Pilot Season Part 2: The Best & Worst New Shows October & November 2018
Not my snappiest title to a piece ever I know. But it gets the point across well. Wrapping up 2018’s pilot season, and this one has had some really high highs–some great shows came out over these last two and a half months. But there have been some putrid lows too. I originally intended to do this in three parts one for September, October, and November but as I was about to put October’s out I noticed there were only about 3 new shows in November and they were all within the first two weeks so I put them all in one piece.
All American (CW, October 10)
Usually every year for pilot season it’s a race to the bottom between the CW and CBS. They both seem to be trying their best to find the least interesting, most unfunny, nauseating television possible. And they’re very very good at it All American in contrast to the rest of the stuff on CW is pretty decent. It’s managed to find a modicum of quality by being stealing from lots of actually good teen dramas. To the point where its really blurring the lines between homage and plagiarism. But as someone who really likes The O.C. and Friday Night Lights a show that is basically just a black version of those two shows I won’t complain about. I’m really bored of duchey white boys so when Spencer James arrives at Beverly Hills high and encounters a whole avalanche of them that turned me off. But in general the show is competent if entirely forgettable. I have no intention of ever watching another episode of this show but for people who are starving for more teen dramas, with pop music scores, and Taye Diggs. The CW has 500 shows for you, and this is certainly one of them.
Should you watch: The O.C. and Friday Night Lights are both on Hulu.
Titans (DC Universe, October 12)
Whoever was responsible for the trailer for this show should be fired.
And then they should be hired.
And then immediately fired again.
It’s one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen for something that is really okay. Going in to Titans I think everyone from die-hard DC fans to casual viewers were less than excited. But people who weren’t scared off by the comic con trailer would have been pleasantly surprised. Titans is maybe not good enough to get most people to commit to a DC streaming/comic service but thus far it seems like it might be decent enough to be a solid addition for DC fans. The performances for the most part are god and for an Akiva Goldsman script it’s almost good. It’s possible a lot of this is lowered expectations but when the trailer seemed to promise maybe the worst show of the pilot season and instead delivers something that’s fun to watch I’m not going to complain. While shockingly out of character to the point of being almost off-putting the Robin action sequences are shot and choreographed well which is interesting since that has always been one of DC film’s shortcomings.
It’s not perfect though, Robin’s angsty teen/psychotic serial killer act wears thin pretty quickly and it’s hard to get invested in how he became such an asshole when the show is asking us to be concerned with so many different things so early. It’s also a pretty bad looking show which, I must say, is a somewhat surprising since you would think DC would have learned from Netflix that you can never invest too much into your first endeavor. Half of the reason House of Cards took off the way it did was because the show was so beautiful to look at. Instead Titans is a blue-tinted mess with the occasional terrible CGI interlude.
Should you watch: If you’re already on board for the DC streaming service I would recommend it. It’s hard to justify adding yet another monthly bill to the Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, and whatever else you’re already invested in especially not just to tune into Titans.
The Romanoffs (Amazon Prime, October 12)
It’s odd writing about anthology shows for this piece because the quality of the show is going to be very episode dependent. That being said the first episode of The Romanoffs is not good. I think Mad Men, the best show of all time, has earned Weiner some leeway and of course with a show like this there is all the chance in the world that every other episode is amazing. No anthology show has ever managed to bat 100 over its entire run, look at The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, three of the best shows ever made. Each one of them has a few bad episodes in the bunch. Opening with an Aaron Eckhart led episode about a rich white racist French woman learning to love her Muslim caretaker is pretty easily avoided mistake but I’m going to stick with The Romanoffs regardless because if there are two things that get me excited about watching TV it’s Matthew Weiner and a high society drama.
Should you watch: It might be worth it to find some list about which episodes are the best before jumping in. But there’s no chance it’s all worth skipping.
