This time last year I brought you my list of favorite pilots for the new television season, though I labeled it a bit more broadly to take the "I" out of reporting and hope you'd check out the trailers and my previews with less bias. They were a combination of which pilot episodes I thought were best executed from their scripts and which showed the most promise for the subsequent episodes to unfold. Admittedly, my track record wasn't great: only six of the ten shows are making it to this next television season. But there's a method to my madness, and so I am repeating the list again here and now for the 2012-2013 television season.
10) Cult (The CW, Mid-Season) - This is my 2012 Ringer, and I mean that in the best possible way for now and sincerely hope that it doesn't go the actual way of Ringer as the season goes on. See, this is one story that I think has a fascinating concept, even if it may be too meta for some. It's big and bold and can potentially be creepy and uber-fun. Is it one big conspiracy theory or some obsessive compulsive types taking things a bit too far? Admittedly the sense of questioning what's real might be nice to play with for a little while, but the audience is already ahead of the main character in the pilot, which allows us to play detective around him. It's leaning a bit more toward cheesy soap opera with a twist right now, and I'm okay with that, too, as long as the show embraces it and fully commits rather than trying to pretend it is ten times smarter than its audience. Because if any show knows how creative and crafty fans can be, it is this one!
9) Elementary (CBS, Fall) - Admittedly this retelling of Sherlock Holmes seems to be just another piece to CBS' "no risk" crime drama formula, but it is darker than the ones they are currently airing, and therefore it is intriguing all anew. It takes the "quirky" of their Patrick Janes and mixes it with the hotness of their Steve McGarretts and wraps it up with a dense case of the week worthy of any CSI. But the lead characters are both damaged enough to keep things interesting even when away from work.
8) Last Resort (ABC, Fall) - This is one tightly written and expertly crafted pilot, but admittedly for much of the time, you may not have any idea what these characters, on-board a U.S. submarine, are saying. All that really matters, though, is that they are going rogue-- because they question an order that sounds like it will threaten the safety of thousands of innocent people. So they're heroes, too, and in today's tense political climate, don't we all want people who aren't afraid to step out of line if it means keeping their morality and sanity? Smartly, there is also no feeling of cabin fever with this pilot because they get off the sub and introduce a new island adventure.
7) The Mindy Project (FOX, Fall) - There are a couple of surprising, laugh-out-loud moments that make me think this comedy about a woman who focused hard to get what she wanted out a professional life but left her personal one in the dust can be this season's much less annoying New Girl.
6) How To Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life (ABC, Mid-Season) - This is one comedy about a woman who still has a lot of growing up to do that is quirky but not for quirky's sake. Perhaps that is a testament to the cast assembled because even when they are doing completely ridiculous things, they have no sense of whimsy on their faces; they are entirely committed to playing these off-beat characters that you can't help but go with it. It's inappropriate comedy, this season's Don't Trust The B..., and it is the most comfortable and grounded I've seen Sarah Chalke in a long time. And honestly, I'm just happy to see Sarah Chalke on TV again.
5) Arrow (The CW, Fall) - Stephen Amell is going to be a huge star. There is a lot of disbelief that has to be suspended with any superhero show, but with an actor like Amell in the titular role, it is easy to do just that. There is so much care taken with this pilot, from setting up who Oliver was before the boat trip, to the hows and the whys of his Robin Hood-ing today, this one feels like an epic, like they are already planning for an eight or nine year run. And if every episode is as thoughtful and carefully paced as the pilot, I will be wholeheartedly in for the long haul in a way I never expected. Plus, Amell and Katie Cassidy are what invented was made for.
4) The New Normal (NBC, Fall) - Ryan Murphy has created a grown up Kurt and Blaine and given them the bug for a baby in this surprising half-hour comedy. But what makes the show unique and both funny and touching is the family they create while waiting for the baby. Sure, Ellen Barkin's "Not-Nana" is sassy and uncouth, but she has her reasons, and when you learn them, you can't help but feel bad for her more than any of the other characters-- even if she would shoot you for such pity. What perhaps works best about this show is that it feels like it was an hour-long that was cut down; all the fat has been trimmed, and all that is left is joy.
3) The Following (FOX, Mid-Season) - Kevin Williamson set the bar high this year with a dark, twisted script that in no way seemed like it could work on network television. But thankfully the team assembled to create the pilot didn't f--- it up! Kevin Bacon isn't as grizzled as I envisioned him, but I have no doubt he'll get there as episodes unfold, and he has more and more trouble tracking the serial killer disciples of his nemesis. This show feeds the procedural need in much of FOX' audience by offering a "case of the week" with a murder or kidnapping, but at its core its much more about the mental games and the subconscious connection between two men who are on the edge. They say there is a thin line between cop and criminal, and you will never see that picture better painted than in this new show.
2) Nashville (ABC, Fall) - This relationship drama is set in the world of music, like Smash before it last year, but instead of New York City and the bright lights of Broadway, we get the south and country music. Rayna James (Connie Britton) is a country singer who has been at the top of her game for years but is fading fast in this new autotune sound, while the kid with the troubled past, Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) is skyrocketing past her. But it's not all about the ups and downs of the entertainment industry, as there is personal tension all around-- from Rayna's emasculated husband, to the guitarist caught between both women, to the other young up-and-comers who can't quite catch the breaks these two have. It feeds my nostalgic love for soap operas without being over the top.
1) Do No Harm (NBC, Mid-Season) - Once again, I feel NBC (and many of the networks, actually) may be holding some of their best material for mid-season. This American Psycho on TV was one pilot that I was literally unable to look away from during my screening. Though the series hinges on one man (Steven Pasquale), it may be a lot to throw on his shoulders, but it is exactly that intensity, those high stakes, and yes, the duality of him shifting between multiple personalities that intrigues me. There's a little bit of the twisted Dexter superhero/anti-hero to this show and this lead character, and dark men are the most interesting men.