Just when I was finally catching up on my sleep from last year’s Comic-Con… the mighty behemoth that is SDCC hath arrived once again for five days of lines, “exclusives,” announcements, sweat and a bushel of pilots, first looks, video presentations and the 137 other terms you can call “content.”
Perhaps the crown jewel of content is Preview Night, an event where Comic-Con and WB TV partner to present four of the fall (or midseason’s) most anticipated shows. I’ve been doing Comic-Con for three years, and it seems about a 50/50 bet in terms of finding a show that’s not only good, but will stick beyond one season. In 2013, it was CW’s The 100 and The Originals, and not CW’s Tomorrow People and FOX’s show I loved to hate, Almost Human.
In 2014, we were greeted with the innocuous and mediocre Flash pilot (that didn’t seem to foreshadow the supernova that was its terrific first season), a surprisingly great Constantine pilot that turned out to be its high point until it was too late, and the let’s not even go there awful that is Stalker. That’s a 3 for 7 success rate, and with that compelling scientific evidence, that means two of 2015’s entries are destined for greatness (or rather, a run lasting beyond one season).
This year’s hopefuls are CBS’ Supergirl, NBC’s Blindspot, FOX’s Lucifer and the CW’s Containment. Before getting to ranking their likelihood for success (unfairly based solely on their pilots and my whims at midnight), I have to say: I was surprised by the order. I had preconceived notions about all of these shows (except Containment, which I think is on nobody’s radar), and they were almost all wrong. Well, except Supergirl; that was about exactly what I expected. And it won’t matter.
4. Containment (CW)
Shameless Ripoff: Outbreak, Contagion
It’s nice to watch an epidemic that isn’t leading to a zombie apocalypse (I think). This show, written by CW co-overlord (to the Greg Berlanti’s of the world, but more on him later) Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries, The Originals), doesn’t waste any time. We open on Day 15 and Atlanta is FUCKED UP. It’s full-on riot time, with the National Guard sent in to quell what has become unmitigated chaos, with streets filled with varying degrees of dead or dying citizens. After this purposefully jarring opener, we take a step back to Day 1, when our characters that we got glimpses of (all in states of OH MY GOD levels of near death) still don’t know that a hellacious (bio-weapon?) pathogen is being unleashed in their city.
Atlanta seems a little too on par with The Walking Dead, but given its proximity to the CDC, it makes sense, and hell, I’m not going to be the one complaining about too many shows set in Atlanta (in fact, I’d love to instate a rule wherein new TV shows CAN’T be set in New York or LA).
What we get is a diverse city with a bunch of interchangeable narratives that we flit in and out of. I don’t know if I necessarily care about any of these characters after the pilot more than how sympathetic I’m supposed to feel about a nice school teacher in charge of a bunch of kids, or a runaway pregnant teen, or a very nice but very angry cop, but it doesn’t really matter. Venerable director David Nutter (Game of Thrones) juggles the ensemble expertly, and propels the show forward, never dwelling on anyone for too long, and knowing exactly when to flash to gruesome, bloody, phlegmy patients.
I especially appreciated the show’s sense of humor. Shit is most certainly going down, yet everyone has fun with the world’s first rule: “keep 4 to 6 feet away from each other.” Not only does it become a dangerously effective drinking game rule, but it becomes a shorthand for terror and inappropriate laughter. That’s a show I can get behind.
So why is it ranked fourth? Because it’s not a superhero show, or a cop show, two of the most bulletproof (literally) concepts in the business.
3. Lucifer (FOX)
Welcome to the most surprising show of the evening. From what I had heard of Lucifer, a midseason FOX show based on Mike Carey’s critically acclaimed comic book, I was expecting a chorus of boos to reign down after the screening. Instead, I don’t think a show raised its stock more tonight, and it might have garnered the most consistent applause and laughs throughout. And that’s with Supergirl tickling fans in all of the (boring) ways.
Enter: the irresistibly charming Tom Ellis (Merlin, The Fades), destined to be the breakout Brit of the year, following in the footsteps of Tom Mison (Sleepy Hollow) and Matt Ryan (while everyone was mixed on Constantine, nobody quibbled with this guy’s perfect portrayal of the complicated antihero).
He KILLS it. The premise is silly, but the show blessedly doesn’t take its self too seriously, and in many ways, feels a lot like Sleepy Hollow and Constantine. Legendary character gets thrown into a whole new world, make quips at the expense of humans or modern day, woo women, and fight demons/angels/desire.
Tom Ellis is Lucifer Morningstar, the friggin’ devil, tired of ruling Hell, now taking a vacation in Los Angeles (is that any different than Hell? har har). He owns a club and basically does whatever he wants; he worms his way out of a speeding ticket, he can get any women he wants, and somehow, someway, the guy is compulsively likable. He giggles the truth out of a therapist (a hilarious Rachael Harris). His super power is getting people to admit their darkest desires, and this is instant conflict and hilarity.
At first, I didn’t care about Chloe Dancer (Lauren German), a cop with a douche ex, but she comes alive when she comes in contact with Lucifer, just like everyone else. He lights up every scene as if he brought a few bonfires from Hell along for this breezy ride, and Chloe proves an enviable foil, with terrific chemistry.
