Pilot Season 2019: September Shows
It’s that time of year again. I love pilot season because it offers new possibilities. Despite how many shit shows you have to wade through every year there is always the chance you find a real gem. I watch it all so you don’t have to and hopefully together we can find something worth watching.
Bigger (BET+ Comedy, 9/19)
The plot of this show seems to revolve around a woman who cheats on her fiancé with a man solely because he has a giant penis. “Seems to be” because not much of anything happens in the pilot. People have sex with each other in your typical melodramatic television show sort of way. This, like every other prior bad show about an incestuous friend group, is not trying to be about anything. Bigger doesn’t concern itself with a plot, it’s just a way to deliver pretty people to your computer in a more socially acceptable way than porn. And everyone is quite pretty, I will give it that. Very pretty and completely devoid of talent. This show is just bad, but you didn’t need me to tell you that Bigger, a show on BET+, a BET streaming platform, is bad.
Should you watch: Just follow Tanisha on Instagram and save yourself 32 minutes and 31 seconds of your life.
Prodigal Son (Fox Drama, 9/23)
The procedural cop drama is a time-honored television genre. By 2019, so many have come and gone that almost every iteration of the show has been done. In recent years, the genre has leaned toward the lovable and/or strange outsider helps the cops with their charm and knowledge. The shows usually are comprised of a diverse cast including one officer weary of their talents, a very handsome lady or man with whom the officer inevitably ends up, a tough-talking captain who keeps them on a short leash but ultimately appreciates their contribution, and one equally charming and weird insider (that character is almost always the coroner or lab tech). It’s a formula that is hard to fuck up, but it is equally hard to produce greatness with it. The peak was probably reached in the early years of Psych or Monk and it seems that we’ve just reached the nadir with Prodigal Son. There are shows in this genre that aren’t good, that were at their best mediocre, but were enjoyable. There was Castle, which was preposterous in its premise, but Nathan Fillion was so charming, it didn’t really matter. And Lie To Me, which just turned into a Tim Roth masterclass of assholery, was marvelous fun for a time. I thought last year’s quickly cancelled Deception, also created by Chris Fedak who is responsible for Prodigal Son,was as bad as the procedural gets, but at least that had some cool magic at times. Prodigal Son is both unbelievably unimaginative and somehow uniquely terrible.
Tom Payne plays Malcolm Bright, son of famed serial killer, “The Surgeon,” tragically played by Michael Sheen. The premise is that Malcolm is a genius criminal profiler who can help the NYPD track down all their crazy criminals but struggles with his relationship with his father (given his dad is a mass murderer and all that) and with the fact that he too clearly wants to be a serial killer. Payne’s performance is so unhinged and over the top that it is hard to say exactly what he is going for besides ten different types of crazy. The pilot is all manic energy and chaos. The plot is such a mangled mess that the ultimate emotional reveal means nothing because we know and care nothing for these characters. While there are shows that improve after their pilot, most shows decline in quality. This show has a lot of room for improving but not much potential for it. Most unforgivably this show is a criminal waste of Michael Sheen; a serial criminal waste.
Should you watch: No, it’s early, but this easily ranks as the worst new drama of the year.
Bob ♥ Abishola (CBS Comedy, 9/23)
I just don’t understand this network anymore. Who is the intended audience for this show? Someone at CBS has done the research and there is certainly an audience out there for yet another Billy Gardell show. The best thing I can say about Bob ♥ Abishola is that it’s not nearly as overtly racist as I thought it was going to be. But it is of course as unfunny as you would assume from a CBS sitcom.
Should you watch: If you’re reading this; there isn’t really a chance you were ever going to watch this show anyway so you don’t need me to tell you not to bother.
Bluff City Law (NBC Drama, 9/23)
Well, this is not how being a lawyer works. I know legal dramas by definition have to be dramatic since the tedious reality of an actual courtroom wouldn’t draw viewers, but Bluff City Law turns up the drama past credible. Not even 50 minutes in, two lawyers have been jailed for contempt of court, one on two separate occasions. I wish I had something positive or even anything positive to say about Bluff City Law. It’s incredibly forgettable, even for a courtroom drama. Caitlin McGee is trying her utmost to make this show compelling. It’s not working. Her efforts are admirable, unfortunately her screen presence is forgotten almost as quickly as this show once the credits roll.
