Evil (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 26, 2019 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 4.558 million viewers, 3.0/6 in Households, 0.830 million viewers and 0.6/3 with Adults 18-49, 0.3/2 with Adults 18-34, 1.1/4 with Adults 25-54

Words I’ve said about four or five times while I was watching the episode, as well as immediately after the end: “I’m intrigued.” Even if I hadn’t known that EVIL is from Robert and Michelle King, whom I’m biased about when it comes to television (if their names are in the credits, the minimum I can do is check out the pilot), I would have considered this pilot to be one of the better ones I have seen during this broadcast television season (it’s only twelve so far, but it’s my number one as of now and that says a lot), and the reason for that has something to do with my belief system. Because I don’t have one. I don’t even know if I’m an atheist or just don’t care about religion, since I think that these two positions are different from each other (when you don’t care you could not be bothered about God and angels and the devil, but when you’re an atheist you’re specifically stating you’re not a believer), but I am watching TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, which is very much a show focused on belief and miracles and the spirit of wonder, and I am actually thinking about tackling 7TH HEAVEN at one point, so I must have a position on religion. If I continue to watch EVIL, I would essentially have another show in my current schedule that deals with religion in a unique way, so can I say that I can’t be bothered with God and the devil and religion in general?

That question swirled around in my mind while I was watching this episode, and I was definitely not prepared to ask myself those existential questions after watching a CBS television drama. For that alone, EVIL deserves a spot somewhere high in my list, because I can count the television shows that makes me ask questions about myself on two hands and I have been watching television for about 23 years now. Answers to my questions I still didn’t get though, and for a moment I’m actually wondering if I can answer those for myself if I keep watching EVIL, or if the show only impressed and intrigued the hell out of me because of my King bias. But I can already see, as soon as I have my questions answered, if at all, I will utterly fall apart over the notion that this episode portrayed a serialkiller who met a likeminded person on 4chan of all places and decided to kill after being persuaded to do so. If you ever needed another reason for 4chan to be the hellhole of the internet that needs quarantine…

A bunch of kids want to sleep in the bed of their mother.

I loved how this episode went into the paranormal and supernatural without ever really going there. The monster named George could really just be Kristen’s night terrors and there is nothing nefarious behind George’s existence (as in, he definitely is not a demon who tries to cross over to our reality through Kristen’s dreams and fears), and Leland Townsend could really just be a maniac who thinks of himself as the devil, which is why he successfully persuaded a random internet user to murder. Hell, the Kings even went so far to say that social media is the evil in this world and that potential serialkillers cannot be stopped simply because they use social media, which is where all the evil collects itself. It’s almost like you don’t even need to turn your crime drama into a supernatural thriller to showcase possessions and a demon’s attempt to turn everyone into a homicidal maniac — the internet, especially the “chan” family of online message boards, is already doing that for you, which means the Kings found a very interesting and unique way to portray potential supernatural evil, without ever leaving the realm of realism. The Kings are known for writing grounded show with a heavy technical aspect in their dialogue sequences (I would consider THE GOOD WIFE the show of the legal drama genre the way ER is the show of the medical drama genre), and now they decided to tackle the biblically evil personalities. And after only one episode I am wondering if the supernatural is really at play here, making use of how social media changed humanity’s landscape like HYDRA changed the world’s fear of protection and security through terrorism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or if nothing biblically will ever enter the fray of the narrative, because every killer in this show fakes being possessed and Leland Townsend, the proposed antagonist of EVIL, is just a psychopath who loves seeing himself as the antichrist.

Non-detectives do their interrogative work better than actual detectives.

