You may still be mourning last season’s losses of How I Met Your Mother and Raising Hope, but the upcoming 2014–2015 television season has a slew of new shows on the way.
This year, the broadcast networks are offering the usual hard-ass lady lawyers (Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder), quirky cop duos (played by Josh Duhamel and Dean Winters in the case of CBS’s Battle Creek), and tortured superheroes (Batman’s origins get the television treatment on Fox’s Gotham). But, there is also an effort to shake things up this season, and literally diversify, particularly on ABC with 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley’s gritty drama American Crime, Shonda Rhimes and Pete Nowalk’s aforementioned Murder (which gives the Scandal creator oversight of an entire three-hour block), and some lighter fare in the form of comedies Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish.
But before we get into our first impressions, it’s important to note that what follows is exactly that: These pilots we’re reacting to were made available to critics by the broadcast networks and these are not reviews because everything — from the music to the dialogue to the casting — is subject to change. What hits airwaves to the American public could be drastically different from what we’ve seen. So, it’s very possible our initial opinions upon seeing final review copies of these pilots closer to air could change. After all, some disappointing pilots have turned into some of television’s greatest gems (cough 30 Rock cough).
Without further ado, let’s begin with this season’s biggest network risk-taker…
4. Selfie (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: A vapid and narcissistic twentysomething, Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan), realizes that social media friends are not true friends, and joins forces with her co-worker, Henry Higenbottam (John Cho), to rebrand herself in this update of My Fair Lady.
Jace Lacob: I’m torn on Selfie. I absolutely loved the off-kilter humor of Emily Kapnek’s Suburgatory, which often pushed itself into dark satire territory, and I’m hoping that this develops into something with a similar tone. John Cho is quite good and if Karen Gillan’s accent weren’t quite so stridently bizarre, I might have enjoyed this pilot more. There are some genuinely funny moments and throwaway lines, but how can this premise sustain itself indefinitely?
Jaimie Etkin: I too (initially) loved Suburgatory and I too have no idea how a show with such a makeover storyline could survive for a half a season let alone multiple ones. But, horrible accent (Super Fun Night syndrome strikes again), torturously extended vomit gag, and embarrassingly trendy name aside, Selfie pleasantly surprised me. And that’s in large part thanks to the charisma and chemistry of Cho and Gillan.
Verdict: The full picture is still developing. But first…
5. Manhattan Love Story (Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: A rom-com as told through the unfiltered thoughts of the couple involved — Dana (Analeigh Tipton) and Peter (Jake McDorman) — representing male and female perspectives on life and love.
Jarett Wieselman: I’m happy to watch boy meet girl, but it turns out that I have absolutely zero interest in hearing boy’s thoughts as he attempts to woo said girl. Especially since the boy in question happens to be depicted as an incredibly stereotypical (“Oooh, boobs!”) meathead. And the girl doesn’t fare much better (“Oooh, purses!”).
JE: “Oooh, lilies!” “Oooh, please stop narratively thinking every cliché thing a man or woman would ever think in a really bad rom-com!” This was a painful 22 minutes of my life and, even though I thought the adorable deer-in-headlights vibe Analeigh Tipton gives off very much worked in Crazy Stupid Love (and for Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model), it does not work here. And though I maintain Greek is grossly underappreciated, so are Jake McDorman’s talents in this pilot. No thank you.
Verdict: Read our minds: Never again.
6. Forever (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: Manhattan medical examiner Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) is secretly 200 years old and uses his position to attempt to uncover the cause of his immortality.
Kate Aurthur: I can’t remember when high-concept (he’s immortal!) and low energy (the two leads) have come together so perfectly in a pilot. I like Ioan Gruffudd OK, and I actually feel like the Alana de la Garza Law & Order years are undersung — but together, holy snooze. I think Forever is going for a Castle vibe with a supernatural twist, and I could get into that. But it needs to sharpen, and the leads need to look awake. By the time Forever got to Judd Hirsch’s role, I was like, What?!
Louis Peitzman: Maybe it helped that my expectations were low for Forever: High-concept freshman series make me nervous, and I tend to steer clear of procedurals that aren’t actually Law & Order. But I found the show to be weirdly charming despite the marks against it. I also appreciate a mystery that doesn’t dangle big questions in front of us — we know exactly as much as we need to know, and we’ll learn more down the line. I could be very wrong about Forever, but I’m excited to keep watching to find out.
Verdict: Our patience can only last so long.
