John Walker's Electronic House

Television: Pilot Season Part 1

by on Jul.27, 2007, under Television

Shorter posts to stop scaring the timid of mind.

Pilot season is upon us. I’m able to see them because either I’m a professional TV critic who gets sent the preair discs, a psychic with extraordinary premonition, or a time traveller from the future coming back to tell you what I saw next September. Whichever convinces you most.

Chuck – ABC

It seems the flavour of the new season is the heroic geek. Could this possibly be a reaction to Hiro and Heroes? Well yes, clearly. Chuck is the improbable tale of Zachary Levi’s geek-if-you-squint Chuck, who is, by reasons too stupid to explain, filled with all the secrets of the US government. Every part of it. Such that he’s pursued by the CIA and the NSA, who are chasing each other, while Chuck tries to maintain his regular life working at Buy More – a fictional Walmart – specifically in the Nerd Herd computer tech support area. The two after him are relative unknown Yvonne Strzechowski as a pleasantly traditional gorgeous-chick-cum-ninja, and Adam “Jayne off-of Firefly” Baldwin as Mr Shoot First Agent Type.

It’s a daft premise, and it’s unclear exactly where it will go. He’s got all these secrets in his head, which will presumably be out of date within a few minutes. It’s also entirely unexplained how he knows where a bomb is going to be, but nice that he saves the day through some dubious geekery, beating the super-high-class governmental knowledge. But what next? They agents are now in his life, but how does knowing lots of stuff lead into a weekly series of adventures? A good cast and some fun writing gives it a chance, but I tip this one to suffer from the Adam Baldwin Curse of Cancellation, by episode six.

Reaper – CW

It’s impossible to discuss this pilot without spoiling an early reveal. Indeed, read anything about this show and it will tell you this, but it was still fun to watch it not knowing the full premise. So read ahead if you don’t mind reading what you’ll hear everywhere about this.

Sam (Bret Harrison, Grounded For Life) is a 21 year old who works at… guess where? A geeky fictional store, this time called The Work Bench. His life is in a rut, having dropped out of college because “it made [him] sleepy”. Things change slightly once he meets the Devil (super-smooth Ray Wise), and eventually finds out from his parents that before he was born they, well, sold his soul to Satan. Come his 21st birthday, he belongs to the Devil.

It is, again, a premise beyond reason. But joyfully, Reaper knows this. It revels in it. Sam’s new job is to act as a bounty hunter for Mr Beelzebub, rounding up Hell’s escapees with his newfound abilities. The pilot has him, and his workplace buddies (mostly Tyler Labine’s ‘Sock’) trying to capture an arsonist, burning buildings all over town.

It is just brilliant. “Sam, I’m not a carjacker,” says Wise from the back seat of Sam’s car. He pats him reassuringly on the shoulder. “I’m the Devil.” All the way through the dialogue is spot on, and everyone plays it perfectly. There’s a very Whedon-esque feel to the banter, and in a show about sending back various creatures to Hell, this could obviously be problematic. But it steers clear of too much comparison, clearly aiming for the laugh-out-loud gags over the emotional sensitivity and relationship drama that made up so much of Buffy. And it hits those gags. I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud so many times in a 42 minute drama. ‘Sock’ could have been a hateful character, overplayed and “wacky”. But Labine nails it. He could so easily have been pegged as the sci-fi nerd, or the computer geek, or the overweight anti-jock, but instead it’s hard to categorise him, sitting in the position of that one guy who’s funny, over-loud, rude and liked. Alongside Harrison’s bemused straight man, seeing him come charging down the aisles of The Work Bench, chasing after a pack of dogs, armed with a leaf blower that he’s revving menacingly, is very, very funny.

There’s no fear of where this will go – only that it won’t get a chance to go there in the random mid-season cullings. Each week Sam will get a new hellspawn to round up, and a new device with which to do it (the pilot sees him armed with a Dirt Devil handheld vacuum cleaner). There’s a love interest, a goofy gang, and the fun of hiding it all from his parents. Plus, none of them are in school, none of them should be living with their parents, and best of all, when Sam hurts Sock’s feelings, this is solved with a quick apology and immediate fun, rather than the ten minutes of teenage whining that early Buffy would have offered. It’s not as clever or precise as Whedon’s work, but it’s a damned fine lite version.

1 Comment for this entry

  • Chris

    I thought Reaper was trying a bit too hard, although Sock is great, like a less-manic Jack Black. I just watched Chuck, and liked it a whole lot more, but that could be because I haven’t slept in 29 hours.

    Have you seen Bionic Woman yet?

1 Trackback or Pingback for this entry