Fall Premieres 2013: ABC

September 26, 2013
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AntennaFallABCABC is making one high-profile play this season, delving into the Marvel cinematic universe for the first time since Disney purchased Marvel. Beyond this synergistic slam dunk, however, ABC lacks a clear sense of its post-Modern Family identity. For every project that feels like a clear effort to copy Modern Family, there’s another project that reads more like ABC testing the waters for other angles on comedy; for every series that seems designed to leverage the channel’s growing reputation (see: Scandal) for serial soaps, there’s a fairly old-fashioned drama that brings to mind failures of ABC’s past. While other networks came into fall with a story to tell about either the past or the future, ABC is the one network that feels as though they have no story at all, or at least no larger narrative to string together another extensive list of fall and midseason pickups.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland [Premiered 10/10/2013]

In this spin-off of ABC’s other fairy tale drama, Alice (Sophie Lowe) is institutionalized by a disbelieving father before breaking out with the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) and the White Rabbit (voice of John Lithgow) with the hopes of returning to Wonderland and reuniting with her true love who she believed had died at the hands of the Red Queen (Emma Rigby).

Kyra Hunting [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland strikes me as, more than anything, an example of what can go awry when a program simply has too many resources and too much technology. As was the case with several other offerings this season, the series establishes its massive storyworld and cinematic special effects throughout the pilot. But this series suffered deeply from an over reliance on these elements and the CGI that makes them possible. Granted it is hard to create a convincing Wonderland when most viewers already have so many ingrained in their mind, but this didn’t just not feel like MY wonderland but ANY land at all; instead the CGI often pushed the landscape to far into the realm of video game animation (particularly in images of the Red Queen’s Castle) and the actors frequently felt like they were on rather then in the world.

The episode had its bright spots: Michael Socha was charming as the Knave of Heart and I am always a sucker for a girl who’s an expert in hand to hand combat (not to mention a love story). However, even its rework of Alice (from the madhouse to the battlefield) felt far too familiar after many XBox sessions of American McGee. While I could forgive familiarity—which in itself can be a pleasure—had this well worn territory been well executed, for me this adaptation lacked the wonder of Wonderland and gave away too may of its most interesting cards, particularly the fate of Cyrus, in one fell swoop. Alice, when done well, has always been an interplay of restraint and excess, and here I felt the balance was hopelessly off.

Myles McNutt [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

Wonderland has a problem with balance (and I swear I wrote this before I read Kyra’s response). Once Upon a Time had similar problems, but one of its two sides was a fairly grounded small town drama that offered some semblance of stability. That the other side was a fairy tale world filled with dodgy CGI was a problem, certainly, but the show had a structure to build on.

Wonderland is far from a terrible show, but it also never feels like a cohesive whole. This is in part because it was picked up based on a twenty-minute pilot presentation, and thus the pilot is cobbled together out of existing footage and other footage designed after the show went to series. It’s not that the new footage is dramatically better or worse, but rather that the parts that weren’t there before—particularly Naveen Andrews as Jafar—are disjunctive, and make the rest of it seem equally disjunctive in the process.

The other problem is that the entire affair is heavily reliant on CGI that—while far from awful—isn’t good enough to pull off the conceit. While Once’s duality gave it space to grow at its own pace, here we’re flung into a wide-ranging adventure where both the past and the present are whimsical and magical and a bit overbearing. The show often looks very good, but the wow wore off quickly enough to make me wonder how sustainable the show’s pace/structure would be in the future, a question a pilot like this one shouldn’t pose.

Super Fun Night [Premiered 10/02/2013]

Rebel Wilson and an American accent—her choice—star in this comedy about three nerdy women (Wilson, Lauren Ash, Liza Lapira) who venture beyond their apartments to expand their horizons and enjoy an exciting night life every Friday.