7. black-ish (Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anthony Anderson) lives with his wife (Tracee Ellis Ross), four kids (Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brow, and Marsai Martin), and father (Laurence Fishburne) in a lux L.A. neighborhood. He just got a promotion and has everything he could materialistically ever want, but he worries his family is assimilating into white society too much.
JE: I like the premise of this show and that it’s part of ABC’s effort to diversify its lineup for the 2014–2015 season. But black-ish does so rather sillily with a major storyline in the pilot centering on Dre’s son Dre Jr. (Scribner), who wants to go by “Andy,” plays field hockey, and wants a bar mitzvah. I am pretty sure the latter two things are only relatable to about 7% of the population. Not really ideal for a show in the tough post-Modern Family time slot. Still, it’s certainly a step in the right direction and anything’s better than Mixology.
LP: What I like about black-ish is that it feels deceptively light when, in fact, it’s a lot more subversive than your typical ABC sitcom. And the themes it addresses are more relevant than ever. The commodification of black culture is nothing new, but it has been hotly debated in recent conversations about gay men appropriating black culture and divisive pop stars like Iggy Azalea. Here’s a series that tackles the subject head-on in a way that’s sharp and transgressive without being preachy — or worse, unfunny.
8. How to Get Away With Murder (Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is a law professor at a prestigious Philadelphia university who, with her students (Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry, and Karla Souza), finds herself involved in a murder plot that leaves you aghast in the final seconds of the pilot.
JW: This instantly addictive new series serves as irrefutable proof that Shonda Rhimes is not just an amazing writer, but also an incredible teacher (Murder’s creator, Pete Nowalk, cut his teeth on Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal). And TV has found its next-great leading lady in Viola Davis, who should already be clearing shelf space for her Emmy.
KA: Yes, I’m very into Shonda Thursdays. Watching the pilot for How to Get Away With Murder, I thought about how Scandal at first seemed like it was going to be a standard, soapy drama. And then it went nuts, and became the WTF show we now gasp at weekly with delight. (For how long it can sustain that, I have no idea, but I’m along for the ride.) With Murder, it seems like Rhimes and Nowalk are starting with WTF — as well as a morally complicated lead in Davis. I feel like the pilot has some tonal problems, and there are some weak spots among the actors (Alfred Enoch. Sorry, man). But those things can get better. And this pilot carried me along, and surprised me. Also, Viola Davis! Bow down.
Verdict: In Shonda we trust.
9. Cristela (Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: Creator Cristela Alonzo stars as recent Mexican-American law school graduate of the same name who’s working as a unpaid intern at a law firm while living with her sister (Maria Canals-Barrera), brother-in-law (Carlos Ponce), their two kids, and her mother (Terri Hoyos).
JW: Alonzo is an absolutely delight and incredibly well-spoken about her desire to make this eponymous series a true reflection of Latin culture. If only those good intentions were evident in the pilot — which is a mess. However, if Alonzo can course-correct her show (and stop mugging for the cameras), ABC could have a sleeper hit on its hands.
JE: Though I wouldn’t call the pilot a mess, it did feel like, at points, the eponymous character might as well be turning to the camera to say, “See what I did there?” (Yes, Cristela. Yes, we did.) Still, Alonzo is a real gem and she has the charm to turn this show around and into something that will stay on the airwaves for a long while.
Verdict: You may want to remember her name.
10. Fresh Off the Boat (Midseason, TBA on ABC)
What it’s about: Based on chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, this is the story of Haung’s Taiwanese family’s move from D.C. to Orlando, where his dad (Randall Park) opens up a barbecue restaurant in the ’90s, while his mom (Constance Wu) struggles to assimilate.
JE: For all the hubbub that sprouted up when this series was announced, Fresh Off the Boat is quite deft in its handling of the American–Asian-American culture clash… and it’s pretty freaking hilarious, which is also a good thing. The young actors playing the Haung brothers (Ian Chen, Forrest Wheeler, and Hudson Yang) are absolutely adorable, but the real scene stealer is the Haung matriarch Jessica, played perfectly by Wu. Her assessments of suburban mothers could not be more on point. ABC is now primed for a Jessica–Beverly crossover with The Goldbergs. Please and thank you.
