After NBCUniversal took a full two hours to present seemingly dozens of trailers for all of its network and cable properties on Monday morning, Fox took a more restrained 90-ish minutes to mostly just boast about Fox, specifically a potentially jam-packed spring slate.
There seemed to be a big gap between Fox’s promising spring offerings and a fall that looked a bit softer, but not necessarily dire.
To repeat: 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.
Here are my instant responses from worst to best for the Fox pilots:
11) The Exorcist — Pilot director Rupert Wyatt has given this one some gloomy, murky grittiness, but he doesn’t appear to have given Fox anything scary to cut together for a teaser reel. Maybe if you’re new to the genre, a couple girls coming out of the dark and doing very minor contorting is enough to make you shiver, but Fox brass promised a show that would be as scary as anything on the big screen, and the trailer doesn’t even hint at that. Geena Davis is sure to make this at least worth checking out and Flesh & Bone made me curious about what scenery Ben Daniels would chew next, but if “Tubular Bells” didn’t kick in at the end, you wouldn’t know this had anything to do with The Exorcist and you probably wouldn’t care.
10) APB — Remember Chicago Code from a couple seasons ago? Really solid one-and-done series? Slightly hammy trailer in which a character bellowed, “You think you can change the way things get done in Chicago”? This is Chicago Code meets Rosewood, with Justin Kirk as an eccentric billionaire privatizing a Chicago police precinct. I’ll watch Kirk in anything, but this pilot was a lot of shouting, ambiguously futuristic technology and moralizing. Five minutes after the trailer ended, all I recall was how careful it was to shoot its various cars so that we could see their perfectly lit insignias. Bring back Chicago Code.
9) Prison Break — Obviously if you were one of the people who didn’t quit watching Prison Break, this will rank much higher for you. In fact, I think the trailer was actually perfect: If you still loved Prison Break to the bitter end, it’s got all the masculine posturing and growling T-Bag that you loved about the show. If, however, you quit watching Prison Break over its run — the numbers show most of you did — this looks like more of the same, only with a Middle Eastern twist that already has a whiff of xenophobia. Wentworth Miller has been having so much fun with his Legends of Tomorrow ridiculousness, but he looks bored to be back here.
8) Son of Zorn — I don’t think there was any way this Phil Lord & Chris Miller-produced partially animated comedy was going to work in a cut-down form and, indeed, it looked … OK. The trick is going to be in the ongoing interaction between our animated He-Man-style hero (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) and the real world, and it’s tough to boil that down in two minutes. I laughed at Tim Meadows, I cackled at Zorn’s handling of the giant cartoon bird. And that’s about it. I expect the full-length pilot to work far better, to give the high concept a chance to breathe.
7) Shots Fired — The potential here is all on paper, from the creative involvement of Gina Prince-Bythewood to a cast featuring Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Hunt, Stephan James and needs-to-be-a-bigger-star Sanaa Lathan. For those reasons, I’m pumped for this limited event series. But nothing in the trailer got me more excited and actually generated some confusion about the story and how it was going to be told. This should be a prestige-y cable-style show, and the trailer made it look like a new installment of ABC’s Secrets & Lies. I didn’t hate Secrets & Lies, but ideally I wanted more here.
6) The Mick — Fox has tried some screwy ways to pitch this Kaitlin Olson vehicle, but after seeing the trailer, it’s totally clear: It’s Uncle Buck with a female disreputable guardian instead of a guy. Period. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m there for Aunt Buck starring Olson, who has always been the underrated, stealth MVP of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Put her front and center and let her be rude, rowdy and gross? That ought to work. I laughed a couple times.
5) Making History — If The Mick is really just Aunt Buck, Making History is just Duffle Bag Time Machine. And again … that’s OK. It’s another Lord & Miller-produced pilot that will probably be better in its full form. The editor wanted to concentrate on pretty lame pop-culture references, and I guess anachronistic Celine Dion and Jerry Maguire references will sell this for some people, but I feel like we’ve seen the “Time traveler takes credit for contemporary song” schtick play out too many times. Adam Pally has earned this chance to frontline a TV series and he looks decent. I’m more excited, though, about Leighton Meester, who was always funny on Gossip Girl, getting to do straight-up comedy. I think people will be randomly surprised when they see how great her timing is. Comedy cut-downs are hard!
4) Star — More musical soapiness from Lee Daniels? Sure. Why not, I guess. The Atlanta setting looks nicely deployed. The relatively unknown young stars hold the camera well. The familiar faces look like they’re getting to do some acting. The music sounds good. I see no reason why it shouldn’t work for a few episodes at least. Like the Prison Break trailer, this is probably preaching to the choir. If you’re in for what Daniels is laying down in general, you’ll be in for this. If not? Not. But at least it isn’t trying to fool you.
3) 24: Legacy — I wasn’t excited by a plot that felt like recycled old-school 24, nor did Jimmy Smits and Miranda Otto appear to be doing anything different, and the split screens and tag line — “The Clock Resets” — were perfunctory. So why is 24: Legacy so high on my list here? Because Corey Hawkins looks like the real deal. The series completely rises or falls on his ability to hold the screen and his ability to make you accept him as Jack Bauer 2.0. This was a limited sample and he didn’t get to say “Damnit,” but I think he works, so the show has a chance to work.
2) Lethal Weapon — And I think Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans work, so I think Lethal Weapon has a chance to work. And remember that in order to work, Lethal Weapon doesn’t have to be as good as the first two movies in the franchise, but it should try to be better than the last two. Crawford and Wayans look to play off of each other well and the clips didn’t pander to the brand or to “I’m too old for this shit” catchphrases. This could end up just being Fox’s version of CBS’ version of Rush Hour, but I’m fooling myself into believing it’ll be something better.
1) Pitch — This was a “Show the whole pilot in three minutes” cut-down and I normally don’t like those, but I liked the authenticity that comes from MLB’s involvement, I appreciated the explanation for the main character’s pitching excellence — It should be a knuckleball and not a screwball, but whatever — and Kylie Bunbury really looks like a star. The potential to slide into sports clichés and absurdity is always there, but things in this trailer didn’t rub me the wrong way and I remember already being irked by CBS’ Clubhouse after its sizzle reel and neither the pilot nor the short-lived series ever got better. This had me ready for the pilot.
[Oh, and I’m not going to bother ranking it, but Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show trailer looked acceptable. I would have liked to have seen it trying to be more its own thing and trying less relentlessly to copy the movie. Grease: Live! was able to get away with that because remaking that movie live was a real achievement. Remaking Rocky Horror Picture Show not-live? Not all that impressive.]