Emergence (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 24, 2019 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 4.122 million viewers total, 2.8/6 in Households, 1.026 million viewers and 0.8/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.3/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.1/5 with Adults 25-54

Is this it? Will this be the television how that makes a villain out of the mysterious child character with a dissociative amnesia? Is this show going to copy CHILDREN OF THE CORN or VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (but with only one child being the antagonist), instead of trying the networktize STRANGER THINGS? The final scene was reminiscent of a seemingly good and mannered character being evil and it made me think that the show doesn’t just want to be the latest science-fiction mystery story on television, but could actually turn around the expectedness of broadcast network mystery serials in the science-fiction genre, especially in the years following STRANGER THINGS, which made heroes out of kids. Will Tara Butters and Michelle Fazekas, a writing team I respect and whose previous works I like (at least some of them), go against the stream of broadcast network consciousness, or is EMERGENCE just going to be yet another one of those serial mystery dramas that is secretly about saving the world against the doomsday devices developed in a distant science factory sponsored by the Energy Department?

Sharing candy is the best.

Those are the questions that roamed around my headspace following the final seconds of the episode, in which Piper removed what I believe could have been a tracker and decided to cover up her bloody cut and be mysterious about who she is, where she comes from, and what her deal is. She could be a character like Eleven in STRANGER THINGS – taken from her biological parents during her birth, experimented on to be a weapon for the government in black ops, escaped from the secret facility because she saw the opportunity and took it. Piper could be the target of the mystery men that were after her like Eleven was. Piper could be the central figure to a more science-fiction-heavy premise behind the pilot, because the writers couldn’t have just gone all in with what was really happening in this beach town that was just woken up by what is definitely not the crash of a science drone, because if the show happens to survive past its initial season, it can’t just be all about a mysterious kid with a questionable back story who gets targeted by a shadow government and a police chief of an unidentified town has to protect said kid. I think we’ve had that premise in broadcast television before, although I have to mention that I never saw a single minute of NBC’s BELIEVE.

As expected, this serial mystery drama did not get into what it’s going to be about in the long run. This hour exist to set up the characters and the tension, and to hook the audience with a simple premise to watch the next episode and maybe give the show a chance in the ratings war. Doing the “mystery kid gets hunted by mysterious people” thing for more than three episodes could get extremely boring in the fourth episode, and waiting to give answers could cost you viewers, which is why I dearly hope that ABC and Fazekas and Butters have learned from the mistakes of previous primetime serial mystery science-fiction thrillers and decided not to repeat them. But that brings along the question of why to do these kind of television shows to begin with then, when the only reason they exist on broadcast networks is to keep audiences engaged over 22 episodes and eight months. I’m pretty sure a scathing criticism about serial dramas on broadcast television and their fixation on a strict television season is necessary again, but I partially did that once after the premiere airing of the Kevin Bacon FOX thriller THE FOLLOWING, and I was eyed left and right like I was a crazy person. I will keep my scathing review in mind though, since this episode intrigued me enough to check out the next hour of Allison Tolman’s attempt to protect a kid that could either be a superhero or the supervillain of the story (please let it be the latter, I would give one of my kidneys to watch a broadcast network television show in which the innocent-looking child is actually the devil).

On the beach you can exchange secrets, because chances are no one is listening.