LP: Fresh Off the Boat follows the model of black-ish, not only in helping to diversify ABC’s lineup, but also of offering serious cultural commentary in the form of a family sitcom. The intentionally eye-catching title is quickly forgotten once you’re watching the charming series — until you’re suddenly caught off-guard by the utterance of a racial slur. But that’s the thrill of a series that, if the pilot is any indication, isn’t afraid to push buttons, provided the humor is directed at the racists, not at the targets of racism.
Verdict: Certified fresh.
11. Secrets and Lies (Midseason, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: After he discovers the body of his neighbor’s son in the woods, family man Ben Garner (Ryan Phillippe) becomes a murder suspect in Detective Andrea Cornell’s (Juliette Lewis) investigation.
JW: I already watched The Killing once, and I’m sort of unsure why ABC would ask me to endure it a second time. Also, WTF is Juliette Lewis doing in this thankless detective role? Does she have some gambling debts that need to be paid off?
JE: Not only is this The Killing, but it’s also Prisoners, Broadchurch, and plenty of other film and TV projects that have come out in the past year or two and beyond. If you’re going to attack heavily trodden territory, at least do it well. I could not have been more bored during this pilot, except for Juliette Lewis’ death stares that had me rolling on the floor. Juliette Lewis is better than this, dammit!
Verdict: The truth is out there: This is not good.
12. American Crime (Midseason, Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: Young war vet Matt Skokie and his wife Lily are attacked in their Modesto, Calif., home, killing him, leaving her unconscious, and stirring up racial tensions in this pilot written, directed, and produced by John Ridley (12 Years A Slave).
LP: American Crime is relentlessly gritty from its very first moments. It does feel a little like a dark cable drama, which is probably what ABC’s banking on here, but I was actually more impressed by the restraint. Although the pilot isn’t overly violent or deliberately shocking, it’s still hard to watch thanks to captivating, heartbreaking performances by Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman, among others.
JE: I completely agree with your “relentlessly gritty” description, Louis, but I found it forcibly so. The roles that the white characters and Hispanic characters took on came across as cliched to me and I did not at all enjoy the way in which this pilot was shot. At times, the way the voiceover didn’t match the scene on screen even made already complex exposition confusing. It felt to me like an attempt to re-create Traffic and it largely didn’t work. The twist at the end certainly upped the stakes, but a lot would have to change to make me watch American Crime week after week.
Verdict: It’s unclear whether the grittiness will prove to be too much for viewers, but it would be a crime not to check out the first episode.
13. The Whispers (Midseason TBA on ABC)
What it’s about: Something otherworldly is manipulating the children in the Washington, D.C., area, convincing them they are playing a game that leads to the death of their parents, and Claire Bennigan (Lily Rabe) is called in to investigate.
JW: While I love the idea of aliens planning an invasion by slowly — and secretly — befriending Earth’s children, I’m not as enamored with the execution. Also, the crashed ship subplot is a little too on the nose. But after three sublime seasons of American Horror Story, Rabe has secured my undying loyalty and earned this series a few more episodes in hopes it can find its feet.
JL: Not a fan. The ending — which I won’t spoil here — made me so irate that I wanted to burn my television and may also incense a certain segment of the population. I hear that they’re retooling the show significantly, so this pilot may never air in the form in which we watched it. (Which would be a good thing.) Even though I love Rabe and invasion dramas, this is a swift pass for me.
JE: Jace, I think you need to remember your television has survived Work It and Charlie’s Angels in recent years, so The Whispers is certainly not burning-precious-technology-worthy. I too love, love, love Rabe and though I’m sad to see her miss out on AHS: Freakshow for this alien invasion drama, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. The child actors are excellent as well and the lack of visual on the extraterrestrial only makes the mystery more eerie. I pray they keep it that way. The Whispers is certainly nothing new, but unlike Secret and Lies, at least it handles its hackneyed premise well. I think it’s worth a chance.
Verdict: Some of us are shouting.
14. Galavant (Midseason, Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC)
What it’s about: A fairy tale-themed half-hour musical comedy about a dashing hero named Galavant (Joshua Sasse) who goes after the evil King Richard (Timothy Omundson) who stole the love of his life, Madalena (Mallory Jansen), scored by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.
JE: Oh boy. I just… Louis, I don’t even know if I have the words. I watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights many, many times in my day and this did not even sorta, kinda pale in comparison to the dark humor that Mel Brooks’ Middle Ages musical offered. I am also pretty sure every song in this show was called “Galavant.” Take it far, far away.
