The Light from the TV Shows: Pilot Season Ahoy!

It’s a sure sign that spring is on the verge of emerging when the networks start to let slip the names, premises, and attached actors for all of the pilots under consideration for the next TV season. Most of these pilots go nowhere, which is the way the cookie has always crumbled, but a few lucky programs end up getting the go-ahead for a series commitment. I don’t claim to have any real idea how the networks think – as a critic, it’s pretty much a given that I never know what the networks are thinking (and, in turn, they don’t care what I’m thinking) – but that doesn’t mean I’m afraid to give my thoughts on 15 of the pilots that I’d like to see come to fruition and join the fall schedules of their respective networks. You can check out a much fuller list from The Hollywood Reporter by clicking here, but in the meantime, here’s the stuff that I’m hoping to be TiVo’ing in a few months’ time….

1. Gilded Lilys (ABC)

It’s been quite awhile since a broadcast network has managed to sell viewers on a period piece set prior to the 20th century, so the fact that ABC is even considering this series, which takes place in 1895 and revolves around the first luxury hotel in New York, is proof of how much pull executive producer Shonda Rhimes has with the American Broadcasting Company. In truth, the big selling point for me is John Barrowman. This doesn’t exactly bode well for another season of “Torchwood,” but the dude deserves a big U.S. break. You never know: this could be it.

2. Untitled Louis C.K. / Spike Feresten Comedy (CBS)

Go on, admit it: you were sold the moment you saw the name “Louis C.K.,” weren’t you? And Spike Feresten isn’t bad, either. Seeing these two guys attached to this project is the only reason why it stands out, since the only real description available is that it’s an an ensemble comedy about a bunch of twentysomethings trying to make their dreams come true despite today’s crappy financial climate. But, damn, after two seasons of “Louie,” the idea of Louis C.K. putting his spin on anything makes it something that’ll surely be worth seeing. With that said, however, I hope Dan Byrd ends up not being available to do the show, as that will mean that “Cougar Town” has been renewed.

3. Animal Kingdom (NBC)

Two words: Tyler Labine. I mean, come on, America, what more does this loveable teddy bear of a comedy actor have to do to get a show to stay on the air for more than a season or two? NBC is, if memory serves, the last of the broadcast networks that has yet to cancel a series out from under Mr. Labine – “Invasion” was on ABC, “Reaper” was on The CW, “Sons of Tucson” was on Fox, and “Mad Love” was on CBS – and, frankly, this could be his last stop before the autograph-show circuit. Doesn’t Tyler Labine deserve a better fate than that? You’re damned right he does.

4. Untitled Kevin Williamson serial killer drama (Fox)

The man behind “The Vampire Diaries” brings Kevin Bacon to the small screen to play Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent on the hunt for serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who’s busy building himself a whole cult full of serial killers. If that isn’t enough to sell you, the cast also features Natalie Zea (“Justified”).

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Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings

So…where were we?

Oh, fine, let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room: it’s been nine months since Bullz-Eye doled out its last TV Power Rankings. What can we say? There were a lot of good shows on the air between May 2011 and February 2012, and somewhere around late October, it just kind of reached a point where we said, “You know what? It’s way more fun to watch TV than it is to write about it.” Eventually, though, the powers that be pried us off the couch (there’s still an indentation where we were sitting), set us back in front of the computer, and said, “Look, the readers demand to know Bullz-Eye’s take on the best shows of the past year* and, frankly, they’re starting to get a little belligerent about it.”

(*Rounded up for statistical purposes.)

So here we are, ready to offer up our list of the 25 best shows on television** as well as several shows bubbling just under our list, plus a new section called “Still Too New to Call,” where we praise shows that seem pretty damned good after their first few episodes but simply haven’t been around long enough for us to feel comfortable including them in the other two lists.

(**Okay, technically, it’s the 24 best shows on television plus one show that hasn’t been on since 2010, but we’re so excited about that particular show coming back that we included it, anyway.)

All told, we hope you’ll walk away from this piece either nodding your head in agreement or wondering why you haven’t been watching some of these shows. If not, however, there’s a perfectly good Comments section that’s just waiting for your opinions about what’s good on TV.

Everybody ready? Then let’s get this thing started…

25. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

No, it’s not quite the same show it used to be, owing to the fact that the cast now consists of almost as many women as it does men, but with the series now in its fifth season, the trio of Kaley Cuouo, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik have probably infused “The Big Bang Theory” with more laughs than the it would’ve had at this point if it had stuck strictly to the original four geeks. The only question now is how much longer we’ll have to wait for Raj to come out of the closet…because, seriously, you don’t need to possess gay-dar to see that that’s what they’re leading up to.

