Pilot's License

I'm more excited than I should be about getting back to the next day in the Fall TV Outline, but before we move on, I should report on last night's project. A couple of networks released some sitcom pilots ahead of their "official" air dates, and so as a lark, I watched all five. I like this system; it gives me an idea of what to expect, gets a lot of exposition out of the way, and helps me compare one show to another.

I should offer the usual disclaimer that a pilot is not always the greatest indicator of what a show will be like. The pilot of Parks and Recreation (and in fact the entire first season) is nothing like the show it became, thank the heavens. Sitcom pilots have to establish the universe and do a lot of explaining, which can easily get in the way of a show's rhythm. So, I tend to be more lenient on a pilot than I will be with later episodes. Some pilots, however, tell me everything I need to know (please insert dramatic, portentous music here).

The Mindy Project

I really liked Mindy Kaling's book, and while I'm not a regular viewer of The Office, every time I've managed to catch a Kelly Kapoor scene, I enjoyed it. I definitely wanted to check out her new vehicle, in which she plays an OB/GYN who excels at her profession, but whose personal life is a mess. Actually, I take exception to the "excels at her profession" description, because she seems equally inept at being prepared for work as she is for a date. The pilot was a little overly precious, but overall, it wasn't bad. (Grade: B-)

Go On

I wasn't expecting much from Matthew Perry's new sitcom about a sportscaster who's required to go to group grief counseling after the death of his wife, and was pleasantly surprised. This pilot packed much more of an emotional wallop than most sitcoms (never mind sitcom pilots), and still managed to wedge in a few pretty funny jokes. Among the supporting cast, Most Valuable Player goes to Julie White, playing a woman whose partner has passed away, and is pretty clearly in the "anger" stage of grief. She really tore this episode up. (Grade: B)

Animal Practice

Justin Kirk plays a veterinarian who understands all there is to know about animals, but can't connect with fellow humans. Of the five shows I watched last night, this was the most "sitcomy". I'm not sure if it taking fewer risks and hewing to a more standard sitcom structure is the reason I chose this show as having the most promise, or if it was simply better-written than the others. Since I mentioned the standout supporting cast member of Go On, I'm should also mention the anti-standout supporting cast member of this one. Even in a cast of "zany" characters, Bobby Lee sticks out like a sore thumb; his is the only performance that doesn't work. And I'm including the monkey in that calculation. (Grade: B+)

The New Normal

I...just don't know what to say about this. Well, I do, but it's far easier to just point you to Todd VanDerWerff's review and say "This." Lazy, insulting, boring, and a structural mess, I didn't crack a single smile during this painful half hour. Maybe pilots don't always paint a good picture of what a show is going to turn into, but unless this one gets a complete overhaul, I never want it to assault my eyeballs again. (Grade: D-)

Ben and Kate

This one was almost as wacky-sitcom as Animal Practice, and almost as successful in my eyes. Nat Faxon plays a spastic guy with no filter or sense of self-control, while Dakota Johnson is his overly uptight sister who's doing her best as a single mother to a requisite precocious child. The kid is super-cute, though, and detracts surprisingly little (unlike the obnoxious kid in The New Normal). The supporting cast of Lucy Punch and Echo Kellum is also very strong, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this show goes. (Grade: B)


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