LP: I’m so sad. On paper, Galavant is exactly what I want to see more of on TV — it’s original, it’s bizarre, and it has singing and dancing. But this pilot was nearly unwatchable, and, believe me, I have a very high tolerance for bad musicals. The whole thing was weirdly self-congratulatory for being completely mediocre and repetitive throughout. By the end, I just felt embarrassed for everyone involved. Hey, at least they can sing?
16. Scorpion (Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS)
What it’s about: Oddball genius Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel) assembles a team of other oddball geniuses to solve complicated global crises using their collective hacking skills and other nerd tricks.
KA: When the network pilots arrive in late spring, I watch them using a system of rewards and punishments based on what I think I’m going to like. I’m not going to lie: I had put Scorpion in the punishment pile! And then I quite liked it. Elyes Gabel (one of Dany’s bloodriders, Game of Thrones geeks) is an unconventional lead for a network show. Not just because he’s a man of color, but he seems smart and curious in a way that is just rare. Maybe because he’s not a jerk, which is how geniuses are usually portrayed. I’m also interested in how this show both dances around and engages with autism. And finally, I liked Katharine McPhee’s character — a waitress mom to a genius kid — who from the description and the trailer seemed tacked on. Being surprised is a good thing in life. I will watch you again, Scorpion.
LP: Scorpion wasn’t my most pleasant surprise this season, but like you, Kate, I liked it a lot more than I expected to. And I think I may have even enjoyed it more than she did. To me, this feels like one of those rare nerdy action series that actually delivers the right balance of nerddom and dramatic set pieces. It’s especially hard for a pilot setting up a procedural series to get this right, so I was doubly impressed. And while I’m getting a little tired of autism as a storytelling device, I really admired Scorpion for addressing the elephant in the room and portraying it not as a disability but as a different way of thinking. Well played.
Verdict: Packs a surprising sting.
17. Stalker (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS)
What it’s about: Lieutenant Beth Davis (Maggie Q) and Detective Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott) are members of the LAPD’s Threat Assessment Unit, where they investigate cases related to stalking.
JW: I don’t watch Criminal Minds or any of CBS’s initials-based shows, but creator Kevin Williamson has known how to push my thriller buttons since 1996’s Scream and this semi-procedural about stalkers is right in my wheelhouse. The cold open is chilling, the premise is brimming with potential, and Maggie Q deserves to be TV’s biggest star.
KA: Good lord, Jarett, calm down! I like Maggie Q too. And I think we can be happy for her that this show will probably be a success. But I can’t shake the feeling when I watch Williamson’s shows that his work has no moral core when it comes to violence, particularly violence against women. I had to stop watching The Following; I just can’t live in that world, even in fiction. I’m not a wimp, but I can’t watch Criminal Minds — too much home invasion, murders of entire families, and violence against kids — and I feel the same about Stalker.
LP: I shrugged this pilot off, but the more I think about it, the worse it sits with me. As a horror movie fan, I’m reluctant to dismiss portrayals of violence against women as inherently misogynistic — but there is something particularly insidious here. I’d be OK with the concept if I felt like this show wanted to be something other than a procedural, but the pilot lacked any depth. As with The Following, it appears as though shocking displays of violence and forced suspense will take the place of character development and believability.
Verdict: A restraining order may be needed.
18. The McCarthys (Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBS)
What it’s about: Ronny McCarthy (Tyler Ritter) doesn’t fit in with the rest of his sports-loving, loud-mouthed Boston family. But that doesn’t stop patriarch Arthur (Jack McGee), a high school basketball coach, from hiring Ronny as his new assistant.
JW: I wish I could offer a thoughtful analysis of this show’s portrayal of gay men (not great) or large family dynamics (equally underwhelming), but I was too busy asking myself, “Why, Laurie Metcalf, why?!?” every five seconds while watching this pilot.
LP: Much to my surprise, I actually kind of dug it. And let me clarify — I don’t think The McCarthys is necessarily a show for me, but I do think it’s a solid addition to CBS’s lineup and the kind of series I wouldn’t mind tuning into every so often. There’s something so refreshing about a sitcom, particularly an old-school multi-cam sitcom, in which there are plenty of gay jokes but none at the expense of the main character being gay. And Laurie Metcalf is great, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it?
Verdict: Might be worth rooting for.
19. Madam Secretary (Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS)
What it’s about: Brilliant former CIA analyst-turned-college professor Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) returns to the public sector when she’s drafted into the role of secretary of state by the president following the unexpected death of her predecessor. But when Elizabeth begins to think his death is suspicious, she must navigate the tricky waters of international politics, domestic strife, scheming colleagues, and potentially even murder.
