Television networks previewed their funnest and stupidest pilots for media and advertisers this week, as part of annual Upfronts season. Some of these shows will hit screens in the fall, and others are 2020 winter midseason premieres. Either way, it’s up to you and I (but mostly me) to decide what’s worth our time.
Last year, pilot season brought us programs catered to Middle America. This year brings a slew of shows about genius kids, blue-collar parenting, a serial killer! and more cop and legal dramas, plus a show about killer artificial intelligence, brought to you by John Slattery—or rather, John Zaddy-ry. As a TV wizard, I take this job seriously. So here are all the pilots shown at Upfronts that may or may not be entertaining. One thing is certain: no matter what I suggest to you here, I will never watch many of these.
(Plot “premise” summaries are pulled from YouTube.)
Perfect Harmony (NBC)
Premise: “When former Princeton music professor Arthur Cochran unexpectedly stumbles into choir practice at a small-town church, he finds a group of singers that are out of tune in more ways than one. Despite the ultimate clash of sensibilities, Arthur and his newfound cohorts may just be the perfect mix of individuals to help each other reinvent and rediscover a little happiness, just when they all need it most.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Yes! Bradley Whitford
A revealing line from the trailer: “Let’s use this precious time to make beautiful music.”
My review: This preview begins with Whitford’s professor character spitting out milk, so I’m in, because milk from cows is bad. This looks like a funny ensemble program full of bumbling characters, and Whitford’s dry humor might be a joy. Plus, singing!
Should you watch? Yes, give it a whirl.
Premise: “Revolves around Garrett Shah (Kal Penn), a former New York city councilman, who finds his calling when faced with immigrants in need of his help and in search of the American Dream.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Kal Penn
A revealing line from the trailer: “What are you talking about?”
My review: First of all, Queens, stand up! I love the idea of a show about minority immigrants, and as a product of Queens, I can confirm it’s the perfect and most diverse borough for a show like this to be set—but with network TV, there is always high potential for racism and upsetting humor.
Should you watch? Sure, but approach cautiously.
Bluff City Law (NBC)
Premise: “A character-driven legal drama that follows the lawyers of an elite Memphis law firm that specializes in the most controversial landmark civil rights cases. Led by legendary lawyer Elijah Strait (Jimmy Smits) and his brilliant daughter, Sydney Keller (Caitlin McGee), they take on the toughest David-and-Goliath cases while navigating their complicated relationship.”
Anyone in it that I care about? If you like Jimmy Smits
A revealing line from the trailer: “There will be order in my court!”
My review: Who loves a good legal drama? Some people! Sustained! Order in my court! I object! This and many legal terms will be used over and over.
Should you watch? Skip.
Bless the Harts (Fox)
Premise: “Animated comedy that follows a group of Southerners who are always broke as a joke and struggling for the American dream of status and wealth. What they don’t realize is that they’re already rich in friends, family and laughter.”
Anyone in it that I care about? The voices of Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph
A revealing line from the trailer: “Get me some cheese grits.”
My review: Here we have another Fox cartoon about “a family that’s broke but not broken,” which probably describes most Fox cartoons, but this one is from the perspective of a family in the Southern heartland, so, you know, lots of farm jokes and “I can’t pay for this!” And also a sardonic daughter.
Should you watch? Give it one episode and then revert your attention to Bob’s Burgers.
Premise: “A family comedy about a blue-collar couple in South Jersey trying to get by and raise four kids, three of whom just happen to be certified geniuses.”
Anyone in it that I care about? American Pie star Jason Biggs
A revealing line from the trailer: “What the hell is going on here?”
My review: Now that I think about it, good sitcoms about parenting have become a lost art. This one has some annoying kid characters in it, and my tolerance for that is low, plus there’s a laugh track, which means it wants to be funny but is probably not.
Should you watch? Nah.
Prodigal Son (Fox)
Premise: “Bright (The Walking Dead’s Tom Payne), the son of a notorious serial killer called ‘The Surgeon’ (Michael Sheen) is the best criminal psychologist around; murder is the family business. He uses his twisted genius to help the NYPD solve crimes, while dealing with a somewhat manipulative mother, an annoyingly normal sister, a homicidal father still looking to bond with his prodigal son and his own constantly evolving neuroses.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Michael Sheen? Mellie Grant from Scandal
A revealing line from the trailer: “Why did you kill all those people?”
My review: Homicidal fathers, am I right? Believe it or not, I’ve longed for a show with the word “prodigal” in the title, so I was eager to watch this trailer, but came away wanting more.
Should you watch? No. Maybe it’s interesting, but maybe it’s not.
Not Just Me (Fox)
Premise: “An only child finds her life turned upside down when her father reveals that, over the course of his prize-winning career as a pioneering fertility doctor, he used his own sperm to conceive upwards of a hundred children, including two new sisters. As these three young women slowly embrace their new reality, they will attempt to form an untraditional bond as sisters, even as they must welcome a tidal wave of new siblings into their rapidly expanding family.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Brittany Snow
A revealing line from the trailer: “Excuse me, sir, my source alleges that you used your own sperm to impregnate a woman at the Beckley Clinic.”
