Development season is right now, and with the scripts picked to pilot about to be (or already) shot, the next best thing besides watching the finished product is reading them. As well as reviewing them.
Here is our final installment for the season, with some of the most anticipated cable pilots around.
(Given that most of these pilots have either already been picked up to series or will have their fate announced in several months, I thought it best to focus on the reviews.)
American Horror Story (Brad Falchuk/Ryan Murphy)
Logline: A dramatic series that explores a subversive modern horror tale.
With: Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Denis O’Hare
I’m not the hugest Falchuk/Murphy fan (especially following that second season of Glee), but I have to admit they’ve got me hooked after reading this script.
Sure, the haunted house plot has been (virtually) done to death (yes it’s a haunted house story), and some people will continue to argue that they’ve “been there, done that”, but the pilot was not only very interesting but also not your classic “jump scare” horror flick. This is clearly angling to be a more psychological drama with supernatural elements rather than your run-of-the-mill spooky ghost story.
The biggest issue I’m having though is not with the pilot itself, rather the series as a whole. I’m having a hard time grasping how the concept of a haunted house psychologically torturing its inhabitants can last more than, well, a few episodes, let alone a full season. Longevity-wise, American Horror Story might be a gamble (depending on how serialized the show goes).
The cast however, is pretty much perfect.
Powers (Charles Eglee)
Logline: A dramatic series based on the series of graphic novels by Brian Michael Bendis. Heroes glide through the sky on lightning bolts and fire. Flamboyant villains attempt daring daylight robberies. God-like alien creatures clash in epic battle over the nighttime sky. And on the dirty city streets below, a homicide Detective Christian Walker does his job, solving murders involving superheroes, but he has secrets of his own.
The closest show that comes to mind when reading the script is NBC’s own 17th Precinct, although Powers is clearly aiming to a much more, let’s say, grittier audience. Here again, you’ve got a serious cop show, and although 17th was the CSI of its genre, Powers is indeed closer to The Shield as some have described it. I would also compare it to a masculine version of Prime Suspect (albeit with superpowers involved). As any avid fan of the comic version will tell you, the world works and the story isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. This is clearly not a lame The Cape–like series.
The disappointing side is that, since the show is so close to a cop show procedural, it ends up being not that compelling or original. Maybe future episodes will bring more interesting happenings.
More As This Story Develops (Aaron Sorkin)
Logline: A workplace dramedy with political elements set behind-the-scenes at a cable news network.
With: Jeff Daniels, Olivia Munn, Alison Pill, Marisa Tomei
This one is without a doubt the most anticipated series of the bunch.
Cast-wise, you can guess I’m not the biggest fan of Olivia Munn (and I’m not really sure why she’s in there anyways). I’ll however be digging the Jeff Daniels/Marisa Tomei confrontation/omnipresent sexual tension.
What’s interesting is that no one has asked the most important question about the show: when does it take place.
Is it a period piece or is it set in an alternate world?
Well the answer is: neither (sorta). I have to issue a spoiler alert here (although if you’re reading this then chances are you don’t care).
The news show is set on, drumroll please…April 20, 2010. And if you know your (very) recent History, then you know that date corresponds to the Deepwater Horizon explosion. That’s right, the big reveal of the pilot (that pretty much comes halfway through it), is that the series goes on about a year before, well, right now. What a great way to comment on the media’s way of covering recent news without trespassing on The Daily Show/The Colbert Report.
Clearly Sorkin does not venture outside of his comfort zone with More As This Story Develops, and there’s nothing you won’t be able to find in his three previous shows. This is also not Network. Yet it’s still plenty interesting and compelling.
Clearly the man knows how to write–but who am I to state the obvious.
40 (Doug Ellin)
Logline: A single-camera ensemble comedy project that revolves around four lifelong friends who help each other navigate life at 40, which isn’t all they expected it to be. There’s the married milquetoast, the family man whose career’s been decimated by the financial collapse, a wealthy metrosexual and an impossibly toned trainer. Together, they face the terrors and joys of life past the fourth decade.