With all that in mind, this episode wasn’t particularly special or engaging in any way. The cast may look okay (Tolman delivering an expectedly great performance, but we all know already that she can carry a show and be the standout performer), but the story was breakfasted with the usual genre tropes and pretty much written by numbers. The mystery is all set up nicely, the protagonists and the shadowy antagonist have been introduced, questions have been asked and characters from different sides with competing agendas have been connected to build a potential team. At least this pilot did things better than some of the other high-concept mystery serials (I’m looking at you, THE EVENT), so the advantage is with EMERGENCE, although I would love to know why that title was chosen for the show. But I guess I can’t always have answers to my many questions, or the world wouldn’t be in any trouble at all. I do have one question though that may have a silly and “are you kidding me, how did you not realize this” answer: How did Piper get the box cutter? I can imagine that it was already in Jo’s jacket when she gave the probably freezing girl her jacket during the opening minutes, but while it’s an easy and logical answer that follows Murphy’s Law, it’s also a super convenient answer. I would rather think about the potential that Piper got the box cutter from the television that showed the mysterious symbol she cut out of her neck at the end of the episode, which means that not only is the chance for Piper being the villain of the show here, but also the fact that television is evil (at least in this series universe), now that it hands over weapons of certain kind of destruction to you. It’s new system of instant delivery, which Amazon may want to look into.

Bluff City Law (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 23, 2019 (NBC)
Nielsen ratings information: 4.605 million viewers, 3.0/6 in Households, 0.8/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.4/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.2/5 with Adults 25-54

Let me be one of the folks to tell you that I have no idea what the title of this series means and if it has any judicial meaning. I am too lazy to hit up the interwebs to search for an explanation (especially since I was with no internet connection when I wrote this wall of text), but if a title of a television show is just slightly questionable or unexplained, the writers should maybe make the attempt to explain it within the pilot episode or not expect for the viewers to research what a specific element of a show they’re watching really means. While I’m still waiting for an interactive television show that isn’t the “Bandersnatch” episode of BLACK MIRROR or the online scavenger hunt between seasons of LOST, simply convincing the viewers to hit up the internet to have things explained to them isn’t really helpful.

Here’s some apple sauce for the innocent prisoner.

With that paragraph having been written down, let me also tell you that this pilot episode was meaningless to me. I appreciate the next legal drama television show like any other, and I was even impressed to note that the characters of BLUFF CITY LAW were about to deal with civil cases that could quickly turn into civil rights cases (and there definitely need to be shows and films about that for sure), the episode itself didn’t make the landing at all when it comes to its characters and the story of the episode. The case Elijah and Sydney were dealing with barely had a back story that could have come out of the shadows of Michael Mann’s film INSIDER, and the Soriano family which was in the center of the court case barely got character depth and focus to show me as a viewer why Strait & Associates would get involved in their court case to begin with. At the end of the day, the fight against Greencoat and Amerifarm was only established by Edgar’s illness and how his face looked, just to make it perfectly clear that he was handling chemicals his body couldn’t deal with. Yes, it’s quite obvious what the premise of the episode was, and if you have seen films like INSIDER and ERIN BROCKOVICH before, you will find an immediate connection to the story, but never assume that even the most average and generic viewer will immediately understand what is happening in your episode, when you don’t go into some of the details of it. It’s necessary on broadcast network television, although I am of the opinion that even the broadcast networks should start treating their audience with a little more intellectuality and without having to pre-chew things for them. In this particular case though, I had to read between the lines more than once to figure out what Edgar was actually dealing with.

What I could not figure out, and here we get to the real issue of this pilot, was the establishing of the main characters. Elijah and Sydney are obviously the two central figures here, as they have been thrown together after years of distance (which remained unexplained) and have to learn to work together now. Elijah decided to do that by cutting his distant daughter away from her corporate legal firm and into the family business, and I have no idea how he did that. Sydney mentioned she hated her father (the reasons for that remained unexplained), but she still decided to leave her corporate job and join her father at his firm, a decision that happened off-screen and between scenes, which takes out her decision-making and reasoning. Those alone are three instances of how the characters were not properly established in this episode and it made me wonder why I was supposed to care about the father and daughter, who were distanced, yet worked together on a case they were opposite each other before. I can’t quite imagine that the death of Elijah’s wife (and Sydney’s mother) has something to do with the reunion and Sydney’s change of heart in becoming a fighter for the underprivileged of this world, because using her mother’s death would be quite convenient for that change in her life. And besides that, the death of a mother doesn’t explain at all why she suddenly decided to work for and with her father.