My review: What an asshole this dad is? I suppose this will teach people about the logistics of modern fertility and what it means to be a family, in the most melodramatic way, but it’s not likely to last very long.
Should you watch? Sure.
Premise: “Rainbow Johnson recounts her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the ’80s and the constant dilemmas they had to face over whether to assimilate or stay true to themselves. Bow’s parents Paul and Alicia decide to move from a hippie commune to the suburbs to better provide for their family. As her parents struggle with the challenges of their new life, Bow and her siblings navigate a mainstream school in which they’re perceived as neither black nor white. This family’s experiences illuminate the challenges of finding one’s own identity when the rest of the world can’t decide where you belong.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Tika Sumpter; that Mindy Project dude
A revealing line from the trailer: “What are you weirdoes mixed with?”
My review: Okay, these kids are cute and probably good comedians, and this has potential since black-ish is the current greatest sitcom on television. I may not add it to my watch list, but it’s likely they’ll manage to pull off potentially contentious subject matter.
Should you watch? Yes.
Premise: “A character-driven genre thriller, Emergence is about a police chief who takes in a young child she finds near the site of a mysterious accident who has no memory of what has happened. The investigation draws her into a conspiracy larger than she ever imagined, and the child’s identity is at the center of it all.”
Anyone in it that I care about? The shady lady from the show Good Girls
A revealing line from the trailer: “She’s gone.”
My review: I don’t know what’s going on here but the trailer makes me want to find out and that’s good.
Should you watch? Yeah.
Premise: “A modern cop drama that blends the spirit of a classic Western with a modern-day attitude and gritty authenticity. When the Los Angeles County’s Sheriff dies, an arcane rule forged back in the Wild West thrusts the most unlikely man into the job: a fifth-generation lawman, more comfortable taking down bad guys than navigating a sea of politics. He leads a skilled team of ambitious and complicated human beings who won’t rest until justice is served.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Don’t think so.
A revealing line from the trailer: “You gotta be kidding me.”
My review: A surly old-timey white cop guy who makes his own rules and rides a horse... TO THE OLD TOWN ROAD! I’m not a fan of Westerns in general, unless it’s Westworld Season 1, and therefore won’t be tuning in, but feel free to RIDE YOUR HORSE TO THE OLD TOWN ROAD! AND RIDE! TILL YOU CAN’T NO MORE!
Should you watch? Okay, no thanks.
Premise: “A Silicon Valley pioneer discovers that one of his own creations —a powerful A.I.—might spell global catastrophe, and teams up with a cybercrime agent to fight a villain unlike anything we’ve ever seen - one whose greatest weapon against us is ourselves.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Roger Sterling
A revealing line from the trailer: “I wrote this code.”
My review: I love Ex Machina and anything to do with robots and AI (shoutout to Common) and nerds and a fictional rebellious Alexa (don’t trust her!). Plus, hello, John Slattery with even more white-beardiness than ever before! This is enticing.
Should you watch? Definitely.
Filthy Rich (Fox)
Premise: “When the patriarch of a mega-rich Southern family, famed for creating a wildly successful Christian television network, dies in a plane crash, his wife and family are stunned to learn that he fathered three illegitimate children, all of whom are written into his will, threatening their family name and fortune.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Kim fucking Cattrall
A revealing line from the trailer: “It’s over.”
My review: A drama centered around a newly empowered matriarch, an Empire-esque soap opera, a dead husband, spoiled rich kids, horses, Kim Cattrall with a Southern accent is a perfect pilot recipe.
Should you watch? Yes.
Premise: “Based on the Stumptown graphic novel series, follows Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders) as a strong, assertive, and sharp-witted army veteran with a complicated love life, gambling debt, and a brother to take care of in Portland, Oregon. Her military intelligence skills make her a great P.I., but her unapologetic style puts her in the firing line of hardcore criminals and not quite in alliance with the police.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Cobie Smulders (whose name I always read as a sentence: Cobie smolders.) And Michael Ealy!!!!!
A revealing line from the trailer: “Well, it’s a good thing I wore my second-best bra.”
My review: I believe in Cobie Smulders, and her role here as what I assume to be a rebel kicker of ass seems like a good fit.
Should you watch? Sure.
All Rise (CBS)
Premise: “All Rise [is] a new courthouse drama that follows the chaotic, hopeful and sometimes absurd lives of its judges, prosecutors and public defenders, as they work with bailiffs, clerks and cops to get justice for the people of Los Angeles amidst a flawed legal process.
Anyone in it that I care about? Not really.
A revealing line from the trailer: “The defendant is not wearing any pants.”
