Reviewing The Fall TV Pilots

Almost Family (FOX)
Written by Lindsey Cook

I love television. This is not a surprise to people who know me, but in case you don't, let me rephrase: I love television. Steph is constantly amazed whenever I tell her how many new shows I've watched in a week, or how many episodes of a series I've burned through in 24 hours, but for me, television is where it's at! There is so much good content these days that I try to watch as much as it as I possibly can.

With the launch of White Rice, I gave myself a big goal: watch every broadcast TV pilot for the 2019 fall season. Some might say that's a lofty goal, but I've come pretty close to catching everything that has premiered on ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC so far (The CW shows don't start until next week).

One reason I set this goal for myself to watch as many broadcast pilots as possible is because I think a lot of people are discounting network television a lot these days. We have so many platforms to choose from, from streaming services to cable TV and so on, that tuning into formulaic (by comparison) new shows with commercial breaks and weekly airings seems undesirable to a lot of people.

And yes, the truth is we will never have the same kind of network TV landscape as we did in the 70s, or the 90s, or even at the start of the new millennium, but that doesn't mean everything airing on these networks is garbage! In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of these shows that so many—from critics to audiences—seemed to write off. It's hard to say if most of these shows will survive even a season, but I found some promising new series out there and am here to share my thoughts (with a few interjections from Steph, who tuned into a few of these new shows as well).

Keep reading to hear my thoughts on each new show I watched, and don't forget to comment at the bottom with the shows you enjoyed!

The Unicorn (CBS)

Between this and The Righteous Gemstones, Walton Goggins is having quite the moment this year! Of course, his character on The Unicorn is quite a different creature than Gemstone’s Baby Billy. On The Unicorn, Goggins plays Wade Felton, perhaps the world’s most perfect dad. This show was sweet, but maybe a little too sweet for me? I’ll probably need one more episode to make a final assessment (since the trailer for the show gives an overview of literally everything that happens in the pilot) but I have a feeling I won’t be keeping up with this one.

Emergence (ABC)

A lost little girl with special powers. A small town cop who finds and takes care of said lost girl. A mysterious government entity involved in shady, possibly supernatural, affairs. If you’re getting Stranger Things vibes from that description, you’re not alone. Emergence is definitely cashing in on Stranger Things’ massive popularity and trying to capture a similar magic. ABC has also been trying to recapture the success of Lost ever since it went off the air nearly a decade ago, and while I don’t foresee Emergence to be that megahit show, it’s intriguing enough to keep viewers watching.

Prodigal Son (FOX)

Give me a good procedural with moral gray areas, throw in Michael Sheen as a charismatic serial killer, and I am IN! I’m really excited to explore the dynamics between protagonist Malcom (Tom Payne) and his murderous father (the aforementioned Sheen), and the pilot set up a great tone for the show. If you’re fans of Silence of the Lambs or The Blacklist, you’ll vibe well with this show.

Evil (CBS)

I wasn’t sure if I was even going to watch the pilot of this show, but at the recommendation of Emily Nussbaum, one of my favorite TV critics, I tuned in, and I’m so glad I did! First of all, this show comes from Robert & Michelle King, co-creators of The Good Wife (one of my faves) so there’s a proven track record. Second, I absolutely adore Mike Coulter and am glad to see him back on a TV show following the unceremonious cancelation of Luke Cage. The show has a fascinating premise—a forensic psychologist and priest-in-training team up to investigate possible demonic possessions—and provides a great space to explore issues of faith and belief systems. The pilot had me asking a lot of questions, and I look forward to sticking around and hopefully getting some answers.

Sunnyside (NBC)

Based on critical reviews, I was expecting to absolutely hate this show. I didn’t! Look, comedy pilots are hard. 30 Rock is one of my favorite shows of all time and has a truly mediocre pilot. Sometimes it takes time for us to get a sense of the characters and understand dynamics, and that’s okay! But, being that I’m only looking at these shows one episode in, the pilot is all I have. Sunnyside’s characters are fun, if a bit stereotypical, but I’m hedging to bet that that’s kind of the entire point. It’s a show about immigrants, people who are judged and shown prejudice simply because of where they’re from. Over the course of the season, I’ve got a good feeling that we’ll see these stereotypes shatter, so I’m willing to give this show a few more episodes.

Perfect Harmony (NBC)

Look, sometimes we just want a simple, harmless show to tune into at the end of a long day. Perfect Harmony is not breaking any barriers, but it’s cute enough and has a fun cast that includes Bradley Whitford and Anna Camp. And, say what you will about Glee, but we miss those cheesy musical performances, and this show, about a small town church choir, will likely have plenty of mashups and musical moments if the pilot is any indication.

Steph's thoughts: A few forced laughs and very much not a fan of the ex-husband character, but otherwise, I think this show is delightful and as Lindsey said above, it's nice to watch a show that's simple and harmless. Bradley Whitford oozes charisma without even trying. His snarkiness is an easy highlight to the show. The big question is whether or not we'll be getting more pop hits to infuse with the hymns, but I'm ready to cheer on this choir.

Stumptown (ABC)

Cobie Smulders is quietly one of the most talented actresses working right now. She was phenomenal on How I Met Your Mother and even kept me invested in Friends From College even though I generally hated the show, so I'm happy to see her headlining a new series! Stumptown fits her perfectly, too; it's a great jumping point from her Marvel work, as she's playing a similarly no-nonsense badass. The character dynamics that were set up in the pilot are great, and obviously Smulders' character has a lot of issues to work through while she investigates mysteries, but I am so along for the ride. Bonus points for Jake Johnson, back behind a bar like he belongs!

Almost Family (FOX)

This show is tackling a pretty heavy premise (a male fertility doctor uses his own sperm to impregnate dozens of women, leading three very different women to discover they are sisters) but it does a decent job as balancing out dark realizations with comedic moments. The pilot moves at a pretty quick speed, but it's necessary to get the plot going and bring these three women together. Brittany Snow is lovely as ever, and Emily Osment is a delightfully wacky scene stealer. Because the premise introduces the possibility for perhaps hundreds of siblings, I'm curious to find out how this show goes, as they could potentially introduce new siblings each episode. There's a lot to explore!

Steph's thoughts: Full disclosure, I went into the screening we attended thinking this was a half hour comedy. There definitely were some laughs in the first half, but it quickly turned serious. Not overbearingly so, but it's definitely a drama. I think Emily Osment is poised to breakout in this show, with Brittany Snow giving a steady performance as she usually does. I'm not sure if there's much desire to continue, though the dynamics of the new found "sisters" is somewhat intriguing.

Mixed-ish (ABC)

I don't follow Black-ish religiously, but I tune in from time to time and love pretty much every episode I catch! Mixed-ish is a fun prequel that expands upon the world of Rainbow Johnson, following her adolescence in the 80s. Like its predecessor, Mixed-ish is ready to tackle a number issues, from mixed-race children to Reaganism and so much more, but always with a touch of levity that suits a half-hour sitcom. From the pilot alone, the characters are a bit simplistic, but I'm sure they'll become more complex as the season goes on.


Shows I've added to my watch list: Prodigal Son, Stumptown, Evil, and Perfect Harmony

Let me know what network shows you're enjoying, and if there are any other shows I should check out!