With: Edward J. Burns
Four middle-aged guys living their lives. As you’d expect, it’s not that interesting. And although Entourage mainly worked thanks to the mystique and crazyness that is H-Wood, 40 doesn’t simply because of the mundane of it all. It’s never outrageous, it’s never laugh-out-loud hilarious, it just is.
Veep (Simon Blackwell/Armando Iannucci)
Logline: A political comedy centering around a female senator who ascends to the office of vice president, only to realize it’s nothing like she expected and everything everyone ever warned her about.
With: Sufe Bradshaw, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Matt Walsh
I continue to find The Thick of It and In the Loop both amazing, so it is without hesitation that I jumped on the script of Veep as soon as I had it.
First the good news: Yes, it’s funny.
Plus you’ve also got Blackwell’s astonishingly brilliant insults flying around (although these ones won’t be uttered by Peter Capaldi).
With that said, the subject-matter of the show, as always with political series, brings back memories of The West Wing. And if you know Iannucci’s style, then you also know he’s not only a master of satirical dialogue, but also of quick back-and-forths, similar to Aaron Sorkin. Obviously, the storylines are not as dramatic as The West Wing, but you won’t be able to deny (at the very least) a spiritual connection between the two shows.
It’s not a strike against Veep though.
Homeland (Alex Gansa/Howard Gordon/Gideon Raff)
Logline: An action-adventure drama based on the Israeli Keshet format “Prisoners of War.” In this iteration, an American soldier who was presumed killed in Iraq returns 10 years after he went missing. But after the joy of his homecoming dies down, suspicions arise as to whether he was really an American hero or if he was part of a sleeper cell planning a terrorist attack.
With: Claire Danes, Laura Fraser, David Harewood, Diego Klattenhoff, Damian Lewis, Jackson Pace, Mandy Patinkin, Morgan Saylor
Sure there’s plenty to like with this pilot. It’s interesting and the story holds (for how long?). But you can’t shake the feeling that Sleeper Cell has already covered most of that terrain five years ago. And that was a mini-series–well, technically, two.
Not that I want to be that guy again, but I’m also having troubles finding a longevity in the concept beyond a single season. Sleeper Cell somewhat successfully achieved one with its second season by not only changing virtually the whole cast but going into a very different direction. I’m curious to see how Homeland will game the system.
The story of the girl that cried terrorist can only work for so long.
Seek and Destroy (Neal Brennan/Dov Davidoff)
Logline: A mixed sitcom that will combine elements of single-camera comedy, sketches and man-on-the-street interviews. Each episode begins with stars Neal Brennan and Dov Davidoff discussing life over coffee.
With: Neal Brennan, Dov Davidoff
This show doesn’t really belong on Showtime–or anywhere else for that matter. The dialogue felt edgy enough, but overall it wasn’t really hilarious. Plus it seemed more like a multi-camera comedy than anything else.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome (Michael Taylor)
Logline: The story begins during the 10th year of the Cylon War, and follows recent Academy graduate William Adama. The pilot focuses on an important mission Adama undertakes with a rookie pilot. During this critical mission, which could turn the tide of the war, Adama meets a potential love interest. The series would address a young man’s initiation into war: both the realities of war as fought by soldiers on the ground (and in Battlestars and Vipers), and the somewhat less real version portrayed in the media.
With: Ben Cotton, Luke Pasqualino
It’s exactly what you’re expecting. An(other) action/military-driven series.
Gone are the philosophical, reflexive, and dare I say smart, plotlines of the mother-ship (no pun intended).
Say hello to combat in space, on planets and on ships, with monsters, aliens, odd creatures, and robots.
And it’s sadly not that interesting.
Obviously, and as always with any BSG–related stories post-season two, you’ve got some retcon thrown into the mix and (very) loose pseudo-mythological components (especially with the introduction of yet another wave of new Cylon designs coming out of Gods know where).
If you’re missing some fresh Human v. Cylon fighting action, then Blood & Chrome will be for you. Otherwise, pop-in any previous Battlestar episode and chances are you’ll be more satisfied. Heck, even Razor will do the trick.