JW: Madam Secretary clearly wants to be The Good Wife, but is only The OK Wife at the moment. Luckily, it’s got an excellent premise and an even better star in Tea Leoni. If the writers can lean on real-life events for story inspiration, as TGW has masterfully done, it could evolve into a fascinating examination of global politics.
JL: I agree — Leoni is excellent here, but I think I liked this pilot a lot more than you. While there are maybe some stylistic or thematic overlaps with The Good Wife (which is, these days, great), I feel like they’re different shows; the stakes are higher here by far and become even more so by the end of the episode. There’s intrigue, family dynamics, and political tensions to explore. And it’s great to see CBS getting back into the prestige drama game.
Verdict: Hold our calls.
20. Battle Creek (Midseason TBA on CBS)
What it’s about: The world of Battle Creek, Michigan’s gruff Detective Russ Agnew’s (Dean Winters) is rocked when startlingly good-looking and equally charismatic Special Agent Milton Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel) opens an FBI field office at the local police station. Everyone in Battle Creek is enamored with Milt, except for Russ, who he’s chosen as his partner.
KA: Battle Creek confused me. Tonally, it’s all over the place, and in the pilot at least, it has not figured out how to balance its comedy with its crime plots. I also found it to be somewhat interminable. But I liked Dean Winters (I always do), I thought Josh Duhamel put his woodenness to good use, and I laughed a few times. This show was way overhyped from the start, since it was a discarded old project by Vince Gilligan and CBS picked it up the week before the Breaking Bad series finale. I don’t know who its audience is. I don’t think I’m one of them. Jaimie, help?
JE: I wish I could help you, Kate, but I am equally as lost. The overly quirky exposition seemed like Gilligan’s strange attempt to move Bryan Fuller-style through some dark subject matter (you know, like, double homicide). I agree with you that both Winters and Duhamel are well-cast, but that’s not enough to carry this mess of a pilot. If it wasn’t for the musical cues, I wouldn’t know whether I was supposed to be smiling or scared.
Verdict: There is still a lot to be solved.
22. State of Affairs (Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC)
What it’s about: Charlie (Katherine Heigl) is the CIA analyst who briefs the president (Alfre Woodard) every day on international flare-ups. And that president was also nearly Charlie’s mother-in-law — until her fiancé died under mysterious circumstances.
JW: I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I love Katherine Heigl and found this show to be an excellent star vehicle for her. Plus, unlike so many new drama pilots, I was excited by the mysteries presented by episode’s end and curious to see how they play out over the first season.
KA: I love her too, so we’ll just talk about her with each other, Jarett, and leave everyone else to their miserable lives. The set up of this show is ridiculous, of course: Agent Heigl! But I enjoyed this pilot, especially the workplace friendships, which is a huge part of a lot of people’s lives, and rarely accurately portrayed on TV. There is also, of course, the matter of the high-stakes, world-in-the-balance plotting that presumably will weave its way into every episode — I’m less excited about that, frankly. But if that’s what it takes to see President Alfre Woodard every week, I’ll take it.
LP: Guys, I hate to ruin your perception that everyone hates Heigl — and I know there are plenty of misguided individuals who do! — but I find her to be, at worst, inoffensive, and at best, quite compelling. I’m still not sure this is the right vehicle for her. To me, the pilot felt like a weaker version of Scandal or Homeland (actually, at this point, Homeland is its own weaker version of Homeland). And while I do want to see more of President Alfre Woodard, Kate, I’m not sure I can trudge through vague military conspiracies and terrorist activities, complete with grainy flashbacks.
Verdict: Not quite an affair to remember.
23. Marry Me (Tuesdays at 9 p.m.)
What it’s about: Annie (Casey Wilson) is frustrated by the fact that her longtime boyfriend Jake (Ken Marino) has yet to propose. When he does actually propose and it’s a disaster, the couple resolve to hold off on the engagement until they can get the proposal right.
JW: As the world’s biggest Happy Endings fan (self-appointed, but, whatevs) I am thrilled to have Casey Wilson back on TV — and speaking David Caspe’s words no less! So I’m willing to overlook this pilots flaws (“Do I actually like either of these characters?” will be something you ask yourself a lot) and inherent redundancy (Marry Me is basically Happy Endings without Penny’s five friends) in the hopes it evolves into a show half as funny as Caspe’s last creation.