Suzanne Scott [Arizona State University]

Super Fun Night, originally developed/dropped by CBS in 2012, and retooled by ABC as a single camera sitcom, feels its age.  It feels like a meeting in 2011 in which someone said, “That nerd show is ratings gold, let’s do a lady version.” In the intervening years, Big Bang Theory has winningly developed its female characters, leaving the protagonists of Super Fun Night unfashionably late to the party.  But, no matter how many HIMYM-esque quickie comedic flashbacks Super Fun Night employs, its comedy stylings feel older than 2011.  Specifically, it feels like 1982: as if someone slapped a female POV on a Zapped or Porky’s underdog story…and then arbitrarily set it in a law office. This “premiere” is clearly the second episode of the series, meaning the entire premise of the show (Rebel Wilson’s Kimmie, along with her gal pals Marika and Helen-Alice, decide to stretch themselves socially by moving their indoor kid Friday evenings outdoors) is hastily/confusingly established.  There’s real chemistry between the three friends, and Lauren Ash brings a nice, Emma Stone-esque energy to Marika.  It almost seems like we weren’t allowed to see the gang’s super fun nights in, because we’d be rooting for the ladies to stay home.  At the very least, we would have had fewer jokes about Spanx.

Jennifer Smith [University of Wisconsin – Madison]

Super Fun Night is much like an amethyst: there may be a sparkling gem hidden inside, but I’m not sure I have the fortitude to scrape up my hands on a layer of jagged gray rock to get to it.  What appealed to me about this show was the promise of a sitcom that focused on the friendships between young women who aren’t conventionally beautiful, nerds who adore each other but are still coping with high school mean girl PTSD.  In other words, I wanted a sitcom about the world in which I, personally, live.  But much like Big Bang Theory, this pilot left me with the unsettling feeling that people like me will always be the butt of jokes even when they’re ostensibly the heroes.  The fat jokes surrounding creator and star Rebel Wilson were relentless, and while I appreciate the “Fat Amy” impulse to make fun of yourself before others get the opportunity, the single-mindedness of the mockery drowned out all other character moments, and the jokes as a whole were disappointingly unoriginal.  The cast is promising – Liza Lapira, especially, is a great actress who’s had rotten luck in TV project choices, and Wilson herself is a gifted comedian who makes the physical humor (if not her abysmal American accent) work.  But I wanted, and expected, more.

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [Premiered 09/24/2013]

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands into the Marvel Televisual Universe with the help of executive producer Joss Whedon, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) anchors a team of investigators tasked with responding to less cataclysmic instances requiring S.H.I.E.L.D. intervention in the post-Battle of New York world, here focused on the experiment-gone-wrong Mike Peterson (J. August Richards).

Suzanne Scott [Arizona State University]

As the tagline goes, “Not all heroes are super,” and neither are most pilots. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the rule rather than the exception, which isn’t to say it’s not exceptional, as both a high-profile transmedia extension of Marvel’s film universe, and as the newest televisual entry to the Whedonverse.  This doesn’t spare Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D from succumbing to pilot pitfalls (the rote “Agents, Assemble!” establishment of the ensemble, the laughably bad backlot shots of “East Los Angeles”), ones I was hoping we’d be able to skip over given our familiarity with the fictional world and the pedigree of the production.  Agent Coulson, who has served so ably as Marvel’s deadpan everyfan, the transmedia glue holding superhero teams and franchises together, also suffers from his new leading man status.  Let me be clear: I LOVE Coulson.  I think Clark Gregg is an exceptional actor, and he still lights up every scene he’s in.  But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also makes him a one-man Avengers: cracking wise like Tony Stark in one scene, Hulking out on his colleagues in the next, and delivering a final soliloquy worthy of his hero, Captain America.  Whether this is the origin story of a truly great ensemble show, or if it will flame out under the Extremis pressure (see what I did there?) of creating meaningful connections to the Marvel Universe, remains to be seen.

William Proctor [University of Sunderland]

Marvel’s transmedia experiment continues drawing from the model of comic book continuity and creating an interconnected universe with multiple episodes spanning multiple media windows. Following the critical and commercial triumphs of cinematic chapters, from Iron Man to Avengers, comic book tie-ins and mini-webisodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D pulls television into the hyperdiegesis with a blinding opening episode that embraces all the fun, fantasy and frolics of the Marvel films whilst retaining a serious post-9/11 aesthetic following the ‘Battle of New York’ featured in 2012’s blockbuster, The Avengers. The show is beautifully shot and further breaks down the barriers between cinema and TV like no other in history. The script is so polished, it shines like a brand new Iron Man suit, and the dialogue is crisp, sharp and witty. A lot happens in this opening episode, and a mystery is set up early on regarding Agent Coulson’s miraculous resurrection which hints at the intrigue to come. One caveat may be the wealth of intertextual breeding with the other Marvel films and tie-ins, but as a comic book consumer, I relish the potential here as the universe continues to expand and sprout narrative appendages that represent the apotheosis of transmedia storytelling in the 21st century. Spectacular stuff!