24. Weeds (Showtime)

When we first picked back up with Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) for the seventh season of “Weeds,” she’d spent three years cooling her heels in the clink while the rest of the Botwin clan had been chillin’ in Copenhagen, but with Nancy being shifted to a halfway house in New York City, a family reunion was only inevitable. Big shock: Nancy started selling pot again. Possibly bigger shock: even going into its eighth season, “Weeds” is still reliably entertaining.

23. New Girl (Fox)

When it comes to watching “New Girl,” one’s level of appreciation is directly proportionate to how one feels about the concept of “adorkability,” which Zooey Deschanel brings to the small screen in seemingly limitless quantities as Jess, a too-cute twentysomething who moves in with a trio of guys on the heels of an excruciatingly bad breakup. As with most ensemble comedies, it’s taken time for the chemistry of the cast to find its feet, but it’s coming along nicely.

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A Chat with Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”)

Although Jon Heder has rarely been without work since making his cinematic breakthrough in 2004, it would be fair to say that, no matter how many films or television appearances he may have made, people’s first thought when they see him remains “Napoleon Dynamite.” And, really, why wouldn’t it be? Even Heder himself admits that the distance between himself and Mr. Dynamite isn’t exactly the longest trek in the world. Still, if you thought he’d be hesitant to reprise his role for Fox’s upcoming series based on the the character and his adventures, you would be wrong. Heder doesn’t consider Napoleon to be an albatross around his neck. To the contrary, in fact, he’s loving every minute of his prime-time experience, which begins this Sunday evening with two episodes: one at 7:30 PM, one at 8:30 PM.

Description here
Bullz-Eye: So this is a pretty sweet gig you’ve got here.

Jon Heder: Uh…doing all these interviews? [Laughs.]

BE: Well, not necessarily that. I really meant you’ve got a gig where you don’t even necessarily have to wear pants.

JH: Oh, right! Which is appropriate, since Napoleon hardly ever wears pants on the show, either. [Laughs.] But, no, you’re right: this is a sweet gig. And I’m hoping that it continues and finds success. That’d be awesome.

BE: Well, I watched the first two episodes, and they were fun.

JH: I mean, it could possibly be the best job ever, because I love the work, I love the material, it’s, not, like, “Oh, all right.” I love “Napoleon.” And you’re going in, you’re recording, it’s easy scheduling…it could be the best job ever.

BE: Obviously you know the character pretty well. How much in terms of voice acting did you learn from doing films like “Surf’s Up” and “Monster House”?

JH: I’ve learned a lot, but…I don’t know if they necessarily prepped me for this, because…I was trying to create new, different voices and things for “Surf’s Up” and “Monster House.” This was a character I already knew and I knew what I was doing. I suppose doing all of those days of ADR on those films helped.

BE: Was it any trouble to find the Napoleon voice again?

JH: It took maybe five seconds. [Laughs.] It wasn’t too bad. I mean, at first, I definitely felt like one of the many college students who’ve done impersonations that I’ve seen on YouTube or whatever. Or just heard. Like, “Eat your freaking tots!” And as soon as I said it, it was, like, “Oh, uh…” And then I went, “No, no, no, I can own this. I mean, this is me! I am him!” [Laughs.] So it wasn’t too bad.

BE: How many horrible impressions of Napoleon have you heard over the years?

JH: Well, I was telling my wife the other day, “Is this horrible to say?” And it must be because it’s me, because it’s my voice, but…they’re all horrible. [Laughs.] I mean, it’s funny, but if you’re talking in terms of how good they are, none of them come close. And I would know, because it’s me! [Laughs.] But if I tried to take a more objective point of view, then, yes, I’ve probably heard a lot of good ones, too.

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The Light from the TV Shows: 11 Series (give or take) That Should’ve Survived 2011

As 2011 rapidly winds to a close, it’s easy to fall back on lists as a way to fill columns – indeed, as a TV critic, it’s my God-given right – but HBO’s announcement this week that it was cleaning house and cancelling “Hung,” “Bored to Death,” and “How to Make It in America” served to convince me that I needed to discuss a number of now-defunct series that lost their bid for continued existence during the course of this year. I’m not talking about shows like “Friday Night Lights,” which had an end-game in sight and wrapped on their own terms. I’m talking about series that effectively had the rug ripped out from under their feet. Believe me, there were a bunch…and I’m still kind of pissed about quite a few of them.

