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.
One of the biggest problems of the current television season and its new programming has been network mismatch. The network a show gets sold to has a big influence in the way a story is told and a mismatch can be lethal, as was the case with The Playboy Club. Prime Suspect, a show airing on NBC, is also an example of network mismatch; based on the quirkiness of the main character alone, Prime Suspect should have gone to FX or USA.
When the right show is sold to the right network, good things happen. And that is the case with Homeland, a show about a prisoner of war returning home and an analyst trying to prevent a terrorist attack.
The pilot was low on action but very high on tension, thanks to a writing staff with credits that include 24, Angel, and The X Files. But this tension wouldn’t have been properly translated to the screen if it weren’t for the cast that made of Homeland, in my opinion, a showcase of great acting, with Claire Danes as Carrie, the obsessive, emotionally unstable analyst hell bent on proving that Sergeant Brody was converted during his captivity; Damian Lewis as the recently freed Brody, who’s barely holding it together; Morena Baccarin as Brody’s wife, Jessica, who’s trying to deal with the return of her husband who she thought was dead; and Mandy Patinkin as Saul, a man torn between helping his protégé Carrie and protecting his long standing with the agency.
Homeland is also the second show of this season that links its story to 9/11, taking the elegant and respectful approach of implying a connection to this event. In this case, Carrie seems to have been one of the analysts that overlooked signs that could have prevented 9/11, but the event itself is never mentioned.
The Homeland pilot was very tight, with every element very well put together, great performances and an intelligent story that never went for a melodramatic approach. I dare say this is the best pilot of the season.
American Horror Story (FX)
This is the first new show of the season that features a full title sequence instead of the more popular title card, and this show gets an A+ on that merit alone, with a sequence somewhat reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer.
The haunted house is a recurrent theme in horror cinema and it is a very important element to this story, where murders happened in the past and there’s a promise they will happen again in the future. The family that moves to this house is as troubled as the house itself: daddy Ben is a cheater, mamma Vivien is trying to accept Ben back as she still copes with the consequences of a terrible miscarriage, and the rebellious daughter Violet with her cutting and a keen eye for trouble. The house knows what its inhabitants fear and tortures them by giving them horrible visions.
The supporting characters are very different to the core family but they are extremely creepy, specially Jessica Lange as the neighbor who can’t keep her daughter out of the Harmon house, and Frances Conroy as the housekeeper who looks like an older woman to Vivien but looks like a sexy young french maid to Ben.
There is so much grief and guilt in Ben, and so much grief and resentment in Vivien, and both Dylan McDermott an Connie Britton do a terrific job with their roles.
The pilot played with many elements that could be considered horror clichés (the haunted house, the creepy supporting characters, the creature lurking behind the walls, the blood, the purposely scary score), but there was something beautiful about how all elements came together. The editing was beautiful, at times frenetic, with strategically placed jump cuts and many close-ups. The quick zoom changes on close-ups also helped build the mood of the show.
The creative association between FX, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk has once again proved successful, after the brilliantly melodramatic Nip/Tuck. Murphy and Falchuk can freely unleash their creativity with this show, something Glee hasn’t necessarily allowed them to do, despite its great success. This is the second best pilot of the season, and a nice and much needed return of Lynch-style creepiness to television.
How to Be a Gentleman (CBS)
Do laugh tracks serve as equivalents to chemical castration for actual laughter? I must say, the laugh track for How to Be a Gentleman is the least annoying of the single camera comedies that have premiered this season so far, but I’m left wondering if the show was actually funny and the laugh track killed my laugh, or if I simply didn’t find it funny. Anyway, the show has a good cast, but there’s no need to get much into this since it’s rumored this show will be the first from CBS to get cancelled.
Pilot Watch will return after the 21rst, when the final wave of new shows goes to air.