Soon, a dozen new TV shows will court your eyeballs. They'll present their fancy concepts, like "What if the whole population of the world was 100 horny teenagers?" And they'll trot out their beautiful, talented stars. But which show deserves your love? We watched five brand new pilots, and here are our impressions.
Top image: Almost Human.
We saw three brand new pilots, in their apparently final forms, at last night's Preview Night screening at San Diego Comic-Con. And then, just now, we saw the pilot for two more shows, Intelligence and Star-Crossed. So here are our super-brief impressions on all of those shows.
The Tomorrow People (The CW, Fall):
What's it about? A remake of the 1970s British series, by Greg Berlanti (Arrow) and Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries), with the pilot written by Phil Klemmer (Chuck). Basically, Stephen (Robbie Amell) is a troubled teenager who keeps "sleep walking" and waking up in embarrassing places — like in bed with the married couple who live next door. And he hears voices. But he's not crazy — he's one of the Tomorrow People, super-mutants who have telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation. (Any power starting with "tele," basically.)
The Tomorrow People are being hunted by an evil organization led by the unscrupulous Jedikiah (Mark Pellegrino), and Stephen is their only hope for survival. Yes, he's the chosen one with a heroic destiny — but first he has to learn to control his powers, which are stronger than anybody else's but still unformed. Oh, and Jedikiah turns out to be his uncle, and Stephen is torn between trusting his new mutant friends and his evil uncle. The trailer above is basically the entire pilot compressed into four and a half minutes.
First thoughts: This is the CW-iest show in the history of The CW, what with the producers of Arrow and Vampire Diaries in the mix. It's a hefty dose of teen angst and "chosen one rejecting the call" wackiness. Robbie Amell is cute and puppyish as Stephen, but he's not as intense or magnetic as his cousin Stephen Amell, from Arrow. There are some genuinely funny clever lines of dialogue in the pilot, as you'd expect from a writer of Chuck — like, at one point a school bully steals Stephen's antipsychotic meds, but Stephen has swapped them for laxatives. "Enjoy the crazy," the bully snarls. "Enjoy the diarrhea," Stephen says under his breath. To some extent, this show is saddled with a lot of cheesy clichés from the 1970s version — and now it comes off as a weak clone of the X-Men, or worse yet Heroes. The wish-fulfillment crack is perhaps a bit too pure here, including the fantasy of finding out that you're the most special ever and these beautiful superhumans all admire you, and by the way they have a supercomputer that can do anything. But it's a fun show, and we'll watch the heck out of it.
Almost Human (Fox, Fall):
What's it about: This is a show with impeccable scifi credentials: It's an original concept from Fringe producer J.H. Wyman, teamed with JJ Abrams, and starring the always-awesome Karl Urban (Judge Dredd). And the pilot sets up a nice blend of gritty cop show and Fringe-ish science crime in a not-too-distant future. John (Urban) is a cop who has been tracking a violent and mysterious crime syndicate whose members are more interested in jacking programmable DNA than cash. But when his team is ambushed, his partner dies and he loses a leg.
Cut to almost two years later, and a tough but traumatized John is recovering from a long coma and trying to reintegrate back into a police force that has changed a lot since he winked out. Every human officer must have a robot partner. Except John hates the emotionless, rule-worshiping cop robots so much that he can't even integrate his cybernetic leg properly with his body most of the time. Enter Dorian (played with a lovable smirk by Michael Ealy), a special emotional robot who was decommissioned years ago for "breaking" in tense situations just like a human would.
The two make a great pair, as two emotionally volatile cops who have just returned to work after a period of "decommissioning." Lili Taylor plays the sympathetic police chief, who doesn't trust anyone but John (and now, Dorian) to stay on the syndicate's trail. As the action ramps up in the pilot, John and Dorian have to learn to work together to deal with a new round of creepy DNA-based attacks from the syndicate.
First thoughts: These may be stock characters in familiar crime show situations, but Almost Human brings on enough science-fictional weirdness that the show feels fresh and interesting. The chemistry between Urban and Ealy is terrific, with just the right amount of wry humor and genuine pathos. And we are immediately plunged into a mystery about the syndicate that's pleasingly weird (what are they doing with those futuristic chemicals and DNA?) and packed with conspiracy potential (did somebody on the force feed the syndicate intel so they could ambush John's team?). Plus, I just love the posthumanity of it all, with an emotional robot working with an emotionally shut-down cop whose body is partly cybernetic. This could be your futuristic action obsession for the fall season.
