The Pilot Project ’17 – Me, Myself & I (CBS)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

Me, Myself & I (Mondays on CBS)

Me Myself and I

One of the best things that I can say about Me, Myself & I is that it doesn’t feel at all like a CBS sitcom. CBS is known for 3 things – procedural dramas, reality shows, and traditional multi-camera sitcoms. They’re the home of The Big Bang Theory, Kevin Can Wait, Man with a Plan, 2 Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, Mike & Molly, and King of Queens. Me, Myself & I is nothing like those. Like Young Sheldon, it’s a single-camera setup, and it’s the sort of high-concept sitcom you’d find on a network like NBC.

Me, Myself & I stars Bobby Moynihan, Jack Dylan Grazer, and John Larroquette all play inventor Alex Riley. Grazer plays young Alex Riley in 1991, whose mother movies him from Chicago to LA to live with his new stepfather and stepbrother. Bobby Moynihan plays middle-aged Alex Riley in 2017, who lives in his best friend’s garage with his daughter after catching his wife having an affair. John Larroquette plays old Alex Riley in 2042, after he’s just retired from his position as the head of his own company. Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. It’s not that confusing in the actual show, I promise. It’s a fun premise and I enjoyed seeing the little things that echoed across the three different time periods.

It would have been a problem if I wasn’t genuinely interested in what was happening in the three different stages of Alex Riley’s life, but thankfully that’s not the case. I enjoy all 3 actors immensely. Grazer was one of the best parts of It, I’ve always enjoyed Moynihan on SNL, and Larroquette is always dependable. Also, Jaleel White plays middle-aged Alex’s best friend! If the answer to “Did I do that?” is “You made me keep watching Me, Myself & I”, then yes Steve Urkel, you DID do that. Well, that was a bit of a stretch.

I have no idea how sustainable this premise is – as fun and unique as it is at the moment, there’s always the issue that you basically know the outcome to two of the three stories. You know that middle-aged Alex will never have any real success with women, since older Alex is still single. Hopefully they can come up with creative ways to keep the viewer on the toes. Apart from that, I can’t think of much that I disliked about it. It wasn’t all that funny, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think most sitcoms are all that funny; they’re more like television comfort food – they don’t require much of a commitment and they’re pleasant and easy to watch.

It’s my hope that one day, when you tell me that you watched Me, Myself & I, I’ll be able to reply with a hearty “Did I do that???” (I’m going to keep experimenting with this joke until I find a version that lands).

Recommendation: Watch It

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The Pilot Project ’17 – Young Sheldon (CBS)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

Young Sheldon (Thursdays on CBS)

Young Sheldon

I hate The Big Bang Theory. I absolutely abhor it. I hate most of what Chuck Lorre creates, but I have a special hate for The Big Bang Theory, I think in part because of how much everyone else seems to like it. I don’t think it’s funny. I don’t think it’s clever. As a self-professed geek and lover of television, I find it downright insulting. And most of all, I hate Sheldon.

So here’s the thing about Young Sheldon – it’s actually not bad.

Young Sheldon is not at all what you would expect from a prequel to The Big Bang Theory. First off, it’s not a multi-cam sitcom like its parent; it’s not shot in front of a live studio audience on a soundstage, and there’s no infuriating laugh track. Whereas The Big Bang Theory seems to both celebrate and vilify the idea of “nerds” in equal measure, Young Sheldon is more about what it’s like to grow up different, surrounded by people who don’t understand you. It’s a common sitcom trope, but that speaks as much to its effectiveness as anything else. Many family sitcoms have used utilized this idea well, such as The Goldbergs, Fresh off the Boat, and Speechless, just to name a few currently airing examples. What makes Young Sheldon different is that, well, it’s a spin-off of The Big Bang Theory, and frankly, I think that hurts it.

I’m not sure how much of an overlap there will be between people who like The Big Bang Theory and people who would like Young Sheldon. The shows are very different, not just in style, but also in humor. The Big Bang Theory goes for cheap laughs whenever it can, whereas Young Sheldon doesn’t even feature that many jokes. It’s as much a family drama as it is a comedy. The writers have replaced punchlines with amusing observances. These characters aren’t so much telling jokes as they are just relaying their experiences. It’s impressively subdued for a show called Young Sheldon. My concern is that the people who would actually appreciate this show are going to be driven away by the fact that it’s associated with the more over-the-top, abrasive Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Every time I felt myself being drawn into the show, Jim Parsons’ voiceover would come on and I’d immediately be reminded of what this show has been marketed as.

