Comic Con Preview Night
By Jack Rodgers
666 Park Avenue
The Premise: It’s Rosemary’s Baby meets the decency standards of broadcast television.
The Plot: Near-broke NYC couple Henry (Dave Annable) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) apply as the managers of a tony apartment complex owned by Gavin (Terry O’Quinn) and Olivia Doran (Vanessa Williams), who seem to be concealing dark secrets hidden within the building. Meanwhile, the other residents face a number of temptations: A widower commits murder in order to bring his wife back from the dead, and a geeky playwright (Robert Buckley) becomes infatuated with a woman (Helena Mattsson) whose apartment he can see into.
What Works: It’s not clear how the show will be structured going forward, but the setting has the potential to tell a lot of different stories about the various residents struggling with Gavin’s offers of wealth and power. Terry O’Quinn is, unsurprisingly, terrific at underplaying the role of the intimidating yet charming villain. Vanessa Williams’ character could be intriguing – she mentions that she once had a child who died in a car accident, which suggests she might be another person being manipulated by Gavin rather than his co-conspirator.
What Doesn’t: I hope you like lame Hell-related puns, because that appears to be the show’s main source of humor (when Henry and Jane ask about the previous occupant of their apartment: "(He) moved someplace warmer.") A lot of the plot points feel derivative of dozens of other horror movies without really adding anything new or displaying any visual panache. Also, there’s a weirdly anachronistic vibe to the proceedings: Why does Jane do research on the building’s history at a public library? Why is the playwright so fascinated by an unknown woman who undresses in front of her open window? (Does he not know Internet porn exists?)
Our Recommendation: Skip it.
The Premise: Some executive at the CW realized that that they had stopped renewing Smallville after ten seasons and asked, " Is there a second-tier DC superhero we could also turn into a brooding, frequently shirtless young man?"
The Plot: Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is stranded on a remote island after his billionaire father’s yacht sinks; by the time he’s rescued five years later, he’s developed Olympic-caliber gymnastic skills and (somehow) the martial-arts prowess necessary to fight five burly men at once. Disillusioned by his previous life as a hard-partying wastrel, he reinvents himself as a superhero to wage war on corporate corruption and clean up his city.
What Works: The focus on fraud and other corporate crimes gives Arrow a gloss of timeliness, and Queen’s Scrooge-like transformation from entitled rich jerk to do-gooder and man of the people has the potential to be more interesting than (and very different from) Bruce Wayne’s lonely misery. Although the show lacks a consistent visual style, some of the effects work and fight sequences are stronger than expected. Perhaps best of all, Queen’s friends and family have all changed in his absence and are keeping big secrets from him, which, with good writing, could bring depth to the show’s personal relationships.
What Doesn’t: That said, the special effects aren’t that good – they’re attempting to make a superhero epic on the budget of, well, a CW show. For proof, check out the hilariously cheesy way director David Nutter cuts straight from the yacht running into trouble to the last piece of it sinking into the deep. It seems like the show is going to make a running joke out of Queen being confused about the pop-culture events he’s missed out on, and it’s as painfully unfunny as it sounds. Also, he kills a decent number of people in the first episode alone – sure, they’re bad guys, but shouldn’t Queen have a "no killing" moral code along the lines of Supes or Batman?
Our Recommendation: For superhero fans and those who want a weekly dosage of Amell’s impressively sculpted bare abs (hey, no judgments).
The Premise: It’s a Charlie Kaufman-style puzzler about the nature of cult television and obsessive fandom.
The Plot: Journalist Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis) is looking for his troubled brother Nate, who went missing after becoming obsessed with a CW television show called Cult. His search eventually leads him to investigate Cult’s rabid fanbase and cryptic storyline, which revolves around an LAPD detective (Alona Tal) hunting a cult leader (Robert Knepper) who might know what happened to her vanished sister. At the same time, the producers of Cult are under pressure from the network to improve their ratings, but the show’s mysterious, unseen creator might not be willing to comply. Also, Jeff gets a pair of weirdly colored glasses that reveal hidden messages, and Cult’s fans and characters keep saying "Hey, these things just snap right off!" before doing something crazy. Got all that?