I also loved how low-key this episode was, compared to the nightmares of editing jobs of previous pilots, especially with the use of pop music and the general score (I’m looking at you, ALL RISE). The cast of EVIL seems quite small, even if the opening credits don’t make it look like it is, but I would consider the show only having three central characters (Kristen, David Acosta and Leland Townsend), and that small amount of central characters helps to put focus on the central characters, even if Townsend didn’t really have a lot of screentime. And because the story of the episode wasn’t that major either, there was a lot of time for the viewers to get acquainted with the Kings’ new way of writing a television show, let alone giving me time to figure out what this show is going to be about. Because the story wasn’t jumping from one event to the next, so that the writers can keep track of an ensemble cast larger than the one for the first season of LOST, the episode was given ample time to focus on Kristen’s night terrors and how they could both be compelling for Kristen’s long-running character arc, as well as give the show the necessary horror elements that might go missing when the team investigates non-supernatural crimes. In fact, Kristen’s night terrors turned out to be an intriguing way to depict the horror of the show. At times George reminded me of the demon in Syfy’s CHILDHOOD’S END, and judging by the way Kristen interacted with her night terror, George could easily be used as a plot device for Kristen to find out clues about the supernatural state of the world she inhabits, similar to how Jason Isaac’s character used the clues of both worlds he lived in to investigate crime in Kyle Killen’s AWAKE. But if the Kings actually did that, George wouldn’t be part of night terrors any longer, and that would mean Kristen would lose an interesting element of her character arc.

In retrospect, EVIL wins the first week of the 2019/2020 broadcast pilot season, thanks to a well thought-out plan to include a supernatural narrative in a crime procedural, as well as giving me more thoughts about my own relationship with religion, let alone a view of the cess pools of social media. I am not expecting for EVIL to challenge the faith that I don’t have, but I will certainly continue thinking about how the demons from the Bible already exist among us, and they use the “chan” family of social media to express their deepest desire for violence and chaos. It turned out that the dark side of Christianity has come to exist after all, and it can be explained via technology. You don’t even need faith to do that any longer.

Sunnyside (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 26, 2019 (NBC)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.773 million viewers, 1.2/2 in Households, 0.555 million viewers and 0.4/2 with Adults 18-49, 0.3/2 with Adults 18-34, 0.6/2 with Adults 25-54

Kal Penn made use of the cancellation of DESIGNATED SURVIVOR to write his own comedy vehicle, which I guess is something Indian-Americans have to do these days to get cast in a television show. Considering how white the broadcast pilot season usually is, the non-white actors would have to develop a show all on their own to simply just get it in front of network executives, so they have a look at it and can waste a few seconds of their day thinking whether to greenlight a pilot or not. SUNNYSIDE very much feels like an all-in Kal Penn comedy — a character that he specifically wrote for himself, a show that deals with the issue of immigration which the current administration does not want to deal with, preferably portrayed by actual immigrant actors (who still look American though), and a show that has a selfish asshole character front and center, who will learn how to be a better person through contact and communication with other people, but not before going to continue being the selfish asshole, because there is nothing better for Garrett Modi to be as much of a dick as Arthur is over at PERFECT HARMONY. In 2019, central characters on NBC comedies are a bunch of a-holes. They could band together and be the guardians of our sane minds.

Garrett has a plan of action.

This pilot did what PERFECT HARMONY did not do: It gave the series a bigger back story to deal with, a potential future to write towards, and maybe even come out of its shadow more quicker than PERFECT HARMONY could do, which after only one episode is essentially just the child of SISTER ACT and GLEE — a lot of weird characters who sing and a neurotic choir leader don’t make for a lot throughout its first few episodes. SUNNYSIDE could go into a more broader route of storytelling, because not only does it have Garrett’s redemption arc to work with, as he grows from being the humiliated councilman to President of the United States at the end of the tenth season, if the show ever gets this far (looking at the ratings and it seems like it won’t even get past the tenth episode), but it has a political back story and that usually means you can introduce political characters, write them into political stories, all while keeping an eye on the real-life development on politics, which give rise to so many stories (the inevitable HBO movie of Orange Hitler Donald Trump’s presidency has already enough material to be a four-year television show). And besides all that, Garrett’s students will also most likely deal with their own personal issues and demons, as they are putting work into becoming American citizens, which is much harder work than winning the next choir competition. Plus side: Garrett isn’t suicidal, so that dark section of NBC comedy writing is gone from SUNNYSIDE.

