March 09, 2012 by Stan Wright
Welcome to pilot season 2012 — where the expectations are low and the standards are even lower! Midseason replacements are often woefully bad, ranging from “Man Up” to “Rob” to “Are You There, Chelsea?” (also known as Whitney 2.0). Like an explorer deep in the jungles of Borneo, I hacked away the overgrowth with my machete to find the new shows that are truly worth your time. Happy watching!
Awake [airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST on NBC]
Kudos to NBC for making us actually pity Jason Isaacs, the stone-hearted Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter films. In a career shift, he’s moved to network television as the lead in this head scratcher of a multi-genre drama.
A fatal car crash leaves police detective Michael Britten (Isaacs) widowed and/or without a son. After two funerals, he wakes in his bed one morning, goes downstairs and sees his son eating breakfast across from him. The two share a stilted conversation, sick over the loss of their wife and mother. The next day Britten wakes up next to his wife, and his son is the one who died.
His whole life is fractured into two; at work he alternates between partners, and in therapy he has two shrinks, depending on the day. Each person in his life only exists in one of two worlds, the one in which his son survived the accident or the one in which his wife did.
Each in their own way, Britten’s therapists describe this as a complex coping mechanism, one that has enabled him to keep both his loved ones alive rather than deal with their loss. As he completes cases at work and goes about his personal life, these two worlds intersect, complicating everything. I was left questioning whether Britten himself was the one who died in the crash (and this is all from the pilot).
NBC has created a fantastically complex drama that will likely fail to find a real audience, which is a shame, considering “Awake” is the show we’ve all been waiting for.
GCB [airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on ABC]
Like the show’s title, the women in GCB seem innocent enough at first glance. But behind their Texas charm, these “Good Christian Bitches” pack a petty punch veiled in righteousness. The series follows reformed high school diva Amanda Vaughn, who returns to her hometown after her fairytale life comes crashing down. In doing so, she subjects herself to the unforgiving women whom she tormented in school.
ABC knows that bitchiness sells, and with GCB the network has added yet another show to their lineup with cattiness as an enduring theme. But it is funny, smart cattiness that makes you want to yell “Ooooh, burn!”
Scene stealer Kristin Chenoweth leads the pack of vengeful, past-their-prime southern belles as they make Amanda’s life a living hell. Without the smart dialogue and fantastic cast, this show could have been a scripted “Real Housewives.” Thankfully it rises above this baser level of entertainment to make a statement about hypocrisy in religion while providing enough zingers to fill a 10-gallon hat.
Luck [airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on HBO]
Some of our favorite shows highlight societal niches, from advertising in the 60s to the Prohibition era, so it makes sense that a show about horse racing could become popular. And what better a network than HBO to host such an endeavor?
This is not Seabiscuit, not in the slightest. Luck is full immersion into the often corrupt world of horseracing, from the hardships of jockeys to the dealings of degenerate gamblers. A powerful ensemble is led by crime boss Chester “Ace” Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), who recently acquired a talented Irish racehorse that he plans to capitalize on.
The plot centers on the Santa Anita racetrack in a frustratingly slow but purposeful pace, avoiding the cliches of the genre. Creator David Milch takes care to weave in archetypal themes as the pilot trots along, trusting that the all-star cast will keep you entertained in the time being. Here’s hoping that once Luck leaves the gate, it can get our hearts racing.
I Just Want My Pants Back [airs Thursdays at 11 p.m. EST on MTV]
This hipster “Happy Endings” doppelganger may not have much appeal to a generation that would rather be at a Wavves concert than watch aimless twentysomethings try to find tickets to one, as the characters do in the pilot episode. But this funny, ill-fated MTV production has nonconformist heart, and you should give it a chance, despite what other critics have said.
The Brooklyn bunch is juxtaposed by snarky wandering souls Jason and Tina and interracial power couple Eric and Stacey, who put up with their friends’ antics in an effort to hold on to their youth.
The interplay between Jay and Tina is at times pure gold. One scene has them eating turkey sandwiches by a tennis court as Tina asks Jay if she looks okay.
“You look great,” he responds. “Cute, sweet, but willing to do the weird stuff.”
What more is there to say?