ABC's New Show Trailers: A Critic's Ranking

Kiefer Sutherland's 'Designated Survivor' shined by not showing a trailer.
'Downward Dog'

ABC had the upfront spotlight all to itself on Tuesday, but a poorly cobbled collection of teasers may have left advertisers and press concentrating on the one new show that didn't even show a trailer.

Questionable soundtrack choices, near-parody voiceovers and a surplus of utterly cornball taglines particularly undermined footage for the network's dramas, and the marketing team also struggled to make the comedies look funny, though at least they looked interesting.

My reminder: Keeping in mind that trailers are not pilots and pilots are not series, I'll be giving quickie reactions to all of the teasers and sizzle reels presented by networks this week. That'll be different from my Take Me to the Pilots series over the summer giving quick reactions to all of the pilots and then different from the actual reviews come fall. In this case, I'm still looking forward to several of ABC's shows that had brutal sizzle reels.

Here are my instant responses from worst to best for the ABC pilots:

11) Dirty Dancing This was not a pilot trailer, since Dirty Dancing is a filmed three-hour musical event or something, but this is the closest to a "Why God, why?!?" reaction I've had this upfront week. Every second looked embalmed or worse, a sad effort to re-create something that required no re-creation. Leading the cast list with Debra Messing and Bruce Greenwood was ridiculous, and "Introducing Colt Prattes" didn't play at all, especially when Johnny can only be compared to Patrick Swayze, whose presence at the start of the teaser reel was easily its highlight. I laughed out loud at the delivery of "Nobody puts Baby in the corner." I doubt there's time to reshoot this whole thing, so ... Ugh.

10) Imaginary Mary Jenna Elfman has reached the point where she's being upstaged by a hairy, moldy, smiling tofu blob voiced by Rachel Dratch? Think Drop Dead Frida, only even more desperate and more devoid of laughs. Of course, trailers are always going to play up the cutesy gimmick, the strange imaginary friend, at the expense of emphasizing character or story, so maybe this all makes more sense in context and maybe the friend is less grating. We'll see.

9) Notorious It's bad enough to saddle a trailer with one bad catchphrase — Say, "They're best friends ... who don't play by the rules." — but the Notorious trailer was a nonstop barrage. "Together they'll do anything to win her ratings and to win his cases"? Maybe that's why every second of this trailer had me thinking, "Boy, that sounds unethical," when instead I should be concentrating on how pretty Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata are, or whether Aimee Teegarden was actually in the trailer at all. I think Perabo and Sunjata could carry a show I'd want to watch, and probably without the onslaught of marketing clichés I'll be more interested.

8) American Housewife This is a bad title, but ABC likes saddling its comedies with bad titles and several of the earlier title contenders weren't much better. Katy Mixon has been a valuable supporting player on a number of shows and she deserves this opportunity. I'll be interested in how the pilot and the series deploy "fat" jokes compared to the teaser, which felt like half fat jokes, an annoying thing since Mixon isn't actually fat. Diedrich Bader is sometimes amusing and fits the profile of the ABC sitcom dad. The trailer didn't land on a tone or a style and it didn't do much to display Mixon's superior timing. I suspect the guy cutting the bad drama trailers didn't do this one, because otherwise "Weight and See" would have been the tagline.

7) Conviction Man, this trailer was not what fans of Agent Carter probably wanted to see, even though it looks like Hayley Atwell is getting a kick out of playing a bad girl turned conscience-driven attorney with a questionable American accent. With Eddie Cahill, Shawn Ashmore, Merrin Dungey, Emily Kinney and Manny Montana, the cast is full of people who I've liked on past shows, but this trailer looked like somebody pressed the,"Make a generic Shonda Rhimes preview" button. "Her Redemption Is Their Salvation"? Blech. I'm here for Atwell, but this wasn't encouraging.

6) Time After Time — Oh look! Another trailer about people using a time machine that looks like the CBS Eye. The steampunk aesthetic is pretty cool, and you can tell that Josh Bowman is enjoying being British after having to hold it in all those years on Revenge. Being the fall's only past-to-future time-travel series should help somewhat, but if I'm already getting time-travel fatigue after two days of trailers, viewers won't be better off.

5) Still Star-Crossed ABC's actual new Shonda Rhimes-produced drama got a trailer that was all about production design and it looks spectacular, but when you've accumulated a cast of actors who are mostly unknowns to American audiences, it might help to start pushing a couple of them and their characters, rather than just making viewers go, "Oh. Pretty." The vibe I got was all too close to Of Kings and Prophets, in terms of a strangely big swing that doesn't represent what ABC does best. Oh, and I get that you want to be sensationalistic, but don't say that you're telling a greater story than Shakespeare did. Chances are good that you aren't.

4) Speechless Have I mentioned that comedy trailers are hard? The Speechless trailer did a fine job of making parts of it seem interesting, especially the dynamic between the hard-driving mom played by Minnie Driver and her special-needs son. That's not a relationship that's been overplayed on TV, so bring it on. A couple of the kids looked capable and I'm hugely relieved that John Ross Bowie has been freed, at least temporarily, from his Big Bang Theory schtick. But if Speechless is a comedy, perhaps it had to look a bit ... funnier?

3) Downward DogThis is an odd one. A talking-animal comedy in which the talking animal is muted and underplayed? Samm Hodges' laconic voiceover for lonely dog Martin was practically the opposite of the thing Rachel Dratch is doing in Imaginary Mary and I kinda dug the talking effect. This also looks like a solid role for Allison Tolman, so worthy of a lead after Fargo. But, again, where are the laughs? "This is the thoughtful talking-dog sitcom" isn't going to get enough eyeballs. As with Imaginary Mary, there was a lot of selling of gimmick and less selling of series here, which isn't a wrong choice for a room full of advertisers.

2) When We Rise It's interesting and provocative to see a seven-part miniseries about the rise of the LGBT movement ending up on ABC, with Gus Van Sant directing the first two hours, when I'd have expected an HBO or a Showtime or an AMC to be all over this. How will that impact the content and execution? No clue. But with Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, David Hyde Pierce and more, it sure looks like as good a cast as you could get anywhere. The trailer looked emotional and powerful and not bogged down by the cheap-o hair, makeup and costuming that sometimes infect network period pieces.

1) Designated Survivor By showing this drama's opening act (or most of the opening act) and then a few clips rather than a full-blown trailer, Designated Survivor got to be ABC's big winner. The set-up for Kiefer Sutherland's new political series was undeniably impactful, even in this truncated form. "Grave concern" is one of the things Sutherland does best and thanks to wearing glasses, I absolutely believe he could be a cabinet minister. One word of warning to ABC: If the president and ALL OF CONGRESS were killed in one horrifying moment watched by America, you wouldn't have news reporters just calling it "the worst terrorist attack since 9/11." Dear Lord. They (whoever "they" are) killed the whole government. The inciting event for this series is so grandiose I'm really anxious to see how they tackle it.

Keep up with all the renewals, cancellations and new series pickups with THR's handy scorecard and follow the pilot crop status here. For full Upfronts 2016 coverage, go to THR.com/upfronts.

 

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