Been slowly making my way through the pilot screeners that have been piling up on my desk for the past two weeks. In all good conscience, I won't violate the sacred not-for-review covenant of not weighing in too heavily on the understanding that these pilots are still works in progress that undoubtedly will be tweaked, nipped, tucked and in some cases, recast, before the fall season starts. But some big-picture observations are starting to come together on what I've seen so far.
First off, Jim Parsons is a TV star. He's way-charming as the off-lead buddy opposite Johnny Galecki in CBS' Chuck Lorre sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." "Big Bang" is breezy fun, thanks in large part to Parsons (pictured left), even for someone who wasn't particularly in the mood for a geeky bud-com at the moment that I popped the disc in. But as usual, Lorre delivers the goods, starting with the names of his lead characters, "Sheldon" and "Leonard." (This town doesn't pay enough homage to the late producer Sheldon Leonard, a giant of the TV biz who helped birth "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Andy Griffith Show," "I Spy" and other gems.)
"Big Bang's" supporting cast is good too, particularly Simon Helberg as one of Sheldon and Leonard's geeky friends. Galecki's character (pictured right) is definitely channeling the J.J. Abrams geek-hip look. But Lorre's not just poking fun at others. Helberg's character is fer sure satorially inspired by the Lorre look (Davy Jones moptop hairdo, dark turtleneck sweaters) of the late '80s.
Josh Schwartz is doing a good job of proving post-"The O.C." that he's no tyro one-hit wonder. The scribe-producer landed two new shows on the fall sked and at this juncture, by my yardstick, he's 2-for-2. "Chuck," the NBC dramedy Schwartz co-wrote with Chris Fedak, was more entertaining than I expected based on its logline -- a socially awkward computer geek unwittingly becomes a government secret agent tasked with saving the world when he accidentally...yada yada yada. "Chuck" is played for laughs in large part and doesn't take itself too seriously. Zachary Levi (pictured right) is good as the title character, deftly blending geek ennui with the comedy.
Schwartz's CW drama "Gossip Girl," co-written with Stephanie Savage, also falls into the didn't-think-I'd-like-it-as-much-as-I-did category. It's smartly rendered and doesn't strain itself in an effort to be hip and contemporary (it reaches at times but not to the groan-worthy point).
CBS' Jimmy Smits starrer "Cane" is fun and escapist. It's a big ol' sprawling drama about a rich family with plenty of problems that they discuss over dinner. It's got a great cast, particularly Smits, Nestor Carbonell and Paola Turbay as Smits' wife and daughter of said rich family at the center of the show. (Turbay and Smits, pictured left) Think "The Godfather" but with rum and Cuban cultural references, and some subtitled Spanish dialogue thrown in. Rita Moreno, who plays the matriarch to Hector Elizondo's patriarch, doesn't have much to do in the pilot but undoubtedly we'll see more sides to her than just matronly in subsequent episodes.
Fox has a fairly good crop of comedies, at least among the three they've sent out ("Back to You," "The Return of Jezebel James" and "The Rules for Starting Over") but they don't really feel like Fox comedies, other than the thirty-something jaded friends ensembler "Starting Over." Perhaps that means it's up to us to revise our definition of "is" in the context of "Fox comedy." After all, this is now the network that renewed "Til Death" on the belief (hard for some of us to grasp) that the show is getting better.
"The Return of Jezebel James" is going to be just like "Gilmore Girls," as it should be, coming from the bosum of the same scribe-producer, Amy Sherman-Palladino. A coterie of femme viewers will connect with the show in a big way, but their boyfriends and husbands won't be caught dead watching it. Parker Posey (pictured right) is fantastic as the lead, a dipsy-smart, successful, baby-hungry career gal in New York. Lauren Ambrose is equally fantabulous as her polar-opposite slacker misanthrope sister who agrees to rent out her fully functioning uterus to her older sister who's surprised in the pilot to learn she can't get pregnant. Much witty-snappy, rapid-fire dialogue ensues. But in a good, entertaining way.
"Back to You" has the toughest assignment of any new fall show. It's Kelsey Grammer's return to series TV post-"Frasier" as a down-on-his-luck TV news anchor. It's also got "Everybody Loves Raymond's" Patricia Heaton furthering bolstering its star power, plus it's fortified with two name-brand showrunners in Christopher Lloyd (a compatriat of Grammer's from "Frasier") and Steven Levitan. Like me, a lot of people will sit down with this one preparing to be disappointed with tired local-yokel TV news cliches, etc. etc. There are some younger TV news cliches employed, for sure, but on the whole I was pleasantly surprised at how fast this pilot went by. It was funny in parts, not entirely predictable and has swell supporting cast members in Fred Willard (sports guy with the loud blazer) and Ty Burrell (correspondent dying to make anchor), who stood out in CBS' "Out of Practice" two seasons ago.
"Back to You" also boasts the best inside-showbiz reference I've seen/heard yet from this year's pilot crop. Ty Burrell's character delivers a report about the "Broder corruption trial," quoting prosecutors who called Robert Broder (aka Chris Lloyd's longtime agent and the eminence grise of the tenpercentary biz) "a blight on society."
Next in line in my disc drive: ABC's "Pushing Daisies," CW' "The Reaper" and CBS "Viva Laughlin."