Derek Johnson [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

Agent Simmons describes all the MacGuffins in play as “every known source of super power thrown into a blender”—an apt description for this pilot. Unlike many spin-offs, this pilot not afraid of baldly referencing the parent project(s), and I was surprised the producers drew so much so quickly, rather than meting out connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Hopefully this is just flushing the system—acknowledging and moving past supersoliders, gamma radiation, Chitauri tech, and Extremis—rather than indicating intent to make every episode a mélange of familiar plot points.  If this does continue, they might as well use some kind of on-screen pop-ups to emulate the old comic book practice of editors’ footnotes.  (“Last seen in Thor—Memory Joggin’ Joss”).  Though I do want to know what resurrection meant for Coulson and his cellist.

What I couldn’t parse were the racial politics of J. August Richard’s character.  I wasn’t thrilled with the angry black man trope, but his end-of-episode speech about SHIELD’s failures and false promises seemed to double as critique of dominant white social institutions (driven home without subtlety by the multicultural mural behind him).  But then he started laying hierarchies between humans and superhero gods on top of that, and the metaphor muddied the more overt critique.

Lots more to say here—I really hope Suzanne covers the “sweaty cosplay girls”!

Kyra Hunting [University of Wisconsin – Madison]

Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came with sky-high expectations, carrying the baggage of the massive film franchise, decades of comic books, and the involvement of Joss Whedon. It can be forgiven, therefore, if it didn’t fully meet those expectations. The series did some things well right out of the gate: I appreciated the pilot’s commitment to moral complexity, with ever-shifting notions of heroes and villains. (Although the angry young black man as literal time bomb theme was worrisome). It was also adroit at both seamlessly situating itself in its storied franchise history and setting up a workable thematic structure. Its model, investigating the strange, has great episodic and serial narrative potential, proven by programs like Warehouse 13, Supernatural and Whedon’s own early series. However, the at-times witty and referential banter was not timed quite right and the episode’s commitment to action over back story did a nice job of replicating the feel of a Marvel film but a poor job establishing enough of a relationship with the core characters. The show has definite potential, the guests stars alone! But it needs to slow down and start working on characterization soon if it is going to fulfill its high expectations. TV series are less flings and more long term relationships and while I am certainly interested in a second date, I am not yet ready to commit.

~ ~ ~

The Goldbergs [Premiered 09/24/2013]

Travel back to the 1980s, when video cameras were enormous and pant waists were high and cassette tapes were how you listened to music; anchoring this nostalgic vision is a family with parental challenges (Jeff Garlin and Wendy McLendon-Covey), teenage problems, and a pre-teen vantage point (whose adult narration is provided by Patton Oswalt) to bring this familial comedy into perspective.

Eleanor Patterson [University of Wisconsin – Madison]

Let me now dispel any question whether this show is a remake of Gertrude Berg’s The Goldbergs. It is not. That show was funny, while this product of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production studio is as stale and wincingly unfunny as they get. The Goldbergs is a historical TV show set in the 1980s, and does the cultural work of making the ’80s a sort of spectacle for millennial viewers. Protagonist tween Adam takes us back to his life as a in 1987 a la The Wonder Years, whose narrative structure, suburban family setting, and historical nostalgia The Goldbergs unabashedly cribs. However, where The Wonder Years was sweet and insightful, this show is contrived and devoid of likable characters. This does not invite nostalgia for a time of innocence, it is an invitation to ridicule a period it assumes we are glad to glance back at with ironic distance, in the same vein as those Awkward Family Photos. Here the ’80s are made strange through the gratuitous representation of old school technology, period fashion, and yes, an obnoxious dysfunctional Jewish family who is assimilated, but not quite as Aryan as those real Americans we remember from Family Ties or Growing Pains. Besides the title’s implicit reference to ethnic difference, many of the implicit Jewish American tropes are here, the most obvious being Wendi McLendon-Covey’s portrayal of overbearing mother Beverly who has unhealthy attachments to her awkward kids.  Frankly, this hack job excuse for a sitcom is below Covey’s amazing comedienne talent, and really, its below George Segal and Jeff Garlin, who also play central characters. However, my prediction is that they will not long be burdened with these roles.