It’s too bad, because Iain Armitage is great as a young Sheldon Cooper, as are Zoe Perry and Lance Barber as his parents. The real standout to me, however, was Raegan Revord as Sheldon’s twin sister Missy. She delivered all the best lines in the episode and got the most semi-amused smirks from me (I rarely actually laugh out loud at television – sitcoms make me smile, more than anything else), and she’s probably the reason I’ll check out episode two.

If you’re looking for something that is not at all like The Big Bang Theory, or you’re looking for a nice, comforting, surprisingly poignant family sitcom, then maybe give Young Sheldon a try.

Bazinga?

Recommendation: Try It

The Pilot Project ’17 – Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

Star Trek: Discovery (Sundays on CBS All Access)

Star Trek Discovery.jpg

Online streaming: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Discovery. Its five-year mission: to keep CBS All-Access afloat, to help CBS compete with Netflix, and to meekly get cancelled once CBS abandons CBS All-Access.

Much has been made about the fact that Star Trek: Discovery is being created exclusively for CBS’ All Access streaming platform, but I live in Canada, and I can watch it every Sunday on Space, so that doesn’t affect me at all! I do think that ultimately, airing on a streaming service will hurt the show. I think CBS’ is overestimating how much people are willing to pay to watch a single show week-to-week when there are easier, free alternatives. But what do I know? Not much.

Usually when I’m working on the Pilot Project, I try not to watch past the pilot episode of each show before writing about them. The whole point of this project is to judge each show based solely on its pilot. I’ll make an exception when a pilot is specifically branded as a two-parter, but Star Trek: Discovery’s pilot was not. At least, that was my understanding. It appears I may have been wrong. The reason for this is that over the course of the first episode of the show, you never even see the USS Discovery. It’s never even mentioned. You don’t meet its captain or its crew. So I can’t tell you how any of that stuff plays out, or how Jason Isaacs or Rainn Wilson are, because I haven’t see them yet. Could I stop writing this review right now and watch the second episode? Yes. Am I going to? Probably not. This is the kind of quality coverage you can expect from the Pilot Project!

Speaking of quality, I watched the pilot for Star Trek: Discovery immediately after watching the pilot for The Orville, so all I could think while watching it is how much better it looked than Seth MacFarlane’s show. The sets, the costumes, the makeup, the effects – everything is just top notch. An argument can certainly be made that aspects of The Orville are intentionally made to look cheesy, but the point still stands – Discovery is a good looking show (as well it should be, considering that each episode costs between $5-8 million, making it one of the most expensive shows currently being produced).

Apart from looking great, Star Trek: Discovery also carries the weight of being the first Star Trek series to air in 12 years, and that makes it something of an event. I obviously can’t speak to what I haven’t seen, but I was encouraged by the episode that I did watch. It feels like Star Trek, which is probably all anyone could ask for. This first season is going to cover the events of the war between the Klingons and the Galactic Federation, which feels a bit more serialized to me than Star Trek has been in the past (full disclosure – I am not a Star Trek superfan, so this statement could be false, but when I think of Star Trek, I tend to remember self-contained episodes). I’m a fan of serialization, and these seem to be the seeds that were planted by Bryan Fuller before he left the show, so I’m excited to see what comes next (although I’m still disappointed that we’ll never get to see Fuller’s Star Trek anthology series that covers different time periods every season).

Another big change is that for the first time, the series’ lead isn’t a captain of a starship. Sonequa Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham, a first officer, which lends the series a bit of a different perspective than what we’re traditionally used to. It’s an interesting change, and I’m excited to see how the show explores the different dynamics among Starfleet employees.

Have you zoned out yet? Listen, if you’re not already sold on Star Trek, Discovery probably isn’t going to do much to change your mind, but if you’re itching for some good sci-fi action, then I’d encourage you to boldly go ahead and watch this show. Do you… see what I did there?

Recommendation: Watch It

The Pilot Project ’17 – The Orville (FOX)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

The Orville (Thursdays on Fox)

The Orville

After over a decade without one, we somehow ended up with two Star Trek shows this fall. One is actually Star Trek (more on that later), while the other is The Orville.

