Pilot

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006) s01e01

I wish I were taking a rhetoric class so I could write a paper on whether “Studio 60” aged badly or poorly. I’ve never taken rhetoric and I’ve also never been great at first draft word choice so I’m not sure if that joke’s accurate but I will say it’s about as funny as anything on “Studio 60”’s first episode. I don’t have Amanda Peet or Steven Weber delivering it, so it’s more in the Matthew Perry arena.

But the point of “Studio 60” isn’t to be funny. It’s about the very serious business of being funny. And it doesn’t age well. It doesn’t not hold up—the pilot is just as good as its ever been in the places where it’s good and its got the problems just where it’s always had them—the second half is uneven, starting with the awkward introduction to the “Big Three” of the show-in-the-show’s Friday night sketch comedy program (Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley, and Nate Corddry). Then we get Matthew Perry playing the Aaron Sorkin wonder man and he’s not great at it.

But back to it not aging well for a second—one of the things Perry’s so upset about is the network putting the “flag over the network bug” but also the network bug in the first place.

Remember TV before the network bug in the bottom right? Barely, right? There’s a whole generation who doesn’t. Was Aaron Sorkin really mad about networking branding? And the Donald Trump joke isn’t even as bad as realizing Sorkin’s trying to both sides evangelical Christians with Paulson’s devout Christian but we have found out they really are just a couple sheets short of a Klan rally. Aaron Sorkin’s not a futurist or a political scientist, though… given 2016, it turns out neither of those disciplines are worth much.

Anyway.

What Sorkin does do well is his idealized version of the television industry, where upstart Peet can come in and convince Weber they can get rich off being classy. After sketch show producer Judd Hirsch—who can’t be based on Lorne Michaels because Lorne Michaels never made an actually good show—has his “mad as hell” moment on the air, new network president Peet brings back fired but now super successful Perry and Bradley Whitford (it’s a trip, no pun, seeing Whitford stumbling to find his co-lead cred in the show) to prove TV can still be relevant and good.

Just like it was when Edward R. Murrow used the “Jack Benny” show to take down McCarthy. Or when John Belushi’s Samurai Futaba brought the end to Vietnam.

Peet and Weber are great. Paulson’s interesting. Perry’s likable if you like Perry and Whitford’s likable if you like Whitford, though neither of them are particularly good here. And Perry’s hair is goofy.

Nice guest spots from Wendy Phillips, Donna Murphy, and Felicity Huffman.

Timothy Busfield is excellent as the director. He’s kind of the protagonist of the episode. Or at least the constant; he’s waiting to get fired for leaving Hirsch on the air.

Sorkin’s script is full of love of the craft of television making—I mean, control room director idolatry—and when it’s Hirsch, Peet, and Weber’s show it’s smooth sailing. Rockier when Perry takes the helm but it’s such an expensive… classy production it can’t not succeed as a pilot.

Though, disclaimer, I’ve liked Matthew Perry since the eighties so I’m biased. But it’s worth watching for Peet and Weber on their acting alone.

Superstore (2015) s01e01 – Pilot

I’ve been wanting to watch “Superstore” on a recommendation and, starting it, I realized it’s very much my bag. It takes place in a very confined setting—a big box store, which is also very much my bag as I’ve always been intrigued at the idea of the department store and its descendants. I blame Mannequin. Also, highly recommend Robert Hendrickson’s The Grand Emporiums.

Anyway, “Superstore.” What a great cast. I’ve never seen anything with America Ferrera, except her guest spots on “Good Wife,” which I don’t remember but she’s fantastic. She’s a floor manager, ten years in at the store, serious but good-hearted. She’s got a goofus store manager (Mark McKinney, broad but likable in that Mark McKinney way) and a way too gung ho supervisor (Lauren Ash, who appears to be the “Dwight” of the show and is the only thing I’m not onboard with after this episode), but she does her job and cares about her coworkers.

The episode—and, as its the pilot, the show—is framed around Ben Feldman joining the team. He’s good looking and smart and conceited about the latter; he doesn’t seem aware of the former, which helps with his likability. He almost immediately starts crushing on Ferrera and most of his screwups in the episode are to impress her. Burgeoning subplot. But also Ash is mad crushing on him and seems primed to make a fool of herself in her pursuit, hence not being onboard with the character yet.

Also in the main cast are Colton Dunn, the only Black guy, who’s appropriately aware of it, and Nichole Bloom, as the good-hearted, pregnant, and too ditzy for the pregnancy to be a great idea pretty girl. The show gives Dunn all the great observation lines and Bloom gives it the uncomplicated heart. Ferrera is the layered heart.