Light as a Feather (Hulu, October 12)
Light as a Feather is about as full of cliché as a show could be. It’s a rip off of every teen horror movie from Scream to I Know What You Did Last Summer. But what it really wants to be deep down is Final Destination a film series that I think someone should have reminded R. Lee Flemming Jr. there were five of before he set out to “borrow” so heavily from them. The show lacks both any horror and any characters worth rooting for which inevitably turns the first episode into a dull 23 minutes waiting to see how many of these bland papier-mâché characters we can kill off before the credits roll.
Should you watch: It’s horror without the scares and teen drama without the intrigue. It’s flat and unimaginative, you’re much better off watching one of the countless films that Light as a Feather is influenced by.
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix, October 12)
I don’t really care for or about horror. But I’m happy to watch a good show or movie in any drama. After just recently rewatching the first Halloween and The Shining I certainly won’t deny when horror is masterfully made it can be as good as anything.
The Haunting of Hill House is not The Shining, let’s make that clear off the bat, but it has a good grasp of suspense and apprehension. It relies more on jump scares than it should but compared to a lot of the B-horror that comes out now they’re pretty minimal. Traditional horror is an interesting genre move from Netflix and I really wish they made at least some of their viewing statistics public. I would bet a lot of people start this show and never finish it, which may make no difference at all to Netflix, it’s hard to know. Maybe I don’t have a grasp on the inner workings of the mind of a horror aficionado but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a horror movie no matter how good it was and thought to myself, “man I really wish this was 10 hours long.” But hey if you’re really out here binging this show let me know.
The set design of The Haunting of Hill House is a real achievement which is effective in a story where the house is as much a character as the actual cast. More than in fact, I can’t separate one bland character from another in the pilot episode but I suppose that’s not really the point, if you’re going into The Haunting of Hill House looking for more than a pretty boilerplate ghost story you’ll be disappointed; when there aren’t creepy monsters lurking in the corners of shots or hovering above children and the talking actually starts Haunting gets quite dull.
Should you watch: I never recommend horror or documentaries and I won’t bother continuing with The Haunting. But it’s an okay show and a good horror, so if you’re a horror fan and for some reason need even more of it in October, The Haunting of Hill House is one of your better options.
Charmed (CW, October 14)
I never wanted to be the guy hates everything. That guy’s an asshole. And I love a lot of stuff. It’s because I love a lot of stuff I started a website and a podcast to talk about all of it. It just so happens that the CW only releases shit television shows. And I refuse to feel bad for hating them. The Charmed reboot is a cheap mockery of a great TV show that is as inexplicable as it is bad. Who asked for this show to get rebooted? Is anyone really asking for any reboots of any shows when they’re all so readily available? The good Charmed is on Netflix right now–in its entirety–and it stars Alyssa Milano and not Sarah Jeffery.
Should you watch: If you plow through all 178 episodes of the good Charmed and you just need need–absolutely cannot live without more of this show–then CW’s bastardization of it will be sitting there waiting for you. But for now, please do us all a favor and avoid this at all costs.
The Rookie (ABC, October 16)
You know what? It’s not terrible. The last thing I have any interest in doing in 2018 is deifying the police and certainly not the LAPD. Sure, its tone deaf and unoriginal but what ABC drama isn’t? Nathan Fillion is charming and some–some–of the supporting cast manage to hold their own. Unfortunately, the show’s characters are a collection of TV stereotypes including Afton Williamson, a possibly talented actress, who gets the thankless job of playing one of the 3 types of black women they’ll let on TV, the hard-assed career minded doesn’t need anyone’s help ever, officer Bishop.
Should you watch: It’s a silly concept sure. And it is yet another cop show and those only seem to be getting less creative the more they make. All that is true, but all of that was also true about Castle and that was a moderately entertaining show for about three years. It’s far from good but when it comes to shows like this your best hope is not terrible.
Legacies (CW, October 25)
I’ll be the first to admit I love a good chick flick. And Legacies is definitely a chick flick. “Good” however, would be a stretch too far. Legacies not only looks like every werewolf, vampire, magic teen drama that has been released since Twilight, it’s basically identical. It’s a very good looking cast of very untalented actors reading a barely comprehensible jumble of a script. But I suppose beautiful people is the CW’s brand and you wouldn’t want to stray too far off that. Nothing is new or even novel about Legacies, it’s not only borrowing from previously entries into the mystical teen drama genre it’s overtly stealing. I assume the die-hard fans of the genre will enjoy it but also I don’t think I have many 13 year old girl readers. I would fucking hope not at least.