My review: Your honor, this feels like a touch of Grey’s Anatomy shenanigans with a spittle of Ally McBeal, and I might be here for it. Lots of wisecracks and sight gags, based on the trailer.
Should you watch? Yeah, all rise!
Bob Hearts Abishola (CBS)
Premise: “A love story about a middle-aged compression sock businessman from Detroit who unexpectedly falls for his cardiac nurse, a Nigerian immigrant, while recovering from a heart attack and sets his sights on winning her over.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Nope.
A revealing line from the trailer: “Would you like me to insert a catheter in your penis?”
My review: Two people with different backgrounds fall in love to show that differences are what makes us unique. I do love the idea of showing the particulars of a Nigerian family on primetime network TV, but the sentimental tone of this might be too much.
Should you watch? Maybe.
Carol’s Second Act (CBS)
Premise: “At age 50, Carol is a medical intern and must sink or swim with peers who are half her age. It’s her enthusiasm, perspective and, yes, even her age, that may be exactly what will make her second act a great success.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Patricia Heaton
A revealing line from the trailer: “You’ll be collecting stool samples.”
My review: Patricia Heaton is playing an “old intern” with a bunch of young people who don’t get her references to, like Angela Lansbury. Tell me about it! I miss Scrubs...
Should you watch? Nah.
Premise: “The new drama focuses on a skeptical female psychologist who joins a priest-in-training and a carpenter as they investigate the Church’s backlog of unexplained mysteries, including supposed miracles, demonic possessions, and hauntings. Their job is to assess if there’s a logical explanation or if something truly supernatural is at work.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Luke Cage
A revealing line from the trailer: “It is.”
My review: Looks like Bones.
Should you watch? No, too scary.
The Unicorn (CBS)
Premise: “As a sometimes ill-equipped but always devoted single parent to his two adolescent daughters, he is taking the major step of dating again. To Wade’s amazement, he’s a hot commodity with women, and his friends explain that he’s the perfect single guy—a “unicorn”: employed, attractive, and with a proven track record of commitment. With his daughters and best friends rooting him on and hoping he’ll find happiness again, Wade and his healing heart are ready to try life... and love... again.”
Anyone in it that I care about? The guy with a lot of forehead
A revealing line from the trailer: “My wife DIED!”
My review: The schtick is that this guy is apparently too perfect??? And everyone wants him???
Should you watch? Skip.
Premise: “Though class differences may separate the women—in addition to the size of the house and the number of people living in—it will test the limits of family ties and the familiar bond of sisterhood might be the catalyst they need to restore their relationship.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Don’t think so.
A revealing line from the trailer: “I never meant to do that.”
My review: I’m struggling to find the funny in this.
Should you watch? Absolutely not.
FBI: Most Wanted (CBS)
Premise: “Seasoned agent Jess LaCroix (Julian McMahon) oversees the highly skilled team, which functions as a mobile undercover unit that’s always out in the field, pursuing those who are most desperate to elude justice.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Not that I see.
A revealing line from the trailer: “Everybody hold position!”
My review: You know how people say there’s too much TV? And then you see a trailer for a new show and there’s nothing exciting about it and you’re like, “I don’t have time for this”? There is not enough time for this.
Should you watch? Eh.
Premise: “A true blue New Yorker, Abigail ‘Tommy’ Thomas (Falco) uses her unflinching honesty and hardball tactics to keep social, political, and national security issues from hindering effective law enforcement in the Southland.”
Anyone in it that I care about? Edie Falco
A revealing line from the trailer: “Chief. Good first week.”
My review: Edie Falco is playing “the first female police chief in the history of Los Angeles,” and apparently she’s a terrible mother. She serves the people but not her family, and there will be many references to how important her job is for women.
Should you watch? I’m sorry, you can’t.
Premise: “Revolves around Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), who, armed with a passion for social justice and flair for speaking her mind, soars onto the streets of Gotham as Batwoman, an out lesbian and highly trained street fighter primed to snuff out the failing city’s criminal resurgence. But don’t call her a hero yet—in a city desperate for a savior, Kate must overcome her own demons before embracing the call to be Gotham’s symbol of hope.” [via TV Guide]
Anyone in it that I care about? Ruby Rose
A revealing line from the trailer: “Hey, dad.”
My review: Ruby Rose looks appropriately menacing, and I’m sure this will be fun and dramatic.
Should you watch? Sure.
Nancy Drew (CW)
Premise: “Set in the summer after her high school graduation, 18-year-old Nancy Drew (Kennedy McMann) thought she’d be leaving her hometown for college, but when a family tragedy holds her back another year, she finds herself embroiled in a ghostly murder investigation — and along the way, uncovers secrets that run deeper than she ever imagined.” [via TV Guide]
Anyone in it that I care about? Not likely.
A revealing line from the trailer: “I have so many questions.”
My review: Anything that has to do with Nancy Drew, I’ll give it a chance, and this fits the mysterious YA pedigree of the CW.
Should you watch? Absolutely. Case solved.