Superstore (2015) s01e01 – Pilot

I’ve been wanting to watch “Superstore” on a recommendation and, starting it, I realized it’s very much my bag. It takes place in a very confined setting—a big box store, which is also very much my bag as I’ve always been intrigued at the idea of the department store and its descendants. I blame Mannequin. Also, highly recommend Robert Hendrickson’s The Grand Emporiums.

Anyway, “Superstore.” What a great cast. I’ve never seen anything with America Ferrera, except her guest spots on “Good Wife,” which I don’t remember but she’s fantastic. She’s a floor manager, ten years in at the store, serious but good-hearted. She’s got a goofus store manager (Mark McKinney, broad but likable in that Mark McKinney way) and a way too gung ho supervisor (Lauren Ash, who appears to be the “Dwight” of the show and is the only thing I’m not onboard with after this episode), but she does her job and cares about her coworkers.

The episode—and, as its the pilot, the show—is framed around Ben Feldman joining the team. He’s good looking and smart and conceited about the latter; he doesn’t seem aware of the former, which helps with his likability. He almost immediately starts crushing on Ferrera and most of his screwups in the episode are to impress her. Burgeoning subplot. But also Ash is mad crushing on him and seems primed to make a fool of herself in her pursuit, hence not being onboard with the character yet.

Also in the main cast are Colton Dunn, the only Black guy, who’s appropriately aware of it, and Nichole Bloom, as the good-hearted, pregnant, and too ditzy for the pregnancy to be a great idea pretty girl. The show gives Dunn all the great observation lines and Bloom gives it the uncomplicated heart. Ferrera is the layered heart.

Also Nico Santos starts at the same day as Feldman and sees it as a competition to be the better new person.

The cast is incredibly likable, the situations the sitcom gins up are funny, Ferrera’s great (she’s also a producer)… it’s one of those sitcoms you could easily marathon without paying attention to the clock.

I only stopped after the first episode because it was after midnight.

Last thing—Ruben Fleischer directs (and executive produces). Fleischer’s a lot better at sitcom directing than Venom directing. A lot better.

All Rise (2019) s01e01 – Pilot

I wanted to watch “All Rise” because it’s Simone Missick’s new show. Missick was awesome on “Luke Cage,” figured I’d try it. But you know who else is in “All Rise”? Bullseye from “Daredevil,” Wilson Bethel. They play best friends. She’s a new judge, he’s her ex-fellow district attorney. She’s Black, he’s white, but they’re real friends. Heartwarming stuff. It’s really weird to see Missick and Bethel in this kind of role, this slightly patronizing mainstream safe progressive CBS show. Missick’s got to wait for humor cues, Bethel’s got to play excitable but sympathetic guy, it’s weird. And it’s kind of fun, especially with Bethel. He lets loose well. Missick’s better with the new judge stuff.

Besides Bethel, “All Rise” centers around Missick’s new courtroom. The last time the regular team was together, a white cop had an anti-immigration meltdown and tried to kill a judge. A kindly old white judge. In the courtroom are defense attorney Jessica Camacho (from “The Flash”), bailiff J. Alex Brinson (son of a bitch cop and spousal abuser Jeff from “Travelers”), argumentative court clerk Ruthie Ann Miles, and stenographer Lindsay Mendez. Camacho’s basically third lead. Brinson flirts with her and helps her out with her case (he’s going to law school at night) and is buds with Mendez, who’s the introverted sassy one because “All Rise” is all about its caricatures. And the caricatures are fine because the cast bring enough personality. It’s basically a perfectly casted network legal drama. Not going to rock any boats.

But… it’s going to have a great cast. This episode has, guest starring, ‘Rocket Romano’ and ‘Emil’ Paul McCrane, Tony Denison (the show gives off a whole “Major Crimes” vibe, also with the upbeat reality nonsense), and Richard Brooks. Onahoua Rodriguez gets a small part too (I had to look her up, “Shield”). So it’s an exceptionally well-cast show. It’s worth just watching for the guest star casting, especially since Denison is playing Bethel’s lowlife small time crook dad. Denison’s so good. So “All Rise: The Pilot” gets a pass, but maybe not on the merits it should be scoring.

Evil (2019) s01e01 – Pilot

I’ll just say it now. “Evil”’s religious politics are either going to get it in a lot of trouble or they’re going to do some “Heaven is for Real” shit. It’s going to be one or the other. And the pilot really makes it seem like it’s going to be the former, but not in any daring way; “Evil” is very safe.

