4:45pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
The CW's New Show Trailers: A Critic's Ranking
Broadcast television's upfronts week reached its conclusion on Thursday (May 18) with The CW's presentation to advertisers.
Although The CW may have lower programming volume than its network chums, the network's 2017-18 output manages to capture many of the spring's development trends in micro. There's a remake of a popular brand from decades past (Dynasty), a rah-rah drama about military heroism (Valor) and, of course, a superhero show (Black Lightning).
To repeat for the last time: Over the course of this week, I've been 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 multi-billion dollar fiesta of advertising.
And now, let's get to my rankings of The CW's trailers.
Since there are only four of them, this won't take long!
4) Valor — Far be it for me to tell The CW to stay in its lane and stick to what it does well and not bow to the trends that speculate that there's going to be an appetite for shows like Seal Team and The Brave this fall, but it's going to take a lot more conditioning before I see a trailer like this from The CW and don't go, "Huh?" It's got all these weird signifiers of reality, with suggestions of actual military situations and operations, but it's got all the grit CW-blasted away so that Matt Barr looks hunky ripping off his shirt and so you never forget that Christina Ochoa's character is both a badass warrior and totally kissable. Then there's the Big Bad Conspiracy in the background that I'm hoping will involve aliens, because otherwise I'm going to be left trying to take seriously a show that seems to have put more effort into choosing the perfect maroon berets than filling out its supporting cast. This trailer was enough to make we wonder both how it was in The CW's development pipeline at all and then how it made it onto the air. I'm almost looking forward to seeing the full pilot to find out if it gives a better indication. I like Supergirl a lot. The show this trailer suggests doesn't go with Supergirl at all.
3) Life Sentence — This is at least back to on-brand for The CW, though after No Tomorrow became one of the few CW fall launches in recent years not to at least get a back-nine (Frequency joined it), I'm not sure about doing a show that's essentially the inverse of No Tomorrow. Instead of "What would you do if the world was ending?" it's "What would you do if the world *weren't* ending?" I could have told you that Lucy Hale was a star back on American Juniors and certainly on Privileged and this really does look like a perfect vehicle to showcase her, if nothing else. I get the feeling that even if the producers run out of ideas, they'll just keep putting her in funny hats and telling her to make doe-eyes. Shows have been built on worse. Maybe not good shows. But semi-successful shows. The trailer came across as a mixture of narrative chaos and clunky thematic exposition, going so totally "Lucy Hale Is a Star" that there's no chance to get a sense for any of the supporting characters/actors. It gives the feeling of a show that's going to bend over backwards in its pilot to tell you what it's about and then just become a coming-of-age family dramedy starting in the second week, so I'm curious what the actual show will be.
2) Dynasty — The original series was not a part of my youth and so the brand means nothing to me other than conjuring up images of ridiculous hair and costumes and silly catfighting. The trailer definitely doesn't shy from campiness and I guess it looks vaguely sexy and fun without quite giving me a reason to care. With Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage at the helm, is it basically The O.C. without a Ryan or Gossip Girl without a Dan (or Jenny)? Basically, is it all excess without grounding? Dunno! Elizabeth Gillies was the only thing I liked about Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll and if she's allowed to be funny, she'll be funny. The trailer has a little of that, but it's selling the slapping, elevator kissing and limo sex. This won't do a thing for me as nostalgia, but the Schwartz/Savage brand has kept me watching several shows long-term that maybe weren't made for me, so I'll have to see more of that wit and clever plotting and less chasing of the Dynasty name.
1) Black Lightning — The last thing I need in my television schedule is another CW superhero show, especially one that isn't going to connect to the other universes and force me to watch each of them in case a crossover occurs. That being said, nearly every beat of this trailer played right for me. I love Beverly Hills 90210 and Hart of Dixie veteran Cress Williams getting a front-and-center lead and I love that the role seems to acknowledge that this opportunity is coming a few years too late. I like that the family drama looks to be central and the suggestion of the community struggles forcing the main character to come out of superhero retirement. [Though I'm distracted that a network featuring The 100 has a show in which the villainous gang is called The One Hundred.] Mostly I love that even in a TV landscape that had Luke Cage, it instantly feels different and distinctive to me that the hero all supporting characters are African-American. That's where the family stuff seems freshest and most necessary. Could fatigue set in if this quickly just becomes another CW superhero show? For sure. For now, I'm happy for Cress Williams and eager to watch this.
That's that for upfronts! And get ready for Take Me To The Pilots ...