UPDATE: Finally got a look at “666 Park Avenue”!
With a compelling new season of “Alphas” on Syfy and a rollicking new series of “Doctor Who” on BBC America, the networks have a high bar to meet this fall with their smattering of new geek-centric shows.
Though, I must say, fave “Warehouse 13″ has dipped in quality this season. Pete’s (Eddie McClintock) way too annoyingly juvenile, and everything’s being played much too broadly. As much as I like Aaron Ashmore’s Jinks, maybe there are too many characters. He’s still not in the opening-credits shot, so he may not be around much longer.
Here’s a look at this season’s sci-fi pilots, which kick off tonight with NBC’s “Revolution.” Some series have been known to improve from a so-so pilot, but others fail to live up to the starter. So take all this with a grain of salt. Even if I didn’t like the pilot, I’ll probably give all these a few episodes to be fair.
“666 Park Ave.” (10 p.m. Sept. 30): Dave Annable (“Brothers & Sisters”) and Rachael Taylor (“Charlie’s Angels”) are the new managers of a New York apartment building, but there are all sorts of supernatural shenanigans going on.
Eric’s take: My first impression is that “666 Park Avenue” has some potential, but it needs to ramp up the mood, not just scares for shock value. Sure, it’s spooky, but it doesn’t quite have the ambiance I’m looking for with all that’s going on.
We open with a violinist who apparently had a mystical contract of some sort with the building’s owner (Terry O’Quinn) to become a star player. But he can’t pay when the contract is due, and things don’t go well.
Enter the sweet-faced Midwest couple who find the opening for building manager when they’re looking for an apartment. Henry (David Annable) is supposedly the mayor’s chief of staff, but he doesn’t make much money. Girlfriend Jane (Rachael Taylor) apparently had a big architect job lined up, but it fell through.
So now they’re part of this building, which looks perfectly nice by all accounts, but there’s evil. Eeeeeviiiiil!
Jane discovers a big dragon mosaic on the basement floor and decides to do some research on the building since one of her degrees is in historical preservation. Meanwhile, Dave’s kind of a weenie.
We get some scares with a dead woman and her creepy husband, but there’s nothing too terrifying. And on top of it all, we have the superglam Vanessa Williams as the owner’s wife. She’s very cool, but she’s not scary yet.
Other prominent building residents include a struggling playwright with a wandering eye (hmm, think he’s going to make a deal?), his condescending photographer wife, the front desk guy and a girl who steals stuff from people’s apartments and can apparently see their owners’ futures. Jane’s doesn’t look pretty.
It’s only the pilot, and I saw glimmers of some good stuff, so I have hopes for the future. I’m interested in seeing how the mosaic plays out — secret societies and all. And we’ve got one ghost so far. I certainly want to stick around to see where it goes.
“The Neighbors” (9:30 p.m. Sept. 26): A human family moves into a suburban development that, it turns out, is populated by aliens disguised as humans. They came to see if Earth would be habitable should their planet succumb to global warming.
Eric’s take: Whoever edited the trailer together this summer should be fired. The series looked so awful, I was dreading watching it for this write-up. But it was surprisingly likable.
It definitely has some problems, but it’s nowhere near the train wreck I was expecting. I think one of the biggest problems is that it’s just too broad. For every spark of true wit, there’s a really dumb joke and a lame sight gag.
The aliens are all named after sports figures, and their leader is Larry Bird (Simon Templeman, “Just Shoot Me”). His wife is Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye, “Prime Suspect”). And it goes on.
The blue collar family moving into the suburb is headed by Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito, “NYC22″) and Debbie Weaver (Jami Gertz, “Entourage”).
Gertz deserves the most credit for making the show watchable. She has steady comedic timing while everything else is flailing around her. Templeman and Olagundoye keep their deadpan shtick consistently, but the writing moves around so much that sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s not.
And that shows a problem in tone. I just can’t get a feel for what the show is trying to be. Sometimes it’s a broad comedy, but sometimes it pulls back and gets personal, which makes for the best parts. The lurching back and forth causes sitcom whiplash.
But, it turns out, there’s enough there for me to watch a bit longer. This could be one of those shows that will be great once it finds its voice. It certainly has a game, agile cast. It also has a good pedigree, with creator Dan Fogelman (“Cars,” “Tangled”) and a couple of producers from “Modern Family.” If it fails, I hope Olagundoye gets a great gig on “Doctor Who.”
“Arrow” (8 p.m. Oct. 10): DC’s “Green Arrow” loses the “Green” in name only. Oliver Queen, stranded on an island for five years, still wears a green hood as he battles corruption in Starling City. (No, that’s not a typo.) Executive producer (and pilot story writer) Greg Berlanti (“Brothers & Sisters,” “Green Lantern” movie) is a big geek, so that bodes well.
