TV: Two Pilots and a Plane

From the department of recently watched television: lately I’ve sampled a couple of pilot episodes that failed to impress, and finished up Lost, season four.

If you’re looking for a new show to watch, steer clear of The Good Guys.This buddy cop show starring Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks attempts to combine Tarantino-esque structural flourishes with 1980s-style action-adventure. Set in Dallas, it’s about two unlikeable cops — Dan Stark (Whitford), a boorish, old school asshole who holds onto his job because, years ago, he saved the mayor’s kid, and Jack Bailey (Hanks), who has simply irritated everyone else on the force. Their punishment is that they’re stuck working together, looking into dead-end, routine crimes. In the pilot, their investigation into a stolen humidifier puts them, miraculously, onto an international drug smuggling ring. A tonal mess, The Good Guys looked vaguely interesting for a few minutes when I thought it was going to be about two cops on the department’s shitlist pursuing unglamorous cases, with some comedic alinear storytelling. But it kind of mutates into a mundane rock-‘n’-roll action-fest, like an old-fashioned Stephen J. Cannell TV adventure gone spectacularly wrong. Maybe Whitford and Hanks are simply too effective here at making their characters annoying. I liked a couple of the guest actors, but the regulars and the series framework left me cold.

You can probably also steer clear of The Gates, which showed a little more potential perhaps, but is also far less memorable. I can say that with authority because we watched it a week ago, and I can hardly remember it — at least The Good Guys made an impression. The basic set-up of The Gates is that there is a small, pristine little gated community where things are not as they seem. Behind this community’s walls, vampires and werewolves and demons live normal lives, in human guise. A new sheriff and his family move to town and it looks like they’ll be investigating new supernatural cases every week. I found the pilot bland to the point of tastelessness, with generic Hollywood casting; most of the characters make no impression. It seems like a supernatural genre show written by and for people who have only the remotest interest in the genre. Far less accomplished than, say, Happy Town, which itself wasn’t all that great, but at least had some ambition and personality to it. Maybe The Gates will develop into something interesting, but probably not while I’m watching.

From two ineffective pilots, to a show with one of the best pilots ever: we finally finished up season four of Lost, which I thought was its best season since the first. Shaking up its storytelling formula at the end of season three worked wonders, and I also suspect that the writer’s strike helped focus this season — at only fourteen episodes, there are fewer franchise-padding filler episodes. A major problem of Lost is that the writers don’t always seem to know the answers to the show’s questions, but I think they mapped out this season pretty well; the central mystery is compelling and well executed, and the individual stories within it are generally well told.

I also think this is one of the best cast shows in TV history, and for whatever else it does, I think it has a very impressive track record for introducing interesting, distinctive characters. It doesn’t always handle those characters adroitly, particularly women; and it also has a tendency to overplay great characters, removing their mystique. But character interactions and relationships are always a big part of what makes this show fun to watch, and the actors generally do a great job of making me care about what happens to them — even the actors whose characters I don’t particularly like. Looking forward to continuing with this series.

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