For years now, TV critics have been making snap judgments about new TV shows based on the footage shown at upfront presentations, which is really unfair, if you think about it. Does anybody ask movie critics to make snap judgments based on trailers? (Well, actually, now that we think about it…) But all of that doesn’t mean we can’t get in on the fun here at The A.V. Club, and all week, Erik Adams and Todd VanDerWerff will be looking at the new fall show trailers and offering their thoughts. Remember: Sometimes a terrible trailer makes for a great show (as happened with Arrested Development) and vice versa, so we will almost certainly revise all of these opinions very, very soon. Up now: ABC.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. this fall)
Todd VanDerWerff: So which Joss Whedon are we dealing with now? The Joss Whedon whose every show is doomed and can never get a show on a major network? Or the Joss Whedon who directed The Avengers, one of the biggest films ever to hit the box office? ABC, obviously, is hoping very much for the latter—as is Whedon himself, presumably, though he’s not showrunning this project (turning those tasks over to previous Whedon collaborators Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell)—but can Whedon’s signatures (quippy dialogue, heart-rending story turns, characters whose relationship with morality can be fluid) be successfully hammered out into a family hour drama for parents and the kids?
I don’t know, honestly, but I like the trailer for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I like how it announces itself from the first as a Whedon show, right away with that guy saying that what the actual words that make up the acronym reveal to him is that somebody just really wanted it to say “shield.” That’s a good line, and there are a few more like it in the trailer. What we don’t get is a real sense of what this is going to look like as a series, outside of the sense that it’s going to be a sort of “mission of the week” type of show. That’s probably a good idea—and Whedon is good at telling procedural stories while building out the world in a serialized fashion—but it also makes me wonder if there will be enough there to keep that more mainstream audience coming back week after week.
This isn’t the best trailer ever, but, also, it was perhaps impossible for it to be anything other than a trailer that felt mildly disappointing at first. What it tells me is that this will be a Joss Whedon show, and that’s enough to keep me intrigued until I can see it.
Erik Adams: In an era where so many television shows have ended their runs and then been resurrected as comic books—including several of Whedon’s own—there’s no good reason that so many pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. superhero shows have bombed (Okay, fine, I’ll grant you The WB/CW’s dalliances with DC properties.) “Mission of the week” is the bread-and-butter of the publications that allowed Marvel becoming such a force in motion pictures, and I don’t see why a show with comics-savvy braintrust and tremendous support from the network won’t be the one to finally make the TV-to-comic transition a two-way street. I’m buying the hype on this, and can’t wait to see how the action in this teaser plays out.
Back In The Game (airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. this fall)
TV: You and I both saw these trailers first while watching a live-stream of the ABC upfront presentation to advertisers, Erik, and what’s telling about these things is always that you can tell what the advertisers really like in the comedy trailers because you can hear them laughing loudly at those things. (Polite chuckles—which apparently The Goldbergs got—don’t carry. And, of course, nobody wants stony silence.) And all I know is that those advertisers got a charge out of James Caan being mean to a fat kid. Which, don’t get me wrong, James Caan yelling at children could be hilarious. But I’m wondering just what the engine of this show is going to be, beyond James Caan and Maggie Lawson coach a kids’ baseball team, and then Caan yells at them every so often. I smiled at Caan’s shenanigans—like breaking the window of a guy’s car, then realizing he has the wrong address, but there’s nothing really here. It could work after The Middle, though, I’ll admit.
EA: Yeah, by the immediate measures of the trailer, this one’s overstuffed. I’d ignore a series about Lawson as the coach trying to teach these kids self-esteem, but watch at least the pilot of Caan as the hunchbacked Crankshaft type coaching a 21st-century Bad News Bears, but I can already see Back In The Game pulling in too many directions for its own good.
