For years now, TV critics have been making snap judgments about new TV shows based on the footage shown at upfront presentations, which is really unfair, if you think about it. Does anybody ask movie critics to make snap judgments based on trailers? (Well, actually, now that we think about it…) But all of that doesn’t mean we can’t get in on the fun here at The A.V. Club, and all week, Erik Adams and Todd VanDerWerff will be looking at the new fall show trailers and offering their thoughts. Remember: Sometimes a terrible trailer makes for a great show (as happened with Arrested Development) and vice versa, so we will almost certainly revise all of these opinions very, very soon. Up now: Fox.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. this fall)
Erik Adams: After the eponymous (and now shuttered) multi-camera effort from stand-up John Mulaney, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was the comedy that got me the most worked-up during the recent pilot season. Developed by Parks And Recreation’s Michael Schur and Dan Goor, featuring an A-squad of performers (including Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Chelsea Peretti, and Joe Lo Truglio), and borrowing a setting from one of the best workplace comedies of all time—seems like a can’t miss prospect.
So where are the big laughs worthy of those factors? In the full pilot, with any luck, because the only things that had me chuckling here were Fred Armisen’s cameo and Lo Truglio’s slapstick tango with an errant muffin. But the rhythms of Schur and Goor’s type of ensemble show doesn’t boil down well to a sizzle reel like this—just think of anytime NBC excises a handful of Parks And Rec punchlines for a promo—so my anticipation remains high, if a little more measured.
Todd VanDerWerff: I find this fascinating, because this is easily my favorite comedy trailer so far (and probably my favorite trailer overall). But, then, I find just the mere idea of Andre Braugher in a comedy amusing enough for now. Maybe it’s my deep affection for Homicide and Men Of A Certain Age carrying the day.
Almost Human (airs Mondays at 8 p.m. in “late fall”)
TV: It could just be my love of TV sci-fi, but this looks like it could make for a suitably absorbing update of the old Alien Nation model, only with robots instead of aliens with oddly dappled heads. Michael Ealy has long been one of my favorite “why isn’t he a bigger star?” projects, thanks to his searing work on the little seen Sleeper Cell back in the day, and it looks like he’s found a part worthy of his talents as an irritating android in the eternal “one guy’s tightly wound, the other guy’s a goofball” language of the buddy-cop show. As the tightly wound half of this duo, however, Karl Urban made less of an impression on me in this (admittedly focused on the robots) trailer. He just seemed sort of sullen and sulky. Also, Minka Kelly was in, like, two shots? Is she a robot? I could see her being a robot. Final judgment: It could very well be stupid, but J.J. Abrams gives good pilot (usually), and I like the look of the thing, which freely cribs from comic book cityscapes and rainy nights by way of Blade Runner. I’m tentatively intrigued.
EA: Wait, Minka Kelly’s in this? I must’ve been distracted by the presence of Mackenzie Crook and Lili Taylor, two actors I’d actually want to spend time with on a week-to-week basis. (The former Ms. Lyla Garrity is a pretty face and all—it’s just that I can hear her whining at Scott Porter and/or Taylor Kitsch every time she pops up on my TV.) This sneak peek has my Max Headroom and RoboCop receptors tingling, so I hope that it finds a way to inject a dose of comic relief and/or sardonic social commentary into what could turn into an overly serious, needlessly grim action series.Because let’s be honest, Almost Human: Robots are funny (and they eat old people’s medicine for fuel—so don’t bogart those future meds, Karl Urban). A robot that’s part human ought to be able to let off a wisecrack or too.
Dads (airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. this fall)
TV: I have come to really enjoy the weird, nervous energy of Brenda Song, an unexpectedly gifted comedic performer for someone so young. She’s enlivened parts that would have been barely there with other actresses on New Girl and Scandal, and if I had a TV show, it would be called The Brenda Song And Liza Weil Crack Wise And Maybe Sing Songs For An Hour Or Two Program. So seeing her in the trailer for this one made me think, briefly, that it might be worth more than it initially seemed to be. But nope. Within a few seconds, she was in a sexy Sailor Moon costume (is there any other kind?), and we were off to the Seth MacFarlane “let’s play around with racist/sexist/homophobic humor but call it ‘ironic’” races. MacFarlane’s shtick can work in an animated sitcom, but I’m not sure I want to hear it in the midst of a multi-camera sitcom, where the audience gets to hoot and holler at all of the “gags.” Anyway, the point is: This is a trailer that seems to suggest the edgiest character is played by Martin Mull. How is this happening? My beloved multi-camera sitcoms don’t seem to be having a good spring so far.