JE: I have nothing against Casey Wilson per se… Oh wait, yes I do. It’s called BRIDE WARS! And good god, this was equally painful. I could barely get through Annie’s (Wilson) diatribe about why she’s angry Jake (Ken Marino) didn’t propose to her on their vacation that coincidentally leads to her bashing every family and friend the two somehow seem to have, all of whom are conveniently hiding in Jake and Annie’s apartment where he planned to propose. Also, Dan Bucatinsky, you are too young to play one of Wilson’s dads. No, just no.
Verdict: So much for our happy endings.
24. The Mysteries of Laura (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC)
What it’s about: Laura Diamond (Debra Messing) struggles to balance her work as a homicide detective with her home life, including her estranged husband Jake (Josh Lucas) and their two unruly kids.
JW: Mysteries of Laura is about a cop who is also a mother, but the police scenes are played with such an intense degree of seriousness that it makes the playful treatment of the family portions feel incredibly inappropriate. It dawned on me about halfway through the pilot that this show would have worked so much better if, instead of modeling Debra Messing’s character on Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: SVU), the EPs based Laura on Hargitay; then their lead character would star on a procedural TV show and mix the world of Hollywood with raising a family.
JL: No. Just…no. I watched this and couldn’t help but imagine that the police scenes were somehow a fantasy world that Messing’s Laura retreats into when she can’t handle the strain of her life. But that would be another, potentially better show! Instead, The Mysteries of Laura makes Laura caustic and unlikeable and I have a hard time buying her as a hardened “type-A” detective or as anything other than a caricature. This was a painful slog.
Verdict: There is no mystery as to how bad this is.
25. Bad Judge (Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC)
What it’s about: Hard-ass judge Rebecca Wright (Kate Walsh) spends her downtime boozing and partying it up. That is, until she gets saddled with eight-year-old Robby (Theodore Barnes), whose parents Rebecca sent to prison.
JW: Not the year’s worst comedy, nor the best. It’s got a lot of potential — and Kate Walsh is clearly having a blast embracing her inner wild child — but I’m not sure that’s enough to support a multi-season run.
JE: I still do not buy Kate Walsh’s brassy Rebecca Wright as a reputable judge, but I am into her no-fucks attitude and her relationship with the adorable Robby. Bad Judge is kind of like About a Boy, but with a female lead, and I don’t hate it, but I don’t really like it either.
Verdict: Judgment delayed.
26. A to Z (Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC)
What it’s about: A dating app drone and a lawyer finally meet cute after very nearly coming in contact with each other time and time again.
JL: (500) Days of A to Z? This romantic comedy seems to be drawing way too overtly from (500) Days of Summer, from the “This is the story” narration at the opening (it’s Katey Sagal providing the voice work) and the calculations of how long their story takes place or the chances of their best friends hooking up to the hipstery-almost-JGL-and-Zooey quality that Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti (aka The Mother) bring and the way-too-cutesy title. (His name is Andrew! Hers is Zelda!) If they pulled back on on the more smarmy elements (and the OTT shrewish dating app boss), this could be a sweet-sour rom-com. As it is, I found parts of it as grating as Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” a favorite of Andrew’s.
LP: Ah, the miracle of great casting. There were definitely moments in this pilot that I didn’t love, but when I think back to A to Z, my heart swells. It’s honestly a little embarrassing how quickly I fell for the two leads, but I already loved Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti, and their chemistry was apparent from the get-go. I’m already concerned about where this show is headed, and I do think the jokes could be stronger, but I’m so charmed I’m willing to give the series a little time to find its footing.
Verdict: A bit like alphabet soup: It’s comforting, but feels canned.
27. Constantine (Fridays at 10 p.m. on NBC)
What it’s about: Based on comic book Hellblazer, a reluctant demon hunter and exorcist is drawn back into the never-ending battle between Heaven and Hell.
KA: It’s not like I feel ashamed of what I’m about to say, but it’s going to come out like I am: I really like Grimm! And I like that NBC is committed to building a genre block on Friday nights around it (along with Hannibal, and the failed attempt of Dracula). So I had high hopes for Constantine, or whatever level hopes are when you want to have another clever, escapist show to watch. Those hopes were not met. It’s OK? It’s not terrible? I liked Matt Ryan as John Constantine, and Harold Perrineau is dancing as fast as he can as a semi-scary angel (or something?). But it all felt lifeless. And they’ve already recast Lucy Griffiths, the pilot’s female lead, but aren’t reshooting the pilot. Which I find so confusing, and seems to scream WE’RE DOOMED. But stranger things have happened than this show finding its feet; NBC tends to give its Friday night dramas a long leash.
