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: NBC.
The Michael J. Fox Show (airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. this fall)
EA: I love Michael J. Fox. Back To The Future is one of my all-time favorite, can’t-turn-it-off-if-I-come-across-it-on-cable movies. I enjoyed getting re-acquainted with Family Ties back when it popped into the Nick At Nite rotation in the early 2000s. (Sha la la la.) I was even a fairly regular viewer of Spin City, even though the political stuff went way over my head, and I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it today—though, like Back To The Future and its inferior sequels, I wouldn’t turn it off if I came across it while channel-surfing. There’s an uncomfortable amount of past tense in all of the above, and the past tense appears to be what NBC is banking on for marketing The Michael J. Fox Show: “Hey, remember how much you loved this guy? And Betsy Brandt on Breaking Bad? And also Wendell Pierce on The Wire and/or Treme?”
That and Fox’s well-publicized battle with Parkinson’s disease: As it was in the eighth-season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Fox’s affliction will prompt more jokes than it will maudlin platitudes. The trailer goes so far as to undercut any sort of slow-motion-and-treacly-music comeback angle for the star, with Fox’s character, news anchor Mike Henry explicitly requesting no slow-motion footage or treacly music in the ad announcing his return to the air. NBC wants to have its cake and eatit (with a comedically shaking hand) with The Michael J. Fox Show, appealing to nostalgists, sentimentalists, and ironists alike—and it could very well work. The show can’t all be Fox involuntarily powerig a roller chair out of frame, though. This is supposed to be the anchor to NBC’s new family-comedy bloc, and it’s not going to work if the star’s tics end up outshining the supporting players, as they do in the trailer.
TV: And yet the trailer hands the biggest laugh to Betsy Brandt! I’ve got a good feeling about this one, Erik. A GOOD FEELING. Don’t you take that away from me!
The Blacklist (airs Mondays at 10 p.m. this fall)
EA: The Peacock says it’ll need another week or so to determine the fate of Hannibal, but I think the fate of Bryan Fuller’s gauzy nightmare was summed up in 4 minutes and 9 seconds yesterday morning. This “James Spader in the box” trailer apes the logline-ready aspects of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter cycle—charismatic killer helps green investigator-type catch other crooks, taunting all the while—and slathers it in the gory-for-gory’s sake brutality of The Following. If The Blackllist turns out to be a hit, it’s going to be a major blow to fans of impeccably art-directed murder scenes.
TV: This was NBC’s highest-testing pilot in years, which means it will almost certainly perplex me, because the American public’s taste does that. Also: Is James Spader’s evilness directly proportionate to how much hair he has? Discuss.
Dracula (airs Fridays at 10 p.m. this fall on NBC)
TV: This show was produced by NBC in cooperation with a bunch of foreign partners, just like Hannibal is, and just like Hannibal, this thing looks like a million bucks. It’s set in Victorian London, and it almost looks like the kind of Victorian London you might get in one of those Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies, right down to the impossible fights in front of giant billboards. The same people who do much of the production on Downton Abbey are working on this show (look! they’re right there in the trailer!), so that would explain why it looks so nice. But other than that, what is there to hold onto here? Another retelling of Dracula? The series’ showrunner is Carnivàle’s Daniel Knauf, so where’s the weird, NBC? Where are the visions of Russian bears in the trenches of World War I and curtains hiding Linda Hunt’s voice? Let’s make this happen!
EA: I’m thinking the most Carnivàle aspects are to be found in the allusions to “very long journeys” and the visions of a shadowy brotherhood seemingly bent on preventing Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ creature of the night from doing… whatever it is he’s doing in Old Blighty with a ballroom full of lightbulbs. (Entering the direct-current/alternating-current fray between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla perhaps?) The flashbacks and that steampunk conspiracy board hint at a heavy mythology, and that’s something Knauf is highly qualified to handle. And, really, a complicated mythology that’ll gum up the storytelling works of the narrative at hand might be the last new way to delve into the Dracula mythos—until its re-told, Lizzie Bennet Diaries style, as a series of Snapchats or something.
TV: Just you wait until the third season medical drama spinoff, Dr. Acula. (That's right. I'm stealing a joke from Scrubs. I'll own it.)
