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.

Enlightened (HBO)

I only learned about this show after the third episode aired.  Did this show get any press beforehand?

Anyway…  Many claim to have found God after a traumatic experience and let everyone know how much they’ve changed their wicked ways.  Very few actually change and become better human beings.  In most cases, people believe with great conviction that they’ve changed when they haven’t and try to impose change in others, becoming the spiritual equivalent of annoying environmentalists.

Enlightened perfectly depicts the life of a person desperately trying to change.  Laura Dern plays Amy, a woman who goes to a spiritual retreat in Hawaii after the failure of her marriage and loosing her job for snapping in the office after sleeping with a married co-worker; she returns home with a brand new positive attitude and the desire to make herself and everyone around her better, but instead she annoys everyone at work, her mother doesn’t like her, her plans to save the world fall apart even before they begin, and the only person who accepts her as she is, is her junkie ex.

On episode 3, when Amy has to drastically change her focus from changing the world to what’s happening around her, she finally takes an actual step towards becoming a better person.

The show depicts  what many of us go through every day: leading an unfulfilled life.  Laura Dern’s performance effortlessly moves between zen, neurosis, frustration, and sadness.  It’s sad to see a show like this not get better promoted and watched by more people.  It’s not what we’ve learned to expect from HBO, but Enlightened is a show worth giving a chance.

Allen Gregory (FOX)

This animated show about a rich, precocious 7 year old attending public school for the first time can easily be deemed highly offensive.  After two episodes, I’m sure the only way to enjoy it is by not taking it too seriously, which might not be easy to do.  Most of the offensive content of the lines on this show that are at times racist, classist and homophobic, are made hilarious by the way they are delivered.  Seeing a 7 year old sexually harass a 70-something year old principal it’s ridiculous.  Most characters are very unlikeable, particularly Allen Gregory and his dad (who looks just like Dean Pelton from Community), two extremely pretentious characters with a sense of entitlement greater than a fame-seeking socialite.

This show is not for network television.  I’m not sure it’ll survive the season.  I’m very conflicted about this show, mostly because of how bad I feel about finding it funny.

Hell on Wheels (AMC)

Early reviews have compared Hell on Wheels to HBO’s Deadwood.  This makes sense based on the fact that both shows are set in the 1800’s and seem to be tonally similar, but that’s as far as similarities go.  If critics were going for accuracy, Hell on Wheels should be compared to at least two episodes of Into the West, the 2005 mini-series produced by Steven Spielberg that dealt with the end of the civil war and the construction of the first transcontinental railroad.  Both shows depict in different ways the injustices of the time and the consequences of war.

The pilot for Hell on Wheels had great production values and did a very good job introducing the four main players: Cullen Bohanon, the former reformed slave owner and former soldier hell bent on avenging his murdered wife, played by Anson Mount; Elam Ferguson, the emancipated slave struggling with the freedom that seems to have very little freedom in it, played by Common; Thomas Durant, the greedy entrepreneur in charge of the transcontinental railroad project, played by the wickedly delightful Colm Meany; and Lily Bell, wife of a railroad scout who becomes a widow lost in the wilderness and carrying important maps Thomas Durant needs, played by Dominique McElligot.  However, and this can be fully blamed on AMC, the pilot had no story at all.  This pilot needed to be two hours long to introduce the characters and give a general sense of where things are going.

The show has a solid cast.  Colm Meany is a highlight simply for being Colm Meany.  Common continues proving he can handle acting as well as rap.  But major props go to Anson Mount.  Not only does he look like he belongs in the 1800s and does a good job portraying a vengeful man conflicted by his beliefs and what’s expected of him as a high ranking railroad worker, this man is a fighter and a survivor.  He took bad advice from the man least likely to give bad advice and made it through:  Robert DeNiro encouraged Mount to take the role in the giant wreck of a hot mess that was 2002’s Crossroads with Britney Spears, and not only did he survive, but now he’s finally headlining his own damn show.  Perseverance works for some, and it finally paid off for Mount.

I can’t say this is a good show based on the pilot since it had no story.  But the pilot was very well made and introduced very interesting characters.  At least the show can focus purely on story from episode two.  The show has great potential.


This is the end of Pilot Watch for the year.  There is one more new show left to air, FOX’s I Hate My Teenage Daughter, but since it is a sitcom, I refuse to sit through another terrible laugh track.

Pilot Watch will hopefully return with the mid-season.

How did you feel about the 2011 fall season?  Comment away.