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

NBCUni kicks off upfronts 2018 with a lot of NBC trailers in which people hugged and cried, while Syfy's two forthcoming dramas looked generic.
Courtesy of NBC
'Manifest'

[Time for your regular reminder that over the next four days, I'll be giving my quick reactions to the trailers presented to advertisers in New York City. These aren't formal reviews. How could they be? I haven't seen the darned shows. They're just gut responses to sales pitches. If advertisers can pony up billions based on these clips, I can tell you if they're good or bad. My annual Take Me to the Pilots series will begin in a month, and then real reviews will start in September. It's a marathon, not a sprint.]

Speaking of marathons, not sprints, the opening to the upfronts season has become an endurance challenge since NBC inserted itself on Monday morning, ahead of Fox, and decided to combine all of the NBCUni properties under one roof.

Last year, NBCUni tiptoed at around 119 minutes for its presentation, while Monday's extravaganza blew past the two-hour mark. And how can you blame NBCUni, a company that has to celebrate the integrity of its news division, the female empowerment of WWE, the cultural barrier-breaking of Telemundo, the tear-jerking of This Is Us and the fact that a veteran from two of your properties is about to marry the Queen of England's grandson?

That meant trailers from nearly every entity under NBCUni's vast corporate umbrella.

I'm going to ignore USA's Treadstone, mostly an ominous voiceover and clips from the Jason Bourne movies; USA's Suits: Second City, mostly clips from Suits and slo-mo footage of Gina Torres walking dynamically; and USA Network's Real Country, mostly just Shania Twain pretending that Nashville Star never existed. We also didn't get clips from Bravo's adaptation of Dirty John, since there's no footage from the anthology starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana.

Let's get to some rankings for trailers and clip packages we did get. And before I start ranking, I'm going to say that the NBCUni trailers were nearly all weak. That doesn't mean the shows will be bad. It does mean that nothing NBCUni showed made me more excited for the programming, and that's not normal and not a great sign. (It's also worth noting that not all the trailers are being released online. I've added the ones that were made available.)

8) Telemundo's Prisionero numero uno | In addition to NBCUni's upfront, Monday's biggest TV story was probably the release of the first picture from CBS' new version of Magnum P.I. and the burgeoning controversy about star Jay Hernandez's absence of mustache. I'll surely write more about that on Wednesday when CBS presents a trailer for Magnum, but in the interim, if you're looking for Magnum's mustache, Erik Hayser, star of Telemundo's new conspiracy thriller, has it! The rest of the trailer was laughably over-serious, in that heightened telenovela way. Hayser's mustache, though? Superior!

7) Syfy's Deadly Class and Nightflyers | This hasn't been the best of weeks for Syfy. The internet is all aflutter about the cancellation of The Expanse, which had a dedicated and vocal audience, and the network's decision not to move forward with a pilot for Tremors, which really offends people online who can't understand how a pilot they haven't seen wasn't good enough to get picked up by a network that did, presumably, see it. How not to quiet online unrest? With the release of two trailers for upcoming dramas that could be most generously described as pretty-but-generic. The Deadly Class trailer gets points for putting Benedict Wong front and center, then loses those points for hasty cutting that left me with the impression that they're afraid to show any sustained acting from the cast of relative unknown young actors and that they're unable to illustrate how any of the show's action is going to be memorable. The Nightflyers trailer at least lets Eoin Macken emote a bit, while showcasing what looks like a familiar "haunted house in space" approach to sci-fi. The vibe I got was Helix meets The Expanse, which won't give any regular Syfy viewer any confidence in a long run.

6) NBC's New Amsterdam | Maybe New Amsterdam is going to turn out to be a great show. What do I know? For now, NBC is doing everything possible to send the most mixed of messages. The time slot after This Is Us suggests the highest of confidence levels. The title, with its allusions to history, foreignness and a short-lived Fox drama starring Jaime Lannister, is dismal and will actively hurt the show. And the trailer? By-the-numbers sentimental medical drama. I have my doubts about Ryan Eggold's ability to anchor a series, and the trailer already has me exhausted by emotional earnestness. The supporting cast is underserved in the trailer other than Jocko Sims looking authoritative and Tyler Labine looking painfully serious. Was Janet Montgomery in the trailer at all? 

5) NBC's The Enemy WithinSo this is just a gender-reversed version of The Blacklist? At least The Blacklist let James Spader be fun and manipulative and evil for a while. Here, Jennifer Carpenter doesn't even look like she gets to play an entertainingly malevolent traitor, and we already know an NBC drama won't let the Dexter star flex her swearing muscles. The trailer was a lot of Morris Chestnut being stern and Carpenter being harried. NBC has legitimately never understood that people watched Blacklist because Spader was a hoot, not because it was thrilling or twisty. The action was a bonus. Where's the hoot, NBC? This was the only NBC drama trailer that wasn't 75 percent people hugging and crying. No judgment.

4) NBC's I Feel Bad | It's been several years since NBC's promo department successfully cut a comedy trailer that included any laughs at all. This is no exception. With the mixture of family and workplace material, the vibe I got was an Indian-American version of Black-ish? I can definitely give that premise a few episodes. I just didn't come away from this trailer with any real sense of whether or not this show is funny and how Sarayu Blue works as a comedy lead. I guess they're saving the funnies for the series itself.

3) NBC's Manifest | This looks like a heavily serialized Lost knockoff that ABC would cancel after a season. The Crossing meets The Returned? The trailer is pushing the spiritual and inspiration over the supernatural, which is absolutely a choice. It's a choice that means I'm not all that interested in the mystery after the trailer and since I was never going to be interested in the spiritual component, what am I left with? Melissa Roxburgh and Josh Dallas look like pretty leads. The trailer makes me wonder who is supposed to carry the gravitas of the show. This is the sort of show that needs a respected character actor or two in their 50s and 60s to do emotional heavy lifting and the cast looks really, really, really thin.

2) NBC's The VillageOnly NBC knows why New Amsterdam and not The Village has the post-This Is Us time slot for the fall. Thanks to M. Night Shyamalan and a 2013 BBC drama, this is another bad title that will confuse more than assist. With Frankie Faison, Dominic Chianese and Lorraine Toussaint, this "Circle of life in a Brooklyn apartment complex" drama has the deep supporting cast the other NBC shows seem to lack. And yet the star is Warren Christie, who has been OK in things, but verges on interchangeable with Ryan Eggold. There's also a three-legged dog, and every scene looks like it was shot in the magic hour. Manipulative as heck, but more honestly manipulative than NBC's other trailers.

1) NBC's Abby's | There were no laughs in a trailer that concentrated on a behind-the-scenes approach accentuating the show's primary gimmick, which is that the multicamera comedy will shoot outside in front of a live audience. Despite the lack of trailer laughs, all you need to say to hook me are "Mike Schur," "Natalie Morales," "Neil Flynn" and a workable enough premise. My appetite isn't more whetted. Nor is it less whetted. 

Check back in a few hours for Fox trailer rankings!

Keep track of all the renewals, cancellations and new show orders with THR's scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW and all the latest pilot pickups and passes with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.