But as usual, the writing was pushing to get to the finish line within 20 minutes, which means SUNNYSIDE was taking speed from the same drug dealer PERFECT HARMONY got their drugs from and that is going to be a problem in the long run. For one, NBC should crack down on those drug dealers (preferably in its own single-camera comedy show, because nothing is more awesome than meta humor), and for two, it does not help the show when the initial stories get breakfasted like Fruit Loops with almond milk, just so the writers room can get over the pilot episode hump and introductory phase immediately and get into the storytelling. While I’m happy that Garrett only returned as the group’s teacher and essentially began his redemption arc by facing his new city councilor to ask for help (and to introduce Diana as a potential love interest for Garrett, because this is still scripted television), instead of leading his students straight to American citizenship, I would have loved to see more of Garrett being the humiliated former politician, who couldn’t get anything done and has no goals in life. Not even 21 minutes after this series began, Garrett already had goals and was thriving in something, which means his back story of being the vomit city councilman is kind of wasted.

Bill Nye the Science Guy tries his hand at explaining the electoral college.

But the cast is charming and Kal Penn is always worth a look, even if he seems typecast in these comedic roles these days (hence my surprise of his involvement in DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, but that role didn’t do much for him). I said the same about PERFECT HARMONY though, which brings me to say that both shows are essentially about the same thing: A selfish asshole starts helping a group of down-on-their-luck people to get better in a certain area of life, all while selfish asshole becomes a better person in the progress. There is a reason NBC greelit both of these shows and paired them up on Thursday nights. Is this now a fight of which show with the same premise is going to survive or is there room for both?

Carol’s Second Act (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 26, 2019 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 5.965 million viewers, 3.9/8 in Households, 0.944 million viewers and 0.7/3 with Adults 18-49, 0.3/2 with Adults 18-34, 1.3/5 with Adults 25-54

In which CBS continues to develop multi-camera sitcoms, because the network knows that the median age of broadcast network television viewers is far beyond the 50 years and that almost one of new young viewers can be convinced to tune into their shows, so why not staying classic with future shows and continuing the slow downfall of broadcast television? Now that it becomes a miracle for a show to get a rating higher than 2.0 in the targeted demographic (when it was reason to immediately cancel a show for getting below a 2.0 twenty years ago), everyone can feel happy and excited for getting a 1.5 rating or something that looks better than a zero before the decimal point, and to get to that, networks can continue to create shows that look like they came straight out of the nineties with their premise, and in the case of sitcoms, the humor better be stuck in the nineties as well, because all those viewers of age won’t understand millennial jokes or even know who or what a Lizzo is.

Time for rounds, please leave your jokes at the door.

CAROL’S SECOND ACT could have aired like this as a lead out to THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE thirteen years ago and maybe CBS would have had a minor success with it, but during a time in which we experience the fourth-ever impeachment inquiry in American politics, a show like CAROL’S SECOND ACT, which should actually be fun and amusing and light enough to get a distance from the real world, is sort of meaningless and kinda boring. Patricia Heaton may be great for her next sitcom role after nine years of both EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND and THE MIDDLE, but not having watched more than a handful of either shows show, I have as much of a connection with Heaton now than I did when THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE premiered, since I never watched SEINFELD back then, so I didn’t know who Julia Louis-Dreyfus was. This show is clearly a starring vehicle for Heaton, and because of this, the writers forgot to give the show a unique element that would make it worth the watch beyond its central star. People most likely tuned in for CAROL’S SECOND ACT because they’re 50 years or older, or because they like Heaton as an actress, or because they don’t like to pay for cable or streaming services, but I assume that these groups of people have less people in it than the group of people who just tune into television to see what’s on, randomly land on CAROL’S SECOND ACT, and find it to be a watchable sitcom with not enough laughs, so they continue to zap their way through the hundreds of basic cable channels.