EA: Ironically, Seth MacFarlane might be one of the only people who likes the multi-camera form more than Todd, but it would appear that years in the vocal booth have made him forget the rhythms that work on a soundstage. That bit where Mull and Peter Riegert pass the lunch check back and forth stretched to interminable length in the trailer, and it almost certainly runs as long as the average Family Guy “Mummy! Mum! Moooom!” routine in the actual pilot. Somewhere in the middle of this year’s Oscars telecast, I realized I’m no longer on McFarlane’s wavelength—hearing Peter Rieger have to struggle through an explanation of Eric Stoltz’s character from Mask reinforced the notion.
Enlisted (airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. in “late fall”)
TV: I’d really like for this to be good, because there’s a crushing sameness to a lot of single-camera comedies right now, and the Army base setting is essentially going to force the show to get out of the “people sitting around an apartment and cracking wise” wheelhouse so many shows have slipped into. Plus, the setting allows for lots of big, physical gags, and there were a few places in this trailer that made me laugh. This is usually a good sign, since these things are over-edited and over-produced to within an inch of their lives, rarely offering up anything like an organic laugh. And Suburgatory’s Ryan Shay! If I have a concern here, it’s Geoff Stults, who strikes me as a very strange lead for a wacky comedy about underdog military guys messing things up and fartin’ around. But with Cougar Town’s Kevin Biegel and Men Of A Certain Age’s Mike Royce involved, this is another one I’m cautiously optimistic about.
EA: I’m not quite convinced there’s a show in this, though. A sub-Stripes slobs-versus-snobs flick from the 1980s? Absolutely. As it’s being sold post-upfronts, Enlisted focuses on the brothers headed by Stults—but the characters that had me laughing were the non-related members of the squad, particularly Mel Rodriguez and his unnecessarily specific knowledge of panda-bear eating habits. And although Stults tends to bring a handsome genericness to everything he’s in, I am kind of pulling for the guy after The Finder and Ben And Kate were yanked out from under him in such quick succession. This one could end up a sleeper, but the giant “STUDENT DRIVER” sticker on the tank implies it could just as easily be Police Academy 2013: Army Academy.
Gang Related (currently unscheduled)
EA: The last few seasons have shown that Fox is interested in mining the antihero territory that its cable competitors—and its cable sister channel, FX—have cornered. It’s exciting to watch a network think outside the box (yet still kind of inside the box) like that, though the last two times it tried out that line of thought, The Mob Doctor and The Following materialized. Gang Related—or, had it been greenlit last fall, The Cartel Cop—follows the leads of those shows, with Fast & Furious screenwriter Chris Morgan drafting on that series’ tradition of ludicrously entrenched undercover agents to place Ramon Rodriguez in the inner sanctum of a cocaine kingpin and an LAPD gang task force. Gang Related is popping out of the ground in the long, long shadow of The Shield, and I don’t think Broadcast Standards & Practices will allow Rodriguez and crew to get their hands dirty as Vic Mackey and the Strike Team. (But since we’re plugging homes with fake shows, can we do an X Factor/American Idol thing with your Song/Weil extravaganza and It’s Time For The RZA To Sing Super Soul Sensations Of The ’70s?)
TV: What the hell? Terry O’Quinn is in this? And he looks so bored. Also, how are all of Fox’s new police pilots based around unusual new partnerships? Excuse me for a moment. I think I just realized TV is formulaic.
Rake (airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. at midseason)
TV: You probably could have blindfolded me, and I could have told you that this was a Peter Tolan show, just from listening to how “bad-ass” and “edgy” it was. That I could actually see it with my own two eyes meant that I saw Greg Kinnear in ill-fitting sunglasses and realized that, yep, Tolan was up to his old tricks again. Don’t get me wrong: I liked Rescue Me for two or three seasons there—and it’s one of the few shows I’ve watched to have a pretty significant comeback season (which I really should have remembered for that Inventory we did on such a phenomenon)—but it eventually became kind of facile and obsessed with being edgy for the sake of being edgy. Mixing Tolan with an Australian format about an antiheroic lawyer seems like a recipe for an interesting show that eventually crumbles under its own weight, as well as a lot of poorly developed female characters (though, hey, one will be played by Miranda Otto). There’s nothing wrong with all of this, so far as it goes, but I’m just tired of antiheroes. Cable has raised the bar so high that it takes a lot more to impress me than hiring a prostitute to perform dental operations on you.
