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Ecks Factor: Pilots Revisited, Part I

Once in a great while, cutting edge television comes along and sweeps  through the masses, scoring with critics and audiences alike with its  tremendous pilot episode and continuing on for seasons to come.

Every so often, a show will begin with a whimper rather than a bang,  which is what we'll focus on this week. A few months ago, I reviewed  the many pilot episodes put out by network television in September and at the time, I felt a few of those shows deserved a second look down  the road. Most of those shows are still standing, miraculously. Now let's see if they actually read my column and have changed their show  per my suggestions. ... hey, I can dream, can't I?

This will be a two-part affair. This week I will take a look at recent episodes of Up All Night, Last Man Standing and Whitney. Next week I'll be revisiting Suburgatory, Hart of Dixie and Person of Interest, while also analyzing two of my favorite pilots from September: 2 Broke Girls and New Girl.

Let's get to it.

**********************

**Up All Night**
Original rating: C+
Newest episode reviews: Episode 13, Rivals

What Did I Say Then?
"It's hardly breaking any new ground here, but I wasn't looking for  groundbreaking television either. Instead I got a handful of  predictable laughs, an in-sahn-ly unnecessary main character in Rudolph's Ava and what I strongly feel is a case of miscasting in Will Arnett."

"But one can only hope the writing evolves and Arnett is given a  superior role than that with which he is given in the pilot episode.  On the plus side, Applegate is as plucky and likable as ever."

"Up All Night has an uphill battle waiting until midseason for a new companion. By then, damage could be irreversible."

Biggest complaints?
-The miscasting of Will Arnett
-Predictable laughs
-Rudolph's Ava

What changed?
Jennifer Hall, playing Ava's assistant on the show, is listed on the  main credits.

My revised opinion
First, let's address Will Arnett. In the pilot episode, he was still  feeling the effects of the GOB character he has essentially portrayed  since Arrested Development in every one of his projects. In Episode  13, my feeling has changed substantially. He actually looks and acts  the part of the stay-at-home dad very well. Is he the perfect choice?  Not really. Will Arnett excels at playing the a-hole characters, but  it's a welcome change.

Even more surprising is Maya Rudolph as Ava, clearly a low-level Oprah  Winfrey. She still has her Oprah moments, but for the most part, the  character has been harnessed back to Earth with a tad of humility. Is  she still over-the-top? You bet. But it's not overbearing and  irritating, as in the pilot.

Unfortunately, the laughs: they're so few and far between, it gets to  the point where I'd rather consider the show a drama than a comedy.  And it's not that the show is firing off zingers left and right and  only a handful hit. I can't recall many instances in the episode where  they were going for more than a smile or light chuckle. There are no  laugh-out-loud moments. Zero. It's cutesy more than anything.  Christina Applegate continues to prove she's one of the most able  actresses in television comedy. In fact, the whole show is so  terrifically likable, you want to keep watching. But it's not for the  laughs.

What the future now holds...
Finally getting the post-Office timeslot has proven to be a bust. But  I did acknowledge in my original review that if the show was left on  Wednesday night for too long, damage may be irreversible. And perhaps  it is. But I do lay a lot of blame on the writing. It's refreshing not  to watch a show that's hung up on prat falls, goofy gags and quick- fire laughs, but I'd still like a little something to laugh at. If NBC  decides to stick with The Office, Parks & Rec and 30 Rock, I don't  think Up All Night will make it to Season 2. Which is a shame. I  maintain it has the most potential to improve.

Original rating: C+
Revised rating: B-

****************************

**Whitney**
Original rating: C
Episode Reviewed: Episode 15, "Lance!"

What Did I Say Then?
"Whitney Cummings isn't the next Jerry Seinfeld for the sitcom world."

"It is by no means a series worthy of weekly viewing, yet the vitriol  towards the pilot was entirely unfounded. It's not the most  offensively bad sitcom to hit the airwaves. However, Whitney Cummings, the star, is the show's biggest problem. One magazine called her the anti-Zooey Deschanel, and it's true."

"[With] Cummings, it feels more like a cold shoulder than a warm embrace."

Biggest complaints?
-Whitney Cummings, Series Star
-Subpar sitcom-y writing
-Overt injections of Whitney's stand-up act into the dialogue

What changed?
Whitney has moved to Wednesday nights, inexplicably leading off the  night. It leads into the almost-as-critically-reviled Are You There, Chelsea?