Granted, the world hasn’t had a lot of sitcoms set at a hospital or told stories about doctors and nurses, so there is a reason for CAROL’S SECOND ACT to exist, but the pilot didn’t make a good impression as to why it should exist right now and why I should consider watching it and declare it as a better medical sitcom than a show like SCRUBS (and I know these two shows can’t be compared, as they have different styles). Maybe the narrative of a senior person starting a new career and becoming a doctor could be a fine one, but even that premise has been breakfasted by previous medical shows already, which doesn’t give CAROL’S SECOND ACT an advantage at all. Maybe the fact that Carol could be a motherly figure to all the characters in the hospital, as well as the patients, but that would remove the show from being a straight-up sitcom and instead turn into something of a serious show in moments, but I cannot imagine that CBS would ever allow a sitcom to stop the funny and focus on the drama of the situation for a minute or two. This is something NBC would love to do with their sitcoms, but CBS seems to want generic storytelling and conservative humor — don’t look too progressive or liberal or social media may jump on you to shred you to pieces, and judging by the fact that CBS still gets most of the total viewership, the network executives won’t want to jeopardize that.

Carol just wanted to take a quick shower.

What the show needs to do from here on is giving the viewers a reason to tune back in. The medical genre may be one of the three pillars of network television (besides the legal drama and the police procedural), but just because you set your television show in that genre doesn’t mean that it will get the viewers to tune in. If CBS would like to remember back about ten years to THREE RIVERS and MIAMI MEDICAL and the network will see that medical shows without a unique portrayal of the genre will get crushed in the ratings game and you can forget that a second season will ever be ordered. Maybe CAROL’S SECOND ACT should have had Chuck Lorre among its writing staff, because for some reason I loved BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA, which is partially set in a hospital, and it was working much better as a show. CAROL’S SECOND ACT just exists, makes me smile and yawn for twenty minutes, and then I forget that I ever watched it — no unique characters, no interesting stories, no laugh-out-loud humor. We might need the paddles to shock this one back to life.

Stumptown (“Forget It Dex, It’s Stumptown”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 25, 2019 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 4.614 million viewers, 3.1/7 in Households, 0.891 million viewers and 0.7/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.3/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.1/5 with Adults 25-54

First things first: I have heard of the graphic novels for the first time during the credits of this episode, when it told me that this show is based on a series of graphic novels. Next thing second: I didn’t know anything about the show before I started watching it, which by itself is a nice and unexpected surprise. Usually I know a whole lot or at least something about the television pilot I’m throwing my eyeballs at, but in the case of STUMPTOWN, the only thing I knew was that it was Cobie Smulders’s vehicle and that this show may be the reason that Marvel Television never managed to get a Maria Hill-centered television show on the air for this year or have the character become a regular during the final season of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. So here I was, not knowing what to expect (a police procedural? An action-jackson show with a female lead? An hourlong dramedy with a central character who loves posing on cheap muscle cars like she does on the key art?), and I was somewhat entertained throughout these 43 minutes. It’s not a show I would want to watch on a weekly basis, not even with Smulders on the lead, but it wasn’t necessarily a pilot that crapped on everything television stands for and instead came over as a great way to kill some time for an hour and be joyful that Smulders is actually interested in a sorta action-heavy role, which means I can totally see her as the new Jennifer Garner, if Jennifer Garner had decided to stick with the action genre after ALIAS and playing Elektra Natchios for two films. I for one liked PEPPERMINT, no matter how useless the film was, so here is to hoping that if STUMPTOWN fails, Cobie Smulders will think about staying with the genre and become the next action heroine Hollywood needs.

Hands up, don’t shoot this future private investigator.

