Every year, television offers you a herd of new shows. Some will become your new favorite series, while others will earn your everlasting hate. And our first clues as to which are which come from the pilots. Last night at San Diego Comic Con, we watched the pilots for five new TV shows — including Arrow and Eric Kripke's Revolution.
Here's our spoiler-lite round-up of our early reactions to five shows that are coming to your screens soon.
Warning: We'll try to avoid major spoilers, but there are general summaries of the basic set-ups below. So if you're a spoiler phobe, best to stop reading now.
The usual caveats apply — what we were shown last night were probably early cuts of these pilots, and they may change a lot before they air. And these are just our initial impressions.
666 Park Avenue (ABC, Fall 2012)
Based on the novel by Gabriella Pierce. Terry O'Quinn plays Gavin Doran, the owner of an eeevil apartment building at 999 Park Avenue (but the shadows of the letters read 666.) And it seems that everybody who lives there has sold their soul, or is about to sell their soul. (In the opening teaser, the World's Greatest Violinist's 10-year contract is up, and his fingers start bleeding while he plays — before he's swallowed up by the evil building.) Later, Gavin says, that what he does is "fulfill people's needs." Not everybody who comes to New York with dreams of fame and fortune gets to make it, but he can make it possible for some people.
A young couple, Jane and Henry, take over as the managers of the building, and we slowly watch them being seduced by the wealth and glamor of Gavin and his wife. And meanwhile, we meet a slew of supporting characters who are either being tempted, or have already been tempted, to make a deal with the Devil. Tempted with sex, love, fame, or whatnot. There are lots of scenes of Terry O'Quinn acting like Evil Locke from the final season of Lost as he manipulates people into forfeiting their souls. Meanwhile, Jane, who's an architecture/historic preservation expert, starts snooping and discovers stuff about the building's spooky past. Oh, and there's a random petty thief who gets psychic flashes from the things she steals, including scary stuff. There is an insane amount of real estate porn, mixed in with vague spooky menace, akin to a really upscale episode of Supernatural.
The Verdict: The pilot is really, really slow, and the tone is weird — not scary enough to be horror, not character-driven enough to be a soap opera. There is one genuine scare in there, along with some "scares" that are more funny than scary. The whole thing reminds me of ABC's short-lived Witches of Eastwick series, and it's hard to see how it can work as an ongoing series.
Arrow (The CW, Fall 2012)
A TV version of Green Arrow, the DC Comics superhero and sometime Justice League member. It sticks pretty close to the Mike Grell origin, as retold by Jock and Andy Diggle. Oliver Queen is a super-rich playboy, who gets washed up on an island where he has become a tough guy to survive. When he's finally rescued after five years, he's on a mission to take down the most corrupt citizens of Starling City, by any means necessary. Ollie struggles to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend Dinah Laurel Lance, whose sister Ollie was secretly boinking. And his frivolous best friend Tommy. And his mother, who's clearly been busy while Ollie was away. And then there's his sister, who's got a drug problem and has the nickname "Speedy." (Yes, really.)
Dinah Lance, who goes by Laurel, is a crusading attorney who fights against the same rich scumbags whom Ollie is sworn to take down. (And in a flashback, we learn exactly why Ollie is so eager to dress up in a green hood and fight bad guys.) There are wheels within conspiracies and secrets within machinations. The whole thing moves at a brisk pace, so by about halfway through, Ollie's already suited up and fighting evil. It definitely wants to be Batman Begins in a one-hour pilot, except that there's no Scarecrow or Ra's Al-Ghul or anything. Oh, and Ollie is willing to kill a lot of people, unlike Batman.
The Verdict: It's one of the most fun pilots we've seen in ages — not surprisingly, since it's directed by David "King of Pilots" Nutter. There are lots of brooding voiceovers and fun action sequences and some moving emotional scenes. But not a lot of wallowing. Oh, and lots of shirtless training montages and goofy/funny bits where Ollie pretends to be just a rich playboy while sneaking off to fight crime and destroy evildoers. It reminds me of Person of Interest crossed with Nikita with a dash of Smallville. And none of the self-conscious campiness of The Cape or No Ordinary Family. Let's hope the ongoing series can live up to this strong beginning.
