Welcome to the new fall TV season, where new shows battle it out with returning shows for a warm little place in the hearts and minds of audiences. A pilot might not fully reflect what a whole series will be like, but it is what makes people latch on to a new show. Here are a few quick thoughts about the new shows fighting for our attention.
Let it be said first that Ringer is pure melodrama. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you. But it stars Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and this is a great comeback for her, playing twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan.
The pilot focuses mostly on Bridget but it has enough of Siobhan to create a clear distinction between both personalities. It tells the story of Bridget, a woman under police protection who’s the only witness of a murder; she escapes to reunite with her twin sister, the elegant and wealthy Siobhan, after 6 years of not speaking to each other. Bridget is the screw-up sister of the pair, having been a stripper and arrested for prostitution, making Siobhan hide her existence from Andrew, her husband (played by Ioan Gruffudd from those silly Fantastic For movies) everyone else in her life. During their reunion, Siobhan kills herself and Bridget decides on a whim that she will hide the demise of her dear sister and impersonate her, discovering that Siobhan was not the perfect lady she appeared to be. And therein lies the theme of this show: Nothing is what it seems. Bridget, the one in legal troubles, is kind and emotional; Siobhan is revealed to be a cheating, emotionally distant, lying hardcore bitch; and Andrew, who initially appears to be a neglecting husband, might actually just be tired of Siobhan’s wicked ways. As with most melodramas, and keeping in mind that this is a CW show, there is an annoying teenager, Andrew’s daughter, who gets kicked out of school for being a teenager, making her the only character who is exactly what she seems.
On a technical note, the compositing of some of the shots is pretty sloppy, as well as some of the editing at the beginning, but this could be easily corrected in the coming episodes.
This is a great vehicle for Sarah Michelle Gellar and interesting enough to give it a shot, at least for a few episodes to see where the story goes. The pilot was a bit slow but eventful; my guess is this is the type of mystery that unfolds slowly and requires a little patience, but isn’t it great to have Buffy back? The wonderful Nestor Carbonell also stars as the police officer trying to protect and convince Bridget to testify against the man who committed the murder she witnessed in exchange for having charges against her dropped.
Up All Night (NBC)
This comedy about a party couple faced with parenthood has many great elements to it: Christina Applegate as working mom Reagan, Will Arnett as stay-at-home dad Chris, and Maya Rudolph as the Oprah-ish Ava are brilliant, as expected; the banter between Reagan and Chris is snappy and effortless; and the over the top antics of Ava are a highlight. The struggles of what could be defined as a typical modern couple are presented very organically and it’s undeniable that raising a baby can be a great source of comedic situations. I thought this pilot was cute, but as I watched it, I couldn’t help but wonder, why isn’t Maya Rudolph headlining her own show?
Free Agents (NBC)
As with Up All Night, this show has great talent. Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn are a good match as two lonely, emotionally damaged PR executives getting back on the dating horse. If you were a fan of Buffy, I’ll dare to affirm that seeing Anthony Stuart Head on anything is a joy, and the rest of the supporting cast do well with what they’re given. But ultimately, the Free Agents pilot brings nothing new to workplace comedy. As with every other show of its kind, it is filled with quirky characters and personal issues filter into and affect everyone’s time at the office. A particular problem with this pilot is that there weren’t enough strong comedic moments. I’m not giving it another shot, but I appreciate that the creators tried to make a show about two severely depressed characters, because depression is a complicated issue to tackle.
The Secret Circle (CW)
This is the first of three new shows dealing with magic this season. Being based on a series of books by L.J. Smith and produced by Kevin Williamson makes The Secret Circle very similar to that other excellent L.J. Smith – Kevin Williamson produced CW show, The Vampire Diaries: both shows deal with a beautiful teenage girl struggling with parental loss, living in a charming small town, where kids gather at one particular grill-bar, and find themselves involved in supernatural occurrences. In the case of The Secret Circle, young Cassie (played by Brittany Robertson from Life Unexpected), after arriving to New Salem, gets confronted by a five teenagers with at least one dead parent (including Thomas Dekker from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as Adam), who tell her she’s a witch that comes from a very long line of powerful witches from six different families and the only way to fully control their power is to have a representative of each family to perform a ritual. Cassie’s arrival intensifies the other kids’ powers, but Cassie wants nothing to do with them.
To add the expected romantic twist to the story, Adam’s drunker father tells Cassie that it was written in the stars that he belonged to Cassie’s dead mother, meaning Cassie is meant to be with Adam, which backfires because Adam is already involved with one of the girls from the group. This is another common factor with The Vampire Diaries: the pilot establishment the reigning love triangle of the series by episode one, something that has become a bit clichéd with most TV series but seems unavoidable.
The display of magical abilities was done mostly with practical effects, having only about three very obvious but very well done CGI sequences. This show’s approach to magic and some of the characters are reminiscent to 1996’s The Craft. Cassie is the new girl in town with a dead mother; Faye is the bitchy, impulsive, power hungry wiccan; Diana is the one who really, really wants to complete the circle; and Sally is the follower. If you liked The Craft, finding equivalents to The Secret Circle’s characters will be easy.
But this show is not just about teenagers. The adults in this story hold all the answers and aren’t willing to share them with their younger counterparts, making them integral to the main question formulated by this pilot: What happened to the defunct parents of these kids and why are the surviving parents trying to hide it? Gale Harold plays Diana’s father and Natasha Henstridge plays Faye’s mother, both being the apparent designated baddies of the show and doing a great job at it.
Because it deals with teenagers, the supernatural and some romance, some might think this show is a Twilight wannabe, which is a problem The Vampire Diaries encounter initially. But although some elements seem clichéd, the first episode of The Secret Circle was very strong, well paced and well written, with a story intriguing enough to keep watching. This is The Craft by way of The Vampire Diaries, and that in itself means there’s great potential in this show.
Next time on Pilot Watch: Men and women try to deal with each other, two broke girls and a bunch of bunnies.