I still don’t know what STUMPTOWN is as a show though. Dex seemed like the perfect private investigator and bodyguard to have when you’re dealing with shady people, but she doesn’t look like she wants anything to do with the police, except when a sexy male detective is naked in her bed (or he is naked in his bed and she joined him). Dex seemed like the perfect candidate to be the avenger of this version of Portland, Oregon, but she looks like she would rather want to be on an alcoholic binge and nurse her post-traumatic stress disorder after whatever she experienced in Afghanistan, which, even though teased through flashback sequences, were most likely just a way to tell the audience that something awful happened over there and it’s going to be a story later in the show. Dex seemed like the perfect person you can trust with a hard job that could go sideways any minute, but then she also doesn’t seem to be interest to be actually working. As a result, this episode delivered a character who could be a great cop, who could be a great PI, who even could be a great hostage negotiator, because when she was dealing with Nina’s boyfriend Michael, she knew how to press his buttons to get a few answers, let alone find out where Nina actually was to begin with. Yet Dex is only an Afghanistan veteran with a broken heart who may or may not be liked and loved by the Native community in Portland, who has a bartender for a friend who may not even be involved in whatever is happening in this town, and who has a Down-syndrome brother, because inclusiveness and all.

When you’re bad, never get your fingers trapped in a car door.

Cobie Smulders makes a great casting choice for a twisted and schizophrenic role like this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that STUMPTOWN is suddenly an intriguing television drama set in a dark and moody world in which the criminal corner is battling it out with your PTSD, and either of the sides could take you over any second now while the show itself remains in the crime drama business, with Dex continuing to play the PI card, because she kind of has to make some money to live, right? It could make the show boring after only a few episodes, since it ca only go down two paths, with both of them having been revisited by previous shows already: Either Dex joins law enforcement as a consultant of sorts, solves cases and makes use of her military and interrogation skills when scaring big bad dudes, or she turns towards the private eye business and stumbles upon the underworld of Portland that way, turning STUMPTOWN into the broadcast network version of Cinemax’s QUARRY, which is also a show I never got past its first episode for reasons that were time-related. Hell, STUMPTOWN could even go the way of VERONICA MARS, which may fit the show and its central character a little more than the other two options, as Dex certainly has the quip and sarcasm to go through the world unharmed (or with some fresh bruises on her face), while also having friends in high places who could assist her in her jobs. But who knows, not knowing anything about the show or the graphic novels it is based on, STUMPTOWN could go a completely different direction and wow me, if I were ever to watch another episode of it. Because at this point I’m just gonna wait for good word-of-mouth. Nothing else is going to get me to watch the next episode — not even Cobie Smulders.

Perfect Harmony (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 26, 2019 (NBC)
Nielsen ratings information: 2.627 million viewers, 1.7/3 in Households, 0.681 million viewers and 0.5/2 with Adults 18-49, 0.2/1 with Adults 18-34, 0.7/3 with Adults 25-54

In which Bradley Whitford stars in a show that is essentially a mixture of GLEE and SISTER ACT, just in case you needed to know which two previous Hollywood projects this show resembles. I don’t like GLEE that much, since it crashed and faltered halfway through its second season, which I never bothered finishing, even though I adored and was obsessed with its first season, but I am a huge fan of SISTER ACT, so when Disney+ comes around, all I want is either a remake, a revival or a continuation (news has it as a remake). PERFECT HARMONY seems good enough to kill time until that happens, because the show had a charming cast and some good comedy to make me chuckle, even if the pilot happened to have a story that was told on speed and crack and steroids, all at the same time. And let’s not forget that Arthur Cochran started off the show as a suicidal alcoholic who could not live without his wife any longer, which is a whole ‘nother part of the show the writers have gotten into here, but because the suicidal aspect is not for single-camera comedies, it was pretty much dropped right after Arthur’s car was towed. I assume we will never hear of his suicidal thoughts ever again and the only thing that will remind the viewers of how the show started was that he’s missing his wife, and essentially teaching the Second First Church of the Cumberlands (that name is a joke, right? Because I don’t quite understand that joke) is his way to get back to life and enjoy it while also getting over the death of his wife and the end of his first life.

Arthur’s coffin on wheels was just impounded.