Sometimes it hurts to be a prosecutor for the civilians.

The remainder of the characters have been introduced sparingly, with Jake essentially getting most out of the screentime as long as Elijah and Sydney weren’t hogging it all. Jake’s case, a typical B story that should not have been in this episode for the sake of introducing the two central characters to the viewers, could show that Strait & Associates aren’t just about civil (rights) cases, but also like to tackle murder cases, which means this very legal drama on NBC will also deal with murders and investigations like any other legal drama in existence. Not even BLUFF CITY LAW can stay away from the Whodunit genre, although an intriguing question was thrown into the room with this episode: Jake’s case was open-ended, with his client having made the decision to appeal, which could mean that Jake’s case is an ongoing one, keeping him busy for a few episodes, and therefore creating an ongoing story set in a television drama that will most likely deliver stand-alone stories with its court dramas. When it comes to the rest of the character though, they were so useless within the stories that I couldn’t even remember their names. It begs the question what BLUFF CITY LAW really wants to be: a family drama set in a family law firm? Maybe even a legal drama that wants to go past the criminal cases and go straight for the more inspirational civil cases? A show about good attorneys trying to beat the evil corporations of the world one episode after the next? The answers to those questions I will never know, because I made the decision not to tune in for another episode. It’s the second legal drama of the 2019/2020 broadcast TV season that has not impressed me. I guess I will have to rewatch THE GOOD WIFE again and finally get into THE PRACTICE, which is still waiting for me.

Bob ❤️ Abishola (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 23, 2019 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 5.886 million viewers, 3.7/7 in Households, 0.9/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.5/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.4/5 with Adults 25-54

Chuck Lorre’s sitcoms never stuck with me for some reason. TWO AND A HALF MEN I’ve tried to tackle multiple times, but Charlie Sheen always alienated me, especially when he turned all crazy on his tiger blood and gave the American entertainment industry something to worry about in a rather teasing moment of what’s to happen after November 2016. I was never a fan of THE BIG BANG THEORY and never went past the first couple of episodes of the show. MIKE & MOLLY (which Lorre did not create, only wrote on) I gave up watching pretty quickly because my interest in things with Melissa McCarthy was falling off a cliff. MOM had a very interesting premise and a great cast, but elements of it never intrigued me, so I stopped watching that one, too. From the 1990s, GRACE UNDER FIRE is definitely on my to-do list, but while I’m currently somewhat obsessed over 90s shows at the moment, I haven’t found the opportunity to get into Lorre’s second-ever show he created. BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA could change things for me, because the third broadcast network pilot of the 2019/2020 season has made the connection with me and I will plan to watch the second episode. Not because the pilot was super fun or incredibly charming, but because Abishola and her portrayer Folake Olowofoyeku could turn out to be one of the most surprising things about this season, and I would love to follow up on that and see her rising in the business and winning a couple of awards the next year.

Bob wishes for his white family to shut the hell up.

Not that I’m saying that Olowofoyeku is going to win the Golden Globe in January and the Emmy in September, but as long as the show stays where it is and doesn’t drive itself over another cliff with ridiculous storylines and punchline humor, then the character of Abishola could turn out to be revolutionary for broadcast network television, and that is usually the first step towards becoming a nominee in whatever awards ceremony that has been watching this show. Abishola is almost not ready to be part of a multicamera sitcom, but here she is, grounding the show in reality that I wasn’t expecting from a Chuck Lorre show (and yes, I know I haven’t seen more than 25 episodes of Chuck Lorre shows in my life) and giving BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA a hyper realistic touch that I hope will be part of the show for episodes to come. In sitcoms that deal with a central romantic pairing, I’m expecting for the two main characters to get together quickly so that the writers can get into the domestic sitcom stuff, but I don’t even see that happening here. Bob might be in love with his cardiac nurse, but the thing is he just likes her in this episode because she was nice to him and not because she is the greatest thing that ever happened to him. That must not mean “let’s get married in episode four,” although Bob and Abishola are certainly allowed to get to know each other, fall in love and then start a romantic relationship that will weird out their respective families, because they never had to deal with someone from a different race. The writers should take the entire season to play with that premise, it would just hurt the show when they bring the two titular characters together this quickly and have a domestic relationship be established after a handful of episodes. Sometimes there is an idea behind following a couple forming over many months and maybe a year. Look at Mark Greene and Elizabeth Corday during season five of ER — they were around each other for half a season, establishing a repertoire and personas for each other before the writers finally brought them together over the final episodes of that season. It made for a realistic portrayal of two people becoming a pair, and all I want is to see that again.

