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One of the roughest parts of this extremely weak fall for new broadcast network pilots is that even the shows I think have the most upside didn’t arrive close to fully formed this year. There’s no comedy pilot this fall, for example, that’s as effective as The Good Place or Speechless were when they premiered last year, and both of those shows have gotten way better.
If you were to go into the future and come back and tell me that Fox’s Ghosted and ABC’s The Mayor have both become standout sitcoms, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. However, as the two shows near their premieres — Sunday night for Ghosted and Tuesday night for The Mayor — neither network has been able to send out additional episodes, and my reviews for both pilots would be basically the same: Good casts, solid creative auspices, very few initial laughs.
Air date: Oct 01, 2017
Premise pilots are tough for comedies. It’s easy in 22 minutes to introduce a show about five friends who hang out and sometimes hook up. It’s harder in 22 minutes to explain how a rapper becomes mayor of a mid-sized Bay Area town or to explain how characters played by Craig Robinson and Adam Scott come to be working for a shadow government agency investigating paranormal activities in Los Angeles.
The reality, though, is that I could tell you those loglines and I bet you’re all smart enough to tune into the second episode and you’d probably just take both premises on faith. And the reality is also that even as networks try to downplay live overnight ratings, both shows are better off if I instead tell you their pilots have potential, but you should start watching from the beginning.
Fox’s Ghosted struggles particularly hard to set up a premise that is both complicated and unnecessary. Robinson plays Leroy Wright, a former LAPD detective now working mall security. Scott plays Max Jennifer, a former college professor and innovative scholar of the multiverse. There’s nothing more that I needed. They could be buddies who spot a UFO wandering down the street. They could be strangers work at the same mall and literally bump into each other fleeing a ghost. No complexity required.
Creator Tom Gormican, however, insists on more setup, and so you might as well watch the Ghosted pilot to learn about Max’s wife, why Leroy lost his job and a couple basics about the Bureau Underground, an organization tasked with handling “the paranormal and anything outside the scientific realm.” Ally Walker plays Ava Lafrey, captain of the Bureau. Adeel Akhtar is Barry, a scientist with the Bureau. Amber Stevens West is Annie, who maybe handles weapons or technology or something else from the Bureau. Those details all barely matter, nor does the abduction of a Bureau agent under questionable circumstances that kicks the pilot off.
Fox and the producers have already begun tinkering with the show behind its leads and the version of the pilot airing Sunday is better than the original pilot. The Carmichael Show veteran Stevens West is a new addition, and she’s replaced a non-character from the original pilot with a partial character here. I’ve watched her in enough things to know that she’s got the versatility to play both humor or straight woman and the show is improved for having her. Akhtar gets a couple smiles in the pilot from his affable British gentility, and Walker has the requisite baseline authority. I couldn’t tell you much about any of these characters, though, but I’m guessing that eventually the backing ensemble will be more important and more of an asset.
What’s important in the pilot is establishing Leroy is inquisitive but skeptical, and Max is paranoid and brilliant. And the pilot does that. Scott and Robinson are great comic actors and you can already see the start of their chemistry. They’re both playing parts that are well within their comfort zones and the 1980s genre craziness around them should fit their sensibilities. Eventually. I don’t know if Ghosted wants to be more sci-fi/comedy or horror/comedy, but the non-comedy genre registers very weakly so far.
As a pilot, ABC’s The Mayor is slightly better than Ghosted. I think that’s because the premise in question actually does require some explanation. Brandon Micheal Hall’s Courtney Rose is a publicity-starved rapper who figures he can get some attention participating in a local election. As the title indicates, what starts as a joke becomes at least partially serious, and I guess The Mayor wouldn’t mind eventually becoming Krush Groove meets Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with some hip-hop humor and some Frank Capra-style earnest optimism about the potential of the democratic process.
If you’re like me, you could use some optimism when it comes to the ramifications of electing a clueless amateur entertainer to an executive branch position, so The Mayor could become timely and, ideally, a funny, warm-hearted salve. Creator Jeremy Bronson’s work on Speechless, Grandfathered and The Mindy Project gives me cause for hope.
Hall (Search Party) is likable, and Yvette Nicole Brown, as the main character’s mom, has the funniest beats in the pilot and could be really great if the writing doesn’t lean excessively into “sassy church-loving matriarch” stereotypes. Bernard David Jones and Marcel Spears play Courtney’s buddies and have their voices in place after the pilot, which as we know isn’t always the case in pilots.
My biggest concern rewatching the Mayor pilot was that almost everything I found memorable was in the premise-setting first half. Then in the second half, when the show tries illustrating what it might be like to have Courtney as mayor, it becomes pretty flat. Since that’s the actual show, I’d want to see something better. I also think the pilot makes insufficient use of music, either Courtney’s rapping or general tone-setting, given how much Daveed Diggs is being pushed as executive producer and melodic contributor. Finally, Glee haters may be nervous about Lea Michele’s presence in a comedy, but as somebody who watched every episode of Scream Queens, I know that she’s got great timing and surprisingly little ego when used right. She’s not used all that well in the pilot.
I guess what I’m saying with this paired review is that I would have loved to have seen three episodes apiece of Ghosted and The Mayor so that I could have told you if they went from “perhaps good” to “truly good.” I haven’t. In a bad new broadcast season with no class superlatives, these are the fall comedies that don’t instantly fully succeed — in quality, because heaven knows Young Sheldon drew an audience — but they’re most likely to.
Ghosted premieres Sunday, 8:30 p.m. PT/ET (Fox)
The Mayor premieres Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT (ABC)
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