Welcome to the new TV season, where new shows battle it out with returning shows for a warm little place in our hearts and minds. 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 or dispose of it like trash. Here are a few quick thoughts about the new shows fighting for our attention.
House of Lies (Showtime)
Fast-paced snappy dialogue, a healthy dose of irreverence, extremely flawed characters and lots of nudity have become a staple of the dramedies offered by Showtime, starting with Californication, followed by Shameless; and now, House of Lies has proved to follow that tradition.
The pilot presented us with a team of management consultants who help big companies screw the little people more efficiently. Only two of the members of the team are given enough screen time to get a good idea of who they are: The leader, Marty Kaan (played by the scene stealer, Don Cheadle), a very successful consultant with a complicated relation with his ex-wife, who tends to bullshit his way through certain situations, is a bit of a slut, and is deeply traumatized by his mother’s suicide; and Jeannie (played by Kristen Bell), the only female of the team who, despite being Marty’s designated platonic love interest, matches the men in every way, is clearly smarter than them, but her extreme self- sufficiency keeps her detached from human contact on an emotional level.
By the end of the pilot, the struggle of these characters seems to be purely internal. The whole management team is fully reconciled with the fact that in order to get their job done, there will be casualties of the economic type, and as long as their clients don’t go in flames, they’ll be ok. Marty doesn’t seem particularly bothered by his decisions in regards to women, though he seems aware of the trouble he gets himself into for thinking with head number 2. It is through his relationship with his father, his son, and Jeannie, that Marty shows a great deal of vulnerability that contrasts with his usual over-confident self. And this is what makes this show truly interesting. The comedy comes from Marty’s crazy antics and poor decision-making.
There was no doubt that Don Cheadle would handle his character like the pro that he is. As far as the pilot goes, this seems to be a great choice for Kristen Bell to make a triumphant return to TV. Here’s hoping her character will become more well rounded and the rest of the team get a bit more screen time.
So I welcome back Don Cheadle to the land of TV with open arms and hope the following episodes will retain the quality of the first.
The Firm (NBC)
I remember reading John Grisham’s book, seeing the movie, and loving both, back in the days. But I just couldn’t remember a thing about the actual story. I’m sure the book and the movie were more memorable for others than they were for me.
The pilot for the latest version of The Firm, taking place ten years after the events of the movie and starring Josh Lucas as Mitch McDeere, suffered from structural problems. The first 15+ minutes played out as a thriller, as Mitch is on the run from some mystery men. Then the show becomes The Practice 2.0 as the story focuses for most of the episode on a case about a teenager who kills a classmate. The last 5 minutes of this episode marks a quick return to thriller mode, revisiting the corrupt law firm theme and continuing the mob storyline of the movie and the book. Unfortunately, the 90 minutes long pilot gave too much screen time to the B plot. It would have benefited from being an episode of regular duration.
This pilot, as a legal drama, was unable to organically weave the dramatic elements with the strict procedural aspects of the story. I recommend giving the next episode a chance just to see if the elements come together better as an hour long show. If not, then…
Next Time on Pilot Watch: Sitcoms… yeah.