The Orville is Seth MacFarlane’s hyped up Star Trek homage/spoof/rip-off, and that’s, well… exactly what it is. It’s not shy about it. There’s a galactic federation, starships named “USS Whatever”, weird alien crew members, Klingon stand-ins,  and different colored uniforms with insignias. This is a sillier, lighter Star Trek from the creator of Family Guy, although the humor is a lot more restrained than you’d expect coming from a guy like MacFarlane. There is some potty humor, but not a ton. The show actually isn’t all that funny. That’s not to say that it’s not entertaining, but you probably won’t audibly laugh out loud too much while watching it. If MacFarlane had wanted to, he could have just gone for jokes in every scene, but he seems to genuinely want to make a legitimate Star Trek homage, which is admirable.

Beyond writing and producing the show, MacFarlane is also the lead actor, so if he’s someone who bothers you then you might want to steer clear. The rest of the cast is serviceable – there don’t seem to be any real standouts yet, although it’s always nice to have Adrienne Palicki on my screen, and I’m glad to see that Halston Sage is branching out beyond “hot blonde high school friend”.

One odd thing I did notice while watching the pilot is that occasionally the pacing feels… off. There are scenes that run on for far too long, meandering and ending up nowhere. Sometimes jokes seem to end without a punch line. There are other scenes that feel like they serve no real purpose at all. I don’t know whether it’s the script’s fault or director Jon Favreau’s, but I’m leaning towards the script. Whether or not these oddly paced instances continue, I couldn’t tell you, but it was something that bothered me in the pilot.

I feel like I’m running out of things to say about this show, which is too bad, since this is the very first installment of this year’s Pilot Project. It’s… a decent show. Three episodes have aired so far, so I don’t know if it gets better or worse, but there are definitely worse things you could be spending your time on. I think I’m having such a hard time recommending it because I’m not entirely sure who it’s for. If you’re someone who likes Star Trek, you’ll probably just watch, you know, Star Trek. If you don’t like Star Trek, then I’m not sure why you’d be interested in The Orville. I suppose The Orville is for people who LOVE Star Trek and need more than one episode a week, as well as for people who like the idea of Star Trek but find the actual thing itself to be too boring and serious. Or maybe The Orville is just for people like me, who watch everything. I almost said that it’s a show for Seth MacFarlane fans, but it doesn’t really feel at all like Family Guy or American Dad, so that’s probably not the case. Regardless, I’m going to give The Orville a definitive “try it”. If it’s “for you”, then let me know so I can finally solve this mystery.

Recommendation: Try It

The Pilot Project ’16 (Pt. 2) – Pure Genius (CBS)

The time has come once again (again). The summer sun set long ago. The days have grown colder and the nights have grown longer and we’ve filled those nights with fretting about the election new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks unleashed a flurry of new programs meant to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months (and beyond). So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to (even if it takes me months to do so). I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for more of…

THE PILOT PROJECT (2016 Edition Pt. 2)

Pure Genius (Thursdays on CBS)

pure-genius

One of my problems with the vast majority of CBS programs is that they’re all overly simplified, seemingly in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s not that their programs are that bad, it’s just that they’re bland retreads of ideas that have been done to death. Look at great dramas like Lost or Breaking Bad (yeah, that’s right, I’m putting them on the same level – fight me), or great comedies like Arrested Development or Community. They stretch the bounds of their genre and format. They actively strive to break new ground and to tell stories in creative and interesting ways. CBS programs do the opposite. It’s like they actively strive to be as unoriginal as possible. Which brings me to Pure Genius.

The brilliant author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke had three adages that were known as “Clarke’s three laws”. The third, and most renowned, of these laws is that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Procedural dramas too often take this idea to heart. One of the most common complaints about television procedurals is that the technology used may as well be magical. Watch any episode of CSI, Bones, or Scorpion and you’ll see what I mean. Procedural technology is capable of literally anything. How many episodes of television have you seen where someone tells a guy at a computer to “enhance” an image. Now there are actual ways to enhance an image, but these programs always take it to the most ridiculous extremes. “Do you see that? It’s his reflection. See if you can zoom in on it. Ah, what’s that in his eye? It’s the reflection of his killer. See if you can enhance the reflection of the reflection. We’ve found our man”. There’s actually a name for this phenomenon – the CSI effect. In an academic journal analyzing the effects of this phenomenon on actual juries, authors N.J. Schweitzer and Michael J. Saks state the following:

In recent years, the television program CSI and its spin-offs have portrayed forensic science as high-tech magic, solving crimes quickly and unerringly. Of course, CSI is only fiction. One forensic scientist estimates that 40% of the “science” on CSI does not exist, and most of the rest is performed in ways that crime lab personnel can only dream about.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Television is, after all, an entertainment medium and it’s used by many as a means of escapism. What’s the problem with a little magic technology? There is no problem with magic technology… in science fiction. But that’s not what Pure Genius is. It’s billed as a medical procedural, and in an attempt to distinguish itself, it incorporates “sufficiently advanced technology”. It is the television embodiment of Clarke’s third law.

