It’s remarkable how much print is devoted to pilot season. Scores of shows are given pilot orders, and a lot of familiar faces are cast. Based on many of those familiar faces, we just assume that many pilots will be greenlit. For instance, over on WarmingGlow, I ranked the 15 Most Promising Pilots in their gestation stage based only on the talent involved, and only four of those were ultimately picked up to series. There were A LOT of pilots left on the floor, including Jason Katims’ “County” (with Jason Ritter), a Zachary Levi sitcom, a Greg Daniels remake of a British sitcom, a Nick Stoller comedy, a Kal Penn sitcom, Louis CK’s pilot, Bill Lawrence’s pilot for Fox, a sitcom starring Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, and a really promising pilot starring Portia de Rossi, Malin Akerman, and Jean Smart called “The Smart One.”
When you look at the mostly dreadful assortment of pilots that actually were picked up for series, you have to wonder what the hell went wrong with some of the above pilots? We’re they just no damn good or — as I prefer to believe — were the networks just afraid to take risks on more thoughtful or edgy programming? It feels like the networks are doing their damndest to avoid landing the next “Community,” and aiming instead for the next “Modern Family.” Safe broad comedies with gay characters. The result: Of all the shows greenlit to series, there’s really only five (plus Shawn Ryan’s “Last Resort”) that actually look like series I might end up watching for more than three episodes next season.
These are those five.
1. The Mindy Project (Fox): This is the most promising of all the new pilots, and not just because Mindy Kaling is behind it. In the preview at least, it looks incredibly cinematic, very funny, and — yeah — kind of romantic. Basically, it looks like Bridget Jones: The Series. I’m OK with that. It helps that I’m a huge fan of the love interest, Chris Messina.
2. The Following (Fox): Obviously, when you’re talking about an FBI Agent’s close relationship with a serial killer, you think of The Silence of the Lambs. Clearly, however, “The Following” has something special, as after years of attempts by the networks, this is the first time anyone has been able to lure Kevin Bacon to television. “The Following” looks like a show meant for FX that Fox picked up in a brief moment of clarity. James Purefoy as the serial killer? Sign me up for all 15 episodes.
3. Animal Practice (NBC): The level of quality takes a steep drop even from the second to third best-looking series of next fall. I didn’t like the idea behind this sitcom — a “House” set in a veterinarian’s office — but Justin Kirk, a bunch of animals, and Taylor Labine completely sold me on it.
4. Nashville (ABC): And now we’ve fallen even further to a series that basically has one great thing going for it: Connie Britton. Take her out of the equation, and I’d probably laugh my ass off at the premise (especially its similarities to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Country Strong). But, we have to assume that Connie Britton wouldn’t take a role that didn’t have some complexity involved, and she does get to be the fun bitchy version of Tami Taylor in this. The country songs, however, I could probably do without.
5. 1600 Penn: It was actually difficult to find a fifth show for this list. There’s a lot of buzz around NBC’s “Revolutions,” but how many people are really going to get behind a show where all the energy in the world disappears? Shawn Ryan’s “Last Resort” has the pedigree, but it will probably be cancelled, and really, how long can they sustain that premise? Then there’s CBS’s “Elementary,” which makes me want to choke kittens, and also their new drama “Vegas,” which looks like the bastard mash-up of “Deadwood,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and “Mad Men.”
“1600 Penn,” on the other hand, surprised me, if only because the idea has some esoteric potential. It comes from a former Obama administration speech writer, and Bill fucking Pullman is playing the president. Plus, Josh Gad plays the fuck up. This could be a cool show that gets canceled early, or a giant flaming turdball that stays on for 12 seasons.