Welcome to the new fall TV season, where new shows battle it out with returning shows for a warm little place in the hearts and minds of audiences. A pilot might not fully reflect what a whole series will be like, but it is what makes people latch on to a new show. Here are a few quick thoughts about the new shows fighting for our attention.
Terra Nova (FOX)
There are many good things about this show that get almost completely overshadowed by the awful about half way through. I’ll get to that later, but I’d like to talk about the good first.
Didn’t the very first part of the introduction remind you of Battlestar Galactica? My point actually is that future Earth looks great. It’s a dump, but it looks great. With its tough overpopulation control laws and severe contamination, it represents a future consistent with how things are going now. The lack of flying cars was refreshing. Unfortunately the show didn’t spend enough time on future Earth. I would have loved to see the great papa Shannon escape from jail. Instead, stupidity took over half of the show. More on that later…
With the exception of a couple of green screen shots that looked a bit sloppy, the effects are pretty good for TV. There have been a lot of complaints on other sites mentioning that the effects are bad for a show about dinosaurs, but this show is not about dinosaurs. It’s a show about people from the future traveling to the past for a second chance, where dinosaurs are still alive. That being said, the effects are just as good as those seen on the excellent British show Primeval, where dinosaurs are a lot more predominant. The effects will never look as good as on film; take a look at a SyFy movie of the week and you’ll be very happy with these effects.
The initial ratings for Terra Nova were good, not earth shattering, but still good. I hope more people give it a chance not just for its potential, but also because it’s about time Jason O’Mara gets a hit on American television. He’s a good actor but it seems like he only works on shows that can’t find an audience. Stephen Lang’s character, Taylor, is basically the same character he played on Avatar, but good (maybe). He’s very credible as a commander.
There are aspects of the story that are very intriguing, like the drawings at the falls, The Sixes, who are the good and who are the bad guys, and what happened to Taylor’s son. Sadly, one unfortunate thing took over half the pilot and pretty much sent it down a very distracting and detrimental path. This thing represents a problem in many tv shows and movies. It is a horrid stereotype that writers still use despite its terrifying power to annoy: The Stupid Teenager, represented on Terra Nova by young Josh Shannon.
This little runt was poorly written, gave nothing important to the story other than show how stupid the other stupid teenagers from Terra Nova are, and yet he became the force that drove the second half of the pilot by focusing the story on the mission to rescue the teens who went outside the fence for booze. Because the most reasonable decision you can expect from teenagers when you live inside an area that protects you from giant carnivores is to be young, free and drunk outside the fence? It would have been a lot less time consuming for those kids to cover themselves in sauce, walk outside the fence and yell “FREE BARBEQUE!”
Stupid teenagers being stupid on TV and film is not uncommon (some other examples I can think of at the moment are Tom Cruise’s son from War Of The Worlds, the kid from V, the teenage daughter from Ringer, and a few characters from Gossip Girl), but it is cliché and unnecessary. I would have preferred to see the time used on the rescue mission better spent on showing more of future Earth and The Sixes. I also expected better from a production team consisting of Steven Spielberg and almost the whole production team from 24.
Another low point on the saga of horrors that is Josh Shannon is the ridiculous inconsistency of this character towards papa Shannon. When the family was walking on the platform on future Earth, Josh was upset about leaving the girlfriend behind, but he showed true concern when it seemed like his father wouldn’t make it on time to take the trip to Terra Nova. Then as soon as they get there, Josh goes into “I hate you! You ruined my life!” mode. Again, this showed inconsistency and it’s been done to death on TV and film.
I really want to see this show succeed. There’s so much potential. The true test of this show will come with future episode were they’ll have to become more creative with a significantly lower budget. If they stay away from typical teenage conflict and focus on character development and the mysteries of Terra Nova, this can become a great show.
Heart of Dixie (CW)
I was ready to hate this show. A city girl in a small town? A heart surgeon named Zoe Heart? This sounded to me like an overdone train wreck.
However, after watching it, I must admit the show has its charm. The small Alabama town Zoe moves to is filled with colorful people and southern charm, but Zoe hates it, and most people hate Zoe. After various failed attempts to get used to her new surrounding, Zoe discovers the joy of helping others and decides to stay. All conflict comes from the extreme normalcy of a small town and how people relate to each other.
This show is Sweet Home Alabama starring Summer from The OC. Rachel Bilson as a doctor is a little hard to buy, but this is in no way detrimental to the show. It will appeal to those who followed Everwood and Men in Trees.
Heart of Dixie is not the type of show I usually watch, but the pilot was adorable.
Pan Am (ABC)
The lives, loves and adventures of the Pan Am crew surprisingly make for a very entertaining show. Like the cover of Life Magazine featuring new stewardess Laura, there is glossiness to the look of the show, featuring the aesthetic of the pre-hippy era. Everyone is very well put together and seemingly well behaved.
Every character has a nice little arc and there’s not one story that takes over the pilot. The initial ten minutes present each character and the relationships between the crew in a way that turns out to be very misleading, revealing through flashbacks the true nature of each character: The rebellious Maggie, replacement of the lost chief stewardess Bridget, who seems to have been involved with pilot Dean, actually met Bridget and Dean participating in the liberation of hostages in the Bay of Pigs; young Laura became a stewardess like her sister Kate to escape marriage; Kate, who displays terrible jealousy towards Laura, was only nervous about her first assignment as a secret agent; French girl Collette, who loves surprises and never asks question, is surprised to discover the man she’s been having an affair with is very married and gets confronted by the wife; and the mysterious Bridget was a secret agent all along and responsible for Kate’s recruitment.
All stories are well balanced, giving every character a shining moment, and the production values serve as proof that it’s possible to have another interesting, well made period show set in the 60s other than Mad Men, something that The Playboy Club has been unable to do.
This is the second new pilot from last week featuring a city girl taken out of her environment. In the case of Suburgatory, single dad George finds an unopened box of condoms in his daughter’s room freaks out and takes young Tessa to the suburbs, where she becomes the outcast, George becomes the target for horny suburbanites, and they both stick out like a sore thumb. Tessa is as troubled by trying to find her place in her new surrounding as George is troubled by the difficulties of raising a teenage girl on his own. The suburbs are portrayed as the land were all things plastic and oddly generic are made, but by the end of the episode, Tessa learns that there might be more to the suburbs than what’s in the surface.
As with Heart of Dixie, the best way to describe Suburgatory is as adorable. All the actors do well with their characters and the comedic moments come from the interaction between characters and how strange the suburbs are for Tessa and George.
Watch out for Alan Tudyk in speedos, sporting the most ridiculous tan you’ll ever see. He is a reason enough to continue watching.
Next time on Pilot Watch: Men being men, the great Damian Lewis returns to TV, and Ryan Murphy gives us horror.