Should you watch: Much like traffic court, it will not be painful, but you won’t enjoy it either.
All Rise (CBS Drama, 9/23)
THERE’S SO MUCH SHOUTING! WHY IS EVERYONE YELLING AT EACH OTHER? This is not how courtrooms work. I expect even the most uninformed person would know that. Sure no one wants a realistic courtroom drama — that sounds miserable — but even for a network courtroom drama, this is far removed from the reality of the American judicial system. It is rife with sanctimony and crawls up its own ass early in the pilot — a pilot that ends with a son punching his father in the face, because his father is in the mob. But like all courtroom dramas it’s about very pretty people doing very exciting things that, were this real life, would be very boring shit done by very plain-looking people. The writing is a mess; there are 6 different plot lines in the pilot. It starts with a shooting in a courtroom by one bailiff of another bailiff who was in the middle of a Trumpeon diatribe—a plot point to which the pilot never returns. The performances are not terrible, but it is hard to tell if they’re any good given how shoddily it’s written.
Should you watch: The show is a mess no doubt. But I would watch Simone Missick read the white pages. I might end up watching All Rise on mute a lot, but I still think that counts. No?
Mixed-ish (ABC Comedy, 9/24)
So, the -ish extended universe is growing. Last year’s Black-ish spin-off, Grown-ish, was one of my least favorite shows of the year. Black-ish is a decent sitcom that has proved capable of greatness at times. The fact that it has spawned not one, but two spin-offs is incredible. Mixed-ish focuses on Rainbow Johnson’s upbringing after her family’s cult was raided and they are forced back in the real world where they are made to confront race and money and other hardships.
I’m sure there is someone who watched Black-ish and wondered, “What was Rainbow’s life like?” I can’t say that I am one of those people, nor do I imagine you are. But unless you have a deep desire to explore the history of the Johnson family and the extended Black-ish universe, there is not much here for you. The performances of Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tika Sumpter as Rainbow’s parents are as flat and lifeless as one would expect. But the poorly constructed cast is to be expected; the concern of Mixed-ish is neither its cast nor its story. It has the potential to start interesting conversations about race but the people that will be watching this show probably won’t need the help of a Tuesday night ABC comedy to have that conversation and Black-ish’s many episodes about race and colorism are better at it anyway.
Should you watch: If you’re a diehard Black-ish fan, this is slightly better than Grown-ish but not by much and that could change quickly going forward.
Emergence (ABC Drama, 9/24)
Allison Tolman has been a wasted commodity for many years — talented but relegated to bit parts in TV shows – she’s almost exclusively played unbearably irritating characters. Although Emergence isn’t the ideal vehicle, it is still good to see Tomlan getting to lead in a decently written TV show. Her Downward Dog sitcom from 2017 was moderately good, yet made only eight episodes so it’s hard to view it as a real chance for Tomlan. Clancy Brown, Donald Faison, and Owain Yeoman round out a solid lead cast. Emergence draws on a straight-forward formula: superpowers, cute kid, talented cast. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Emergence isn’t a revelation but it’s good and that will likely make it the best new network show this year. Through its first episode I’m intrigued by what this cute kid’s superpowers might be and which is the shadowy agency terrorizing her.
Should you watch: Who doesn’t love a shadowy government agency and a charming small-town cop and her multiracial family?
Stumptown (ABC Drama, 9/25)
Ugh Cobie Smulders. Stumptown is just another incredible waste of Jake Johnson. After being stranded on a TV show with the fascinatingly untalented Zooey Deschannel, Johnson now seems to be stranded on a TV show with the remarkably untalented Cobe Smulders. Stumptown is another show about a broken loner who hates the world and takes out her rage by lashing out at everyone in a self-destructive spiral downwards. It’s a show that has been done a thousand times before and it can work. But it only works if your angry lead has some charisma and Smulders lacks all charm and likeability and because of that, so does Stumptown.
Should you watch: There are brief respites when Johnson shows up on screen, but he is used so infrequently in the first episode, it’s hard to sit through. It doesn’t even have the decency to be filmed in Portland.
Carol’s Second Act (CBS Comedy, 9/26)
What the fuck is this? This isn’t a show. It’s barely even an imitation of a show. Carol’s Second Act is a dumping ground for TV’s bad actor cast-offs. There is not one single redeeming thing about this show. That Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins follow up Booksmart, one of the year’s best movies, with this slow trainwreck is the most interesting thing about this show. Just seems like more proof that Katie Silberman must have carried the writers’ room on that movie.
