmons, Mather Zickel
If you wanted an example of a more ABC male-skewing comedy, this is it. For one, it reminded me a little of FX’s The League (which is a good thing), with this “boys club” kind of vibe. Nothing groundbreaking here though.
Going to series? Doubtful. Slate is pretty full in regards to family comedy and Moynihan is under an ABC Studios deals so, if it isn’t this one, then the next.
My Freakin’ Family (Erica Rivinoja)
Logline: A single camera comedy series about a young couple who have to fight for their role in their baby’s life when each of their parents, who are all from varied cultural backgrounds, descend upon them.
With: Mo Gaffney, Harish Patel, Ravi Patel, Christopher Rich, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Woglom
Another try at cashing in on Modern Family, this time with more of an Outsourced take. Sadly, the jokes are pretty tired, the story is boring, and the parents are unlikeable. Thanks but no thanks.
Going to series? Same as above.
Suburgatory (Emily Kapnek)
Logline: A single camera comedy series centering on a teen girl whose quality of life takes a nose dive when her family moves from the big city to the suburbs.
With: Carly Chaikin, Allie Grant, Cheryl Hines, Jane Levy, Jeremy Sisto, Alan Tudyk
Yes, it was funny and the characters were quirky enough for me to care. I can definitely see it in the Cougar Town/The Middle block. Add in Tudyk and Sisto and I’m already sold.
Going to series? I hope so.
Next up in the broadcast world is CBS.