Rovi's Jack Rodgers provides this look at a handful of shows given a public airing for the first time at the 2013's Comic-Con Preview Night.Follow him for more Comic-Con coverage on Twitter at @roviJack.The 100 (CW)
The Premise: "Alright, the CW has approximately 100 models-turned-actors under contract. Anyone have an idea for a young-adult-style postapocalyptic adventure that could use all of them?"
The Plot: Roughly a century after nuclear war broke out and rendered the Earth uninhabitable, the remnants of humanity have fled to the relative safety of a space station in orbit over the planet. All crime on the station is considered a capital offense, since the powers that be need to keep the population low in order to ensure survival. A group of 100 law breakers (all of them, suspiciously, teenagers with flawless bone structure) are banished to the surface to test if the Earth is now habitable. As the youths debate how best to survive and what kind of society they want to build, the authorities are monitoring their progress and trying to prevent their own living conditions from deteriorating further.
What Works: The show's focus (for now, at least) on the basics of survival and how the different teens envision the society they're trying to form recalls one of the most intriguing elements from the first season of Lost before that series went all in on its convoluted mythology. Main character Clarke Walters (Eliza Taylor) is a type you don't see too often as the hero of a sci-fi/fantasy story: a hardass who believes in following the rules and is on everyone's case to get stuff done. Those CGI shots of the space station are surprisingly good (even if they're undermined by mediocre set design and staging).
What Doesn't: Look, I understand that everyone on this show needs to be blindingly attractive, but would it kill the producers to not have their hair and clothes perfectly maintained at all times, just so we'd know they were roughing it in an irradiated wilderness? Also, the dialogue is pretty clunky: At one point, the acting leader of the space station (Henry Ian Cusick) tells his flunky, "If we're going to kill hundreds of people, we're going to do it by the book." (So genocide is okay as long as it's orderly?)
Our Recommendation: This is a bland, by-the-numbers take on interesting material, but who knows? Give it a few episodes, and maybe the show will start to make the most of its conflicts (rule followers vs. anarchists, kids vs. adults) and fully explore the moral ambiguity and desperation of its premise.The Tomorrow People (CW)
The Premise: "Has anyone remade the 1970s British sci-fi series The Tomorrow People? What? Nickelodeon aired a new version of it in the early ‘90s? Eh, that's long enough."
The Plot: Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell, brother of Stephen Amell, abs-enhanced star of CW superhero series Arrow) has been hearing voices in his head and waking up in strange places – he's been attributing these incidents to a mental disorder, but he's really just starting to develop various superpowers. He's one of the Tomorrow People, human beings who have reached the next stage of evolution; soon, he's contacted by other Tomorrow People, who spend their free time hanging out in an underground lair and avoiding capture by a government agency called Ultra.
What Works: I'd be curious to know if there's a particular trend that the CW is chasing this year, since both The 100 and The Tomorrow People are about a conflict betweenyoung people and adults that is eventually revealed to be more complex than a simple good-vs.-evil dynamic. The final twist of the pilot promises a more interesting direction for the show that what I'd initially anticipated.
What Doesn't: The climax is basically a ripoff of the "rescue of Morpheus sequence" from The Matrix, except with a budget 100 times lower and not even a fraction of the visionary talent of the Wachowskis. Also, I for one am very tired of characters cracking wise about how lame and obvious the dialogue can be. Try harder, screenwriters.
Our Recommendation: If you want a story about youths dealing with life in between superpowered fights, you're better off grabbing an issue of Young Avengers.The Originals (CW)
The Premise: "Hey, the ratings for The Vampire Diaries aren't too bad by CW standards. Spinoff!"
The Plot: (Full disclosure: I have never seen an episode of The Vampire Diaires – although I've heard it's crazy good, and sometimes just plain crazy – so hopefully I'm not missing any crucial plot details that weren't in the pilot itself.) Vampire-werewolf hybrid Klaus (Joseph Morgan) arrives in New Orleans, which is now ruled by his protégé, a vampire named Marcel (Charles Michael Davis). Marcel has consolidated his power by declaring war on the city's witches, who in turn pressure Klaus into infiltrating Marcel's inner circle and taking him out. As leverage, they're holding hostage werewolf Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), who's pregnant with Klaus' child.
What Works: The scenes where Klaus or his brother Elijah (Daniel Gillies) attacks someone at lightning speed are cool in a stylized, this-is-happening-so-fast-to-obscure-the-fact-that-we-don't-have-a-lot-of-money-for-special-effects kind of way. The large cast of characters, each with his or her own agenda, suggests the plot to defeat Marcel might evolve into a multi-layered power struggle.
What Doesn't: After watching three pilots in a row from the CW, I have to conclude that I just don't like their house style. Everyone onscreen looks like they were cast because they have the hair of a Korean pop star, but their acting talents rarely rise above "serviceable." (Feel free to correct me if Morgan has shown a lot of charisma in his appearances on The Vampire Diaries, because I don't see much evidence of it here). Also, 95% of the dialogue are characters awkwardly telling each other their backstories and motivations, as if the producers were terrified of the possibility of even one viewer out there getting confused. (The other 5% are flailing attempts at humor.) I realize not everything should aspire to be Mad Men, but there's very little subtlety in these shows.
Our Recommendation: Do you like The Vampire Diaries? Then give this a shot.Almost Human (FOX)
The Premise: "It's a buddy cop procedural, but get this: the dude's partner is a robot!"
The Plot: In the near future, the crime rate has skyrocketed, causing the police to adopt a policy of pairing flesh-and-blood cops with robotic partners. John Kennex (Karl Urban) is returning to the force almost two years after an ambush during a raid on a criminal syndicate killed his entire team and left him with an artificial leg. His boss (Lili Taylor) decides his new partner will be a robot named Dorian (Michael Ealy), whose model was discontinued because it was a little too close to being human. Together, the two work to take down the crooks who ruined Kennex's life.
What Works: Well, the acting is more nuanced than anything airing on the CW, although that's practically the definition of "damning with faint praise." While the production design and special effects aren't as detailed as a blockbuster movie's would be, you're clearly looking at something far beyond the budget of a cable show.
What Doesn't: Pilot episodes almost always look better than the rest of the series (since more money is spent on them), so don't expect shots of a high-tech cityscape on a weekly basis. There's also nothing distinctive about the show's vision of the future, which feels like it was cherry picked from Minority Report, Blade Runner, Robocop, and a dozen other sci-fi classics. (What Almost Human really needs is to come up with a single motif to anchor all of its design choices, sort of like Firefly's Wild West-meets-Chinese aesthetic or Battlestar Galactica's grungy claustrophobia.) The episode ends with a bizarre, out-of-nowhere plot twist, just in case you didn't realize you were watching a series executive produced by J.J. Abrams.
Our Recommendation: It's worth checking out if you like police procedurals and/or science fiction. But keep your expectations low.