There’s a scene in the episode in which the team, led by brilliant Silicon Valley billionaire James Bell (Augustus Prew), try to bring a young girl out of a coma. They’ve grown tired of waiting for her to come to them, so they decided to go to her. With the vast resources that he has used to fund the cutting-edge Bunker Hill Hospital, Bell purchases an experimental piece of equipment that allows for brain-to-brain communication – mind-reading. They throw the helmets on the patient and her mother, and sure enough, as the father speaks to his daughter, the mother utters the words “hi daddy” through tears. Now, if this were an episode of Fringe, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Fringe was a sci-fi procedural that dealt with fringe science. Pure Genius is not. In fact, showrunner Jason Katims actually told his writers’ room that he didn’t want to make a science fiction show. That means that apparently, the writers have done some amount of research into real experimental medical practices that they believe could be utilized some day. If this episode is anything to judge by, however, those practices are still a long ways off. Everything important in this show takes place on a high-tech computer screen or holographic tablet. Every impossible problem is solved through magical technology that’s too advanced to fail.  This is House without the ingenuity – or the characters.

Every character in Pure Genius falls flat. There are no distinct personalities. The only character less interesting than Bell himself is Dr. Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney), who is at first reluctant to join the hospital before being wowed by the miraculous power of all the expensive tech. There’s a whole team of medical experts that frankly aren’t worth elaborating on here – trust me, this show isn’t doing anything you haven’t seen a hundred times before. If you’re going to have boring characters, then you at least need to have an interesting plot. If you’re going to have a boring plot, then you at least have to have interesting characters. Pure Genius lacks both. ER, House, and Grey’s Anatomy were compelling because you were watching interesting characters push themselves to solve problems and save lives. In Pure Genius, the technology does most of the heavy lifting.

It’s unfortunate, because Jason Katims is the insanely talented individual who brought us Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, two shows which were known for their loveable characters and authentic emotional beats. Those shows elevated the family drama, but there’s nothing that sets Pure Genius apart from other shows of its ilk. Maybe one day Katims will have his show explore the complexities that surround sufficiently advanced technologies, but until then, I can’t recommend Pure Genius.

It kind of sucks to end The Pilot Project on such a low note, but… what can you do? I didn’t ask CBS to premiere half of its new fall schedule later than everyone else. Go forth, skip all CBS shows, and be blessed.

Recommendation: Skip it

The Pilot Project ’16 (Pt. 2) – The Great Indoors (CBS)

The time has come once again (again). The summer sun set long ago. The days have grown colder and the nights have grown longer and we’ve filled those nights with fretting about the election new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks unleashed a flurry of new programs meant to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months (and beyond). So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to (even if it takes me months to do so). I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for more of…

THE PILOT PROJECT (2016 Edition Pt. 2)

The Great Indoors (Thursdays on CBS)

the great indoors.jpg

One of my problems with the vast majority of CBS programs is that they’re all overly simplified, seemingly in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s not that their programs are that bad, it’s just that they’re bland retreads of ideas that have been done to death. Look at great dramas like Lost or Breaking Bad (yeah, that’s right, I’m putting them on the same level – fight me), or great comedies like Arrested Development or Community. They stretch the bounds of their genre and the format. They actively strive to break new ground and to tell stories in creative and interesting ways. CBS programs do the opposite. It’s like they actively strive to be as unoriginal as possible. Which brings me to The Great Indoors.

The Great Indoors, like most CBS comedies, can be boiled down to a simple, singular premise, which in this case is “millennials are funny”. Like Two and a Half Men (“men are funny”), The Big Bang Theory (“nerds are funny”), and Mike & Molly (“fat people are funny”) before it, The Great Indoors places all of its bets on this one joke.