11. Medium (CBS)


After seven seasons on the air and surviving a switch between networks (from NBC to CBS), it’s hard to say that “Medium” didn’t live a good, long life. With that said, however, the show had continued to find new ways to keep things interesting, and with the trio of DuBois daughters growing up and getting their own storylines almost as often as their mom. As such, Allison, Joe, and the gang could’ve easily kept going for another few seasons without any complaints from me.

10. Outsourced (NBC)


Am I going to try to defend my enjoyment of this show? No, I am not, because there’s no point in wasting your time or mine. You may not have thought it was very funny, and if you didn’t, that would be your right. I, however, did. And I still miss it.

9. Law & Order: Los Angeles (NBC)


There’s nothing I dislike more than a series that doesn’t know when to leave good enough alone, and for my part, I don’t know why they felt the need to change the formula and kick Skeet Ulrich‘s character to the curb. Sorry, did I say “curb”? I meant “grave,” of course. Not that there’s anything wrong with giving an actor of Alfred Molina’s caliber a more substantial role, but to do so in midseason can’t have pleased the existing viewership very much. Truth be told, I’d rather they’d just kept the original “Law & Order” around, but in its absence, this was a nice substitute, and it sucks that it never had a chance to really spread its wings.

8. The Event (NBC) / V (ABC)


When it comes to casualties in the alien-invasion field, I can accept the cancellation of “V” a bit more than that of “The Event,” if only because it was a minor surprise that it made it to a second season in the first place. And if I’m to be honest, I’m not really surprised that NBC couldn’t be bothered to give “The Event” a shot at a sophomore year, since they probably figured it’d only let them down the way “Heroes” did. But whereas “Heroes” really dropped the ball in its second year, I felt like “The Event” had a better chance of upping the ante. Guess I’ll never know for sure.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2011 Fall TV Preview: What’s New for Fox

Monday

Terra Nova

(8 – 9 PM, Sept. 26)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), How I Met Your Mother / 2 Broke Girls (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), Gossip Girl (The CW)

Starring: Jason O’Mara, Stephen Lang, Shelley Conn, Andon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, Mido Hamada, Christine Adams, Allison Miller

Executive producers: Brannon Braga, Alex Graves, Rene Echevarria

What the network says: “In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in doubt, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past. When scientists at the FERMI Particle Accelerator unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.

The Shannon family joins the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first colony established in this beautiful yet forbidding land. Jim Shannon, a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family through this new world of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Shannon, is a trauma surgeon and the newest addition to Terra Nova’s medical team. Josh Shannon is their 17-year-old son who is angry to leave life as he knows it behind; upon arriving at the settlement, he finds himself instantly drawn to the beautiful and rule-breaking Skye. Maddy Shannon, Josh’s endearingly awkward 15-year-old sister, hopes Terra Nova will give her a new chance to reinvent herself. Although Elisabeth’s medical training secured the family a spot on the pilgrimage, a secret involving their five-year-old daughter, Zoe, soon endangers their place in this utopia.

Upon the Shannon’s arrival, they are introduced to Commander Nathan Taylor, the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement. Taylor, along with his right-hand man, Guzman, warn the travelers that while Terra Nova is a place of new opportunities and fresh beginnings, all is not as idyllic as it initially appears. Along with blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, the surrounding terrain is teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. There is also a splinter colony of renegades led by the battle-hardened Mira, who is vehemently opposed to Taylor and his leadership. Even more threatening than what lies outside the protective walls of the colony is the chilling possibility that something sinister is happening inside Terra Nova. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins.”

What we say: Critics began sharpening their knives when they heard that Fox was delaying the premiere of the series by several months in order to make sure everything was ready to roll without having to rush, but as a sci-fi geek, I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of the premise and the unrolling of the series’ mythology. Anyone concerned that the whole thing is little more than a bunch of haphazardly-thrown-together plot ideas covering up a bunch of big-budget CGI dinosaurs needn’t be worried. Not that there aren’t quite a few rampaging dinos on the premises, but there’s also a nice amount of family drama, intriguing characters brought to you by established sci-fi guys like O’Mara (ABC’s “Life on Mars”) and Lang (“Avatar”), and a mystery about this strange alternate-universe past the Shannons and their fellow colonists have found themselves in. Fox used to be really awful about letting sci-fi series catch their breath and find a groove, but with the way they’ve kept “Fringe” alive for the past few seasons, there’s a very real possibility that “Terra Nova” will have an opportunity to build a fanbase beyond just the gawkers who want to see dinosaurs.

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