Lucifer teams up with a resistant Chloe to solve the death of Delilah, a singer that Lucifer had a hand in rise to fame. Sure, we don’t need another cop show, but with a larger mythology promised (bring on the war against D.B. Woodside’s Amenadiel, his angel brother), and Lucifer’s hijinx more entertaining and important than the actual case, I’m in.
I’m sure if I had read Carey’s comic, I’d be bemoaning several more things, but with low expectations and no preconceived notions about what Lucifer should be, I found myself rather enjoying this Devil-in-LA romp. My only quibble is the lack of anything interesting coming from the direction of Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt), Lucifer’s bartender at the club and fellow traveler from Comic-Con.
Why is it so low? I feel, like Constantine, that it’s going to find only a niche audience, and will follow that show’s unfortunate trajectory. But I’m already surprised by Lucifer, and it’s one episode. I’m onboard in midseason.
2. Blindspot (NBC)
I expected this to be the best of the four pilots based on buzz, but it really might have been my least favorite. While the concept of a complete amnesiac with no identity littered with cryptic tattoos that inevitably are a treasure map to solve crimes is just too perfect for a TV show…that’s exactly what it feels like: a concept cribbed from John Doe, Memento, Prison Break and Bourne Identity, used as an engine for standard case-of-the-week FBI fare and myriad shots of a nude Jaime Alexander (Thor).
Alexander is great as Jane Doe (groan), and just striking, and is blessed with a meaty role here, even if she doesn’t start in a position of power. The show doesn’t waste time in shifting her away from victim territory, because it’s clear she has a cadre of special (and convenient) talents, and might have had more to do with her predicament than you might expect.
Essentially: a naked Jane Doe pops up in a duffel bag in Time Square, and has had her memory wiped by a nasty little protein. FBI agent Kurt Weller is called in, because he’s played by Sullivan Stapleton, and more importantly, because his name is tattooed on her back. The two don’t know each other, but it’s clear they’re the burgeoning will-they or won’t they detective duo.
I do really like the concept (even if it feels like I’ve seen it before), and am grateful that Alexander has found a role worthy of her considerable talents (and that we’re getting more female led shows); I just wish it all wasn’t a vehicle for what feels like a by-the-numbers procedural. Hopefully this will change as the world expands.
Regardless of whether it does, it’s easy to see this show being a hit. It’s got buzz, a naked lady, and feels like another NBC hit, Blacklist. Plus, cop shows with a twist are easy bets to land on their feet. In fact they’re almost the best bets, outside of superhero shows.
1. Supergirl (CBS)
This will be a hit because it’s friggin’ Supergirl, and the comic book show and movie craze won’t implode just yet. But it’s likely, for my money, the least effective pilot.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it, but it’s just so familiar, by-the-numbers, and kind of aw-shucks let’s groan, that it never does more than exactly what you expect from it.
In many ways, it reminds me of The Flash pilot, which was just trying too hard, so cheesy and over-the-top at the start, and while that never really changed as it went along, but it worked and became bold, badass and surprising to boot. Given that this also comes from Greg Berlanti (who also produced Blindspot, which joins Arrow and every other TV show on the planet), I wouldn’t be surprised if Supergirl experienced the same kind of growing pains and ultimate renaissance over the course of its first season. My only concern is that on CBS, rather than the CW, Berlanti and company might not have carte blanche to do the kind of comic book wack-a-doodle that we see on Flash and Arrow every week.
Kara Danvers (Glee‘s Melissa Benoist) is the older cousin to Kal-El/Superman, and is sent to Earth to protect him. Except, caught in the wake of Krypton’s explosion, her pod gets waylaid in the Phantom Zone (don’t ask why they couldn’t share a pod if her mission was solely that of protection), and she ends up arriving years after Clark Kent arrives.
What’s wonderful about Supergirl, and the state of comic book TV shows, are that she dons her costume within the first or second act. It took Clark Kent TEN SEASONS in Smallville, which is kind of hilarious to think about. Sure, it makes no sense where she finds the material to make her costume, but who cares, that’s part of the charm. And Melissa Benoist is charming, even if she’s sometimes too neurotic, too nerdy, too fumbling, and I don’t necessarily buy any of her action scenes. But that’s the journey she’ll be taking in the first season, as she battles the freed prisoners from Fort Rozz, a Kryptonian prison that arrived on Earth with her, that promises the arrival of “the General,” a clear nod or reference to one General Zod, or a TV show approximation.
There’s a lot to like about Supergirl going forward, especially if they realize how little Calista Flockhart’s awful Cat Grant works. Unfortunately, her “Super Friends”/love triangle mates
JimmyJames Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) and Winn (Jeremy Jordan) also work at Catco, the multimedia conglomerate that owns The National City Tribune, the Daily Planet stand-in. Because superheroes only work at newspapers.
I was surprised that Supergirl exists in a world where Superman exists. There is a Daily Planet. We see his silhouette. His looming presence shapes the entire pilot. In many ways, he’s kind of like Batman in Gotham, a distracting future that we’ll never see, but thankfully, it’s not as frustrating. Probably because we’ve seen enough Superman. It’s time to get to know this Supergirl.