EA: Kinnear doesn’t look like an antihero in this—he’s the titular, outdated noun in the title: a rake, a rapscallion, a libertine, someone who’s coasting by through a high-powered charm on charm and a willingness to take the cases others won’t touch. But I agree: Kinnear’s default charisma aside, the lead in Rake isn’t a character—he’s a compendium of quirks, Dr. Gregory House with a lighter touch, less personality, and a lack of a car in lieu of a pill addiction. And while it’s unlikely to stay this way, I do enjoy the idea that his stalker, Margaret, could contribute to the long line of referenced-but-never-seen TV characters.
Sleepy Hollow (airs Mondays at 8 p.m. this fall)
TV: Holy shit, Erik. I don’t know if you saw what I just saw, but what I just saw has the makings of a bad TV classic written all over it! Time travel? Witches? A headless horseman with a semi-automatic weapon? Some sort of weird National Treasure riff? Awkward jokes about slavery? Awkward jokes about Starbucks? Sexy British dudes? George Washington’s Bible? Look: I don’t see a way in hell that this is anything better than junky fun, but in these perilous times, when ABC has canceled Zero Hour and CW has canceled Cult and… well, DaVinci’s Demons is doing quite well on Starz, actually, America needs a shitty, shitty show about a time-traveling Ichabod Crane and a semi-automatic weapon-wielding headless horseman. Years from now, historians will look back upon this show and say, “This? This was 2013.”
EA: I will always silently applaud for the tagline: “Heads will roll.” I will be constantly mystified at the decision to conflate Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle, rather than make them a time-traveling duo of crime-fighting Washington Irving creations. I will watch all six episodes of Sleepy Hollow that make it to air, but I’ll hate myself the morning after.
Surviving Jack (currently unscheduled)
EA: Christopher Meloni spent a long, long time on Law & Order: SVU, but I’d argue that his most enduring performance from the last 10 years is as the severely maladjusted camp cook Gene in Wet Hot American Summer. Grounded as they are by his tough-guy credentials, Meloni has some serious comedic chops, which could elevate Surviving Jack above a pair of premise-based hurdles: its “a man becomes a father” schtick and its 1990s setting. I can’t tell why this show needs to be set in the ’90s—beyond the cheap excuse to make jokes about Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch and Hypercolor shirts—though I suppose the shifting cultural tides could provide some challenges to the “pre-Clinton masculinity” (to borrow a phrase from New Girl’s Schmidt) of Meloni’s character. But seeing as it’s currently unscheduled and producer Bill Lawrence will be busy overseeing the parts of the primetime lineup not produced by J.J. Abrams or Chuck Lorre, I doubt we’ll be able to see Jack through the 1992 Democratic primaries.
TV: I suspect it’s set in the ‘90s because it’s based on a book by Justin Halpern (of Shit My Dad Says fame), who is roughly the same age as us and has had two TV shows to his credit, and… I’ve wasted my life. Anyway, watching this trailer mostly made me feel old, but it will be fun to see Meloni be comedically menacing again. I guess?
Us & Them (currently unscheduled)
EA: Let’s get this out of the way: Jason Ritter has now dated both of the Gilmores. And let’s get this out of the way: Michael Ian Black and Kerri Kenney-Silver can credibly pass as Alexis Bledel’s parents—which, coupled with Surviving Jack’s “throwback” milieu, means we are old, decrepit, and should check our insurance premiums to see if we qualify for a Hoveround power wheelchair. With the panicking out of the way, let’s talk about how Us & Them was probably the best packaged and funniest of these comedy trailers, and likely hanging in the wings in case Dads or Brooklyn Nine-Nine flames out. There’s a mix of warmth-and-solid joke-writing to this Americanization of Gavin & Stacey that would make a good companion for New Girl—a pairing my wife is now rooting for so she can have a weekly excuse to rib me about my TV crushses.
TV: Eh. It was fine. My central problem here is that Gavin & Stacey ran 18 episodes, and that might have been too many for its premise. I have no idea how this show goes past that (as it will inevitably have to; it can’t just be Mike And Molly, only they’re both dramatic vacuums instead of overweight), and the various supporting characters, so vital to the original’s success, feel significantly crasser here than in the original. Just a trailer, but this one made my skin prickle a bit, as though I’d just heard a swarm of approaching killer bees.
Next: ABC hopes you enjoy superheroes.