So I usually confine this to just the new fall TV series, but for a change of pace, I thought I’d take a look at some of the mid-season replacement series coming down the pike. As always, these reviews are based on the first one or two episodes, so take it with that grain of salt.
This is a reality/competition series in which nine teams of two get to live like fugitives while a collection of former law enforcement officials use modern tracking techniques to chase them down. Any teams that can avoid capture for 28 days will be rewarded with $250,000. The series is based on a British series of the same name and features one of the law enforcement officials used in that series (former MI5 analyst Ben Owen.)
Hunted takes the unique approach of slowly rolling out the teams rather than introducing us Amazing Race-style to a jumble of players. This lets us get to focus on each team and get to know them rather than spending several episodes asking ourselves, “Okay, who are THESE guys again?”
Certainly, the law enforcement side of it is fascinating. Despite a large number of people involved, each has a specific task so that we’re able to get to know them quickly. The various methods of tracking down the fugitives, including scanning cell phones, tracking them via GPS in their vehicles, using traffic cameras, questioning relatives, exploring social media and sometimes just getting damn lucky, all make for captivating TV. Both sides seem intense enough to give the series the feeling of a real life fugitive experience.
Competition reality shows seem to be slowly going the way of the dinosaur, unless they happen to have an established and loyal audience (witness the continued success of Survivor.) Introducing a new competition reality show feels like a risky proposition, but it would be worth everyone’s time to check out Hunted. It’s gripping TV.
24: LEGACY (Fox)
Legacy is either the revival of or a spin-off from the legendary Fox hit, 24. The original incarnation of the show followed government agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) as he spent an entire season trying to foil various terrorist attacks. The hook of the original, as it is in the new version, is that the season unfolds in “real time” with each hour-long episode depicting one hour of our hero’s attempt to foil the bad guys.
Whether this is a revival or a spin-off is purely a matter of semantics. The show itself hasn’t changed all that much. This time around, we have a new protagonist in Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), a former special forces op who participated in the killing of a bin-Laden-type terrorist mastermind. Said mastermind’s followers are now tracking down the former members of Carter’s team (including Carter himself) in pursuit of information that had been pilfered from the terrorist’s hideout. With this information, the terrorists will, of course, launch an attack.
Your view of the new series may depend on your view of the old. I enjoyed 24 for its first three seasons, then gave it up in the 4th when it began to get unpardonably silly. To be clear, there was ALWAYS something silly and unbelievable about the show. It was just a matter of whether you found it engrossing enough to forgive the stupid stuff. Legacy very much follows in that tradition. While it’s certainly exciting, there’s plenty of stupid stuff to go around. Hawkins is solid in the lead role, though I suspect it’s going to take several episodes for him to really establish the character of Eric Carter. (No big deal. It was similar situation with Sutherland as Jack Bauer.) The supporting cast is filled with solid hands (Miranda Otto, Jimmy Smits, Gerald McRaney, Teddy Sears.) Stephen Hopkins, who directed the pilot of the original series, directed the first episode of Legacy, giving the series a sense of continuity.
Ultimately, the failing of Legacy is that it doesn’t feel like a re-imagining of the original so much as it feels like the old show with a (barely) new coat of paint. The original has only been off the air for seven years (less, actually, if you include the Live Another Day miniseries from 2014.) There simply hasn’t been enough time to gain perspective on the old show and figure a way to truly re-imagine it. Legacy just feels tired and repetitive. Maybe the series needs to join Jack Bauer in retirement. (Or whatever you call being in a Russian prison.)
SUPERIOR DONUTS (CBS)
Superior Donuts is both the title of the series and its setting; a Chicago donut/coffee shop that’s become an institution in its rundown neighborhood. The only employees are Arthur (Judd Hirsch), the crusty and recently-widowed owner and Franco (Jermaine Fowler), an aspiring artist who sees the place as a platform to fight the increasing gentrification of the neighborhood (symbolized in the pilot by the opening of a Starbucks across the street.) The series follows the interactions of Arthur and Franco, as well as the shop’s regulars, which include a couple of cops, a freelance handyman, a grad student and an avuncular real estate developer who’d like to buy and bulldoze the place.
Superior Donuts is based on a play by Tracy Letts. The general consensus on the play is that it’s charming, mildly funny and utterly forgettable. Much the same could be said about the TV series. Fowler is clearly the breakout star of the show if it’s going to have one. He’s charismatic and he plays well off Hirsch (who’s a welcome addition to just about any show.) The rest of the cast is a collection of solid pros, among them Katey Segal and David Koechner. The pilot contained a few laughs, but isn’t exactly the second coming of Arrested Development (which might be the biggest understatement I’ll make this month.) In fact, it’s hampered by a rather clunky “Hi, here’s who I am and this is my story” kind of structure. Still, the subjects it tackles (gentrification, the battle of a small business against a corporation) are certainly topical and the cast is so likable you just WANT the show to succeed. It may need some time to find its way. Here’s hoping it gets it.
In a strange way, Powerless is DC Comic’s answer to Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that it follows a collection of “normal” people living in a world of super heroes. Unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though, it’s a comedy. And it’s actually watchable.
Powerless follows Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens), the new Director of Research and Development for Wayne Security, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises and located in Charm City. The company is run by Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), Bruce’s dumpster fire of a cousin who dreams only of getting a promotion to the main office in Gotham City. Emily’s job is to lead a group of misfits in developing products to make the company viable again. Given Emily’s lack of experience, her abundance of wide-eyed enthusiasm and Van’s tendency to go through R & D directors the way Donald Trump goes through wives (or National Security Advisors) the team doesn’t exactly embrace Emily.
Like a lot of the super hero stuff infesting pop culture, your enjoyment of Powerless is going to depend on your level of interest in caped crusaders. There are little Easter eggs for the fan boys among us (including appearances by Adam West and Marc McClure [Jimmy Olsen in the original Superman movie series.]) Casual fans may enjoy the mix of super heroes and quirky office comedy. If you don’t care at all about super heroes, well, this isn’t going to fill the void left behind by Parks & Rec.
The pilot episode was something of mixed bag. Most of the characters are drawn in broad strokes (as pilots are wont to do) and while there were some genuine laughs, it wasn’t a wall-to-wall yukfest. (Sadly, the funniest moments were given away in the preview ads.) Tudyk, as expected, is terrific as Van Wayne, a boss so callow he borders on sociopathic. Hudgens is charming, but seems very tied to that bright-eyed, ready-to-take-on-the-world thing. Hopefully, there will be more opportunities to show some depth to the character. The rest of the cast is almost indistinguishable from one another, but again, there’s a growth opportunity that’s generally not explored in a pilot.
Powerless could wind up being a lot of fun. It certainly has a different premise than most any other show on TV. It’s just going to be a matter of realizing that potential before the premise starts to get stale.