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Fall TV previews: Serious CBS is very serious

Halle Berry in Extant (CBS)

Judging a series based on an upfront sizzle reel is probably just as ill-advised as judging that same show by its pilot, but like upfronts and pilot season, such knee-jerk reactions are a TV tradition that our rapidly accelerating TV culture has yet to evolve beyond. As part of The A.V. Club’s continuing upfronts coverage, Erik Adams, Sonia Saraiya, and Todd VanDerWerff will be weighing in on these trailers all week long, fully aware that a new favorite may be hiding behind bizarre editing choices or poorly emphasized jokes. Today: CBS. (Previously: FoxNBC, ABC.)


Sonia Saraiya: Extant could be amazing or a total disaster, and the trailer does nothing to change my mind about that. What I didn’t realize from the earlier promos for the show is that Halle Berry’s mysterious space mission is balanced out by an even odder mystery on Earth—that of her son, who is literally a robot. Berry plays an astronaut who somehow comes back from a solo space mission pregnant, to her and her doctor’s shock and concern. As she’s grappling with the truth of that—aliens? Aliens, right?—she has to reintegrate into family life with her robot son and her husband. The two are connected, but it’s not quite clear how. There are shades of Gravity and Alien here, which aren’t the two worst movies to build a show’s premise on. But creator Mickey Fisher hasn’t worked on any other shows of note, which doesn’t totally inspire confidence.


Todd VanDerWerff: Ever since I saw a version of this trailer at TCA, I’ve been thinking of you and what you would make of it, Sonia, and I’m happy to see it maintains its whacked-out genius. Also: “I love my alien baby more than my robot son” is the best Weekly World News headline that somehow didn’t exist already.


TV: First off, how does CBS have a show that stars Robert Patrick and is named Scorpion, yet somehow, the name of Robert Patrick’s character isn’t SCORPION? Secondly, how does CBS have a show that stars Robert Patrick and is named Scorpion that isn’t about a washed-up professional wrestler from the ’80s taking one last chance to reconnect with his daughter (played by Mae Whitman, in my dream scenario) by using her hacking skills and his white-knuckled fury to right some wrongs and enact some justice? Robert Patrick IS SCORPION. Goddammit, I am so mad that this just appears to be the latest entry in the “CBS thinks the Internet is basically magic” genre, of which the network greenlights at least one new show per year. This trailer is pretty well-cut, and there are some fun moments throughout, but there is also Katharine McPhee, though at least you can imagine her character from Smash is now working as a waitress.

Erik Adams: I guarantee that every time I read the title of this show, my brain will register it in the voice of Sally Stephens, singing a variation on one of The Simpsonsall-time great musical gags: “Score-pee-UN!” This is my dream CBS procedural—a CSI/NCIS/Criminal Minds ensemble drama made up entirely of Pauley Perrettes and Matthew Gray Gublers—and if lasts long enough to reach syndication numbers (it won’t), I’d totally binge-watch it on Ion after a night of heavy drinking.

NCIS: New Orleans

EA: Now that’s a spicy gumbo of CBS spin-off—not in that it looks particularly tasty, but that you can tell these NCIS folks have been around the block a few times. (For example: Did you know NCIS: New Orleans is from the people who brought you NCIS as well as NCIS: Los Angeles?) Scott Bakula sounds like he’s back on Quantum Leap, and Dr. Sam Beckett has been unable to leap out of the body of some goofball Cajun character who learned to speak from watching old Justin Wilson reruns. CCH Pounder is on hand to provide the appropriate amount of gravitas, but as the trailer implies, New Orleans is no place for gravitas! It’s a place for bachelor-party puke! Though I must say: I enjoy how Zoe McLellan (who played an entirely different character on NCIS’s parent show, JAG) is already planting the seeds for the future spin-off NCIS: Great Lakes. I can see it now: Don Johnson and Ice-T investigate Navy-based crimes from an HQ on Chicago’s own Navy Pier!


TV: There’s something so weirdly charming about this that makes me want to pat CBS on the head. Look at you! You’re trying to capture some of the local, hometown flavor in between all of the generic police procedural action! I knew you could make something just like Treme, CBS! I knew it! (And then I turn to my wife and say, “It’s okay. He tries so hard. He’s just a great little guy. A real fighter.”)


SS: Stalking is really fucked-up, so I’m cool with exploring it, from a cool badass lady perspective. So why did they have to introduce Dylan McDermott to the scene? Is he the stalker? Make it stop, CBS, MAKE IT STOP. I love that the main character is as unimpressed with him as I am. The show does very well to sideline McDermott so that our resident badass lady, played by Maggie Q, can take the day. But the trailer also indicates that Stalker is probably going to emphasize the suspense and horror instead of the investigation and protection, which is so like CBS, obviously. And like Kevin Williamson, the showrunner of The Following, who is also behind this! So that’s where all those creepy guys in masks came from. Expect random victimization of women with kitchen knives, for no clear reason!


TV: I love, love, love that this trailer describes McDermott’s character as, “Big personality. Not for everyone.” You don’t say, CBS!

The McCarthys

TV: On the one hand, this has a really talented cast (including Laurie Metcalf!) that could make something out of nothing. On the other hand, this appears to be a sitcom that leans heavily on the basic idea that accents are funny. And, look, I don’t begrudge a sitcom pilot that. It’s really hard to stand out in 21 minutes of screentime, so you look for any advantage you can find, and sometimes, that’s a bunch of accents. I’m willing to give just about any comedy, particularly a multi-camera one, time to find its sealegs, too, so I’m sure I’ll be watching at least a few episodes of this. But there’s something so artificial and canned about it, and I find myself wondering if these are the best jokes. Really? Also: The onscreen text says, “They’ve got attitude!” which is usually a big warning sign.


EA: 2014: The year the sitcom studio audience came back to Boston! Amid more cartoonish accents and the distracting presence of Joey McIntyre, there might be a heart to The McCarthys—and after having a fluke hit last season with The Millers, CBS is presumably hoping the show and viewers discover that heart together. If not, maybe you’ll stop by for the potential New Kids On The Block reunion.

Madam Secretary

SS: Hi, my name is Sonia Saraiya, and I am going to love this show. Madam Secretary follows Téa Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, a professor who is unexpectedly tapped to be the secretary of state. Hardly a mundane story, but as the (lengthy) trailer establishes, she has a background in the CIA and has a fresh charisma that is neither “rebel without a cause” or “establishment lackey.” Leoni is kind of perfect in the role (where has she been since The Family Man, huh?) and the whole thing has shades of The West Wing but without all the Aaron Sorkin and with a bit more of that thing we occasionally call heart. And because I’m gushing, Todd, I’ll let you form a real opinion on this.


TV: Hey, Téa Leoni is Ned Stark, and the previous secretary of state is Jon Arryn, right? And the first season is going to be about her looking into his or her mysterious death, right? This is a pretty effective trailer, but the show seems to have a lot of elements to juggle, and I’m not sure it needed the “She was just a regular mom, but now she’s secretary of state!” angle when the workplace stuff looks largely compelling. Still, I’m in for that stunningly stacked cast. Leoni, sure, but also Bebe Neuwirth! Tim Daly! Keith Carradine! Zeljko Ivanek!

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