The story on drugs was however the biggest problem of these 21 minutes and 30 seconds. Arthur went from a suicidal man to a first-time choir instructor and teacher to a man who just wanted to take revenge on an asshole who denied him a graveyard to a man hated by his choir to a man who figured out that a kid has dyslexia to a man who brought his choir through a singing competition, which they promptly lost and got reimbursed by a sorry award that at least acknowledged the choir’s talents. On GLEE, the road to the sectionals at least took half a season, and the regionals were slated during the season finale, while SISTER ACT didn’t have much of a singing competition at all during the musical climax of both films (fun fact: I love the sequel more than I do the original film, and that might be because of the soft DANGEROUS MINDS side premise of said sequel, which I appreciated more than a fake nun running from mobsters), but on PERFECT HARMONY, it didn’t take the characters more than 19 minutes to get to their first singing competition, proving that this show is about music and about joining the typical church choir shows with today’s and yesterday’s pop and rock songs, because that is how you get to entertain the broadcast network audience. No one likes to listen to church songs, they want to be entertained with Journey or Led Zeppelin or Red Hot Chili Peppers or Lizzo. In a way, speeding straight to the first singing competition at the end of the episode only told the audience what the music will be about on this show, which means the singing competition was useless as a plot device and only helped to establish the show’s sound, look and feel.

At least the cast looks great. Bradley Whitford is always a delight, so I’m glad he didn’t turn into a politician after the 2016 presidential election and instead decided to co-star in one of 2017’s hottest Hollywood films. Anna Camp is also a delight, and after the PITCH PERFECT series I always wanted to see her in another musical-type project. Seeing these two people join forces for a church choir musical half hour comedy gives me just a little bit of joy, even if I can’t get anything out of the story, let alone the other characters of the bunch who kind of remained nameless for me (except Wayne and Dwayne, but this only having been a 21-minute episode with an ensemble cast, I kind of can’t keep them apart). Here is to hoping that upcoming episodes will focus on the characters here and there and manage to be a television show that goes beyond the church music or Arthur’s Grinch-like behavior. Especially the latter could quickly turn into a serious problem for the show if not handled properly by the writers, as Arthur’s behavior could definitely turn out to be an annoyance. That already alienated me from the Matthew Perry vehicle GO ON after just one episode, which might be the biggest reason why that show failed (but can anyone even remember the show existed to begin with?).

It’s a different kind of marriage proposal.

In retrospect, this episode didn’t have anything more to offer than two beloved actors, as well as the pairing of premises of a musical television show from Ryan Murphy and a musical Hollywood comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg. It’s a pairing I won’t mind watching on a weekly basis, but if the writers can’t get into character development or reasons why PERFECT HARMONY should exist beyond its status as a church musical comedy series, then Whitford can certainly think again about running for office next year and Camp will have to talk to her agents and managers about turning PITCH PERFECT into a series. Preferably on a streaming service.

Mixed-ish (“Becoming Bow”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 24, 2019 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 3.914 million viewers total, 2.6/5 in Households, 1.180 million viewers and 0.9/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.4/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.3/5 with Adults 25-54

First things first, I am not a watcher of both BLACK-ISH and GROWN-ISH, even though the social media coverage of said shows and late night appearances of its cast have tempted me on multiple occasions to begin the “-ish” franchise. I guess it might not be such a good idea to do it with the second spin-off show, because I’m getting into it not knowing anything about Tracee Ellis Ross’s character, and why she was chosen for this “flashback” single-camera family comedy or what about her life as a 12-year-old was a topic already during BLACK-ISH. This very show has been created and written with a back story that has already been established on another show, but not every viewer of MIXED-ISH will have seen BLACK-ISH before, so the usual question comes across when writing a spin-off television show off a more successful entry in Hollywood: How much should the writers rely on the previous works in the franchise and how much of it should be included in the new project? TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES can sing you an opera about how troublesome the transfer from movie franchise to a FOX television show can be, and just because ABC decided to spin-off one of their shows into another one that could essentially copy one of their other single-camera family comedies set in the 1980s narrated by one of the characters from the future, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be less troublesome.

The hipster cult life has been great for the Johnson family.