Also Nico Santos starts at the same day as Feldman and sees it as a competition to be the better new person.

The cast is incredibly likable, the situations the sitcom gins up are funny, Ferrera’s great (she’s also a producer)… it’s one of those sitcoms you could easily marathon without paying attention to the clock.

I only stopped after the first episode because it was after midnight.

Last thing—Ruben Fleischer directs (and executive produces). Fleischer’s a lot better at sitcom directing than Venom directing. A lot better.

All Rise (2019) s01e01 – Pilot

I wanted to watch “All Rise” because it’s Simone Missick’s new show. Missick was awesome on “Luke Cage,” figured I’d try it. But you know who else is in “All Rise”? Bullseye from “Daredevil,” Wilson Bethel. They play best friends. She’s a new judge, he’s her ex-fellow district attorney. She’s Black, he’s white, but they’re real friends. Heartwarming stuff. It’s really weird to see Missick and Bethel in this kind of role, this slightly patronizing mainstream safe progressive CBS show. Missick’s got to wait for humor cues, Bethel’s got to play excitable but sympathetic guy, it’s weird. And it’s kind of fun, especially with Bethel. He lets loose well. Missick’s better with the new judge stuff.

Besides Bethel, “All Rise” centers around Missick’s new courtroom. The last time the regular team was together, a white cop had an anti-immigration meltdown and tried to kill a judge. A kindly old white judge. In the courtroom are defense attorney Jessica Camacho (from “The Flash”), bailiff J. Alex Brinson (son of a bitch cop and spousal abuser Jeff from “Travelers”), argumentative court clerk Ruthie Ann Miles, and stenographer Lindsay Mendez. Camacho’s basically third lead. Brinson flirts with her and helps her out with her case (he’s going to law school at night) and is buds with Mendez, who’s the introverted sassy one because “All Rise” is all about its caricatures. And the caricatures are fine because the cast bring enough personality. It’s basically a perfectly casted network legal drama. Not going to rock any boats.

But… it’s going to have a great cast. This episode has, guest starring, ‘Rocket Romano’ and ‘Emil’ Paul McCrane, Tony Denison (the show gives off a whole “Major Crimes” vibe, also with the upbeat reality nonsense), and Richard Brooks. Onahoua Rodriguez gets a small part too (I had to look her up, “Shield”). So it’s an exceptionally well-cast show. It’s worth just watching for the guest star casting, especially since Denison is playing Bethel’s lowlife small time crook dad. Denison’s so good. So “All Rise: The Pilot” gets a pass, but maybe not on the merits it should be scoring.

Evil (2019) s01e01 – Pilot

I’ll just say it now. “Evil”’s religious politics are either going to get it in a lot of trouble or they’re going to do some “Heaven is for Real” shit. It’s going to be one or the other. And the pilot really makes it seem like it’s going to be the former, but not in any daring way; “Evil” is very safe.

Katja Herbers is a forensic psychiatrist who consults with the district attorney’s office. She’s a professional witness and has to be because she’s got an absentee rock-climbing, thrill-seeker husband off in the Himalayas, four daughters at home (you’d love to see the show bible on how Herbers managed to have all those kids, go to college, be a celebrity rock-climber, go to graduate school, become professionally successful, and not yet be forty; but whatever). It’s all going fine until she gets the case of serial killer Darren Pettie. See, Pettie says he just blacks out during his murders. But Pettie’s attorney says Pettie’s possessed. Herbers ends up quitting because the D.A. wants her to lie about something with the possession angle.

Couple days later, Mike Colter shows up to offer Herbers a job. He’s with the defense… sort of. He’s actually with the Catholic Church; he and partner Aasif Mandvi triage possession and miracle reports for the Church. Herbers needs paycheck and she’s also hot for Colter’s bod, so she signs up.

The rest of it is them finding a religiously informed clue, then a rational, scientific explanation. Non-believer Herbers talking to believer Colter about his faith and blah blah blah.

It’s all fairly predictable. Though maybe not when Michael Emerson shows up as an evil forensic psychiatrist out to make the world a worse place by encouraging people to do bad things. Hence the show title.

Also seems like show creators Robert King and Michelle King really liked that similar and dumb subplot from Halloween H40.

Herbers is likable and pretty good. Colter is likable and pretty good—he’s much more suited for this part than the Hero of Harlem. Mandvi’s fun.

There’s some poorly executed nightmare stuff and the script fails villain Pettie; both those fails seem foreboding for the future and the show’s potential. It’s uneven but has a lot of good pieces.

Scroll to Top