The Following (Fox, Spring 2013)
A serial killer show from Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, Scream.) Not really science fiction or fantasy per se, although it's got an element of sort of heightened reality, as the escaped serial killer recruits apprentices, copycats and groupies, via the Internet as well as by other means. (The serial killer has "47 websites and over a thousand blogs," plus chat forums and stuff, we're told at one point.) You could easily imagine this show flirting with cyberpunk in later episodes. Kevin Bacon plays the former FBI agent who caught the serial killer the last time, and he's a tormented alcoholic who has problems being a team player. Oh, and the serial killer (James Purefoy) has a distinct Joker vibe to him at times.
The Verdict: It's a pretty slick piece of horror with some occasional bits of severe cheesiness and excessive meta-ness — the sort of meta you might expect from the Scream guy. There is a lot of blood and creepitude, and Kevin Bacon does "damaged good guy" well. We might not be covering this show, but we'll be watching it.
Revolution (NBC, Fall 2012)
A new post-apocalyptic show from J.J. Abrams and Eric "Supernatural" Kripke. Basically, some mysterious event happens, and all electrical power stops functioning, all over the world. Cars stop, houses go dark, and planes crash — it's not a proper J.J. Abrams pilot without a plane crash. And then we jump forward 15 years, to when the survivors are rebuilding with small, simpler communities using mostly 19th century tech. Too bad there are some evil thugs, who have formed a militia and want to seize power. One family gets caught up in the militia's schemes, and it all ends in bloodshed — and that, in turn, launches a quest for help and answers. Where most post-apocalyptic TV shows go with a slow burn, a deep exploration of how a community adjusts to the change while dealing with outside threats. And Revolution looks like it's going to take that route for a few minutes — and then it leaps onto a different track, becoming a rollicking adventure.
There's a lot of fighting with crossbows and rifles and swords — sword-fighting is big in this particular post-apocalypse. There are dashing villains who channel some of the whimsical menace of classic Whedon villains like the Operative or Mayor Wilkins. There's one character who's clearly supposed to be the Han Solo of the show, and he more or less pulls it off. It's all quite fun, with just enough seriousness to keep the wheels on. Our heroes are on the road, looking for someone who can help them, and the pilot ends with the stage set for more travels and adventures in the future. This being a J.J. Abrams show, there are also some mysteries — primarily about what caused the blackout, and whether it's reversible. (And whether you'd want it to be reversed.)
The Verdict: The show mixes a dash of Jericho with a healthy amount of action-adventure. There are some schmaltzy moments, but also some laugh-out-loud humor — the notion of people who grew up in our world but now haven't had toilet paper in 15 years gets milked for all its comedy value. It could easily turn into The Event, but let's hope it lives up to the Supernatural legacy instead.
Cult (The CW, Spring 2013)
The Following is not the most meta show of the coming season — Cult is. In Cult, there's a fictional CW TV show called The Cult, about a cult. And The Cult has a cult following, of people who are obsessed with unlocking all the clues. And just as spooky, scary things happen on the show, similarly spooky, scary things happen in real life. Conspiracy? Or something supernatural? It's not clear from the first episode. This show was created by Rockne S. O'Bannon — who wrote the pilot in 2005, as a response to fans' obsessions with his show Farscape. Now it's somewhat retooled, but the meta element full of ARGs and mystery-obsessed fan culture remains intact. Matthew Davis (Alaric from Vampire Diaries) plays Jeff, the journalist brother of a guy who goes missing after unlocking the "next level" of the show's mysteries. And Robert Knepper plays the fictional cult leader on the fictional TV show (and, of course, the actor playing the cult leader.) Knepper is doing exactly the same character he did on Heroes. Oh, and Supernatural's Alona Tal plays the fictional detective on the TV show who's obsessed with the fictional cult. There are creepy catch phrases that get repeated on the show and in real life — and Knepper's face has a weird way of appearing on random video screens, even at gas stations. The deeper Jeff probes into the mysteries of the cult around the cult TV show about a cult, the more confusing and sinister everything gets.
The Verdict: If this show had aired in 2005, it might have seemed fresher — but seven years later, mystery-driven shows feel a bit played out. Also, ARGs were a hot idea back in 2005, but not so much now. And there aren't really any characters you care about on this show. So it's not at all clear that this show is going to have a compelling story to tell, unless it offers something at the core of all that meta.