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Upfronts mania kicked off in full force on Monday morning, as NBCUniversal took over Radio City Music Hall to woo advertisers with the promise of what’s to come on NBC, USA, Syfy, E!, Telemundo, Bravo and all of the other bits and pieces of its portfolio.
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. (Only three of the trailers have been officially released by NBC and those are embedded below.) 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. I’m going to be slicing these turkeys (and the prime rib) extra-thin.
In addition to the network teases, NBCUni also presented a slew of cable trailers, though that includes proof-of-concept non-footage from Syfy’s seemingly unnecessary Krypton, which only recently received a pilot order. USA’s Falling Water benefits hugely from pilot helmer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and has strong visuals, if nothing else. It’s unclear how Shooter will work as a weekly series, but Ryan Phillippe and Omar Epps are solid leads and there’s a good action-movie-on-TV vibe about it. And E!’s The Arrangement definitely isn’t about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Definitely not. And it definitely won’t be worth watching just to get hints of inside dirt there. No. Definitely not. [It may. The trailer looked like trashy fun.]
Here are my instant responses from worst to best for the NBC pilots:
8) Taken — Non-Vikings fans probably don’t know Clive Standen at all and with this trailer, they’re going to be more distracted by his funny sweaters and haircut than a guy who’s a pretty good actor. We saw very little of the pulpy brutality that made the Liam Neeson film such a success, nor was there a corresponding catch phrase offered to equal Neeson’s “particular set of skills,” nor could I get any Neeson-ness from Standen’s vibe at all. If you showed me this trailer and the trailer for Shooter and asked me which was headed for USA and which was going to NBC, I’d have guessed Shooter was NBC and Taken was USA without hesitation. No initial skepticism was overcome here.
7) Great News — Pilots often use recurring jokes to underline character definition in the early going and then new show trailers often concentrate on those recurring jokes because trailer editors think they establish the comedic rhythms of the show. Or it can look hack-y. Case in point, a series of jokes about how Briga Heelan’s character tells her mom (Andrea Martin) things in confidence, but then when mom comes to work, she spills those confidences to the co-workers. The trailer is all Heelan’s character being a straight-woman and the Ground Floor star is capable of so much more than that, while Martin looks like she thinks she’s in a multicam. Here’s betting that with the wildly talented Tracey Wigfield (30 Rock) as creator and Tina Fey and Robert Carlock as executive producers, that Great News will be better than its trailer.
6) Powerless — If Powerless is a comedy, the “funny” mostly got left out of the trailer. Shout-out references to Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are pretty surface-level, and only Kate Micucci did anything in the teaser to make me laugh. In lieu of laughs, though, the tease did seem bright and colorful and more like Supergirl and The Flash than Arrow in the DC Comics TV pantheon. Vanessa Hudgens seemed energetic, and if you give me enough time with Alan Tudyk and Danny Pudi, I’m sure they’ll amuse me.
5) Trial & Error — Speaking of trailers that probably will play better as full pilots, this mockumentary take on the true-crime drama — NBC’s citing Making a Murderer, but it looks more like The Staircase — is the sort of format-bending comedy that never plays terrifically in teaser form. I’ll always remember instantly dismissing Arrested Development after two minutes and then loving it at 22. Even in this small dose, John Lithgow looks very funny, as does Sherri Shepherd, but I couldn’t get a sense of tone. Yet. People I trust tell me the script is great.
4) The Good Place — Mike Schur + Kristen Bell + Ted Danson = I’m there, regardless of the trailer. And this trailer simultaneously screamed “premise pilot,” since I’m betting it’ll be all setting up how Bell’s Eleanor dies and ends up in “the good place” when she belongs in “the bad,” but I liked the sense that Schur is building an afterlife sitcom around Bell’s awful Eagleton Councilwoman Ingrid de Forest. The trailer concentrated way more heavily on Bell than co-star Danson, but we’ll see if the pilot/series is more of both of them or if it’s really just Bell saying and doing inappropriate things.
3) Timeless — Although the “We must protect the timeline” urgency felt a little too close to The CW’s currently unsatisfying Legends of Tomorrow, the Timeless trailer de-emphasized expositional time-travel mumbo jumbo and concentrated on selling the visuals and the pretty cast. Why are they flying through time in the CBS Eye? Dunno, but the ship looks OK here. Will the Hindenburg recreation hold up in more than two-second increments? Dunno, but the effects look cool and evocative here. It looks like NBC wants to confuse people into thinking Abigail Spencer is Jaimie Alexander and to emphasize the humor courtesy of Malcolm Barrett. Fair enough!
2) Emerald City — A couple of the comedies above I said will probably be better than their trailers. Emerald City will probably be worse than its trailer, because Tarsem Singh may or may not be a master of fully realized two-hour movies, but he’s a trailer/commercial GOD and unlike his recent feature Self/less, which could have been made by anybody, this sizzler looked like Tarsem. Look at Florence Kasumba’s billowing red Wicked Witch gown or the eerie Scarecrow-as-Jesus intro or the terrifying, stylized twister. There are shades of The Cell and Mirror Mirror in the costumes and production design, but there’s even more of The Fall. I’m not sold on the frequently delayed and reconceived Emerald City at all as a series, but in showing that Tarsem’s involvement here will be evident and indisputable, this was a great trailer.
1) This Is Us — Created by Dan Fogelman, this trailer sold more of the Crazy, Stupid, Love interconnectedness and life-sloppiness than Fogelman’s comedic side, but what it sold more than anything was high-emotion heart. So if you happen to have been missing Parenthood on NBC, this was a teaser aimed squarely at you. Other people can get giddy about Mandy Moore finally getting a TV show on the air or Milo Ventimiglia keeping his Whispers haircut, but for me, this trailer’s biggest achievement was making me happy that Sterling K. Brown is getting to front a series after his Emmy-worthy People v. O.J. Simpson work. People on my Twitter feed claimed this one made them cry. I was not crying. But it worked.
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