The 100 (The CW, Midseason):
What's it about? It's a post-apocalyptic future, and humans have abandoned the Earth after a nuclear holocaust. Now, the last survivors of the human race live in the Ark, a giant station that's basically a dozen smaller space stations stuck together. But the Ark's life-support systems are running down, so the leaders decide to send 100 juvenile delinquents down to Earth to see if the planet is habitable. Among those teenagers: the son of the Ark's chancellor, the daughter of the Ark's main doctor, a rabble-rousing demagogue, a lovable nerd, a daredevil who does unlicensed spacewalks and stuff, and a hot crazy girl. Basically, exactly what you need for a CW show about sexy teenagers in a small town. And soon enough, the teenagers have a schism over whether to try and save the rest of the human race, still on the space station, or whether to party and say "screw the grown-ups." (Part of the problem is that the teenagers on Earth have wristbands that monitor their vital signs, and if they remove/destroy those wristbands, the people on the Ark think they're dead, and thus it's not safe to come down to Earth.) Meanwhile, on the Ark, there's a fascist coup by a guy (Henry Ian Cusick) who wants to drastically reduce the Ark's population, via massive purges, and you get the sense that the situation on the Ark is quickly going to devolve into civil war or escalating levels of dystopia.
First thoughts: This is a tough one — the pilot is super clunky and cheesy, even by CW standards. The kids are all kind of annoying, perhaps because the "juvenile delinquent" thing is played up a bit too much, and it's not clear who we're supposed to like on this show. The best candidates are probably the young heroine Clarke (Eliza Taylor), who's sort of the poor person's Veronica Mars, and her mom Abigail (Paige Turco). They're at least reasonably smart and resourceful, which are good qualities in this sort of show. But the melodrama and teen hijinks are not particularly engaging in the pilot. On the other hand, there are enough moments of genuine drama, and some clever bits, to make you want to give the show another week or two to hit its stride. And this show is raising interesting questions about fascism and the price of survival. There's more potential for fresh, interesting storytelling in this show than in Tomorrow People, even if this show had a weaker pilot.
Intelligence (CBS, midseason)
What's it about? Intelligence stars Josh Holloway as Gabriel, a former Delta Force operative who has been enhanced with a computer chip in his head. Project Clockwork lets Gabriel access and transmit digital transmissions through his brain. He can run bits of language he hears through Google Translate, access government records on everyone he sees, and even infect enemy computers with viruses. He's the most valuable asset of United States Cyber Command, run by Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger), but he's also unpredictable. Gabriel's wife Amelia, another intelligence agent, was involved in a terrorist attack while under deep cover, and has long been presumed dead. But Gabriel believes that Amelia is still alive and is intent on finding her and learning the truth. To protect CyberComm's investment, Strand taps Riley Neal (Meghan Ory), a heroic Secret Service agent to serve as Gabriel's bodyguard and, ultimately, his partner in the field.
First thoughts: These shows live and die by the chemistry between their leads, and the pilot doesn't show much crack and pop between Holloway and Ory. It's aiming for the straight-laced woman/obstreperous man team-up that makes shows like Castle such a success, but like its protagonist, the pilot is't quite as charming as it thinks it is. Still, it has one particularly stellar moment that leaves us hope that Intelligence will do some smart things with its premise.
Star-Crossed (The CW, midseason)
What it's about: A decade ago, an Atrian ship containing an alien community crash landed on Earth. While many humans feared that the Atrians were invaders, six-year-old Emery showed kindness to a young Atrian named Roman. Today, the Atrians live in a fenced-off ghetto where they wear tracking bracelets and are required to obey a curfew. Now a teenager, Emery (Aimee Teegarden) is returning to school after four years in the hospital. Her first day back happens to be the same day that seven Atrian teenagers are integrated into a human high school for the first time—and one of those students happen to be Roman (Matt Lanter). While Emery is trying to learn the ropes of high school, she also finds herself drawn to the Atrian, who is subject to racism and violence in the human world.
First thoughts: Yes, it's a show about immigration, assimilation, and integration in which we're discriminating against pretty white people, and it has a sometimes silly take on its five-seconds-into-the-future world. But despite a few clunky moments, Star-Crossed is a teen show with some genuine thoughtfulness. Much of the racism against the Atrians is overt, but the pilot also shows how small moments of discomfort can escalate into full-blown physical encounters, and how forcing people to live under the watchful eyes of armed segregation agents can lead to tragedy. The tone of the pilot is frequently light, but it has a surprising maturity and a dramatic ending that goes far beyond typical teen romance shows.