My revised opinion
Here's the thing: considering the awesome supply of bad sitcoms this year, most notably in NBC's Free Agents and ABC's Work It, everyone  seems intent on adding Whitney to that list. After viewing the pilot,  I didn't so much strongly disagree as feel it was entirely unfounded  and fairly preposterous. Watch Work It again and honestly tell me Whitney is as bad or worse.

After the episode I watched, I can only add to my previous scant  praise for the show by saying it's probably the most underrated comedy on the air, based solely on the hateful attacks on the show. No it's not underrated in the same way as Parks & Recreation (although that's arguably not underrated in opinion, just in actual ratings), but it's  a genuinely decent show. Unlike Up All Night, I actually found myself  laughing a couple of times. It's not nearly as funny as Modern Family,  Happy Endings or Whitney's other show, 2 Broke Girls, but it's funny.

But what about my biggest issue with the show, its star? I am shocked  to find Whitney Cummings is much stronger on the episode that I  watched than back in the pilot. She will not be winning any Best Actress in a Comedy awards anytime soon, but the improvement is noticeable, to the point where I would take back my claim that she  won't be the next Jerry Seinfeld for the sitcom world. No, I'm not  saying she will be, but to imply she isn't a worthy comedian to have  her own show is wrong. I have no knowledge of her standup career, but  her sitcom career ain't so bad.

What the future now holds...
NBC is in a hard way right now. The Voice may be rocking the ratings  on Mondays, but everywhere else, NBC is failing. It's no more apparent  than the once-prosperous Thursday night lineup of comedy. On Wednesday  nights, Whitney has been pulling in more viewers than 30 Rock, Parks &  Recreation and Up All Night (and definitely more than Community back  when it was starting the night). Even the 18-49 demo is only a few  notches below Parks & Rec and Up All Night. And Whitney is all the way  on its own on Wednesday night, without the benefits of other  established shows to give it a push. But NBC seems intent on less than  4 million viewers on Thursdays. Still, I would stick with Whitney for  next season. Will they? Probably not.

Original rating: C
Revised rating: B-

*************************

**Last Man Standing**
Original rating: C+
Episode reviewed: Episode 15, House of Spirits

What Did I Say Then?
"[Tim Allen]'s more hit than miss in his attempts at understanding the  new culture. Now, that aside, the show has an agenda: it's aimed entirely at a blue collar, Republican audience. Jokes about Obamacare and boys growing up to "dance on floats" [...] litter the pilot and  second episode."

"When the show is just about family, and occasionally the modern   world, it's funny. Too often though it veers into territory that is unnecessary. If they stopped making it accessible to just the political right, it'll do well."

"But I hope they work out the kinks because Tim Allen is carrying it  on his shoulders. Now if they could  fire Nancy Travis (she annoyingly smiles at EVERYTHING Tim says) and hire Patricia Richardson, then we'd be in business."

My biggest complaints
-Nancy Travis
-Right-wing, blue collar comedy
-Needs more family comedy

My revised opinion
Oh boy, I was hoping for so much more. Imagine my surprise when I got  so, so much less. Instead of baby steps forward, which is what I had  expected, the show took major steps backward. The episode I watched, about two possible ghosts in the house, feels like a rerun of  According to Jim rather than Home Improvement. The family stuff, which I praised faintly in the pilot,  feels like the lowest common denominator of comedy. The laughs are so  cheap and simple. Every single person on this show is working on auto -pilot. Even Tim Allen looks and sounds lifeless. It's a paycheck to  him, which is fine. But I expected and hoped for so much from  him. He deserves better. We deserve better from him.

Thankfully, the right-wing jabs are missing in the episode I watched.  I get it, you're playing up to a specific audience and you're getting  their viewership. But you don't need the jokes. They'll be dated  before long. But it's still very blue collar, which is fine. That was  a light complaint of mine and it gives the show its only form of  individuality.

Don't get me started on Nancy Travis. A normally decent actress is so miscast here. She doesn't jive with the material. I'm not sure anyone  would, but the rest of the cast does what they can with they're given,  and they are not given much. And my biggest gripe from the pilot?  Nancy smiling at EVERYTHING Tim says. I find it incredibly annoying  when characters smile or laugh at what someone else says on a sitcom.  It's not cute, it's bad direction. Now everyone is doing it on the  show. It looks like no one can keep a straight face. It's not  realistic. It's not funny. It just looks bad.

What the future now holds...
It's doing its own thing on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, they can't  find anything to partner it with. ABC has taken great strides in the  sitcom department, thanks to its Wednesday night lineup, and Last Man Standing just doesn't fit there. Still, I'm sure it'll be back next  season. Numbers are too good.