Should you watch: I’ve never really understood the appeal of shows like this in the age where you can just follow beautiful people on Instagram and get more than your fill of them. But if you’re in desperate need or more symmetrical faces flatly delivering lines of dialogue for 42 minutes a week.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix, October 26)
An adult-ish adaptation of an okay Archie on-going that is brought to you by the same people that made the other adult-ish adaptation of an okay Archie on-going. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has Riverdale creator, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, all over it and how this ended up on Netflix instead of the CW is a little strange. It would be like if the next Chicago show was on Amazon Prime instead of NBC.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s pilot episode is pretty decent all things considered. It’s a little heavy on exposition, there are a lot of very awkward out of place conversations desperately trying to explain the strange world of Sabrina. The most ham-fisted of which is when one characters stops in the middle of helping a girl she almost ran over with her car to explain the history of the town and its witch trials. The show is charming enough, fans of the original series will be quite confused, but other than that it is a fun watch. It’s probably for the better that this ended up on Netflix and not the CW because it may not hold its audience attention week to week but it is fun and lightly macabre enough to be fit for binging. Your enjoyment of Sabrina will have a lot to do with your stance on Kiernan Shipka, who is distractingly short and prone to about as many moments of brilliant acting as she is unwatchable acting. Shipka was doled out in appropriate doses in both Mad Men and Feud, both of which I thought she was fantastic in. But now tasked with carrying her own show, some of her shortcomings shine through at unfortunate moments.
Should you watch: The teen horror offerings were pretty slim this October and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is by far your best option.
Homecoming (Amazon Prime, November 2)
Oh, this is the kind of stuff that gets me excited. Homecoming is the Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg created TV series based on their podcast of the same name. Homecoming is about a transitional center for returning veterans where something goes so horribly wrong the head caseworker is working at a diner sometime after the events of the show. All 10 episodes are directed by Sam Esmail, who TV fans will recognize as the director and creator of Mr. Robot. And the fact that Esmail is attached to this project at all should speak to its quality already. Since starting Mr. Robot in 2015, an admitted passion project of his, he has been singularly focused. But it is a good thing that Horowitz and Bloomberg managed to pry him away for this show because much like last month’s Maniac, Homecoming benefits greatly from a singular aesthetic vision. Esmail has an incredible grasp of noir and the thrillers of old the show is shot with a familiar style that harkens back to those films but with a modern twist that makes it unique. The writing and directing make a powerful pairing that can make the innocuous unsettling, from a bird squawking to a practice interview, every moment of this first episode takes great pains to instill in the audience that something really horrible will happen.
It’s not just Esmail, Horowitz, and Bloomberg that are to credit for this show. The cast is fantastic, from Julia Roberts as the main character, Heidi Bergman, the caseworker in charge of the transitional center, to Bobby Cannavale who continues to be the best actor working if you need a greasy fast talking businessman who so clearly can’t be trusted from the very beginning, and Stephen James who plays one of the soldiers, Walter Cruz. James is having a well-deserved breakout year with Homecoming and If Beale Street Could Talk coming later in the year. Homecoming is perfect prestige TV, expertly crafted, well acted, and aesthetically unique. There are a lot of great shows that have come out in the last few years as we truely hit the peak of the golden age of television but the ones that stand out are the truly unique ones; and there is nothing on television right now quite like Homecoming.
Should you watch: This is a must watch. At only ten episodes and each being 20-30 minutes each there isn’t much excuse not to dive in to this treasure. Plus we all know you’ve got Amazon Prime already.
