Pilot Fishing, part 1 (Mania.com)

By:Jason Davis
Date: Monday, August 28, 2006

Never judge a show by its pilot. It's a rule I live by. It's somewhat peculiar because it is, in fact, contrary to the very laws of nature. Judging shows is exactly what pilots are for. A pilot should be the very best the show has to offer. It should show a network programming executive the full scope and possibility of a particular notion so that he or she may sagely pass judgment on the concept's worthiness for precious airtime. But, honestly, how can it? It's the first time! When was the last time any of us did something extraordinary on the very first attempt? Sure, I bowled a strike my first time at the lanes in six years last week, but I still had a history, albeit erratic, of knocking down all the pins in the past.

Bowling metaphors aside, judging a show based on its pilot is a very risky propositionso don't try this at home. On my desk, I have a stack of pilots. I have plucked from this stack three pilots to discuss this week and three for next week. By some uncanny stroke of luck, one of today's pilots actually airs this week while next bows a week hence. The rest of the stack, including the third entry for this installment, debuts toward the end of September. Just think of it as me giving you plenty of time to mull over my opinions for whatever they're worth.

First up, we have Fox's JUSTICE which will follow from the sophomore forensic series BONES on Wednesday night. JUSTICE comes to us from the pen of former federal prosecutor Jonathan Shapiro, who created the short-lived JUST LEGAL last year. His genre pedigree is further filled out with scripts for BOSTON LEGAL and THE PRACTICE. Shapiro's professional experience is evident in the depths to which the show goes to illustrate for the audience the minutiae of executing an impressive legal defense. I learned more about jury selection, shadow juries, and staged recreations than I honestly care to know, but I can honestly say that JUSTICE attacks well-tilled narrative soil from a decidedly new perspective. The cast, consisting of Victor Garber (ALIAS), Kerr Smith (DAWSON'S CREEK), Eamonn Walker (OZ), and relative newcomer Rebecca Mader essayed their roles with consummate skill. Luckily for Garber, ALIAS' early demise afforded plenty of time for its cast to score pilots for this season. Smith gets to go adult as the pretty boy lawyer of Garber's firm and works his boyish charm to full advantage. Walker, as ever, is intense. The show has a lot going for it, including a neat format that presents the actual crime at the end of the episode so you can see whether the client was really guilty or innocent. Alas, the pilot just didn't sit well with me. I've no problem with cynical TV, but JUSTICE just seems too jaded for my liking. I realize it's likely true that juries are bought and sold just like brand names, but it's really unsettling for me to watch this show and feel like THE PRACTICE, with its bottom-feeding get-'em-out-on-technicalities counselors, was a more honorable portrayal of the American legal system. At least they used the law! They may have twisted it beyond its meaning, but the show was about the law. I'll give JUSTICE a few more weeks, but even the show's title buys into the charade the series represents and makes me want to shower after seeing it.

Next up is STANDOFF, created by Craig Silverstein, one of the best writers to come out of THE DEAD ZONE and Tim Minear's right hand on THE INSIDE, one of my personal favs from last year. The show is a pseudo-procedural about hostage negotiators starring Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt. The pilot is an engaging enough affair and Livingston delivers a fine performance. FIREFLEY's Gina Torres plays the lead negotiators' boss and though she has little to do aside from looking stern, I'm always overjoyed to see her brighten my TV screen with that radiant smile. The mix of professional and personal was just the right balance for this new breed of character-based procedurals and the MOONLIGHTING-esque sexual tension that imbues a few of the scenes will likely provide rich fuel for the ongoing storylines. Though the pilot script contained a few nice twists, I never really felt that the show dug deep enough into either story or character. Still, there's plenty of time to get that right. Well, this is Fox...they probably shouldn't take too much time...

The best is for last and that is NBC's HEROES which receives my strongest recommendation for this batch of freshman shows. Reminiscent of J. Michael Straczynski's Rising Stars comic from a few years back with hints of X-Men and even a whiff of THE 4400, the pilot chronicles the awakening of super powers within a diverse array of characters across the world. Though there's not really an overriding story in the first installment (which clocked in at 54 minutes and will likely make another pass through the edit bay before arriving on your screen late next month), there was a wonderful sense of something epic brewing. The large ensemble cast is full of fresh new faces with a few old standbys (hello Adrian Pasdar and Ali Larter). I also suspect that much of the audience will quickly anoint Masi Oka as one of the funniest men on TV. The show comes to us courtesy of Tim Kring who, long ago, penned that fondly remembered superhuman series MISFITS OF SCIENCE (a series in desperate need of a DVD release from Universal if only to see a teenaged Courtney Cox working her mind-over-matter mojo). This is one to watch and NBC's schedule pairs it with Aaron Sorkin's highly-anticipated STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP in what I suspect will soon be must-see Monday on the Peacock.

E-mail your comments to wastelandjason@hotmail.com.

KYLE XY (11 AM PST, ABC Family) The entire first season runs in a marathon lead-in to the season finale.

PRISON BREAK (8 PM PST, Fox) "Otis" Fox's breakout hit (I knowthat was bad) goes on the run in my home state of Texas as season two continues.

KYLE XY (8 PM PST, ABC Family) "Endgame" Kyle's parents appear, pre-empting his quest for self-discovery.

VANISHED (9 PM PST, Fox) "The Tunnel" I'm still catching up from my vacation and haven't watched the pilot yet, but I'm happy to see Ming-Na on something other than ER--will that poor show never die?

WEEDS (9 PM PST, Showtime) "Last Tango in Agrestic" Shane hits puberty while Celia enrolls Isabelle in teen boot camp.

LIFE ON MARS (10 PM PST, BBC America) Episode 6 HORNBLOWER's Paul Copley guest stars as Sam tries to diffuse a hostage situation in '73 while worrying that his life support is being turned off in 2006.

DEAD LIKE ME (7 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Nighthawks" It's time for reaper evaluations, and it's like every annoying job appraisal you've ever had...but worse.

DEAD LIKE ME (8 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Vacation" Death takes a holiday while the reapers catch up on their paperwork.

EUREKA (9 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Blink" The Sheriff investigates a curious automobile accident.

BONES (8 PM PST, Fox) "The Titan on the Tracks" I'm nominating this episode for the best use of Spam ever in the history of television. Brilliant.

JUSTICE (9 PM PST, Fox) Pilot See above.

BLADE: THE SERIES (10 PM PST, SPIKE TV) "Hunters" Krista goes into rehab and the columnist fears that Blade will take center stage for the hour...which is not a good thing.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

STARGATE: SG-1 (6 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) Viewer's Choice Marathon Eight hours of SG-1 without a single episode featuring Claudia Black. This is what I call a missed opportunity. I shall be staging a FARSCAPE DVD marathon in protest!

I've just scanned the fall schedule in the hopes of something to mention on Saturday nightsthere is nothing! Nothing, I tell you. Makes one long for the days of the NBC Thrillogy.

BROTHERHOOD (10PM PST, Showtime) "Ecclesiastes 7:2" "[It is] better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that [is] the end of all men; and the living will lay [it] to his heart." A clerical error found last week's column detailing this week's episode. The management apologizes for the inconvenience.