Eric’s take: Up until I watched “Revolution,” this was my favorite pilot. That’s not surprising since I’m a big DC Comics fan, but Green Arrow has never been one of my books, so I won’t notice all the things they’ll change that will upset the fanboys.
It’s a solidly dramatic first hour. Sure, it strains credulity (how does someone stranded on an island for five years become a super hacker?) at times and takes itself too seriously in the voiceover, but that’s the nature of these shows. Stephen Amell (“Hung”) is a charismatic, muscular Oliver Queen who does a good job of being the spoiled rich boy the public expects while turning grim and gritty as Arrow. I’m sure he’s got some stunt/weapons doubles, but it’s obvious he’s done a lot of training himself.
Katie Cassidy (“Gossip Girl”) as Laurel Lance (don’t worry) and Colin Donnell (“Pan Am”) as Tommy Merlyn (oooh) are his links to his past. Laurel is mad at him because her sister died in the shipwreck, and Tommy just wants to par-tay.
But Ollie wants to fulfill the dying wishes of his father and clean up the corruption in Starling City. (Man, that’s got to be the stupidest change of all. What’s wrong with Star City?)
We’ve already got confirmation that Huntress and the Royal Flush Gang (probably without flying playing cards) will be making an appearance, and John Barrowman (“Torchwood”) has been cast in a mystery recurring role. Also, it’s been reported that the show has pretty much full use of DC’s non-powered, non-alien characters (I’m guessing not Batman, though), so I’m pretty excited. I won’t spoil the Easter eggs in the pilot.
My one hang-up is the amount of violence and Arrow’s somewhat easy willingness to kill. I’m king of old-school and don’t like my heroes to be killers.
“Beauty and the Beast” (9 p.m. Oct. 11): The 1980s TV series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman is revived and revised with Kristin Kreuk (“Smallville”) and Jay Ryan (“Terra Nova”) as the star-crossed lovers Catherine and Vincent. Vincent is a former doctor and soldier who escaped government experimentation and turns extra strong and mean when he gets worked up. At one point, he anonymously saved Catherine’s life when she and her mother were attacked by mysterious bad guys. Now Catherine’s a cop in terribly inappropriate fashions, and an investigation leads her to him.
Eric’s take: Unless you are seriously crushing on Kreuk, don’t even bother. The lush, romantic drama with a whole Ren Fest world beneath the streets of New York is gone, replaced with a generic man-on-the-run story. And Vincent is no longer a mysterious cat person, but a regular guy who’s way too hunky to be called a beast, even when he’s in beast mode.
And we’re supposed to believe that the government can’t find Vincent in all its years of searching, but she finds him in a couple days?
Kreuk isn’t bad, but she’s no Hamilton. And her chemistry with Ryan is practically nil. Her supporting cast is more interesting: Nina Lisandrello as her partner, Tess, and Max Brown as the medical examiner with a great accent, Evan.
With all the mediocre acting and by-the-numbers writing, I don’t see this improving much from the pilot. I’d rather re-watch my old “Dark Angel” DVDs.
“Revolution” (10 tonight): J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” etc.) is producing this sci-fi show set 15 years after all electricity (and any related power) is suddenly shut down. The United States has devolved into several militia-led states. There’s a chance the lights can be turned on again if a girl and her companions can survive long enough.
Eric’s take: I was more impressed with the pilot than I was expecting. It hits lots of familiar notes, but it does a good job of establishing the premise and introducing a wide-ranging cast of characters. I’m going to need more than “Physics went insane and nobody knows why” (as one character tells a group of kids) pretty soon to keep up my willful suspension of disbelief (seriously, how can electricity, gasoline, steam power just not work for 15 years?), but I’m willing to go with it for now.
It helps that it has a strong cast, centered around Tracy Spiridakos (“Being Human”) as Charlie, the daughter of the guy who seems to know exactly what happened and who must find her Uncle Miles (Billy Burke, “The Closer”) in Chicago when her brother is kidnapped by the militia. She’s joined by two others from her village and meets a hunky young guy in the woods on the way who later saves her from bandits.
It’s a strong ensemble, and the show has a wonderful sense of place and great set design. And while the opening feels very “Flash Forward,” I’m intrigued. Especially by the ending, which does crib from “Lost.” It’s like the best elements of these conspiracy shows are being distilled into one. It probably helps that the pilot is directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”).
The show also features Giancarlo Esposito, who has a big role on “Once Upon a Time,” so I’m wondering what will happen there. He’s really good in this.