The opening scene of this episode I will give the writers, because judging by the success of BLACK-ISH, it seemed like a mistake not to include the original show’s characters to introduce the new show. But yeah, it caused a problem with me, the new viewer, who had no connections with the cast around Anthony Anderson, except for seeing Tracee Ellis Ross on a few late night shows here and there (well, just Seth Meyers and Lilly Singh). It’s probably a good thing then that MIXED-ISH is Bow’s origin story, telling the character’s history from being a child in a hipster cult to a tweenager in the suburbs, where she is facing the real world and all the side-eyes from white people who may or may not have seen a mixed-raced person before. That premise is actually intriguing to me — Bow from the future mentioned at one point that the Loving Act changed the color and look of America, and that 20 years later the white folks were dealing with the result of interracial marriage having been legalized. It’s in fact part of the real-life story I have never thought about before — America has never looked at mixed-raced people before, at least not under these normal circumstances, so how to react and where to put the origin story of that? If I were to watch another episode of MIXED-ISH (I don’t think I can continue this show without at least making my way through BLACK-ISH before), I could only hope that this world view of Bow’s family is going to continue being the narrative of the show, and that part of MIXED-ISH will be the development of Bow from being a 12-year-old suburban kid of an interracial set of parents to a grown woman with a husband and a set of kids who were made for being the fictional characters of a black ABC comedy series.

Story-wise, this episode didn’t have much to offer. A 5-headed family moves from a commune to the suburbs, the kids are integrating themselves in school, while the matriarch is getting a job (a slightly interesting aspect of this show is that the mother seems to be the breadwinner of the house). In the meantime, the kids are trying to find themselves in this new world after having been faced with the sorta-racist reality (I don’t know whether what the kid said to them in the mess hall was racist or not) of it, and Bow from the future uses the opportunity to tell us all about what she felt and thought and how she reacted to everything, and she did not even think about putting a break on her narrative and let the characters of the show talk about how they felt. Tracee Ellis Ross’s presence in this episode was very much extended, and while I appreciated that she stayed quiet after her siblings revealed their new looks for the second day of school, I must say that the voiceover narration was too much at certain points. It’s almost like the writers decided to have as much of Ross as possible in this episode (I assume she is the stand-out performance in BALCK-ISH) and not just have her be the creator and executive producer of the show. I hope future episodes will cut back on the voiceover narration, just so the actual characters have an opportunity to speak and experience character developments on their own, unhelped by the narration from one of the characters’ future version.

The Eighties are in full force with these kids.

I am however happy that the show found an opportunity to be as different from THE GOLDBERGS as possible(I haven’t been watching YOUNG SHELDON either, so I can’t compare it with the CBS show). That was already given thanks to the premise of MIXED-ISH, which plays with race relations, but while THE GOLDBERGS likes to play with pop culture and sometimes delivers sketch-like comedy, MIXED-ISH seems very grounded in its approach to do family comedy, while also taking time to go for an emotional moment between the character, especially since Bow seems to be the one who needs to find her true self in this new world. The thing is just, the approach of grounded comedy failed to get me amused, but then again I don’t even know if I’m able to understand everything that is happening on MIXED-ISH. Being a straight white male of the 1990s, there is no connection for me to the lives of black or mixed people in the 1980s — this is a culture I don’t know anything about (with THE GOLDBERGS I at least have the pop culture references), which means it’s making things a lot more difficult to experience the show with its characters. But I’m in the process of learning — I’m currently watching FAMILY MATTERS, so maybe there will be a point in my TV-watching life in which I will understand the troubles and trials and tribulations black people have gone through. MIXED-ISH won’t do that for me at this moment though.

Prodigal Son (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 23, 2019 (FOX)
Nielsen ratings information: 4.046 million viewers, 2.6/5 in Households, 1.0/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.6/4 with Adults 18-34, 1.3/5 with Adults 25-54

FOX is in the fictional serialkiller business again, because this network believes it can only tell stories about people who went to Hell and came back. The network is certainly trying to test the limits of broadcasting standards, even if this episode was anything but heavy on the violence and serialkilling. After all, the most brutal moment of the episode was the shooting of the serial killer of the episode, who was gunned down by two bullets. For a television show about serialkillers, this episode definitely didn’t bring any blood or showcased more than severed heads in a few jars filled with liquids. I have never seen more than the pilot of NBC’s HANNIBAL (shame on me, I guess), but even that episode was more violent than this offering that apparently tries to steal the best of both worlds from HANNIBAL and THE FOLLOWING, serving the audience yet another crime procedural with weird characters who carry the term “acquired taste” a little too heavy.

