Judging a series based on an upfront sizzle reel is probably just as ill-advised as judging that same show by its pilot, but like upfronts and pilot season, such knee-jerk reactions are a TV tradition that our rapidly accelerating TV culture has yet to evolve beyond. As part of The A.V. Club’s continuing upfronts coverage, Erik Adams, Sonia Saraiya, and Todd VanDerWerff will be weighing in on these trailers all week long, fully aware that a new favorite may be hiding behind bizarre editing choices or poorly emphasized jokes. Today: sister networks TBS and TNT. (Previously: Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS.)
Erik Adams: Ever since I was a college student who was too old to be watching The Suite Life Of Zack & Cody, I’ve held the notion that Ashley Tisdale would be a great ensemble player in a multi-camera sitcom. Unfortunately, Buzzy’s feels like it’s going to be too much of a callback to the Disney Channel house style, with every laugh in this trailer played broad and telegraphed from miles away. If Buzzy’s ever chills out and becomes the “Cheers in a barber shop” it clearly wants to be (Norm! Boston! A workplace setting that also has neighborhood regulars filtering in and out at random!) maybe the TV soothsaying of my idiot undergrad self will pan out. If not, Lauren “Tracy Reardon” Lapkus is always good for a laugh. (Though her Beach Boys-inspired Comedy Bang! Bang! catchphrase, “Help me, Rhonda,” could easily apply to this situation.)
Todd VanDerWerff: The rhythms of Will & Grace (artificial punchlines occurring seemingly at random, characters blown up into types so broad they cease to have even one dimension) are a big reason the multi-camera sitcom flopped so badly in the early ’00s. So this trailer does not fill me with confidence. But there’s George Wendt!
Sonia Saraiya: It’s a cop! It’s a farce! It’s a… cop-farce? Rashida Jones gets her own series in Angie Tribeca, a sitcom about—I don’t really know what it’s about. A cop who is both really competent and really incompetent, at the same time, because of gags! There’s a little bit of a Miss Congeniality vibe to this one, but that is okay, because the gags are quite funny. (Gary Cole sticking a fork in a toaster oven, on loop, forever.) Cop shows always deserved to be spoofed—and cop shows from the ’70s even more so.
EA: All her time playing the stone-faced straight woman on The Office and Parks And Recreation doesn’t necessarily qualify Rashida Jones to be the Leslie Nielsen of her generation (she’s too good at smirking!), but I love that Steve and Nancy Carell’s first stab at a comedy series is this zany. Like any episode of Police Squad!, this trailer is wall-to-wall gags, but the ones that land (Hayes MacArthur’s stunt double showing up in the frame, Gary Cole handcuffing himself) make me eager to return to Angie Tribeca—which, as we must customarily warn, is not set in Tribeca.
Your Family Or Mine
TV: This is the kind of high-concept gimmick sitcom that Jeff Zucker would have loved to try out somewhere on the 2000 NBC fall schedule, possibly after Frasier on Thursdays. It seems (given that we don’t meet “her” family in this trailer) that the only constants will be the central couple and their kids, and the show will alternate episodes between his family and her family. Plus, the people cast to play his relatives are some impressive gets, up to and including Richard Dreyfuss, of all people. But there are no laughs in this trailer, which is one of the things that tends to happen in gimmick sitcoms that need time to explain their premises. It just feels very, very soft, and that’s not really something you want in a comedy pilot.
SS: Laugh tracks make me uncomfortable. Doubly uncomfortable in a trailer like this, where what could be moments of poignant realization are underwritten with uproarious guffawing. Worse when they’re not particularly funny, outside of the multi-cam staple of sly sex jokes, technology-is-weird humor, and “old people are weird!”
TV: First of all, TNT’s new slogan is “Boom.” Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in. For some part of the rest of my life, when I hear the word “boom,” some part of my brain will associate it with TNT. I hate that. Give us back our words, TNT! Anyway, this looks like more generic mishmash of antihero cops taking payouts from the criminal elements in ’60s New York, because it’s important to make sure they’re focused on the real bad guys or whatever. TNT seems really high on this because it features Ed Burns, but when was the last time anybody said, “Oh, Ed Burns is in that. I’d better see it!” He’s the kind of mid-level auteur who is increasingly heading toward television, but did he have to do so with such a generic-looking show? The only thing this has going for it is setting, and I doubt the characters are going to spend a long time discussing the slow decline of the musical theatre’s Silver Age when they could be bustin’ punks.
EA: Ed Burns, Michael Rappaport, and Timothy Hutton in Raspy Accents: The Series.
SS: Just like yesterday’s Secrets And Lies—running! Running! Jennifer Beals runs places! Except in Proof, Jennifer Beals also swims, and maybe drowns, and also wanders through a hedge labyrinth. I’d take the idea of looking for life after death more seriously if it wasn’t underwritten with gushy music and shadowy figures reaching out hands from the beyond. There might be an audience for this supernatural-medical-mom drama, but maybe just for supernatural medical moms.
TV: I think there should be a whole episode of this show where Jennifer Beals says, “I wonder how near-death experiences happen!” and then she gets an e-mail from me with this link.
EA: In 2004, when TNT was merely three years into its quest to really know drama, Noah Wyle went on his own in The Librarian: Quest For The Spear. That film was the first building block of an Indiana Jones-like, historically dubious franchise that’s been quietly constructed (because they’re in the library!) throughout the last decade, encompassing two sequels, a graphic novel, and now this 10-part series in which Wyle’s unassuming hero Flynn Carsen guides the newest generation of bibliophiles who actually guard history’s most treasured (and potentially dangerous) artifacts. Historically, this type of pulpy action-adventure doesn’t translate successfully to series TV (see: The short lives of Tales Of The Golden Monkey, Bring ’Em Back Alive, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles), but as a limited series being put on by a cable network, The Librarians might have a little more leeway. The trailer is predictably held back by the constraints of visual effects done on a TV budget, though judging by the presence of Stana Katic, some of the footage appears ported over from the movies. The Librarians also continues Turner Broadcasting’s bid for the coveted Erik Adams demographic by casting all of my favorite ’80s TV stars, throwing John Larroquette and Matt Frewer into a mix that previously included Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin.
SS: ADVENTURES WITH LIBRARIANS AND VERY BAD CGI!! WOOOOO!
TV: When I saw this, I thought, “Didn’t they already make a Transporter show?” And, as it turns out, they did, and this is it. Originally slated to run on Cinemax in 2012, the show has aired in every other country of the world but here, so you could probably just watch it all right now if you really wanted to. How it ended up on TNT here, I don’t know, but the network seems mostly to have picked it up to make sense of its new slogan. All I know is that the only thing I can think when I see the name of the show is: “He’s… he’s a… he’s a trans… transponster!”
SS: That’s not even a word! The problem with every attempt to do The Transporter without Jason Statham is that no action hero alive has the combined charisma and brute force of Statham, except for maybe The Rock. And they do not appear to have cast The Rock in this series…. yet. Cue explosions.