Amanda Ann Klein [East Carolina University]

The Goldbergs opens with a montage of 80s nostalgia; we see clips from The Karate Kid, Knight Rider, and ALF while the show’s narrator, Patton Oswalt, explains that in the 1980s there were no parenting blogs, peanut allergies, or Twitter. “Back then,” Oswalt informs us, “the world was still small…” These truisms are crafted to flatter nostalgic 80s kids like myself, reminding us of our “authentic” childhoods, just as The Wonder Years’ evoked the authentic childhoods of television audiences in the 1980s. But these efforts fall flat, maybe because I’ve read too many of those “20 Signs You Were a Child of the 80s”-style Buzzfeed articles.

My primary complaint with The Goldbergs pilot, however, was its inability to balance broad, often mean-spirited humor with heartfelt emotion. For example, there’s a genuinely humorous bit in which Murray Goldberg, played by Jeff Garlin, tries (and fails) to teach his son Barry how to drive. This plot culminates with Murray cajoling a reticent Barry into singing along to “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” as they drive home. The moment is meant to be touching, with Murray attempting to connect with his son. But the scene felt too calculated, too much like an 80s punchline (remember how awful 80s music was?!), and thus, the father-son bonding unearned. Here’s hoping that The Goldbergs stays away from this kind of shorthand emotion, and concentrates instead on the one-liners that made me laugh out loud.

Jonathan Gray [University of Wisconsin – Madison]

I’m ready for some 80s nostalgia, so I wanted to like The Goldbergs. But why is everybody shouting their lines? Does the cast know that there are microphones on a television set? To be fair, I found some lines funny, and the central character was endearing in his own weird young pervert kinda way, I guess, but I so desperately wanted to ask the actors to try it from the top without yelling, or to leave me the script and just let me read it. I get it: this family fights. But especially since the show is so keen to offer schmaltzy reminders (with subtitles spelling it out, no less) that Dad really does love his kids, why put the audience on edge with all the yelling? As for the 80s nostalgia, so far it’s only background. Nothing in the script necessitates or grows out of the 80s, and thus the decade is just there as a wardrobe and a set of offhand references to Jedi masters, Burt Reynolds, and jazzercise. The pilot script could just as easily have been filmed with 70s, 60s, or 90s clothing and offhand references, and it doesn’t treat its references with much love. Oddly, then, there’s surprisingly little nostalgia in this nostalgic comedy, JUST A LOT OF SHOUTING.

~ ~ ~

Trophy Wife [Premiered 09/24/2013]

Based on the real life experience of co-creator Sarah Haskins, Malin Akerman stars as the third wife—not a trophy wife, as the title’s meant to be ironic—of a lawyer (Bradley Whitford) who inherits his two ex-wives (Michaela Watkins and Marcia Gay Harden), their three kids, and the day-to-day challenges of being a stepmother all at once; the series charts their continued negotiation of parental responsibilities and personal identities in this atypical family comedy.

Suzanne Leonard [Simmons College]

I signed up to review Trophy Wife before learning that it was co-created by feminist comedian Sarah Haskins, whose Target Women routine ironically lambasted the media for the attention it pays to feminized pursuits such as yogurt eating, wedding obsessing, and beauty improving. Trophy Wife is apparently based on Haskins’ own marriage to a divorced older man with children, a fact that made me hopeful the show would present a progressive take on women in the sitcom genre. (Similar hopes were pinned last premiere season on Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project.) In this respect, Trophy Wife disappoints. While star Malin Akerman embraces physical and self-deprecating humor, the show oozes with privilege, and sets up an all too familiar rivalry between Akerman and her new husband’s dour ex-wives. In the pilot, her desire to be accepted by her husband’s kids leads her to chug a water bottle full of vodka to cover for her stepdaughter, an act that establishes her likeability. But her plight seems forced and retrograde. Is combatting the wicked stepmother stereotype really still such an issue for contemporary women? Is annoying family zaniness really all that funny? Thanks to Haskins’ storied pedigree, I expected so much more.