A nurse giving the bad news to a family member over the phone deserves socks.

And there is a good chance that Bob and Abishola will take a little while to go on their first date together. He has a business to run and expand (judging by his disappointment that none of the hospital staff members were wearing his socks), and she is dealing with her potentially unruly son who is about to fight just for the heck of it, turning into a realistic teenager learning what life really is about by not giving a damn about it. He is dealing with a family who probably pressures him to perform in the job, while she is about to deal with a family who is pressuring her into living an American life, making a typical American decision about who to date, and becoming more … American in the progress. Those stories could quickly turn into character arcs and become more important than the actual blossoming romance between Bob and Abishola, which is one of the reasons why I liked this episode from the beginning. It wasn’t necessarily out to couple up the two, and it instead focused on individual storylines for the two that have nothing to do with the other person.

Here is to hoping that Bob and Abishola’s families will get some character depth and meaningful storylines as well. Matt Jones could definitely disappear right now, since he was one of the elements in MOM that chased me away from that show, but there could be something wonderful about a stereotypical American family become friends with an immigrant family from Nigeria, building bridges that will lead to two cultures understanding each other a little more, which could turn BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA into a parable of what real life could look like if it weren’t for the super racist president in the Oval Office right now. One thing is for sure, conservatives and right-wing nuts won’t like this show, which could make Chuck Lorre one of the most progressive writers on television during this season — which is a thing I can’t even believe I just wrote down.

All Rise (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 23, 2019 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 6.030 million viewers, 3.9/7 in Households, 0.7/3 with Adults 18-49, 0.4/2 with Adults 18-34, 1.2/4 with Adults 25-54

Welcome to California, where interesting crime is done under a blue sky, and where the justice system is as hip as possible, because in this television drama, the judges are not only attractive, but also know how to articulate themselves in the twenty-first century. In this television show, the attorneys are even more attractive and they better be friends or otherwise writers can’t create an opportunity for certain attorneys or bailiffs to maybe go on a date and turning ALL RISE into a dramedy in the vein of GREY’S ANATOMY, which this show essentially is. We’ve had a lot of “Grey’s Anatomy in [insert genre or location],” with two particular shows being considered my favorites: “Grey’s Anatomy in Space,” which aired on ABC in the Summer of 2009 under the title DEFYING GRAVITY, and “Grey’s Anatomy in Afghanistan,” which in 2011 turned out to be an overlooked and sadly cancelled medical drama from Canada titled COMBAT HOSPITAL, which starred Michelle Borth, whom I miss leading a television drama. ALL RISE is essentially “Grey’s Anatomy in a court room,” although I’m not even sure CBS was shooting for that tagline, since it’s usually the ABC shows that get promoted like this (and the short-lived and quickly cancelled legal dramedy THE DEEP END may already have had that tagline). Because what is CBS doing with a light and hip drama with attractive people whose characters are most likely figuring out how to date in a few episodes from now? Is this the network’s attempt at creating a television show in the legal drama genre that is ready for the millennial audience?

The Mandarin has decided to defend himself.

