Geekomancer Under Glass: Fall 2013 Pilots (Part One)

5 Oct

Hello! Welcome to Geekomancer Under Glass, the Skiffy & Fanty blog series where I talk about pop culture.

“But why Geekomancer?” you might ask. That’s a reasonable question. I claim the title because I write a series with Geekomancers — people who use their love of pop culture to do magic — which means to stay current with the world I write about, I will on occasion dive headlong into pop culture, for good or for ill. And when all is said and done, I get to call it research! *maniacal laugh*

So, it’s fall, which means several things. For this post, it means the debuts of new TV shows. Before ‘Geeky Novelist’ eclipsed ‘Media Scholar’ in my ‘Relationship to Pop Culture’ archetype, I looked forward to Fall Pilot season like I imagine sports fans look forward to Opening Day. Show up for appointment television, eager and fresh after a far-too-long lull in That Thing That I Like Watching, to see what the rookies have to offer. Who’s going to hit it big, and who is going to get pulled so fast that no one will have time to wonder where anyone got that old vaudeville super-long hook.

This year, I’ve delved into several pilot episodes, and will discuss them here for your pleasure. For Part One, I’ll discuss Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Blacklist, and Sleepy Hollow.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

I have to admit that at first blush, I thought this show might be kind of terrible. Andy Samberg isn’t my favorite comedian, largely because he seems to so frequently embody the Millennial Man-Child in his roles.

Here’s the thing, though. This show is really pretty funny. I particularly appreciate that it takes the police procedural formula and condenses it into the 22-minute sitcom format. For all that I appreciate shows like Castle, for me, the police procedural aspect falls away instantly and I only focus on the characters. But in a more condensed 22-minute structure, the investigation is less intrusive, and there’s still room for the character bits.

Premise: Andre Braugher is the new captain of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a precinct which is like Hill Street Blues meets The Office. It’s also remeniscent of The Unusuals, a quirky cop show from 2009 that was too weird and cool to live, despite some up-and-coming star power (Amber Tamblyn, Jeremy Renner). Andy Samberg plays a brilliant-but-immature detective, and the rest of the cast is a surprisingly diverse group of Sitcom Cop archetypes: Stephanie Beatriz plays Det. Rosa Diaz, who is aggressive and actually rather scary; Melissa Fumero is Det. Amy Santiago, a proactive ladder climber with a side of brown-noser; Joe Lo Truglio plays Det. Charles Boyle, a clumsy and neurotic, but dedicated everyman detective. The team rounds out with Terry Crews as Sgt. Terry Jeffords, a formerly-overweight cop turned-trim-and-badass-but-now-afraid-of-combat-because-he-had-kids Sergeant who tries to keep the detectives in line, as well as Chelsea Peretti as Gina Linetti, a ‘in everyone’s business and rampantly inappropriate’ administrator. Andre Braugher’s Captain Ray Holt is finally getting a command, and is determined to whip the Nine-Nine into shape. Hilarity ensues.

The majority of the show’s fun comes from the characters, and it largely works, supplemented by slices of a sitcom perspective on police work. It’s also an appropriately diverse cast. Out of seven leads, four of them are people of color. It’s like Actual Brooklyn (!). As a former Brooklynite, this makes me very happy. The show isn’t crumbling the walls of Comedy Jericho or anything, but it gets props for diversity and for letting the characters each have human moments and be, for a sitcom, mostly genuinely likable. This is, I think, one to keep an eye on.

The Blacklist

The Blacklist

This show is so much pulpy silly fun. It’s like someone watched Hannibal and said “That’s all well and good, but can you make it more fun?” So, basically, if you smashed The Silence Of the Lambs together with White Collar, you’d end up with something like The Blacklist, but only if you hire James Spader to chew the scenery in a really entertaining fashion (spoiler: they did. It’s fun).

Premise: “Concierge of Crime” Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) shows up to FBI Headquarters to turn himself in. But really, he’s doing it so he can co-opt the FBI into taking down criminals who are even more evil and/or mustache-twirly than he is.  But he’ll only talk to freshly-minted profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), in a very Silence of The Lambs-y kind of fashion. Then the two of them will banter and barter (while the rest of the FBI tries to keep up) as Red plays Schemy Obi-Wan Kenobi and guides Keen through the investigation. There’s also drama with her husband, and the question of “Why is Red really doing all of this?”

For me, the big draw of this show is the fact that the pilot makes it very clear that everyone involved is having lots of fun. It wears its pulpiness on its sleeve, and seems to acknowledge that it’s really super not The Wire or Breaking Bad or any sort of Serious Cable Drama. It’s a fun show where James Spader will be slick and smart and then cool stuff will happen and things will explode. And as I grow older, I come to appreciate shows that are straightforward and deliver on their promises. I don’t expect Homeland-level shenanigans, but I am expecting to keep having fun.

Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow

I try not to think of things as guilty pleasures. If I enjoy it, it’s a pleasure. Why feel guilty about enjoying things? But if I were guilty about pleasures, one of those pleasures would be Sleepy Hollow.

Sleepy Hollow seems to be the result of Fox going “That Once Upon a Time is doing great! What can we do to answer it?” and one team going “What if we re-framed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with a bad-ass black female cop her sidekick, a sassy Icabod Crane, cast against the hilarious backdrop of the Tribulations from Revelations?” and the Fox exec said “Sold!”

No, seriously. The show’s mythology is already overflowing with ridiuculous awesome in a way I haven’t seen since Supernatural. And really, this show takes after Supernatural as much as anything else, with leads to something more compelling than Grimm (sorry David Giuntoni) and a concept that takes late 20th century Millenialism and manages to temper it somehow by being more un-self-consciously over the top,

Premise: Icabod Crane (Tom Mison) was a spy for George Washington during the American Revolution, fighting monsters and witches and a super-scary Hessian Mercenary. Crane beheads the mercenary, who has the temerity to keep coming after Crane after being beheaded. This is a problem. Crane ends up in magical suspended animation for 250ish years and wakes up in contemporary Sleepy Hollow, which will be the site of the seven-year period of Tribulations, what with the Four Horsemen, trials, monsters, and so on. Crane ends up as the sidekick to Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), who was about to leave for Quantico when her town comes down with a case of Hellmouth Axis Mundi courtesy of a Headless Horseman who is going around doing that beheading thing he’s so well known for. Mills and Crane team up, fight monsters, and make for an incredibly fun odd couple.

Crane’s fish out of water-ness is played very well, as is his gonzo secret history backstory, but Lt. Mills is in the driver’s seat of the show, with complex characterization and angst all her own, and a stubborn refusal to let the weirdness keep her from protecting people. The show also puts John Cho to great use, and has Clancy Brown being Clancy Brown (with bonus Highlander nod). Sleepy Hollow also has the most chuckle-worthy music cues since Supernatural, which I also appreciate.

If there’s a show I’d suggest trying out this year, it’s probably Sleepy Hollow. It’s already gotten a 2nd season pickup, and I think we might be getting a great ride out of this one.

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