Bärbel Göbel-Stolz [Indiana University]

I don’t take to comedy easily, but Trophy Wife took me by surprise. The series’ format, by way of 2 ex-wives adds a polyamorous charm to a classic tale. Unexpectedly, the show is oddly heart warming as it posits its viewers, via voice over intro and outro, in the lead character’s struggle to adjust to a life as a third wife and stepmother. She makes melodramatic sacrifices to connect to the children. Plot lines could have been over the top and embarrassing, but instead were funny and light hearted. A few jokes, like the suspected Oedipal complex of her stepson Warren, were expected, but intelligently repackaged by unexpected narrative turns that had been put in motion early on. The writing is, as far as the premise allows this, on the smart side, even if comedy elements in the pilot are nothing new or special viewed independently.

A few things have to be said about the characters. The Trophy Wife is depicted as irresponsible and rather simple minded, possibly misguiding the show. The character line-up’s diversity, unfortunately, feels additive rather than inclusive, but it is too soon to dismiss the adopted child or bartending best friend as mere side characters.

Sarah Murray [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

Sandwiched between The Goldbergs and Lucky 7, Trophy Wife’s rag-tag family carries the burden of moving viewers through ABC’s fresh Tuesday night lineup. The show has plenty going for it with a recognizable cast (who isn’t rooting for Bradley Whitford and Marcia Gay Harden?) and a group of writers, producers, and director with credits that include The Office, Pitch Perfect, Family Tools, and Bad Teacher (we’ll forgive Lee Eisenberg that last one). When a show has such firm grounding at the outset, you watch more defensively. Maybe it was because I was waiting for Whitford to fall on his face or maybe I was still confused about the show’s name, but whatever pilot failures I was bracing for never came.

Trophy Wife is funny. Not in a mildly guilt-inducing way that makes you wonder if you should admit to watching, but in a way that demonstrates how enjoyable a blend of physical humor and well-placed dialogue can be when the pacing is just right. Whitford and Akerman have great chemistry. Whitford looks good (no more West Wing hair and baggy suits). Akerman has a sharp sense of her own physicality and is attuned to when and how to use it for laughs. This is the biggest surprise and may be the reason to keep watching. Despite their tendency toward caricature, the gaggle of ex-wives and kids are still likeable. Trophy Wife is not a complex or original pilot by any means, but it’s tight, well-written and leads with a few promising LOLs.

~ ~ ~

Lucky 7 [Premiered 09/24/2013]

In this adaptation of British series The Syndicate, Lorraine Bruce reprises her role as one of an ensemble of gas station employees who win the lottery and then face a host of difficulties ranging from petty disagreements to life-changing decisions, all without having even played 4 8 15 16 23 42.

Kit Hughes [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

My introduction to Lucky 7 came via a decontextualized video clip on ABC’s website (which I later discovered was a segment from the same network’s The Chew) in which Iron Chef’s Mario Batali opens by asking “Is this a shiny show or a dark show?” The cast jumps on the obvious answer you give to any of these meaningless either-or choices that pepper press tours and sideline reporting: both. Not only would I have to agree with them, I would go farther to suggest the show’s darkness comes from its wretchedly boring gleam. All dolled up in cinematography that makes heavy use of reflections, barriers, and telephoto lenses—not to mention its bizarre use of stop motion photography and the Fast and Furious (Lucky) Seven opening—this show lets us know: it’s serious. This is going to be about ethics, ethnics, class, the American dream, and greed. Never mind that its jokes rely on bidet humor (get it?) and it uses a passing mention of a miscarriage for pathos (for the “fat lady”). This kind of posturing is dangerous.

Also: why does the cabbie include Reagan alongside his clipped photos of Kennedy and Obama? Haunting.

Jonathan Gray [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

In many ways, this pilot is very well done. I felt I understood a fair deal about each of the central characters by the end, and got something about their complexities and nuances, which is altogether rare for a pilot to accomplish. It was paced well. Everyone held a line of performance – another feat rarely accomplished in ensemble shows – with Luis Antonio Ramos delivering an especially superb performance (and sheeeeeeeeeeeeet, Clay Davis is back on TV!). And in terms of setting up a whole bunch of issues, tensions, and conflicts for an entire season, it certainly delivered. As a drama about seven people and their families, it could be excellent, riveting even. My hesitation comes from the premise, as ultimately I don’t care about six people who have won the lottery. Either way, they’re headed for one of the two most trite, over-used sentiments of American television (and film): 1) money can’t buy you happiness, or 2) money can buy you happiness. For about twenty minutes there, American network television had a show full of working class characters, then it hit them with a gimmick, and though I’ll keep watching and will hope for the best, I feel they may never recover from that gimmick, and that the show is bound to disappoint me.

