Greetings all. Over the last two weeks, I've had occasion to take a look at five of the new shows that have been ordered to fill in the spots left by departing series. Some I liked, some I didn't like so much, and a few need tinkering to reach maximum potential. The five shows up for review today are "The Cape," "Off The Map," "Episodes," "Harry's Law" and "Perfect Couples." Here is a rundown based on what I've seen, and be aware that for whatever information has been included in these episodes, the following should be treated as LOADED WITH SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.
I listed the shows in the order in which they've premiered, and I might as well stick with that order for my reviews. "The Cape" is a comic-book type superhero without any supernatural powers. Think Batman if his only accessory was a BatCape, and you are right on target with this drama's basic premise. The show wants to fill the void left when "Heroes" went off the air, but while the premise is sound and the characters and back-story surrounding the lead's acquisition of the titular clothing item are fitting, the writing on this show leaves much to be desired. First off, we're three hours into the program, and the motives for the main villain are still murky. The Cape (David Lyons) has a clear-cut motive, but it isn't all that interesting - save his reputation and re-unite with his family. Yawn. Then we have a mysterious aide to The Cape in the form of a hacking genius named Orwell (Summer Glau), whose intention is to bring down the evil mastermind behind The Cape's ruined rep, Chess (James Frain). Add to that the group of circus performers that provide The Cape with all his training, lead by Max Malini (Keith David), and you have yourself a worthwhile cast - but the writers aren't at the level of the players.
Besides the cliches and one-liners being spouted, the story is simply plodding along. Now, if the cape itself bestowed some supernatural power to the wearer you'd have something compelling to move things forward more definitively. As it is, maybe the cape has a power to make the wearer evil, maybe not, but at the moment all it seems to be is a fancy way to reach long distances with a kind of elasticity that Mr. Fantastic would envy in his clothing line. The show needs to move faster, it is as simple as that. The titular item of apparel needs to be more than the writers are having it be, currently, or else the show will endlessly be seen as Batman without his wonderful toys. In other words, boring. Let The Cape save his family, reduce the number of big bads to one (currently, there are three, plus a group of evil-doers known as The Tarot), with the others (if others are needed) taking a back seat to the core villain, and get on with the action. Oh, and for goodness sake, let Summer Glau out of the damn box, please! She can do action, she can do mysterious, and she can look incredibly hot doing it...get her out of the chunky sweaters and show her figure. That alone will keep the fan boys interested.
Now we move on to "Off The Map." Here we have a group of American doctors going to help people in South America, so it is a medical drama in an exotic setting. We also have the same cliched characters you'd expect from a show of this type: We have the neurotic doctor who looks too deep to answer a surface condition (Mamie Gummer); we have the thinks-he-knows-it-all smart-ass (Zach Gilford); and we have the willing to get her feet wet, try anything hopeful (Caroline Dhavernas). Add to that the doctors who are all been there, saw that, still here, and this is simply a formulaic drama in a lush setting. It is very obvious right from the start why the ads for this show repeatedly mentioned the pedigree being from "Grey's Anatomy," as it seems like they are already prepared to head down the 'love and lose highway for television drama' guidebook. Watching to see if the show gets elevated into something more "ER"-ish or not. Certainly hoping it does. Moving on...
Next up is "Episodes." Now, this one I do like, two shows in, and hope it continues to grow in the right direction. A British sitcom, after being showered with awards in the UK, has Hollywood trying to wrestle it across the pond and onto American television screens - but are changing the entire show to 'Americanize' it along the way. As the writers of the original British sitcom, Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig do a wonderful job of being totally abused by the studio system, and then you have Matt LeBlanc along for the ride playing an assholish version of himself...inspired casting, that. Seriously, though, since the show is on Showtime in the States, and airs on TMN up here in Canada, the truly infuriating situation they find themselves in can honestly be expressed realistically, as displayed in an awesome explosion of foul language at the end of the second, well, episode. The show has a good pace, the writing is there from the start, and the premise is not only believable, it probably happens on a daily basis in real life. Tune in to this one if you have the chance, it is worth taking a look at.
Another show worth taking a look at is "Harry's Law." Of the five shows I'm reviewing here, this one is the cream of the crop. First of all, there is the pedigree: David E Kelley has created this show, and he is known for some of the best lawyer based dramedys that have been on television ("Ally McBeal," "L.A. Law," "The Practice," "Boston Legal") as well as other shows both dramatic ("Chicago Hope") and quirky ("Picket Fences"). Then you put a strong female lead up front (Kathy Bates) and surround her with a wonderful supporting cast, including Nathan Corddry and Brittany Snow, and you're off to the races. The premise, of a bored patent lawyer who is fired and gets hit twice (once by someone attempting suicide who falls onto her, the second by a car) all on the same day, and thereby discovering a location where she can start her own practice, has got all the ingredients needed in order to make this show successful. By working out of a failed shoe store, the silliness is built right in, and the drama will come as a result of our lead working criminal cases for the first time in her career (the pilot set up the fact that she was a well-known successful lawyer, but not in the criminal ring).
While watching the show, I could not help but draw comparisons to "Ally McBeal," which I am currently viewing on DVD. We have the lead, a mixture of the previous show's three female leads; we have the blonde assistant, an Elaine clone; and we have the uptight but awkward male associate, a translation of Billy. In the pilot episode, at least, we also had a D.A. who exhibited all manner of John Cage-like behaviour, and there you have the right mix of fun and drama that is going to keep this show on the air for quite a while. This is honestly the only new show in this entire season (Fall 2010 - now) that has grabbed me so quickly based on writing and acting from the very first episode. There are shows that get better as they grow into their audience ("Raising Hope"), and there are shows that just fall apart episode by episode ("Running Wilde") - this started with a bang and will hopefully stay there.
What didn't start with a bang, but should have, was "Perfect Couples." A series showcasing three different pairs of dating couples, and displaying how broken they all are in their own different ways, should have been hilarious right out of the gate. Alas, it was not to be. The show jumps in to story-line before giving the audience a chance to really get to know the characters, and did a poor job of trying to quickly outline the three couples in the opening minutes. If shows like "The Big Bang Theory" or "Community" have taught the studios anything, it should be that without strong characters you can't proceed down the comedy path successfully. Whether it is the actors or the writers of this show that are doing it a disservice will be seen in future episodes, but the pilot needed more. There is potential, sure, but after looking forward to it for so long, I was let down by the lack of humour overall.
As to the actors themselves, I am not familiar with any but one - Olivia Munn. Now, having watched her for years on G4TV as herself on "Attack Of The Show," I can safely say she can be at once hilarious and adorable - two things missing from the pilot of her new show. I don't feel this is a reflection upon her acting skills whatsoever; rather, I blame the writers, who I don't think know what kind of comedy gold they have in this actress. The character she is portraying here seems stuck up, full of herself, and thoughtless of others. Okay, if that's what they want the character to be, that's fine - but you have to let Olivia shine through, and it appeared she was stiffled in the pilot episode, like a child dying to point out something but forced to sit still and keep quiet. I wanted nothing more than to have Ms. Munn's truer personality blast out, but nought was to be had. If they don't get more involved with who their actors are, the writers will doom this show to early cancellation.
There you have it folks, my reviews of some of the new shows airing this mid-season. I'll be watching all of them, for a while at least, to see how they fare. If a few of them don't pick themselves up by the writers, though, I'm afraid I'll have to stick with the ones that do. I'm genuinely pulling for all five of these shows to still be airing next season, but only time and viewership will tell the tale.
Until next time, keep the recliner free.