Original rating: C+
Revised rating: D+

TUBE NEWS

-The Simpsons celebrates its 500th episode this Sunday on FOX. Now  that the show has marked this historic milestone, is it time to put  the yellow-bodied, four-fingered family away for good? If not, I'll be  looking forward to episode 1000 in twenty-odd years.

-Liza Minnelli has cancelled her appearance on Hot in Cleveland. A  handful of people living in 1975 are inconsolable.

-Charlie's back! Charlie Sheen has lashed out at Two and a Half Men  and Ashton Kutcher for putting out a lackluster product. He  specifically targetted Kutcher and the writers, saying "I'm tired of  lying. I'm tired of pretending the show doesn't suck. I'm tired of  pretending Ashton doesn't suck. It's nothing personal. I just feel bad  for him. He's saddled with such bad writing."

There's the Charlie Sheen we know and love!

RATINGS-to-GO

-AMC's The Walking Dead zombie-walked its way to 8.1 million viewers  for Sunday's episode, "Nebraska". As lackluster as the first half  of the season was, fans are certainly forgiving of the show. Anyone  who watched those last seven minutes should not have been  disappointed.

-The Idol/Voice war tipped back into Idol's favor this week. Monday's  The Voice scored 16.3 million viewers and a 6.0 in the 18-49 demo,  while Idol pulled 18.9 million and a 6.1 in the demo. Either or, this  is a win for both FOX and NBC.

-Less of a victory is NBC's Smash, which dropped to 8.06 million and a  2.8 in the key demographic. For those counting, that's over 50% drop- off from lead-in The Voice. Not abysmal, like FOX's The Finder out of  Thursday's edition of American Idol, but it's not good.

-ABC's Cougar Town premiered its third season to 4.9 million viewers  and a 1.8 in the demo out of Last Man Standing's 7.6 million and 2.2  in the demo. You tried, Courtney Cox. You did what you could. Fans love it, but audiences aren't warming to it after three seasons.

RIP Neil Hope

Like most Canadian teens growing up, I regularly watched Degrassi  Junior High and Degrassi High on CBC. I was too young to fully  appreciate it when it originally aired but watched the entire series  in repeats. It's one of those memorable programs I watched that I hold  great fondness for. It's since been re-created via Degrassi: The Next  Generation, but it doesn't have the same unique charm and quality of  the original. There's no re-creating it. And Neil Hope played a big  part as Derek "Wheels" Wheeler, best friends to leads Joey Jeremiah  and Archie "Snake" Simpson. Neil passed away five years ago at 35 but  the death hadn't been made public until this week. RIP, Neil.

That does this week for my take on a few of the mediocre pilots of the  season. Next week I'll revisit Hart of Dixie, Suburgatory, Person of Interest, New Girl and 2 Broke Girls.

Until then, stay tuned.

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Total Comments: 5
Bluebomb
Bluebomb    Feb 19 2012 5:35pm
I watched Degrassi Junior High and High too, but only after I heard such great reviews for it. I'm so glad I did. They tackled issues that nowadays shows are too afraid to showcase. They should keep showing it in syndication or something as I think most of the issues back then are still relevant nowadays.

I don't watch Idol these days, but why was Wednesday and Thursday so different in ratings? Aren't they still in Hollywood week? A 5.1 on Thursday with a 6.1 on Wednesday looks odd.

The Walking Dead numbers are INSANE. After the piss poor first half of season 2, I thought viewers would either decline slightly or post a slight uptick but no, it set series highs. Maybe I will give it another chance in the summer. We'll see.
Mister Ecks
Mister Ecks    Feb 19 2012 7:36pm
Idol's ratings are largely reflective of a major decline in viewership this week across the board. Why that is, I can't tell you. It's like a large group of people just decided to not watch TV this week.
Bluebomb
Bluebomb    Feb 19 2012 7:57pm
But the major decrease in viewership doesn't explain why Idol had a 1 point drop in the demo from Wed -> Thur. That is huge even if all the numbers are somewhat abnormal this week.

On another note, sucks that Niel Hope died. RIP!
Crux
Crux    Feb 20 2012 9:33pm
I totally agree about Up All Night. It's a pretty decent addition to the Thursday night lineup on NBC.
Mister Ecks
Mister Ecks    Feb 22 2012 1:51am
Bluebomb, I don't know what the story is on the ratings last week. Everything was pretty weird all around.

Crux, Up All Night is exactly that: pretty decent. I just wish it would fulfill its potential and be a great show.