Betrayal (airs Sundays at 10 p.m. this fall)
EA: ABC chair Paul Lee loves throwing around the term “aspirational,” and this limited-run soap looks geared at Sunday-night viewers who aspire to both work in glamorous creative positions in the big city and have steamy, extramarital affairs with mysterious suitors played by Stuart Townsend. This is where ABC’s female-oriented programming strategy comes off as cynical: Betrayal looks less like an engaging miniseries and more like a televised Harlequin romance novel. There could be some tawdry fun to be had here, but a very, very dumb twist involving a legal case might unnecessarily class the joint up. Airing after Revenge, shouldn’t a guilty pleasure be allowed to be a guilty pleasure?
TV: I’m sorry. I want good things for Hannah Ware, but this just looks like a ridiculous reworking of the worst aspects of the movie Unfaithful (which is everything other than Diane Lane’s performance). I will, however, forgive the show if Ware is allowed to hiss the word “betrayal” at least six times an episode.
The Goldbergs (airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. this fall)
EA: This was the lead trailer at the upfront presentation, so I get the feeling it’s the comedy that ABC is truly pulling for. Their enthusiasm is at least matched in the presence of Jeff Garlin, kvetching right along as the cranky father figure he was born to play. The big hurdle for The Goldbergs will involve selling the 1980s as a time of change commensurate with the setting of its most obvious inspiration, The Wonder Years. Because it’s pretty obvious “shifting tides” are going to be the thematic underpinnings of the domestic comedy: The older brother learning to drive, the grandfather moving in, mom in the backyard with the kids’ blankets. The other challenge is not letting the period details stifle the ostensible reason the show was picked up: There’s something special about this fictional family beyond the era in which it lives. Neat to hear what sounds like Patton Oswalt as the new Daniel Stern, though.
TV: This is more of a “cutdown” than a trailer, which means ABC has attempted to stuff the entire pilot into five minutes, then papered over the gaps with the most obvious music choices it could think of. (We also saw a cutdown for The Blacklist on NBC, I’d wager.) So I’m willing to cut it a little slack, given how high ABC seems on it. But I’ll admit to finding this all a little… strained. I liked some of it, and I think the cast is terrific, but I’m also very worried it’s going to push everything to its breaking point, until it just turns into Jeff Garlin bellowing at people and overturning their trash cans like an angry bear.
Killer Women (currently unscheduled)
TV: This trailer opens with a beautiful woman in a red dress walking into a wedding and killing folk, and then it transitions to “Misirlou,” and you know that executive producer Sofia Vergara (or, let’s be honest, someone in the ABC promotional department) has always harbored secret aspirations of being Quentin Tarantino. Then Tricia Helfer slams onto the scene in her utilitarian criminal chasin’ vehicle, and the whole thing gets that much more predictable. Helfer’s a Texas Ranger, and it would seem she specializes in catching, well… look at the title. There’s some business where she ends up in Mexico, and, honestly, it all kind of washed over me in a non-descript fog. I can’t really say I’m looking forward to this one, but it will be nice to see Helfer at the center of a series, and at least the title says exactly what you can expect here.
EA: My immediate reaction to this was “When did Robert Rodriguez and Sofia Vergara become the same person?” so Killer Women’s bound to attract comparisons to both sides of the Grindhouse coin. The borrowed panache of this trailer might end up being the most memorable thing about Killer Women.
Lucky 7 (airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. this fall)
TV: I’m probably more intrigued by this one than I should be, considering that once the people at the story’s center—a bunch of working-class stiffs looking for an escape from the drudgery of their day-to-day lives just like all of us—win the lottery, they immediately start doing all of the most predictable things they possibly could with that much money. But I like the texture of the show’s world, and I like the people who’ve been assembled for the cast—like there’s Clay Davis himself!—and I like the idea of trying to have a drama on the air about working-class people who have to worry about something other than upper-class problems, at least for a little while. There’s stuff to worry about here, but there’s also the nugget of something promising, and I’m going to hold onto that nugget and hope it’s not stupid bullshit.