The first five minutes and fifty seconds were weird as hell, but they showed that ALL RISE won’t be the legal drama CBS probably hoped to find their next THE GOOD WIFE with, while I was able to bury my hopes of getting a show in the vein of JUDGING AMY – a courtroom drama with a Judge who takes her job seriously, but also as this herculean task it is, because there is no way that Lola Carmichael was actually ready for her first day on the Judge’s bench and that she was able to handle the case load she took over from the other Judge who decided to retire after this weird-as-hell shooting out of nowhere which opened this show. There is no way that ALL RISE ever thought about depicting a real-life Californian court room with this show, which means the story of Lola Carmichael as one of the very few women of color in the courtroom is aa fantasy story, and the only times the writers can think about grounding the show is when Lola mentions the exact fact that the justice system in California does not look like her, or the three non-white people she pointed out to Mark, her best friend and former colleague and most likely romantic interest as soon as the show has established itself as a potentially long-running drama on CBS. ALL RISE is not a legal drama that makes use of the story of Judges, attorneys and even bailiffs, and it’s definitely not a legal drama trying to emulate the tension and character depth that Robert and Michelle King made a success out of starting in 2009. ALL RISE is a pop show with characters who are well-versed in snappy dialogue and knowledge of what they’re doing, even when the story dictates that they don’t know what they’re doing. ALL RISE is a show that decided to not make use of tension and thrill, or otherwise the first five minutes and fifty seconds would have been a bigger back story throughout the entire episode, and not be used as a setup for Lola to be introduced to Daphne, the center of the stand-alone story.

So what remains after 43 minutes — were the characters able to push the boundaries of the genre they have been placed in, or have they been condemned to always be part of their own little GREY’S ANATOMY show, because writers still think that emulating that formula is bound to succeed? The answer to the first part of the question is a definite “No” and I guess we will have to see if the second part will ring true, although I probably won’t know the answer to it, since I already decided to not pick up the show after this episode. Fact is that the characters haven’t gotten a lot of depth, let alone reason to distinguish themselves from the rest of television. Lola, as rare as she is in this particular fictional court system, is like any other fictional progressive Judge who faces corruption and criticism from the get-go and has to make decisions whether to be a fighter for the innocent or be part of the court system that celebrates the criminals. THE GOOD WIFE never went there because it already had a different political storyline to follow up on, and JUDGING AMY did not go there because the show was a family drama first and foremost, and setting Amy Brenneman’s character into the juvenile court was a way to tone down anything that could have been turned into a crime procedural, like this episode did when Luke realized the discrepancies in the picture of the red shoe and decided to go investigating with Emily, who is most definitely his love interest. The characters could easily be on an ABC dramedy show and the storytelling is stuck midway through the first decade of this millennium, because network executives and some writers still believe that GREY’S ANATOMY needs emulating.

Court workers are the ones investigating crime here.

Having a CBS drama with a diverse cast, especially with an African-American lead, is excellent though. So often we were bitching and moaning about how CBS’s pilot season was white all the way, so it comes to a biota a surprise that ALL RISE delivers a cast that has more than just one inclusive person in it, let alone attempts to create a story that involves differences and difficulties minority people come across. At the end of the day though, ALL RISE is like most other of legal dramas with attorneys who like to solve crimes before the police ever does. It’s just another show in which the police force is being depicted as lazy, criminal or corrupt (see the prosecution’s attempt at hiding the fact that the shoe was found at a different spot). The show could be set at a prestige Californian law firm and it would change absolutely nothing in its premise, as the writers somehow managed to make Lola not the central character of this episode. Her first day as a Judge wasn’t even of note in this story.

