Like with any other season, fall’s new shows present some of the best of TV and some of the worst. Pilots usually aren’t the best indicator of the tone to which a show will strike and stick, but first impressions are very important when deciding what new shows you want to add to your viewing schedule.
The Mindy Project
One of the fall pilots getting the most buzz is Mindy Kaling’s new show. Fresh off The Office, Kaling’s running her on show on FOX now, complete with a medical workplace setting and plenty of relationship storylines. Kaling’s gotten a lot of credit for being an unapologetically disheveled female character in a network TV landscape where women are often perfectly made-up even after they jump off of a cliff. Kaling’s style of self-deprecating humor can be charming, but the pilot of this series is a bit of a mess.
A guest spot for fellow Office star Ed Helms is foregrounded in the episode, and having an arguably bigger star in a guest spot in a pilot can be detrimental to introducing a lot of new characters and settings. Kaling may be portraying a more true-to-life female character than TV usually does, but that doesn’t make the show groundbreaking. What we have here is a sitcom generally revolving around Kaling’s love life. Comedy is subjective, of course, but the jokes in this episode generally fell flat for me. Pilots aren’t always strong indicators of where a show will go, and Kaling’s a sharp enough comedic mind for me to stick around for a few more episodes, but The Mindy Project is scattered in its premiere episode.
Ben and Kate
Ben and Kate‘s premise is about as low a concept as you can get. The brother who never grew up moves back in with the sister who grew up too fast, and wackiness ensues. But while the premise might be clichéd, this pilot has a seriously charming tone to it. Stars Dakota Johnson and Oscar winner Nat Faxon (who won for best adapted screenplay with Community‘s Jim Rash) have great chemistry. Faxon and Johnson sell plot points that might have fallen flat with a lesser cast. If you look for groundbreaking storytelling techniques in your TV comedies, Ben and Kate may not be the show for you, but it certainly is good comfort food. Ben and Kate has the potential to be a really fun hangout sitcom. It should be fun to see how the show plays out in the coming weeks.
While Matthew Perry’s intrinsic “Chandler-ness” will always be there, his style is generally used to good effect in this new NBc sitcom. Go On (or, as many on Twitter have called it, Goon) shares a lot of DNA with Community, which is strange because NBC has gone on record saying they wanted to produce more programs with broad appeal. I guess NBC’s definition of “broad appeal” is “put one of the FRIENDS in it.”
Snarkiness aside, Go On has done a good job of balancing its wackier sitcom side with the deep sadness and sense of grief at its core. Right now, Go On is placing almost all of its focus on Perry to the point where the ensemble feels under-serviced. But if the show, like Community did in its early days, can transition from a star vehicle for its sarcastic leading man into an ensemble comedy, Go On could morph into a truly strong show. Whether Perry’s star power can help pull NBC out of its awful ratings position remains to be seen.
ABC’s new high-concept drama Last Resort leaves me torn. On the one hand, the show’s production values present a fun kind of crossover between Lost and The Hunt For Red October. On the other hand, the very glossy cinematography and almost grossly good-looking actors takes away from any grittiness a show about people on a military submarine could have.
Last Resort tells the story of a U.S. military submarine carrying nuclear missiles. The captain (played well by veteran character actor Andre Braugher) is faced with a tough decision when a shady order to nuke Pakistan comes through unconventional channels. The captain has to weigh the importance of following orders with making sure he’s doing the right thing. It’ll be interesting to see how this story is sustained in the coming weeks. Hopefully the crew, including some rogue Navy SEALS thrown into the mix, will be fleshed out (most likely through Lost-style flashbacks). For now, Braugher is anchoring the series with a strong, authoritative performance.