Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fall TV Scorecard: Week 3

Ben and Kate (Fox)

For those of you who don't know Nat Faxon, he's the other half of the Jim Rash/Nat Faxon writing duo that scored an Oscar for The Descendents last year. For those of you who don't know Jim Rash, shame on you.

In Ben and Kate, Faxon plays opposite the charming and tragically under-utilized Dakota Johnson as a brother-and-sister duo dealing with the various hijinks of modern sitcom pseudo-adulthood.
There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the show but for some reason the "'Friends' with siblings" format really works, making Ben and Kate one of the freshest, sincerest and most enjoyable sitcom offerings of the fall (so far, but there's not much on the horizon in funny land). Johnson is a gem, who rightly deserves the spotlight she'll hopefully receive, and Faxon toes the line nicely between oafish imbecile and endearing misfit. The character also works for Faxon's unconditional physical presence (his writing partner Rash has a similar problem, and goes by the twitter handle @RashIsTVUgly) providing some deep chuckles in a pilot focused on the crashing of an exes wedding and a potential schmuck scamming on little sis Kate.

Between the avoidance of a Moonlighting will-they-won't-they (which has become essentially required in any TV show) a great fill in-cast of his friend, her friend and Johnson's daughter, Ben and Kate opens up a lot of possibilities for genuine comedy without trying to reinvent the wheel.

Grade: A-
Class: Subscribe

Elementary (CBS)

As always, prime time television is the last to capitalize on the latest trends, jumping on the Conan Doyle bandwagon with this CBS-ified crime procedural spin on the Sherlock Holmes character played with more intrigue by Benedict Cumberbatch and more revelry and charisma by Robert Downy Jr.

Elementary is a perfectly adequate show, shaking things up just enough by setting Holmes in the modern day and with a female (gasp!) sidekick Watson in the form of Lucy Liu.
But if the pilot is any indication, the show will spend less time in the fun and mystique of Doyle's super-sleuth and instead will mire down in the same case-of-the-week nonsense that permeates CBS's primetime schedule. Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes may make for a far-better protagonist than the average CSI/NCIS-spinoff star and overal a better show, but it's still just an improvement on a tired genre that's already cluttering DVRs. But, since it's on The Eye, expect ludicrously large numbers with a marginal 18-49 demo.

Grade: B
Class: Keep an Eye On

Last Resort (ABC)

So much potential for such an ambiguous delivery. Alternating between moments of greatness and long stagnant periods lousy with awkward exposition, ABC's rogue submarine show debuted this week and my reaction is...huh?

What we know, the crew of the Colorado receives suspicious orders to bomb the snot out of Pakistan and, when they hesitate to comply, are targeted by friendly fire. They then take refuge on a small island where they play nuclear chicken with the U.S. government until they can get home to their lives and loved one and, meanwhile, squabble with the local despot and some suspicious Navy guys they picked up before everything hit the fan.

Oh, and some girl in her underwear has some new piece of valuable technology conveniently placed on the ship that needs to be retrieved.

Is that enough MacGuffins for you?

I'm a sucker for the bottled tension of a submarine, but the minute these guys went ashore on St. Marina the show turned into some weird hybrid of Gilligan's Island, Lost and Flash Forward (not a compliment). This show could very easily fly off the rails fast and I'm inclined to think failure is more likely than success.

Grade: B
 Class: Keep an Eye On.

Vegas (CBS)

Oh CBS, here you go again. The pilot of 'Vegas' is a pure period-piece pleasure. Dramatizing the "true story" of the old days of Las Vegas, when incoming mobsters butted heads with local law enforcement and good-matured country folk, the show sets up a nice cat and mouse game between Michael Chiklis' pinstriped mobster and Dennis Quaid's shotgun-toting "I Am The Law!" sheriff.
Chiklis and Quaid look great, slipping into their characters' skins like a tailored glove and injecting a sense of good-old-fashioned fun into what could otherwise (and may still become) a watered down attempt at nostalgia (Playboy Club, anyone?).

Throw in a solid cast of supporting players, including Matrix' Carrie Ann Moss as an assistant D.A. and obviously love interest for Quaid, and you have yourselves the making of a rich universe with endless storytelling potential, set in the Fremont Street-era of America's playground.

I'm impressed and hopeful, but we've also been here before and what starts out as a compelling drama could just as easily turn into a prequel to CSI at the hands of CBS' geriatric machinations. Until then, though, let's see what happens.

Grade: B+
Class: Keep an Eye On

Partners (CBS)

The second of two new sitcoms this fall featuring gay male lead characters, Partners is the muti-camera, laughtrack foil to NBC's The New Normal. Where TNN aims to "push the envelope" with offensive dialogue and blatant caricatures, Partners seems to have no other goal then to just make 3-part jokes for the live studio audience.

Starring David Krumholtz and Michael Urie as childhood friends turned architects, Partners gives us three couples: the friendship between Joe and Louis and their respective paramours, Ali and Wyatt (played by Superman Returns Brandon Routh, a.k.a the worst Superman of all time or the awesome vegan guy from Scott Pilgrim).

It's a perfectly adequate show, fitting in well in with CBS's perfectly adequate Monday lineup and scoring a few bonus points by simply winning the comparison between NBC's awful TNN and for one well-placed West Side Story Reference. I'll never watch this show again, but I wasn't miserable watching the pilot.

Grade: B-
Class: Keep an Eye On

The Mindy Project (Fox)

I wanted to like The Mindy Project, but what essentially amounts to The New Girl without the three roommates or good writing falls flat fast. Mindy is in jail, apparently she got drunk at her ex's wedding, gave an ill-adivsed Rom-Com toast and then biked into someone's swimming pool. From there the pilot is a series of ineffective one-liners and incessant commenting about Mindy's weight issues.

We're supposed to understand that because Mindy watched to many RomComs growing up, she's ill-prepared to tackled the realities of human drama and modern relationships. Problem is, the same reason we hate RomComs are the reason this show comes off as grating and unpleasant. Like New Girl, Mindy's "problems" are trivial at best, but instead of laughing at the ignorance and naivete of the star we're supposed to feel sympathetic, or solidarity, I'm not sure.
In the end, it's a lot of wasted talent in an otherwise forgetful retread of subjects that other shows do better.

Grade: C+
Class: Kill and Bury

The Neighbors (ABC)

In Neighbors, a New Jersey family of 5 moves in to a sub-division where literally every other person is an alien from another planet.
A disaster waiting to happen? I thought so to, but despite sounding like the worst idea for a TV show since Work It! Neighbors manages to exceed your low expectations.
After all, Alf and 3rd Rock from the Sun were TV staples way-back-when. When you watch Neighbors you do get the feeling that you're watching some relic from the mid-90's, Wonderful World of Disney-era when people weren't so skeptical and TV was uniformly innocuous crap.
Do I expect The Neighbors to succeed? No, no chance. Do I even intend to watch episode 2? Probably not. But I sat down expecting a train wreck and instead got...not a train wreck. Heck, it's better than Two and a Half Men.

Grade: B
Class: Beats me

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