Feature: Great Pilots Don't Always Mean Great Series

In Hollywood, it’s pilot season again. People are reading scripts, finishing casting, and gearing up to shoot what could potentially be the inaugural episode of your next favorite TV series. I’m watching the development of Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D. at ABC with great interest, and there’s some interesting early casting being done for The CW’s Amazon, a Wonder Woman origin story. NBC is looking to reach outside the box of broadcast tropes with epic retellings of classic stories like Dracula and Cleopatra, while CBS has one of the writers behind Raising Hope reviving The Brady Bunch. And FOX has one of two dueling Sleepy Hollow re-imaginings, theirs about a sheriff solving mysteries in the creepy town.

Pilot season, for viewers, holds a sense of great promise and exciting new stories on the horizon. But sometimes, a series doesn’t live up to the potential of its first episode and leaves fans like me feeling confused, let down and sometimes — melodramatically— betrayed. Let’s re-examine some of the pilots of the last few years that haven’t kept their promises to audiences.

Smash (NBC)

Smash made my list of five shows not to miss this time last year. It made many lists of that nature with its cool premise, dazzling original music numbers and stellar casting. More importantly, it was developed for Showtime and brought over to NBC during an executive change up, so it had a sense of an edge to its drama, yet quickly devolved into something the collective audience has hate-watched to a second season. With absurd musical cover soliloquies and genuinely unlikable characters emerging, it was hard to focus on the struggles of the two leading ladies vying to play Marilyn, and how their journeys could mirror hers. With a new EP coming on board to guide the second season, and a slew of cast members let go, there’s still a chance this ship could right itself.

Nikita (The CW)

The pilot for Nikita was a daring undertaking by a network known solely for teen melodrama. The rehashing of the French film, which had already been adapted into a successful television series in the 90s for USA, added a small teen element for The CW’s core audience, but kept the gritty antihero struggle of its titular character at the forefront while weaving a growing mythology of government cover-ups and conspiracies. Somewhere around the midseason point, things took a shift for the show as it was slightly retooled to gain a broader audience. I’m a fan of aggressive storytelling, so I was happy to see Alex’s secret discovered early and the heightened suspense of her having to defend it. Still, moving into season two and three, even with a sizable fan base, the constant reinvention and muddled big brother-like enemy plots have overshadowed what could have been a redefining moment for the network.

Glee (FOX)

No show on the air probably bears more ill will from critics and audiences today than Glee, FOX’s once genre-defying musical sensation. Let’s not forget, the cast holds the record for number one recordings and went on two hugely successful concert tours. Still, if you go back and re-watch that first hour, you’ll find a grounded, character-centric comedy that was derailed by fantasy sequences, a lack of sensible continuity and far too many songs in a single episode. This was a groundbreaking undertaking, with a pretty great first season, kind of a so-so second season, and an unrecognizable third that saw one character abandon her identity completely to reshape herself as a careless rebel, only to turn it all around to lie, cheat and steal her way back to the child she put up for adoption, followed by some ivy league dreams and a miraculous recovery from paralysis. Totally relatable and believable, right?

Blue Bloods (CBS)

Generally, I’m not a fan of procedurals. But judging from the primetime line-up any given night, that clearly puts me in the minority. Still, this current show was an interesting twist on the cop/lawyer genre, blending it neatly with family drama and a dash of ongoing mystery. The cast was great, the story of the son the family lost was intriguing, and the procedural element was made engaging by the family members all operating from different sides and levels of the legal system. Still, as the mystery ever-slowly started to unravel, the pace seemed almost glacial and I’m still not sure if it was ever resolved. The procedural case-of-the-week element became more prominent and the internal family struggles were sidelined, leaving us with just another in a long line of cop dramas.

Nashville (ABC)

Another musical. This could be a trend, if only the singing were the common problem. Nashville was one of two network dramas from last year that actually caught my interest as something great. Besides the incredible talents of Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, Nashville had a balance with the musical numbers on its show that predecessors haven’t been able to achieve yet. The characters were flawed dreamers, all forging their own paths, all with their own demons to battle. But, the stakes quickly cooled off and while still an entertaining show, the soapy nature of the story has made it terribly predictable. Does anyone out there believe Juliette is really going to go through with this marriage? Was the co-headlining tour ever not a possibility?

What shows have you been let down by as the series rolled on?

Stick with Poptimal for more coverage of upcoming TV for 2013.


Images courtesy of The CW, NBCUniversal, CBS, ABC, FOX and IMDbPro

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