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Back in the Game [Premiered 09/25/2013]

Maggie Lawson (Psych) stars as a single mother struggling with a divorce who moves back home with her father, and relives her childhood struggles with her baseball coach father (James Caan) as she inadvertently volunteers to coach her son’s misfit little league team.

Myles McNutt [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

At the recent TCA Press Tour, a critic asked whether or not Back in the Game was an underdog sports story about the misfit “Angles.” Executive producer Mark Cullen quickly set the record straight: “they’re not going to win a game all year.”

Back in the Game isn’t intended to be a feel good story: like How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest Of Your Life—yes, I referenced it mainly for an excuse to write out the title—it tells the story of a young single mother who is forced back to her childhood home and her childhood dynamics with her parents after their life falls apart. Unlike that show, however, Back in the Game has baseball to bring them together, structuring the action and giving the “starting over” narrative a hook (or, if you prefer a pun, a curveball).

Maggie Lawson is compelling as Terry, and Ben Koldyke plays a reformable asshole well, but there’s not a lot in the pilot to make James Caan’s Cannon likeable or interesting or funny. The gender politics are too broad by half, and never result in many laughs or meaningful observations, but I’m a sucker for a baseball story and a believer that calibration might get better when test audiences and in medias res openings aren’t involved.

~ ~ ~

Betrayal [Premiered 09/29/2013]

Hannah Ware stars as photographer Sara Hayward, who strays from her troubled marriage to a prosecutor (Chris Johnson) with a debonair stranger (Stuart Townsend) only to learn he’s the defense attorney in her husband’s career-defining murder trial involving a business magnate (James Cromwell).

Myles McNutt [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

The in medias res opening to Betrayal sets up two key questions: Who shot Sara Hayward, and which of the two men in her life are there to comfort her?

The remainder of Betrayal gives us little reason to care about these questions. Simultaneously mundane and ludicrous, the narrative works so hard to manufacture the conditions and circumstances of Sara’s affair that it never stops to consider what makes a mystery worth caring about. By the time Sara finally pieces together she has slept with her husband’s opposing counsel, the narrative weight of her so-called “betrayal” was almost impressively out of sync with my level of disinterest, the spilled red wine screaming out “Look at me, I symbolize her blood!” just as I was screaming out exasperation for giving myself this assignment.

Angling toward both Revenge and Scandal with its title and its emphasis on morally complex relationships, it fails not only due to a flat script and poor pacing, but also because it fails to understand what made Revenge work—note the past tense—and what makes Scandal pop: those shows had structures that gave them purpose and meaning. Betrayal has only intrigue masquerading as complexity and registering as nothing of value, empty to a degree that makes the pickup of this “limited series” feel like something of a betrayal.

Jenna Stoeber [University of Wisconsin-Madison]

Having been promised a show similar to Revenge, I was starkly disappointed by Betrayal’s limp drama and uninspired acting. The emotion is so awkwardly ham-fisted that I’m forced to assume that the main actors were chosen for their attractive face-shapes instead of their acting abilities. The writing is paltry and uninspired, and it’s hard to sympathize or care about the characters.

The affair between Sarah and Jack is played with an uncomfortable romantic earnestness that disregards the context of an affair. Hoping to draw in HBO viewers with flashes of skin, the premiere features TWO sex scenes, because why build emotional intensity when the characters can just do it? Everybody moves about in a detached chess-like manner. For example, the children of the main couple show up exactly twice; once to establish them, and once as a reminder to Sarah that maybe having an affair is bad. They are otherwise an invisible presence.

There’s nothing particularly redeemable about this episode, but it’s probably not the worst thing ever put on TV. The plot groundwork has been laid for some interesting interactions, but so far the quality of the writing and acting can’t carry the depth required to span the plot points.


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