4:12pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
CBS' New Show Trailers: A Critic's Ranking
If it walks like a CBS show and talks like a CBS show, odds are that it's a CBS show.
While other networks emit an aura of uncertainty and hopefulness as they do their upfronts presentations, CBS emits an aura of certainty, which may be why there was no time on Wednesday for a trailer for Katherine Heigl's Doubt. While you watch trailers for other networks' shows eager to see what they're going to look like, you watch CBS' trailers reasonably sure that nearly everything they present is going to look like a CBS show and that if it doesn't look like a CBS show, chances are good it won't be back in the future.
So while I've been ranking trailers this week — not to be confused with reviewing pilots or reviewing shows — on a scale of relative quality and effectiveness, there's no point in ranking CBS trailers in terms of anything other than pure CBSiness.
Here are my instant responses on how well CBS' various pilots appear to fit in on CBS:
7. Training Day
I'm happy to watch Bill Paxton be sleazy, and it looks like co-star Justin Cornwell has ample charisma, plus the heavily yellow-filtered take on Los Angeles is at least a distinctive aesthetic. But CBS doesn't look like it's going for distinctive aesthetics this year, it certainly isn't going for unknown African-American co-leads this year and it's pretty rare that CBS puts an anti-hero at the front of a show. This looks less like a CBS show and more like a Fox or FX show, particularly more like Fox's short-lived Gang Related or FX's classic The Shield. I'm not quite sure what the Training Day brand buys this show, and you don't need to option a title if all you want to do is "good cop paired with bad cop." And I know that's what this show is, because my gracious, that sequence with the two cops going back and forth about their ideologies was arduous and on-the-nose.
6. The Great Indoors
I'll leave aside that The Great Indoors completely stole its premise from the original hook for ABC's Last Man Standing, because Last Man Standing absolutely could have been a CBS show. I'd say there's more sarcasm and less broad earnestness than in a typical CBS show, but I guess you could say that Joel McHale is playing a version of Matthew Perry's Odd Couple character (or just a variation on the established Joel McHale character). So there are a lot of wide-reaching, easy jokes at the expense of millennials, a roaring studio audience and a big ensemble with various token nods to diversity. In that, it's very CBS-y. It's also the trailer that made me laugh several times. Plus? Baby bear. Really, Training Day was the only CBS trailer that looked off-brand. I can see where this fits for CBS without difficulty.
5. Pure Genius
Either you already feel like Augustus Prew's American accent is among the worst you've ever heard, or you can compare it to Elyes Gabel's nearly-as-bad Scorpion accent and draw the conclusion that there's a CBS Stilted Genius American Accent that both men are doing. This medical clash between Doctor With Heart and Genius With Technology looks very on-brand for CBS, even if the CBS show it most closely resembles is 3 Lbs, which didn't last very long and only TV critics remember. The supporting cast is interesting, and this appears to be a solid role for Dermot Mulroney, but wow Prew looks and sounds uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. I wish the trailer had more sense of the Jason Katims imprimatur beyond some gauzy sentiment.
Other than Lucas Till and George Eads, CBS is mostly scrapping this one, so it's a tiny bit surprising that they bothered with clips. But the clips looked silly in pretty much the ways you'd expect a MacGyver prequel to look silly. The writers, now dispatched, haven't learned that you can't get away with having a reporter yell, "MacGyver, MacGyver, how did you escape from your terrorist holding cell?" if you don't want me laughing too hard. It sounds ridiculous. But Till looks OK and Eads looks OK and they're all that's going to remain. From the bits we saw, this should slot in perfectly before Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods, if they ever make a version CBS actually wants to air. Will it be better than Limitless, a show with plenty of MacGyver DNA that is now being shopped elsewhere? CBS sure hopes not!
3. Man With a Plan
Because on CBS it's always 1988, here's a show about a husband who is suddenly forced to take care of the kids when his wife goes back to work. He's used to being the fun dad, but it isn't so easy having to be a parent. [Yes, this was a b-story on a Fresh Off the Boat episode this season.] It's big, it's broad, it's multicam, and Matt LeBlanc certainly knows how to hit these beats. Does it look funny? Well, I didn't laugh. It'll also be interesting to see who they get to replace Jenna Fischer, because it's hard to tell from a trailer if that part looked nonexistent because it's a nonexistent part or because the marketing team didn't want us to get too attached to Fischer. And why not just call this Joey in Charge if that's what it clearly is?
TIE - 1. Kevin Can Wait
If you're the kind of person who wanted a Kevin James multicam comedy, this looks like exactly the kind of Kevin James multicam comedy you'd want. From the exasperated blue-collar bluster to the "Look at me, I'm an overweight guy dancing" physical stuff to the exasperated much-too-hot wife (Erinn Hayes), all greeted with love by the studio audience, the elements are all here. How weirdly dated is this show, though? If Man With a Plan felt like 1988, this could feel like it's 1954. The father is freaked out that his daughter is dating … a white British nerd? They didn't even want to try making him black or Asian or Indian? Say what you want, though, but the multicam beats looked like they were hit with precision.
TIE - 1. Bull
His last name is "Bull." Come on now! If you're Phil McGraw making a series about yourself, you might as well give yourself an uber-macho last name and cast Michael Weatherly as you. Other than the lack of resemblance to the actual man he's playing, Weatherly looks to be perfectly cast for the material, and this looks like the CBSiest of CBS procedurals, with a renewable procedural engine, the prospect of just a bit of fun technology and lots of bright, slightly overlit swagger. The trailer was right in CBS' sweet spot, and the presence of Paul Attanasio (Homicide: Life on the Street) as series creator at least gives me hope that there may be more depth in the actual pilot.