Fictional serialkillers always have a smile on their face.

It makes this pilot episode almost identical to all the other serialkiller thriller dramas on television, especially when Michael Sheen didn’t manage to find his own way of portraying a serialkiller and instead remained in the field of what’s to be expected from a fictional murderer with a fable for killing victims exquisitely. Martin is so full of himself as the greatest serialkiller of 1998’s New York that he always smiles when seeing or talking to his son, and Malcolm is so full of himself as the expert profiler and NYPD consultant that he thinks he’s allowed to behave like a lunatic at the scene of the crime, or talk like he already knows all the answers to the detectives’ questions, but decides to wait to give them because he likes to play games that are all about superiority. Those character elements make Martin and Malcolm cliched characters in the serialkiller thriller genre, making PRODIGAL SON a television show that likes to get its hand dirty in the treasure box of tropes. And in the meantime, the show is like any other crime procedural on the market: A murder case needs to be solved, so a team of detectives are on the way to catch the killer before they can murder their next victim. THE FOLLOWING, which was a show I hated, at least had an intriguing cult premise running in the background, but PRODIGAL SON does not have that, which essentially makes it just another crime drama — which happens to have a serialkiller as a central character. It’s almost like DEXTER, but Dexter is actually a supervillain who kills for the fun and excitement of it and has already been captured. The only thing this version of Dexter is waiting now is the inevitable escape from the mental institution. Because really, you know that is going to come sooner or later. THE FOLLOWING, the show I hated, managed to deliver that escape in the pilot episode.

Malcolm is the typical character who is the son of a convicted serialkiller who thinks he is the creepiest in town, just because he is happy to see his son whenever he comes by to visit. I get that the child of a convicted and legendary serialkiller is not an interesting character for a television show when said child isn’t haunted by the demons and nightmares of the murdering parent’s past, but I would have hoped that PRODIGAL SON would tackle the story a little differently and make something unique or worthwhile about the story. Not having seen more than one hour of HANNIBAL, even I was thinking that Will was on the edge of becoming a serialkiller himself (the characteristic tendencies were definitely there), so I don’t even need to assume that the writers of this very show have at least argued in the writers room about whether or not to make a serialkiller out of Malcolm as well. You might get in trouble with fans of DEXTER, who will definitely target your jugular for stealing the premise of the beloved Showtime drama, but it’s not that far-fetched to believe that Malcolm is more than just the “acquired taste” for the New York Police Homicide Department, and that the potential for going down the more bloody route is an option, just for the writers to chicken out at the end and remain in the crime drama business. One way to prevent the writers from turning Malcolm into a killer himself is to have his father escape and start a new spree of murders, just so an entire season of serialkilling television can be turned into a manhunt.

Future serialkillers always have dreamy eyes.

The rest of the character pool barely got color throughout the episode. There are the usual detective characters who are with the main hero of the story and help him solve the case, and there is the usual writing of the crime drama pilot that does not give a damn about the characters beyond the central detective or investigator or consultant, since it’s going to be all about them. If the viewers don’t remember the names of the other characters 30 minutes after the episode ended, then maybe there is a problem with the writing. But then I ask myself the question if we are even supposed to care about the other detectives, and if the answer to that question is an astounding “No,” then why are they part of the narrative? PRODIGAL SON suffers like any other crime procedural on broadcast television, but because of the serialkiller angle, the writers believed to have tapped into something more unique. Unfortunately for the writers, the serialkiller angle is not new any longer (how can it be with more than a hundred crime drama shows on broadcast TV since the premiere of CSI?), and you gotta have really good casting to level out that disadvantage. And while I believe that Michael Sheen is a good casting choice for the villainous role, it’s not like he has been the greatest catch casting-wise during the 2019/2020 pilot season.