4:08pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
CBS' New Show Trailers: A Critic's Ranking
You should all find something you care about as much as CBS cares about the plight of brilliant white men of all ages.
It's not to say that CBS only presented new shows about struggling white, male geniuses at its upfront presentation to advertisers Wednesday afternoon at Carnegie Hall, but when you watch trailers for Wisdom of the Crowd, Young Sheldon and Me, Myself & I in a limited window, it's hard not to make certain connections.
That's also not to say that the shows CBS presented Wednesday looked bad. Notes of sameness aside, two or three of CBS' trailers actually looked much better than I might have previously worried.
Your regular cut-and-pasted reminder: Over the course of this week, I'll be doing quick reactions to all of the trailers being presented in New York City. This is the first step in a process that will continue with my Take Me To The Pilots series during the summer and then the actual reviews that will arrive in the fall. It's all about using every piece of the buffalo. It should go without saying that these aren't reviews of actual pilots that I haven't seen, but rather responses to how the shows are being chopped up as sales pitches in a multibillion-dollar fiesta of advertising.
Now, some first impressions for shows that will be wildly popular compared to whatever network shows critics are raving about come next fall:
7) Wisdom of the Crowd - We already did the show about the billionaire who created an app to help crowdsource crime-solving and avenge a loved one. It was called APB. It aired on Fox. It failed. This takes the "billionaire outsourcing" dramatic model that also failed on CBS with Pure Genius and adds the really cringe-y privacy concerns that Person of Interest engaged with intelligently, plus the "people stand in a room looking at screens to solve crimes" model that has been CBS' meat and potatoes. With Jeremy Piven, Richard T. Jones and Natalia Tena, this has the cast and feel of a CBS hit, but the "all hail the surveillance state" techno-fetishizing of the trailer had me thinking up alternate titles — A.Pivs.B. and Piven of Interest — to distract from ever-growing annoyance. There's a reason, kids, why we don't usually outsource our law enforcement, medicine or government to eccentric billionaires.
6) SEAL Team - I honestly can't say if this looked better or worse than NBC's The Brave. I think The Brave was trying to suggest it had more gritty political context to its military heroism, while this was going for more heart? Either way, History's Six already exists, but I also am sure that there's an audience for two or three of these shows. This one has David Boreanaz, and I watched plenty of Angel, Buffy and Bones, so I'm OK with him as a leading man. Max Thieriot felt like a Bates Motel weak spot in the first season and was a strength by the final season. And I was very pleased to see Jessica "Megan Draper" Pare pop up, even if this isn't the arc I'd have predicted for her career. Either way, there was some generic-looking action, some generic-looking family bonding and a tear-jerking trailer conclusion that made me cringe. Perhaps it'll add up to something more as a full episode? This probably isn't being made for me. That's OK!
5) 9JKL - When you front-load a joke about Elliott Gould's balls, you're making a very clear statement, and the statement the 9JKL trailer made was that it's going to be a CBS multi-cam in the vein of The Millers or 2 Broke Girls. Almost every punchline showcased in the trailer was broad, raunchy and cheap. For all my worries about the low-brow approach, 9JKL is full of people I like. Gould and Linda Lavin are legends. David Walton and Liza Lapira have been favorite parts of a number of short-lived comedies that I enjoyed more than overall audiences did. (I thought they'd done stuff together before, but she was in Traffic Light and he was in Perfect Couples.) I've liked Mark Feuerstein before in things as well. This will be a challenge for CBS to make into a hit, because 9JKL has more than the recommended allotment of showkillers and near-showkillers.
4) Me, Myself & I - They're trying to do something different with this single-cam that interweaves three different ages in the life of one brilliant inventor. I respect that. I also respect Bobby Moynihan and John Larroquette as two of the main character's ages. Plus, this might continue the Jaleel White renaissance that his guest appearance on Survivor's Remorse last year should have started. That being said, this was not a great trailer. It had very few clever punchlines and really didn't illustrate very well how the three storylines will be brought together on a weekly basis. It made me curious for the show, but not excited.
3) Young Sheldon - Young Sheldon truly fascinates me. The pitch seems to be, "What if we spun off the most successful of our on-brand multi-cam comedies as ... an ABC single-camera?" You put Young Sheldon in a row with The Goldbergs and Fresh Off The Boat and The Middle, and it's a wholly compatible lineup. Put it after The Big Bang Theory, and you're hoping that Jim Parson's voice will be enough connective tissue. Iain Armitage looks like OK casting as Young Sheldon. He was good in Big Little Lies. The clips accentuated Sheldon at his most socially awkward and unaware, but the end suggested some awareness of the heart that helped The Big Bang Theory use Sheldon properly, a process that was far from immediate. I don't think Young Sheldon seems like it has found its voice either, but you know who has found her voice? Zoe Perry. My gracious the brilliance of casting Laurie Metcalf's real daughter in a role Laurie Metcalf has played well at a later age. That's just uncanny. Young Sheldon feels like an experiment that I may not enjoy, but that I'll be riveted to watching play out.
2) SWAT - I had no interest in this one at all, but this trailer piqued my appetite. It's visually strong thanks to director Justin Lin, there's no question that Shemar Moore can carry a show, and the supporting cast is full of interesting people like Miss Bala star Stephanie Sigman, Jay Harrington trying to ride a salt-and-pepper beard into action badass status, and Kenny Johnson, who presumably accompanied his The Shield exec producer Shawn Ryan. Building the premise around the shooting of an unarmed black kid is incredibly dangerous, but the trailer at least suggested it could be more than just a glib inciting event, and we all know that Ryan can give nuance to a police procedural. The comedy capper to the trailer, featuring the original TV theme music, was unnecessary. I'd rather pretend this is a new cop show with a good cast and solid creative auspices.
1) Star Trek: Discovery - As with SWAT, this is a case of low expectations exceeded. Bryan Fuller took most of my initial enthusiasm for Star Trek: Discovery with him when he left, but this was just a well-made trailer, starting with the gorgeous and cinematic opening shots in the desert. The effects looked good, the production design looked lavish, and I'm almost completely sold on Sonequa Martin-Green as the lead. I was so busy being pleasantly surprised by so many things that I paid no attention to what the plot appeared to be or to which co-stars other than James Frain and Michelle Yeoh got any screentime. It means nothing long-term, but this CBS All Access trailer did its job.
Upfronts week wraps up tomorrow with The CW!