EA: There are a lot of interesting routes for Lucky 7 to take, but since these trailers are meant to prove to advertisers that these new shows are safe bets, we’re obviously not seeing any of them. Instead, it’s John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, multiplied by five, set to teach a whole new generation that you should be careful what you wish for.
Mind Games (currently unscheduled)
EA: After swinging for the fences and whiffing mightily (in the ratings) at Fox and NBC, Lone Star and Awake creator Kyle Killen turns his high-concept meter down a few notches with his latest effort, which slots into the increasingly blurry boundaries of the “fixer procedural” subgenre. The premise of Mind Games proves no easier to boil down into a logline than those other shows, though: There’s something about Christian Slater and Steve Zahn as brothers who solve other people’s problems through persuasion and manipulation, like Inception without the magical dream intrusions. (Zahn’s character is also bi-polar, for good, easily identifiable quirk measures.) This feels like a more conventional effort from Killen, but with enough tweaks to make something special—which will inevitably only be watched by a handful of devoted fans and canceled swiftly.
TV: As a renowned Awake skeptic (though I liked that show on the whole), I was pleased to like this trailer as much as I did. The dialogue is sharp, and though elements of the series are familiar—the two brothers, one of whom has to take care of the other, especially—the overall goal (these men are using their powers to help people, not solve crimes) gives it a looser, breezier feel that I’m really anxious to see play out over the course of 42 minutes.
Mixology (currently unscheduled)
EA: Superficially, Mixology has an intriguing premise: The story of one night in a bar, told from the varying perspectives of the establishment’s on-the-make clientele. Except: How is this not going to run out of story after, like, three episodes? Would each season revolve a different night and a different set of patrons? Won’t the developments of each episode feel wildly, frustratingly incremental? (Pilot: Woman at bar is asked for phone number. Episode two: She decides to give out that phone number. Episode three: She’s written the first number of the area code!) I’d love to be proven wrong and see Mixology turn into the TV equivalent of the club scene from Playtime, breaking all sorts of rules about television storytelling along the way—but this thing is already treading narrative water midway through the trailer.
TV: Outside of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I don’t think a comedy trailer this week has made me smile more, and this was a show I wasn’t particularly looking forward to for all the reasons you cite. As a grubby little indie movie, I would be really into this. As a sitcom, I worry it will run out of steam. But I’m feeling better about it after this trailer.
Once Upon A Time In Wonderland (airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. this fall)
EA: This one starts where all modern fairy-tale continuations must start: A sanitarium, which is where you send your Alices and Dorothies when they can’t stop talking about their fantastical adventures and magical friends. (“And you were there, and you, and you had a body made of a playing card!”) The Wonderland mythos are rich enough to open up to all sorts of episodic adventures, though this Once Upon A Time spin-off opts to loop in the ill-defined borders of its “fairybacks,” placing Lewis Carroll’s elastic heroine alongside genies and pirates as well as hookah-smoking caterpillars and fussbudget rabbits. While that hints at the long, long ago jumble that often bogs down orignal-flavor Once Upon A Time, the final twist of the trailer points toward a more rigorous narrative drive for Alice’s new adventures in Wonderland. This will probably devolve into a bunch of CGI garbage, but we shouldn’t complain too much about action-oriented genre fare led by a strong-willed female protagonist.
TV: I was legitimately surprised about how much I enjoyed this trailer. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Once Upon A Time, even though so much about it is so cheesy, but even if I’m being charitable, the show’s story engine is basically the lyrics to “Part Of Your World” from Little Mermaid, but in reverse. (Does it work that way?) Wonderland has a hell of an overriding narrative, and in its lead, Sophie Lowe, it’s found a potentially terrific screen presence. The visual effects are bad, but if Lowe can carry the heart, this could be one to be reckoned with.
The Quest (currently unscheduled)
TV: No video for this, but it cannot go uncommented upon. What the hell is this? It sounds like an opportunity for people to actually fight pretend dragons in a soothing competition reality show format? Was this all spawned by the seeming ubiquity of Imagine Dragons?