Katja Herbers is a forensic psychiatrist who consults with the district attorney’s office. She’s a professional witness and has to be because she’s got an absentee rock-climbing, thrill-seeker husband off in the Himalayas, four daughters at home (you’d love to see the show bible on how Herbers managed to have all those kids, go to college, be a celebrity rock-climber, go to graduate school, become professionally successful, and not yet be forty; but whatever). It’s all going fine until she gets the case of serial killer Darren Pettie. See, Pettie says he just blacks out during his murders. But Pettie’s attorney says Pettie’s possessed. Herbers ends up quitting because the D.A. wants her to lie about something with the possession angle.

Couple days later, Mike Colter shows up to offer Herbers a job. He’s with the defense… sort of. He’s actually with the Catholic Church; he and partner Aasif Mandvi triage possession and miracle reports for the Church. Herbers needs paycheck and she’s also hot for Colter’s bod, so she signs up.

The rest of it is them finding a religiously informed clue, then a rational, scientific explanation. Non-believer Herbers talking to believer Colter about his faith and blah blah blah.

It’s all fairly predictable. Though maybe not when Michael Emerson shows up as an evil forensic psychiatrist out to make the world a worse place by encouraging people to do bad things. Hence the show title.

Also seems like show creators Robert King and Michelle King really liked that similar and dumb subplot from Halloween H40.

Herbers is likable and pretty good. Colter is likable and pretty good—he’s much more suited for this part than the Hero of Harlem. Mandvi’s fun.

There’s some poorly executed nightmare stuff and the script fails villain Pettie; both those fails seem foreboding for the future and the show’s potential. It’s uneven but has a lot of good pieces.

Becker (1998) s01e01 – Pilot

I have a history with “Becker.” When it first came on, I was aware of it because it was the new Ted Danson show post-“Cheers,” Terry Farrell had jumped ship from “DS9,” and Alex Desert from “The Flash” was on it.

I watched a lot of TV in the 1990s.

But I didn’t watch “Becker.” In the mid-aughts, after Ken Levine started blogging and talking about “Becker” being this under discovered gem—something I would listen to Ken Levine on, because we’d been marathoning “Frasier” DVDs (I also watched a lot of TV in the 2000s)—I decided I’d try to give it a shot. And I didn’t make it through the pilot.

I don’t think I made it through the first scene. Now it’s funny because now I love the first half of the first scene. A few years after that first fail, I was still reading Ken Levine and he was still talking about “Becker” so I gave it another shot and made it through the rough stuff into the good stuff.

The show started in 1998 and the pilot has a very late nineties, we’ve figured out how to make sitcoms feel. It’s assured. The show knows you can make Ted Danson’s Becker only so much of a dick. He can’t be racist but xenophobic is okay. He has to respect strong women in his life to make generalized gender cracks. And the funny thing, going back to “Becker” a second time now, is how it’s Ted Danson. Old Man Ted Danson doesn’t incorporate any of the Sam Malone, but he does use some Becker. Just with a lot of pot.

The pilot introduces Danson as the loud-mouthed meanie doctor with a heart of gold. Spoiler: he uses his personal savings to get a young Black patient into an HIV treatment program because it’s 1998 and it was on CBS and old people have always watched CBS so there’s something false saccharine about it but Danson and the other actors are still able to get some material from it. And “Becker” is an actors’ show, at least once you get out of the diner and away from Terry Farrell—who’s really not funny and really trying—and Alex Desert—who gets to be the butt of Becker’s mean jokes because you know, gosh darn it, Black, blind guy Desert is actually Danson’s best friend. “Becker” isn’t aging particularly well. It’s not aging poorly, but it’s got some major strikes from the era.

Like the transphobic joke. It wasn’t funny then. Danson’s got a number of rants in the first half of the episode before it gets serious and he starts showing vulnerability; the joke about talk shows seems like it’s going to be good, ends up crap. Most of the other rants in the first half are gold. Laugh out loud gold.

Back to the actors’ show thing. Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith as Danson’s assistants are great. Even if they’re both problematic character types. Winston is the sassy Black woman who runs the successful White man’s life, Smith’s the ditzy grunge girl. But they all have great timing. The rhythm of their back and forth. It’s fantastic. And the time they both get to just act. Desert and Farrell just get reaction shots—until the end of the episode when Farrell gets the close and still can’t deliver the line with any humor but it’s a pilot so hopefully it’ll get better. Smith and Winston get some time. And they maximize it.

Occasional cringes over dated material aside, “Becker” has a good pilot. Though some of being positive about it is knowing it does indeed improve. Even Farrell.

Not sure how it’d play from scratch.

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