Beat (Amazon Prime, November 9)
This is the reason for the delay in posting the second part of my pilot season piece. I was thinking about splitting off a third piece but there are almost no new shows in November this year. Beat is the last new show on the calendar until December so it just seemed to make the most sense to wait a bit and put it all out at once. I didn’t include Bodyguard or The Cry on this post because while they made their American debuts this week, they’re both months old in the UK so forgive me if Beat is another show that was originally aired in Germany earlier in the year but from everything I can see it looks like Beat is a genuine Amazon original versus the Netflix model of buying distribution rights to good products halfway through their production schedule and slapping a giant Netflix logo on it.
To say it was worth the wait is maybe not quite fair. Waiting almost two weeks for any one show is probably never worth it but Beat’s pilot episode is really something special. Through the first episode it reminds me a lot of one of my favorite shows of this decade, Fortitude. It has a bleak and unsettling tone but the main cast is so charismatic and the production design is so expertly crafted that despite the horrifying subject matter it is quite fun. Jannis Niewöhner’s performance as the titular lead Beat is my favorite part of the show thus far he can make the character both so likable and pitiful in the same breath. I’m not so much invested yet in the mystery of the underground organ harvesting that seems like it might be the ultimate focus of the show but even if that mystery doesn’t end up becoming more compelling the cast of characters that surround it are reason enough to get me to stick around for a season.
Should you watch: It has been a pretty rough month for new shows, with CBS and the CW really doing their best to bring the curve all the way down. Beat is one of the best new shows you can be watching right now without question.
Happy Together (CBS, October 1)
I thought about writing about how magnificently horrid this show was but I’m not nearly talented a writer to convey how bad it is better than CBS’s own promo.
Should you watch: It’s a painful 22 minutes, a very painful 22 minutes.
The Neighborhood (CBS, October 1)
Elizabeth Merriweather’s new show is not good; The Wayans from New Girl, his new show is–well see above; and Schmidt’s new show is somehow even worse. And with Zooey Deschanel’s career output maybe that show was really only Nick Johnson and Lamorne Morris. This is such a weird cast, it’s like a bus full of failed careers crashed and tumbled into a really ugly sound stage. There’s not one funny moment in the pilot episode of this “comedy,” but it does contain a string of racial and racist jokes capped off by a “heart-warming” ending which are sure to amuse the locals on CBS.
Should you watch: Watching paint dry is less depressing and more fulfilling, at least once the paint dries you’ve technically accomplished something
Camping (HBO, October 14)
Jennifer Garner is really leaning into this, “nobody likes me thing.” And while she is certainly fun to hate there isn’t much else about Camping that is any fun. The adult comedy where everyone is a miserable asshole rests on a knife’s edge. They occasionally turn out great but it takes a great cast from top to bottom and stellar writing but more often than not they get cancelled midway through the first season. I don’t know how in danger Camping is of getting cancelled HBO gives its shows a pretty long leash but so far it is not working. And I’m really rooting for it to fail because I don’t think it’s fair to David Tennant, Chris Sullivan, or Brett Gelman for them to have to be stuck in this mess of a show. I’m sure she’s a lovely person but Jennifer Garner is now 21 years into a career in which she has been the major part of maybe one good movie at some point we have to stop giving her second chances.
Should you watch: No! We must all band together to free the talented people from this void of quality.
The Kids Are Alright (ABC, October 16)
I didn’t realize that The Goldbergs was doing so well that ABC would start copying their own shows. The Kids Are Alright is yet another show about a domineering mother and a distant and cold father who doesn’t have time to love his children because he’s working so hard to provide for his family. The show is at least mostly autobiographical which you will know because it also has a voiceover that will tell you that every episode. But this time instead of being the most Jewish it can be it’s the most Irish-Catholic it could manage and it’s in the 70s.
Should you watch: It’s just The Goldbergs but older and with more child characters to forget the name of.
The Conners (ABC, October 16)
I thought when Roseanne killed her career it also would have euthanized this show too. Turns out it’s a fighter and it just kept going. I don’t have anything to say about The Conners, it’ Roseanne, but they killed Roseanne. If that’s what you’ve always wanted then you’ve gotten your wish; venture forth.
Should you watch: I’m still sort of amazed stuff like this exists. Of all the shows to bring back, why Roseanne and why would John Goodman agree to do it? And why the fuck is it still happening?