Friday, May 27, 2011

Top Ten Pilots for the 2011-2012 TV Season...

Entertainment Weekly printed a list of the most promising new fall shows in their most recent issue. But Entertainment Weekly had to go to printers before most networks had even sent out their pilots, so their list was based on the loglines, clips, probably some scripts, and of course the hype that each network built for potential advertisers. And since Made Possible by Pop Culture has actually had a chance to view each and every single new show-- fall and mid-season alike-- I am ready to make them (and you, fellow TV heads!) a counter offer. I'd really rather not stop and consider how many of hours of television that meant I watched this week, by the way! Anyway, this list is not made up of the most promising in terms of what I think will hit the hardest with the widest audience but instead what hit me the hardest and what invigorates me to the point of actually excited to see week after week. Ready? Then go forth and read!

10. The River - ABC, Mid-Season - It's super creepy and just stylized enough to make me wonder how they will manage to sustain the pace and tone week after week; it certainly feels more like a mini-series thus far. But the idea of LOST set on the Amazonian River is a bit too good to pass up. When an adventurer goes missing and his family and crew set out after him, it is quite clear quite early on what he was trying to keep from getting out, but the real mystery comes in with how they will manage to keep themselves alive-- or if they will manage to keep themselves alive. The handheld and otherwise "surveillance" camera angles put you right in the heart of the action, the darkness, and the fear, and make a common story about things that go bump in the night all the more suspenseful.

9. The Secret Circle - The CW, Fall - I'll watch Britt Robertson in anything, but it definitely helps that this new supernatural drama about a coven of budding witches sucks you in so damn quickly! Cool FX aside (and let's face it, the scene in the woods when the dew drops lift in mid-air is amazing), you know this one will keep you on the edge of your seat week after week with twists and turns and conflicts between characters. There will be typical teen drama amplified ten-fold by the fact that mystical powers are in the mix, but then of course there are those that want to stop them from realizing what they are capable of, and those who want to exploit what they are capable of. It's a giant metaphor for the potential every child has, but it's set on a surreal backdrop that lets you just escape into another world. And it's a world full of pretty, shiny people with flawless skin and gorgeous leather jackets, to boot!

8. Ringer - The CW, Fall - This thriller seems to beg a larger budget than the network that scooped it up is used to handling, but those types of production issues are intriguing in themselves because they force the show to be even more creative. But really what is so fascinating about this tale of twin sisters (both played by Sarah Michelle Gellar who is better and more understated than I've ever seen her), one who is on the run so she assumes the other's identity, is that secrets are going to unravel weekly. There is the classic "good twin, bad twin" idea set in the audience's mind right at the start, but by the end of the pilot that has exploded in your face like a dye pack tucked into some stolen money. But stolen money is not anywhere near the severity of what's at stake here. And if one sister isn't who she appeared, is the other? Is anyone??

7. Up All Night - NBC, Fall - This one hasn't had me laughing out-loud the way a few other NBC comedies have as of yet, but I have no worries that the amazing cast-- Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph, and the cutest baby on network TV since Hope Chance-- will get me there in the second or third episode. So far it is just a really beautiful story about two young parents trying to figure it all out-- raise their new baby, keep their professional edge, and still make time for each other. It's sweet all the way around, and that sense of optimism in a half-hour comedy is refreshing these days!

6. Alcatraz - FOX, Mid-Season - Thanks to LOST I no longer trust any character in any J.J. Abrams project at their word when they explain who they are or what they are planning to do. I'm not entirely sold on the central character as of yet, but I am completely sold on the mystery of what went on to not only make those inmates and guards disappear but also where they went, why they're being brought back now, and most importantly: why they haven't aged even a day. I also am completely infatuated with Jeffrey Pierce, who plays the inmate being tracked in the opener, and I hope they find a way to bring him back in a more serialized manner.

5. Suburgatory - ABC, Fall - Comedy has always been my main wheelhouse, and this one speaks to my anti-conformity sentimentality nicely. A single dad packs up his kid and their life and moves out to the suburbs, afraid she may be growing up too fast, but once they arrive, it is as if they have entered some foreign land-- a land usually only inhabited on those Real Housewives of whatever shows. The father-daughter relationship reminds me of an opposite sex Gilmore Girls, and the cast, notably Cheryl Hines, is hands-down amazing. But so far what really draws me in most is the idea that it might be a televised version of Mean Girls because the lead (an extremely fresh-faced Jane Levy) is certainly a tamer, more unassuming Janis Ian. Every young woman should have Janis Ian as accessible as possible, and what's more accessible than on your TV weekly?

4. Once Upon A Time - ABC, Fall - I fear for this one a little bit in its time slot, I do, but I was so absolutely taken with the pilot and all of its beauty and majestic images, colors, and grand scope of story that I am just going to throw myself into the project and hope for the best. I love Disney's fairy tales, and I love the imagination and wonder involved in the idea that one little boy knows the truth about a town that no one else wants to believe. It leaves me wanting to know more-- how he managed to figure it out; how he even got to the town in the first place; and how his birth mother will push aside the very adult self-consciousness she will have to in order to believe herself.

3. Hart of Dixie - The CW, Fall - This is everything I've wanted in a new series, and quite honestly, everything I'd been working on for a new novel, too. It's part fish-out-of-water when a big city girl moves to a small town to take over a medical practice, but part "learning to thrive instead of just survive," too. Sometimes we need to be that big fish in a small pond to get our confidence back, especially after going through a tumultuous time, and that is certainly where the protagonist is here. Having a young girl looking up to her already will help, even if there are the inevitable distractions of two very cute, though not entirely available, Southern gentlemen. It's also one of the only pilots to have such a moving story it made me cry. Winner.

2. Scandal - ABC, Mid-Season - The opening scene of this new Shonda Rhimes series about a political crisis manager feels ripped out of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. That alone sold me. But as the episode went on, both cases were woven so seamlessly around the lead character that her personal drama had to take a slight backseat. And such is the case with that kind of work. I worried at first it would be too soapy, too melodramatic, too similar to Rhimes' medical dramas that take liberties on the job in order to serve the characters' crap, but no. And with so many characters to juggle, too!

1. Smash - NBC, Mid-Season - I think this climbed its way to number one simply because it blew my expectations out of the water. Everything about the pilot was on par, and that is insanely hard to do. The musical elements are stronger than Glee's, in that they actually relate to the story and don't completely come out of nowhere, but moreover, the story around the music is exceptionally strong. Nothing feels forced. Immediately you are drawn into this world, and more importantly, you feel like you already know this world. You belong there. I belong there. It certainly made me miss my own early days in theater!

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