JL: Kate, I know you love Grimm, but I found Constantine so confoundingly predictable! The pilot spends so much time and effort on establishing Lucy Griffiths’ irritating Liv as some pivotal part of the ultimate battle between good and evil that, given what we know now (she’s off the show!), it felt laughably shortsighted. (Seriously, are they just going to pretend that Liv just went off and lived a normal life never to be heard from again?) Ryan is nicely convincing as John Constantine, far more than Keanu Reeves was. But it’s hard not to feel that, if the show isn’t damned, it’s not off to a great start with this middling pilot.
LP: I enjoyed the pilot more than both of you did, though I’ll admit it was rough around the edges. I think what I’m seeing here is potential — and again, I could be wrong about that. When it comes to genre shows, I tend to err on the side of wishful thinking. And look, this is a show about fighting demons with ample snark: It’s not Buffy, and even invoking that comparison is dangerous, but I will always be quicker to defend a show about fighting monsters that also has a sense of humor. I’m not expecting Constantine to be the next Buffy, but is it too much to hope it becomes the next Sleepy Hollow?
Verdict: In need of divine intervention.
28. Allegiance (Midseason, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC)
What it’s about: Mark (Scott Cohen) and Katya (Hope Davis) are deactivated Russian spies trying to move on with their lives. Those efforts are complicated when they’re forced back into service by the Kremlin, which tasks them with a terrorist operation, just as their son Alex (Gavin Stenhouse), a CIA analyst, discovers his parents’ secret past.
JW: Saying a network drama feels like a cable series is the easiest way to compliment standard fare, but, in the instance of Allegiance it’s because the former Russian spy drama feels like a modernized spin-off of FX’s The Americans. That said, it’s an superbly structured, written, and acted pilot that has me lamenting its 2015 premiere date.
KA: Yeah, it’s really good. And Hope Davis — she’s just great, always, and is here again, playing Katya, the once and future Russian spy. Based on the pilot, I look forward to the redemption of Margarita Levieva, an actor who was done no favors playing someone ridiculous on Revenge. (RIP, Fauxmanda.) Also, considering what’s going on in the real world with Russia, Allegiance could have all sorts of chilling ripped-from-the-headlines shit woven in. I hope it fares better than NBC’s promising midseason dramas last season, because, Jarett, they all died miserably. Scared!
30. Gotham (Mondays at 8 p.m.)
What it’s about: In the gritty urban sprawl of Gotham City, two legends are being born: that of orphaned rich boy Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) — who will grow up to become the vigilante Batman — and James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), who will one day become police commissioner.
JL: I really wanted to like this pilot, because I thought the premise offered an intriguing look into the Batman mythos by focusing on James Gordon’s ascent to police commissioner and the early days of the rogue’s gallery of villains that will square off against Batman in the future. But it tried way too hard to create a convincingly dark version of Gotham City that we haven’t seen before and many of the characters feel slight and unappealing here. Ben McKenzie is an affable lead, but I found my interest waning almost immediately. Other than a surprisingly savage performance from Robin Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, this felt deathly dull.
LP: I was worried Gotham would let me down because this is easily the fall series I’m most excited about. But while the pilot wasn’t perfect — I agree that Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon is a bit thin, and I’m not thrilled by the Poison Ivy character — it largely met my expectations. The pilot did just the right amount of introduction and established this Gotham as a nice blend of the comic book Gotham and the overwhelmingly dark Gotham of the Christopher Nolan films. I hope this show stays on the air long enough to further develop its characters — there is so much depth to be explored, and it’s always exciting to see new takes on familiar stories.
Verdict: Batman may have growing pains.
31. Red Band Society (Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox)
What it’s about: A group of ill teenagers come together in the pediatric ward of the Los Angeles hospital where they reside and discover that life is still full of rich possibility.
JW: Fox’s heart-warming hospital dramedy owes more to Glee than Grey’s Anatomy because, much like Glee, it succeeds (almost solely) based on the incredible chemistry of the core cast of kids.
JL: I liked the pilot far more than I ever liked Glee. It’s an unusual mix of medical drama, teen soap, and magical realism and added up to an enjoyable hour that had a real emphasis on living in the moment and facing one’s fears. Could it turn treacly? Possibly. But the pilot showed enormous potential.