What Works: Some of the dialogue has just the right wonky, inside-baseball flavor a show this meta needs: One corporate suit tries to prove his integrity by bragging that "at Fox, I was the guy who kept Joss on the air for more than a season." More importantly, Cult has a fascinating, multi-leveled premise that’s like nothing else on television right now. It’s a creepy, mythology-heavy suspense series that’s also a deconstruction of mythology-heavy shows and the way they inspire fans to get unhealthily obsessed about mysteries that may not have answers. There’s also room in here for commentary on the dog-eat-dog nature of Hollywood, the compromises of making art, and the way religious mania can take many forms.
What Doesn’t: A show like this absolutely needs to get the finer details right, and some of them feel very off. It’s implied that Cult has only aired a handful of episodes so far, which doesn’t seem like enough time to build up a significant fanbase (much less one this devoted). Also, the show runs into the same problem a lot of movies and TV series are having right now: People do so much of their socializing online, but that’s something that’s tough to make visually interesting. Its solution is a dimly lit club called fan_dom_ain café, where TV viewers of all stripes get together to watch their favorite programs. Meanwhile, a website for Cult obsessives resembles a chatroom from 1997. Frankly, this is not what TV fandom looks like in this day and age.
Our Recommendation: This could turn into a brilliant, low-rated series or a disastrous misfire, but either way, it’s worth watching a couple of episodes to see what direction it takes.
The Premise: J.J. Abrams Presents: Blackout the Series!*
(*Answers to all mysteries to be provided at an unspecified date.)
The Plot: An unexplained incident suddenly causes all technology – from computers to car engines to batteries – to stop working. Fifteen years later, the United States has been carved into a handful of self-sufficient communities, Old West-style towns, and territory controlled by a dictator named General Monroe (David Lyons). When one of Monroe’s soldiers (Giancarlo Esposito) raids a peaceful community and takes Danny (Graham Rogers) hostage, his sister Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) sets off on a quest to rescue him and find her estranged uncle (Billy Burke), who may have the answers to the blackout.
What Works: Revolution’s writing and direction are noticeably sharper than the other pilots (thanks to show co-creator Eric Kripke and pilot director Jon Favreau). Giancarlo Esposito brings a lot more nuance to his character than the script provides, even if he’s only doing a variation of Gus Fring from Breaking Bad (a villain who’s a model of efficiency and self-control). The post-blackout world should be interesting to explore, and it’s visualized well so far.
What Doesn’t: Revolution’s pilot is good, but it’s not in the same league as the pilot for Lost (co-written and directed by J.J. Abrams), which had both a greater sense of urgency and more breathing room for smaller character moments thanks to its 82-minute runtime.
Our Recommendation: Check it out, although don’t blame us if none of the mythology adds up in a few years’ time.
The Premise: Serial killers – gotta catch ‘em all!
The Plot: Former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is called out of retirement to hunt down escaped serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who is skilled at attracting and mentoring other sociopaths in order to further his own twisted agenda.
What Works: Bacon and Purefoy are well cast as the two principal adversaries: Bacon’s minimalist performance is effective at portraying a haunted, barely functional man, while Purefoy’s knockoff Hannibal Lecter routine is enjoyably hammy. Neither man is doing career-best work, but they’re not phoning it in, either. The expected scenes of people with flashlights running through a pitch-black house look suitably eerie thanks to pilot director Marcos Siega.
What Doesn’t: Kevin Williamson’s script is a Xerox of a copy of every serial killer movie, TV show, or novel of the last 20 years. Within the first minute of meeting Hardy, we’re shown an empty bottle of booze in his trash as he reminds his FBI superior, "I’m not an agent anymore." Later, a female colleague tells him, "I read your file. I know you don’t play well with others!" Even worse than the show’s trite dialogue are its ludicrous plot holes, which rely on the sort of "The Internet Is Magic!" anti-logic that Hollywood had largely gotten away from by the late-‘90s. For example, we’re told that Carroll was given access to a computer at a public library one day a week while in prison, and during that time he was able to find other serial killers by creating "47 dedicated websites" and "over a thousand blogs, chatrooms, and online forums." Let that sink in. (If there’s a recurring theme to all of these pilots, it’s that nobody making network TV apparently knows how people use the Internet.)
Our Recommendation: For Kevin Bacon completists only.