Ironside (airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. this fall on NBC)
TV: Blair Underwood is a ridiculously charismatic actor and a very good-looking man. And the basic premise of Ironside—detective confined to a wheelchair—seems like something that could easily be done with more panache in this age of gritty, realistic cop dramas. The Raymond Burr original wasn’t all that great, so there’s potential here for the sort of engaging police procedural CBS can make in its sleep. Why, then, does everything here feel so sedate? There’s an interesting twist toward the end of the trailer that seems to spoil the whole pilot (an unfortunately common occurrence in upfront trailers, which are used to pitch the concept of the show to advertisers), but for the most part, this feels like a generic cop drama. There should be more to it when you’ve got that star and that premise.
EA: The most important part of this trailer is that it interpolates the signature synth-doppler intro of Quincy Jones’ unbeatable theme for the original series. And since that’s the only thing anyone remembers about Ironside—thanks largely Quentin Tarantino, who of course loves this kind of wah-wah peddle detective story—NBC’s Ironside is free to remake itself in the NCIS/CSI mold, combining procedural plotting with the wisecracking charms of a workplace-hangout show. Unlike the show’s namesake, it looks like the new Ironside plays by the rules, so I don’t see myself getting to excited about it—but as someone who likes to see the former cast members of Greek cast in new show’s, I’ll try to watch a few episodes for Spencer Grammer’s sake. (Assuming she isn’t recast between now and the première.)
Sean Saves The World (airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. this fall on NBC)
EA: What I wouldn’t give to watch a quarter-hour Adult Swim show that revolves around the boss character Thomas Lennon plays in this trailer, a mustachioed eccentric who lounges around his apartment with an exotic bird on his shoulder. Unfortunately, it’s actually about Sean Hayes as a single dad; Hayes, who never met the very back of a studio soundstage he didn’t play toward, does his manic best to keep a Thursday-night audience accustomed to single-camera fare from ever watching another taped-before-a-live-studio-audience sitcom. This looks like dire stuff (What went wrong with Mulaney that NBC passed it over for this?), save for the fact that Hayes is doing his level best to stem the purging of gay characters from network lineups—which NBC had a pretty heavy hand in.
TV: The worst thing about this was when I went to NBC’s press release and realized this was created by Better Off Ted’s Victor Fresco. Noooooooooooo! (I know Fresco’s been trying to get a multi-camera comedy off the ground for a few years, and I agree with his general aims, but not like this. Not like this.) Also: The promo art on this looks like it was assembled out of some spare actor-centric clip art NBC had laying around, no?
Welcome To The Family (airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. this fall on NBC)
TV: I won’t lie: I love that Mike O’Malley, and there were places in this trailer that made me smile just because of his delivery. Of all of the trailers I watched for NBC shows, this is the one I didn’t like that most made me suspect there might be a good show lurking somewhere within the material that will be more readily noticeable once we see the pilot. O’Malley’s delivery and the closing twist in the trailer both suggest there might be something more here than just “white people and Latinos have to learn to live together!” But there’s plenty of bad here, don’t get me wrong, like the way that every time O’Malley and Ricardo Chavira share a screen, they start glowering at each other like Archie Bunker and George Jefferson about to teach us all a lesson on tolerance, only without any of Norman Lear’s subtle wit. Still, there’s a good cast here, and it’s the kind of show that wouldn’t boil down well to a trailer. I’ll cross my fingers but won’t get my hopes up.
EA: As NBC was setting its 2013-14 schedule, stacking Go On, Guys With Kids, The New Normal, and 1600 Penn on the woodpile with Animal Practice, there was a lot of noise made about how the network’s plan to reorient itself toward broad, middle-of-the-road comedy had completely backfired—but here we are facing a Thursday night that’s full of broad, middle-of-the-road comedy. Welcome To The Family looks like the type of culture-clash sitcom that could bludgeon its main themes to death on a weekly basis, but the credentials of creator Mike Sikowitz—who cut his teeth in the Friends writers’ room, but then moved on to Grounded For Life and Rules Of Attraction—are clouding the glimmers of hope you see, Todd. Interesting to see TV’s go-to blue-collar guy Mike O’Malley in lab coat rather than coveralls, though.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?), NBC did not provide trailers for its midseason series, so we can’t judge them based on a small amount of footage taken largely out of context and reassembled in a format that will hopefully be audience pleasing.