JE: You guys, I am completely obsessed with Red Band Society, which I saw during a screening at the ATX Festival in Austin earlier this summer. It made me both happy-cry and sad-cry, which is exactly what I look for in my hour-long TV series. (Hi, Parenthood. Please don’t go.) After the screening, showrunner Margaret Nagle, a former My So-Called Life star, talked about what’s to come, which includes two moms of the bitchy cheerleader character Kara (Zoe Levin) and lots of MSCL references. I could not be more in.
Verdict: We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
32. Mulaney (Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox)
What it’s about: Struggling comedian John (John Mulaney) shares his New York apartment with fellow comedians Jane (Nasim Pedrad) and Motif (Seaton Smith). Things start to look up when John gets a job writing for iconic comedian Lou Cannon (Martin Short).
JE: I wanted this to not be terrible, mainly because Nasim Pedrad had been dealt a shit hand on Saturday Night Live and she deserves something great. But this is not it. Far from it. There are so many talented actors on the series — Elliott Gould and Martin Short — but I did not laugh one time.
LP: Really? I laughed many times. There is a lot of room for improvement: The jokes could use a punch-up, and the characters definitely need to be better fleshed out. But I was consistently amused and thrilled to finally see John Mulaney as the leading man he should have been years ago. To me, the real success of the Mulaney pilot was in making me forget that I was watching a multi-cam, a truly impressive feat.
Verdict: Not worth standing up for yet.
33. The CW
34. Jane the Virgin (Mondays at 9 p.m. on The CW)
What it’s about: Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) has resolved to save herself until marriage, but a freak mix-up during a check-up leads to her getting artificially inseminated, much to the horror of her boyfriend Michael (Brett Dier) and her religious family.
JW: I enjoyed this soapy Americanized telenovela, but wasn’t planning to watch it until star Gina Rodriguez delivered one of the most inspiring speeches about cultural identity an actor has ever uttered. That alone earned Jane the Virgin a season pass on my DVR.
LP: Yes, that speech was incredible, and I hope it gets more people tuning into this show! I have to say, though, that I was already excited to watch. Jane the Virgin was the biggest surprise for me among the pilots. Get past that absurd premise and you have a pilot with well-drawn characters (almost all Latino!) in the kind of over-the-top, telenovela situations that seem tailor-made for The CW. Can a non-supernatural comedy-drama survive on the network? I’m rooting for it.
Verdict: Virginal territory for The CW, but it’s easy to get hooked.
35. The Flash (Tuesdays at 8 p.m.)
What it’s about: In this spin-off of Arrow, forensic scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is struck by lightning during an explosion at the lab of Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh). Barry awakes to discover he can move at superhuman speeds and decides to use his powers to defend Central City — namely from the other metahumans granted powers by the explosion.
JW: While nowhere near as gritty and grounded as its CW ancestor, Arrow, there is something deliriously fun about the cartoonish world presented in The Flash. Anchored by an instantly likable performance from Grant Gustin and eye-popping special effects, the pilot is one of 2014’s most impressive — and effective.
JL: But can it sustain those special effects on an episodic budget? Yes, the pilot offers some impressive (and, at times, gasp-inducing) images — and Gustin makes for a sympathetic and engaging lead — but it’s impossible to watch the pilot and not wonder how this will play week after week and other than Barry, the characters are pretty one-dimensional so far. Did I enjoy the pilot? Sure. Will I watch The Flash on a weekly basis? Doubtful.
Verdict: Blink and you’ll miss the substance.
36. Wait, aren’t there a bunch of other shows for the 2014–15 season not mentioned here?
You’re right: There are. However, we did not share our first impressions of spin-offs like CBS’s CSI: Cyber and NCIS: New Orleans since those backdoor pilots already aired as episodes of their parent series, nor did we include Gracepoint since it was picked up off-cycle with a 10-episode order in August 2013.
Additionally, there are a bunch of pilots that have not been shot yet or that were not made available to the press — such as ABC’s The Astronaut Wives Club, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Members Only, NBC’s A.D., Aquarius, Emerald City, Heroes Reborn, Mission Control, Odyssey, One Big Happy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. CBS’ The Odd Couple, Fox’s Bordertown, Empire, Last Man on Earth, Utopia, Wayward Pines, Weird Loners, and The CW’s The Messengers and iZombie.