Should you watch: Watching Carol’s Second Act is like visiting the zoo to see a polar bear. It is probably one of your last chances to see a soon-to-be-extinct species. Unlike the polar bear, when this brand of lifeless, unfunny, poorly written, poorly acted, poorly produced multi-camera sitcoms dies off, it will not be because of the unceasing and catastrophic hubris of man destroying the Earth. It will be because there is nothing redeeming or memorable about this travesty of a television show and when these laugh-track laden pieces of shit finally die the world will be far better for it.
Evil (CBS Drama, 9/26)
So many Dutch angles!
This show is hysterical. It may be the funniest new show of September. I don’t think this show is supposed to be as funny as it is; in fact, I’m pretty sure it fancies itself a real spiritual and moral guide, which itself is hilarious.
Should you watch: It is very entertaining — not for the reasons they intended but artistic motivation doesn’t matter.
Perfect Harmony (NBC Comedy, 9/26)
Need I say more?
Should you watch: Surprisingly Perfect Harmony is not as bad as I expected. But I was expecting the worst show I’ve ever seen so when I got the 20th worst show I’d ever seen it was a dramatic improvement. It’s just Glee with no pretty people.
Sunnyside (NBC Comedy, 9/26)
Oh, how Kal Penn has fallen. There was a time where Penn seemed in the running as a successor to the comedy star crown – the Martin Lawrence of weed comedy. But that changed quickly. It wasn’t that long ago that NBC had the best comedy lineup around. They still have Superstore which remains fantastic and The Good Place, which, though it is coming off a weak third season, is still probably the second or third best network comedy. The weirdest thing about Sunnyside and Perfect Harmony is they seem to be filling an unnecessary void. NBC moved Brooklyn Nine-Nine to midseason to make room for new comedies for some unknown reason and gave us two unwatchable pieces of shit. We are long removed from the days of Community, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and The Office.
Should you watch: There is not one single funny thing in this entire show. It makes me sad; it makes me oh so sad.
The Unicorn (CBS Comedy, 9/26)
Walton Goggins and half the cast of HBO’s Ballers unite to make a pretty god family sitcom in the vein of Modern Family and Life in Pieces. It’s comforting and fun to hang out in middle class America where the biggest problem is which attractive white lady will, seemingly unemployed and yet very rich, Walton Goggins will have sex with today. The most popular network television shows are about finding people you want to spend 30 minutes to an hour of your life every week. It’s why Cheers was so popular because who wouldn’t want to spend time with Ted Danson, Shelly Long, and Woody Harrelson every week. Walton Goggins, Michaela Watkins, and Rob Corddry are no Danson, Long, and Harrelson to be sure but they will do for now.
Should you watch: It is fun and forgettable and utterly without stakes and while it will not change any lives it will probably be a solid way to spend your Thursday evenings for a few years.
Godfather of Harlem (Epix Drama, 9/29)
Epix is working very hard to make sure they are no longer the laughing stock of the premium cable channels. This year’s Pennyworth was surprisingly good and Get Shorty has been a reliable comedy for the last few years. However, Godfather of Harlem is their biggest swing yet. With an all-star cast and what looks like a massive budget, Epix is really going for it with this one. There are wholes in the show for sure. The pilot’s script is rushed and trying to do a little too much in too short a time. It has some problematic moments that aren’t handled with the appropriate deft. Most of the cast is putting in stellar performances but Ilfenesh Hadera was bad in Deception last year and she’s worse in this and it’s hard to watch her get blown off the screen in every scene with Forrest Whittaker. But despite its faults Whitaker is more than capable of papering over many of the cracks. It seems pretty obvious that watching Forest Whittaker play a Harlem gangster in the racially turbulent 1960s would be a lot of fun, not sure why it took us this long to get here. But here we are now. Ultimately it is a relatively pedestrian crime TV show elevated by excellent performances and a great soundtrack but it has a lot of room to grown once it settles down and gets away from the exposition.
Should you watch: Don’t let Epix or a bad title frighten you off, there’s a lot working here. I wouldn’t get Epix just for this, but it’s a channel that is starting to build a strong catalog and this is another good addition.