EA: This is what we get for loving Game Of Thrones so much: A movie based on Medieval Times and LARPing as reality competition. I do love the idea of special effects teams working tirelessly to fulfill the dragon-slaying fantasies of workaday schlubs, though.
Resurrection (currently unscheduled)
TV: You all know me well enough now to know that I enjoy some pseudo-mystical supernatural bullshit hokum, and Resurrection looks like it might be some grade-A stuff. The start of this trailer is actually quite promising. A kid wakes up in a rice paddy in rural China and looks over at a water buffalo (or something—I’m probably getting the species wrong). The FBI agent tasked with figuring out how this American kid ended up in China finally figures out he belongs in Missouri—where his parents reveal that the kid died 32 years ago. That’s a hell of a premise for a something, and you could even make it a TV show pretty easily if it’s happening all over the world or whatever. (It has shades of The 4400, actually.) But then the shots start getting softer, and the dialogue gets drippier, and everybody’s talking about true purposes and the meaning of life and stuff, and it all looks like a yogurt ad. Resurrection starts out intriguing, but then it feels like it took ABC’s directive about making TV that makes you feel too much to heart. I didn’t need all the goop!
EA: The preview footage of Resurrection keeps its lid on so tight, there’s no telling how close to The 4400 (or, worst case scenarios, FlashForward and The Event) this will eventually get. One thing’s for certain: The cancellation of Touch has not relieved primetime of potentially world-changing children and the stoic guardians guiding them through a world confused by their existence.
Super Fun Night (airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. this fall)
EA: Super Fun Night is the one show among ABC’s new sitcoms that has the most riding on its star: Rebel Wilson’s made scene-stealing turns in a pair of sleeper-hit comedies (Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect), and her appearance during the network’s upfront presentation means it’s expecting big things from the Australian comedian. This is where Wilson would turn a reference to “big things” into a joke about her breasts, because she’s bawdy like that—and the post-Modern Family slot supports bawdy. (See also: Happy Endings.) I can’t exactly see where Super Fun Night supports story however, because the trailer—even for an upfront video—is particularly diced up, playing like a series of sketch-comedy excerpts. But I trust Conan O’Brien’s judgment, so maybe the full episode has a greater sense of cohesion.
TV: CBS developed this show as a multi-camera sitcom last development season; now, ABC has developed it and will be reshooting much of it over the summer. They clearly, desperately want it to work, and Wilson’s an interesting enough presence for that to make sense. But maybe the premise—all there in the title—is so thin that this is just going to turn into an impossible dream? I do like that there’s a TV show about these characters; I just hope somebody makes it an interesting one.
Trophy Wife(airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. this fall)
TV: Sigh. Every network has to have a comedy trailer that actively rubs me the wrong way, and this would seem to be the one from ABC, where I found all of the others nice enough, even if I wasn’t laughing out loud or anything. (It should be said here that ABC’s promotional department is generally the best of the big networks—though not quite at the level of HBO’s—and they usually cut the best trailers, well-designed to hide massive flaws in the shows.) The problem here, I think, is that the story really wants me to empathize with Malin Akerman as the titular trophy wife, and even though I like Akerman a lot, it’s going to be hard to get me to take her side in an epic battle with Marcia Gay Harden. There are a lot of actors I like in this, and it’s from some good Office writers, but the whole thing left me cold. Though, granted, that’s a damn sight better than what Dads did over on Fox, so at least ABC has that going for it.
EA: Did that Bad Teacher adaptation end up getting the ax? Or did it just turn into Trophy Wife, the trailer for which finds Akerman—who has a great goofy streak that a better show ought to indulge—bumps up against Bad Teacher co-star Pyllis Smith and generally does a passable Cameron Diaz impression? I’m not sure which is worse: ABC’s decision to bump Suburgatory to midseason, or its greenlighting of Trophy Wife, which would prevent Akerman from appearing on a show that rises to her level.
Up next: CBS hopes you like police officers!