CBS fall schedule: A snap judgment
Mysteries of Laura looked like a winner (sadly, wrong) and I all but dismissed The CW’s Jane The Virgin (blissfully wrong). So the only thing I can tell you with certainty about CBS’ five new shows for the fall (three dramas, two comedies) is that they’re good enough to produce some very good trailers. Most of them are rather meaty, giving you enough to inspire an opinion. (The one exception, Limitless, gives you a meaty amount of Bradley Cooper, though the irony there is that the show itself won’t ever have much of him in it.) I can see most of these shows finding an audience, mostly because they represent variations on current or past successes.
ANGEL FROM HELL
A single-camera comedy with a painfully on-the-nose title built as a star vehicle for Jane Lynch in megawatt ‘‘colorful character’’ mode: She plays a gleefully bawdy and uncouth force of nature with a carpe diem spirit who may or may not be an actual guardian angel. Her charge: Maggie Lawson’s hard-driving dermatologist, who works with her quirky pop (Kevin Pollack). It’s like CBS took the winning Anna Faris-Allison Janney dynamic in Mom—wild child middle-aged woman; super-responsible thirtysomething — and repackaged it in a broad, blue, high concept comedy. Every other word out of Maybe Angel Amy’s mouth is ‘‘fart’’ or ‘‘boob’’ or ‘‘orgasm’’ or some TMI about scarring sexual role play. If Jane Lynch doing ‘‘Jane Lynch’’ makes you laugh—and it makes me laugh—then Angel From Hell will probably work like gangbusters for you.
LIFE IN PIECES
Another single-camera comedy, Life In Piece focuses on the defining, milestone moments during a crucial span of life for one large family. James Brolin and Diane Wiest head the clan, both pushing 70, both young at heart. Their eldest child (Betsy Brandt of Breaking Bad) is sending a son off to college, their middle child (Thomas Sodaski of The Slap and The Newsroom) may have just met his true love, and their youngest child (Colin Hanks of Fargo) is expecting the birth of his first child. The trailer suggests the show will try to make us laugh and maybe tear up with kinda poignant, mostly ribald real talk and scenarios about relationships, aging and body horror, performed by a cast that knows how to elevate the material. Each episode will have four short stories focusing on different family members, though it’s unclear how they’ll be presented. It’s a departure from the usual CBS multi-camera studio audience sitcom, but it feels like a sentimental fast ball aimed straight at the heart of the network’s older skewing core demo.
Limitless is a sequel series to the low fi sci-fi hit that contributed to Bradley Cooper’s rise to power. It told the story of a struggling author who gains maximum mental powers under the influence of an experimental drug and becomes dangerously addicted to it. The show has Cooper playing a morally ambiguous character—presumably the one he portrayed in the film—pushing the drug onto another guy, who begins acting out in ways that initially run him afoul with the FBI, then makes him an asset: They want him to help them solve crimes. Limitless looks like a high concept action-procedural with light mythology/mystery elements in the vein of Person of Interest, which appears to be losing the interest of its audience. This is no sure thing—Limitless is basically another pass at that Josh Holloway flop Intelligence from last year—but Cooper’s presence and a fresh-faced star could make the difference.
E.R. on steroids. Inspired by the documentary of the same name, Code Black looks like a show in which every possible thing that can happen in an emergency room and every possible emotion that a medical drama can make you feel happens all at once, in the same damn scene. Life, death, miracles, tragedy, absurdity, banality. There also appears to be absolutely no unspoken subtext allowed in the show, and everything that can be hit square on the nose must be punched really, really hard. At one point, Marcia Gay Harden, who plays the risk-taking cowboy-doctor archetype, tells the fleet of new interns: ‘‘Life is measured here in split seconds. Hesitate and you die.’’ Because apparently, they don’t teach medical students the basic concept of AN EMERGENCY ROOM in school anymore.
But look: This thing looks irresistible. Every generation gets the medical drama it deserves, and with TV banking big on ’90s nostalgia this coming year (see: The X-Files; Full House; maybe Twin Peaks), an amped-up E.R. throwback—heavier on the science and stakes, visceral and viscera; lighter on the soap—could connect. The sequence in which head nurse Luis Guzman takes the interns on a tour of Angeles Memorial Hospital—birthplace of the modern E.R., apparently—creates a vivid sense of place. And the moment when Luis Guzman sings Bonnie Tyler’s ‘‘I Need A Hero’’ is fun. Basically, it’s all about the Luis Guzman for me.
The latest superhero series from Greg Berlanti, the geek TV powerhouse behind The CW hits Arrow and The Flash, looks like more of the same (which is a good thing), with one important, of-the-moment exception: It finally gives us the female superhero the Internet has been clamoring for. In fact, it’s so culturally on point, the show looks ripped off from SNL’s recent Black Widow sketch (an observation I am ripping off from, like, everyone on my Twitter feed).
The set-up: Kara Zor-El, cousin to Kal-El and also a refugee survivor of dead Krypton, is a mild mannered single lady, age 24, trying to forge a career in the media biz. She’s decked in clichés, but wears them well. Among them: She toils (for now) as an assistant to Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), a suffer-no-fools media tycoon who’s all out there with her power, strength, and unabashed richy rich-ness. (Their dynamic is Anne Hathaway-Meryl Streep-The Devil Wears Prada cliché.) She hides her superpowers under a bushel—she’s trying to earn her way in the world on her character, not her super-human body—but a crisis compels her to let her light shine, and with that, Supergirl takes flight.
As played by Melissa Benoist, Kara reminds me of what would happen if the nerd girl supporting character archetype of these superhero shows—Felicity from Arrow; Caitlin Snow from The Flash—was moved front and center and given powers, with a light dash of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sunshine and goofiness. The trailer suggests a show that knows about tricky issues of female representation on both comics, comic book pop, and pop culture in general, from the objectifying costumes female superheroes wear to the allegedly demeaning use of ‘‘girl’’ in her superhero handle. (Kara’s employer for the defense: ‘‘I’m a girl, and your boss, and powerful and rich and hot and smart, so if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem… you?’’)
The trailer suggests stories that will juggle plots about Kara, the stumbling, bumbling dating girl/working girl, and Supergirl, the coming-of-superhero who catches Freak-of-the-Week Bad Guys. Neither half of the premise is terribly original, but perhaps the synthesis of both can be novel. It also feels very CW, making Supergirl an ambitious bid by CBS to get younger. But it’s also a risk. Can the CBS marketing voice attract the requisite audience? Can Supergirl be big enough for a mass audience broadcaster like CBS?