Last year, the network TV season began while I was still in a hospital bed recovering from a burst appendix and the complications that followed. Working at half-speed, I decided the only way to weather the deluge of new shows was to give all but a handful the capsule review treatment, offering up a paragraph or so on each, often with several shows in the same post, figuring I would revisit the ones that got more interesting down the road.
An approach born out of medical necessity turned out to be one that made sense to continue even with improved health. The fact is, most new network shows don't warrant a 1000-word review based on a single episode simply because that's the way every TV critic (myself included) used to do things. Some are strong enough, or intriguing enough or – in the case of something like “The Mysteries of Laura” – just plain bad enough that I instantly have much to say about what little data I have in front of me. Mostly, though – and it's very very true this fall – new show pilots are mediocre, with hints of things that could make them very good or very bad in time. And the harsh realities of the business – particularly in this universe of overwhelming entertainment choice – mean that many of them will fail long before they get to either prove themselves creatively or fall apart.
So over the next few weeks, you'll see some longer reviews of new network shows (like the one I published last week for tonight's “Gotham” premiere), but you'll also see posts like this one, where I take two or more shows debuting within a day of each other, offer up quick thoughts and then move on, potentially to return if things change down the road. We've got two dramas premiering tonight, and one premiering tomorrow.
“Scorpion” (CBS, tonight at 9 p.m.): It's “The Big Bang Theory” if it had its DNA spliced with a CBS crime procedurals, as a team of misfit geniuses – plus waitress Katharine McPhee, who understands how to talk to regular people in a way the brainiacs (including an expert on human behavior, played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) can't – are recruited by the government to solve problems that elude less-than-beautiful minds. For a show about brilliance (Elyes Gabel's character is described as “one of the five smartest people alive”), the pilot – where the team has to prevent every plane circling LAX from crashing due to a software glitch – is remarkably dumb, larded with weird contrivances and stupid mistakes made by the team to push the solution back into the climactic moments. But it's a dumb pilot directed by “Fast & Furious” franchise caretaker Justin Lin, which means there are multiple car chases that kick ass, including one near the end that's as fun as it is completely ridiculous. There are shows this fall that I expect to be much better in the long run than “Scorpion,” but there aren't many pilots I ultimately enjoyed more – I even genuinely pumped my fist at one point. But will Kat McPhee have to weave through LA traffic every week, and will Lin always be available to direct her? GRADE: B-
“Forever” (ABC, tonight at 10 p.m., then moves to Tuesdays at 10 p.m. begining with a new episode tomorrow): Hey, remember “New Amsterdam,” that show where Jaime Lannister was an NYPD detective who was secretly immortal? ABC is betting that you don't, given how many similarities “Forever” – with Ioan Gruffudd as a Manhattan medical examiner who is secretly immortal – has with that short-lived FOX drama. But then, it also happily borrows from Sherlock Holmes, with Gruffudd's ability to solve complex mysteries from the faintest of clues (one not-for-air cut of the pilot even used the “Sherlock” theme as temp music), as well as from dozens of other police procedurals. It's all fairly disposable, though at least the show lets Gruffudd use his native accent, and he has an interesting relationship with Judd Hirsch's Abe, the one man who knows his secret. Thinner, more derivative shows than this have become successful, and if it turns out viewers like Gruffudd, plus his chemistry with skeptical cop Alana de la Garza, it could turn into a minor hit for ABC. (Though odds on that would be greater if it was getting the “Castle” timeslot for more than one night.) GRADE: C
“NCIS: New Orleans” (CBS, tomorrow at 9 p.m.): Scott Bakula is one of our great underrated TV resources, the supporting cast includes CCH Pounder and Lucas Black, whom I've loved for years (plus Zoe McLellan, who – in a fictional universe conundrum – was a regular on “JAG” in that show's later years), and the creative DNA comes from the original, superior “NCIS” rather than its Los Angeles-based spin-off. That said, the “NCIS: NOLA” pilot leans cartoonishly on the local color – it takes only until the third scene for Bakula to mention his gumbo, and a murder victim's father reacts to the terrible news by saying, “Only two things I loved in this world: Calvin, and jazz.” – to make sure we understand how things are different down in the Tremé (and adjacent neighborhoods). They need to ease back on that right quick and focus more on the interplay among its exceedingly likable cast. Not an especially good first episode (the two-part backdoor pilot on “NCIS” last spring was better), but one I may return to on occasion, just like the original series, just to see the actors work. GRADE: C+
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org