The Unicorn (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 26, 2019 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 6.043 million viewers, 3.9/7 in Households, 1.076 million viewers and 0.8/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.4/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.3/5 with Adults 25-54 (1.7/6 F25-54, 1.0/4 M25-54)

This is the beginning of my pilot season, as I have made the decision to watch ever broadcast pilot of this television season, which is something I haven’t done since 2011, because even I came to a realization that broadcast television isn’t what it used to be in 1994, and because cable and streaming television has gotten more important lately, both with the viewers and when it comes to awards season. In addition, broadcast television is still stuck in the mindset of not wanting to offend anyone (that includes the casting process, which is why most of the shows are super white, or tanned like Walton Goggins was in this episode), and that kind of narrative I’m really not into anymore. But every once in a while the broadcast networks bring out a watchable and great show. It may not have happened for a while, but I’m still hoping that the best pilot season that was the Fall of 1994 can be emulated. Unfortunately for the first CBS show I’m reviewing, THE UNICORN is not part of that hope.

He’s just an unpaid father, don’t come to him for making decisions.

I have no idea if the premise would have been a lot better for a drama television show in the vein of PARTY OF FIVE (I mention this show, because I’m currently watching it “in preparation” of the January premiere of the immigration-themed remake), but I can say that it doesn’t do a lot for a comedy show. Creating a back story of a wife and mother having died a year ago puts a dark and dramatic spin into the family lives of Wade and his two teenage daughters, when the back story of a wife and other having left them would have been easier to create a narrative around. If Jill would have just disappeared and left Wade and her kids behind without a trace (probably because she comically ran away with a random dude on a motorbike and decided to be a punk-out rocker), it would have been a proper premise for a proper single-camera comedy, but with a dead wife and mother, it’s going to be hard to shoehorn drama and emotion into the plot when you’re writing a comedy. The back story of Jill’s death may have made the scene with Wade, Grace and Natalie at the waffle diner more interesting, but I don’t think for a second that those less-comedic scenes are going to fill the airtime on THE UNICORN, because the premise of this episode kind of looked like this show is going to be more about Wade’s dating life. Does it mean every episode will have a specific guest star who is Wade’s date of the half hour? After all, Bianca Kajlich is a known name for an avid television watcher like me, and maybe there is an idea behind the premise of delivering television’s A or B-listers as Wade’s date for a scene or two.

As a comedy, THE UNICORN didn’t have much of a funny pilot episode. The only thing the writers felt was funny enough was the current living situation of Wade and his daughters, but there aren’t any punchlines behind those living situations. Then there are Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins, who are considered comedy gold on broadcast television, as both have found roles in single-camera comedies (none of them successful enough for the two to have had a breakout show they can star in, which means they will always be supporting characters), but Forrest and Delia weren’t comedic characters in this episode. I was seeing THIS IS 40 when they were in bed, talking about the latest woman who has made a move towards Wade, but what I got was an attempt at creating a funny and liberally open married couple with one kid portrayed by two comedic actors who haven’t gotten great material to be funny with. There was also another married couple in the show, but I could only remember Michelle’s name and that’s thanks to the weird scene with her pants-less son in the car. It’s great to see that the married lives of two families is open and liberal enough to allow this stuff happening, but it turns out it isn’t funny material for its own comedy series.

This date is going home alone, because she can’t carry her own sitcom.

Would THE UNICORN be a better show if it were a straight-up comedy outside the grounded reality it is set in, just to be more funnier, or is the premise more easier and properly to handle if it were an hour-long drama or comedy-drama instead? I have to respect the fact that the writers were setting the show in a grounded reality, but it’s also a fact that those shows don’t tend to live for long on broadcast television. Walton Goggins definitely makes for an interesting single father character in a comedy show, but he isn’t really known for comedic roles, begging the question why he was chosen for this specific television show, or if he attempted to create a new path in his career and not be seen as a potential villain in a show that happened to turn into a ratings success and critical darling. In the meantime, the majority of the cast gets typecast in shows like this, and with two unruly teenagers who remind me of Maude and Iris Apatow in their father’s films, consider me disappointed that THE UNICORN is not at all like a Judd Apatow production, when the premise of the show would have fit him perfectly. At least for television.