Joel McHale plays Jack Gordon, the “aging” adventure journalist at the now-defunct magazine, “Outdoor Limits”. Due to the fact that print is dead, “Outdoor Limits” is shuttering its print division in favour of going fully digital. Jack is horrified, because now that “Outdoor Limits” is just a website, it apparently means he can’t go explore the world outside anymore. In fact, when you switch from being a magazine to being a website, you also have to switch from posting articles to posting memes. Like I said, everything has been overly simplified in order to beat you over the head with a singular joke. You see, Jack can’t do his previous job anymore because he’s now in charge of supervising the millennials that make up the magazine’s online team. There’s Clark (Christopher Mint-Plasse), Emma (Christine Ko), and Mason (Shaun Brown). All three are so VERY millennial. They post content such as “Best Outdoor Gear for the Zombie Apocalypse”, because while they work at an outdoor magazine, they actually know nothing about the outdoors. Because they’re millennials. And iPhones. And such. Clark hosts a podcast where he interviews Mason about his podcast. Emma is upset that she’s been working 8 weeks without a promotion. Mason keeps accidentally (?) sending people dick picks. Do you get it yet? There are frequent jokes about participation trophies. I’m not making this up. At one point Jack is referred to as “the human version of dial-up”. I haven’t cringed this much since I watched the only episode of The Big Bang Theory that I ever watched (bazinga!). Will Jack and these crazy kids ever be able to work together to create something meaningful or are they doomed to continually fall into the same old clichés? Both, probably.

I suppose if you’re old enough to find millennials perplexing (although aren’t we all?), maybe you’d get something out of the jokes involving Instagram accounts and podcasts, but if you are that sort of person then surely you’ve heard it all by now, right? In fact, you’ve probably already MADE the same jokes that these writers are being paid to think up. Doesn’t that just infuriate you? Writing isn’t even a real job though is it? Maybe they should get out of their parent’s basement and make an honest day’s living for once. You know, back in my day, we weren’t special. Siiiigggghhhhh… I just can’t even right now. :$

Recommendation: No

The Pilot Project ’16 (Pt. 2) – Man with a Plan (CBS)

The time has come once again (again). The summer sun set long ago. The days have grown colder and the nights have grown longer and we’ve filled those nights with fretting about the election new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks unleashed a flurry of new programs meant to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months (and beyond). So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to (even if it takes me months to do so). I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for more of…

THE PILOT PROJECT (2016 Edition Pt. 2)

Man With a Plan (Mondays on CBS)

man-with-a-plan

Oh man. This is it. The one we’ve all been waiting for!

I don’t know that I necessarily dreaded watching any of this year’s pilots (even Kevin Can Wait was fun to mock), but if there was one that I cared about the least, it was probably Man with a Plan. Now, I wasn’t really basing this feeling on anything. I hadn’t seen a trailer or heard anything in particular about the show. I think that maybe my preconceived notions stemmed solely from the title. Nothing about a show called Man with a Plan sounds particularly appealing, because that’s about as broad and clichéd a title as you could possibly come up with. Unfortunately, the show lives up to its name.

I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but Man with a Plan is fine. It’s fine! It’s not particularly funny or original, but I’m sure there are people out there who would enjoy it. Matt LeBlanc stars as Adam Burns, a (wait for it) man with a plan! He’s got a wife, Andi (Liza Snyder), and three kids: Kate (Grace Kaufman), Emme (Hala Finley), and Teddy (Matthew McCann). The Burns’ are a middle-class family living in the suburban Pittsburgh, and the series looks to follow Adam’s struggle to become a stay-at-home dad while his wife goes back to work. It’s a winning formula, because that’s just it – a formula. Down-to-earth wife, goofy husband, and oddball children. I just described Man with a Plan, as well as The Middle, Fresh off the Boat, Black-ish, Modern Family, and Speechless (and those are just the network family sitcoms that are airing this fall). I would have listed The Goldbergs as well, only the husband/wife roles have been reversed (sorry, I can’t speak to The Real O’Neals because I haven’t started it).

Listen, you’ve probably noticed by now that it’s very hard for me to hate a show. Unless the show is actively offensive or boring, I’ll probably find some redeemable qualities in it (or at least I’ll recognize that it’s competently made). Should I be so easy on unremarkable entertainment? Maybe not. That’s why I’m not a very good critic. Having seen first-hand the work that goes into creating a show, I don’t feel right being overly dismissive. Man with a Plan wasn’t very funny, but I also wasn’t overly offended by it. So…

Man with a Plan is a serviceable slice of American family sitcom, and if you think it’s something you’d like, then go ahead and watch it, but you’d be better served by watching Fresh off the Boat, Black-ish, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Speechless, The Middle, or The Real O’Neals (probably). There might have been a time in which Man with a Plan would have felt fresh and original, but in this age of “Peak TV”, who has the time?

I mean… if they didn’t bother to put in any effort, then why should I?

Recommendation: Skip it