From ‘Whiskey Cavalier’ to ‘The Kids Are Alright’ to ‘The Rookie,’ all of ABC’s new shows look like things that the network has aired in the past, even if some of them look like things that have failed.
Time for your regular reminder that over the next four days, I’ll be giving my quick reactions to the trailers presented to advertisers in New York City. These aren’t formal reviews. How could they be? I haven’t seen the darned shows. They’re just gut responses to sales pitches. If advertisers can pony up billions based on these clips, I can tell you if they’re good or bad. My annual Take Me to the Pilots series will begin in a month and then real reviews will start in September. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
My primary takeaway from ABC’s upfront presentation to advertisers is that ABC, certainly more than New Fox and NBC on Monday, knows its brand and is sticking to its brand, with or without any new content from Shonda Rhimes.
Now there’s some danger to that, since the network has had some real stinkers in recent years and the new show trailers look like they’re shaped as much from the mold of the failures as the hits, but they all look like shows that belong on ABC.
This was also ABC’s first shared upfront presentation with The Artist Formerly Known as ABC Family. I’m not going to say anything about the trailers for Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, which looks like Pretty Little Liars meets How to Get Away With Murder, or Cloak & Dagger, since that one’s only a few weeks from actually premiering.
So let’s get to rankings for the eight new show trailers ABC presented on Tuesday (leaving out the adorable trailer for Dancing With the Stars Juniors, which looks like Kid Nation with dancing).
8) Schooled | Actually, it’s really seven trailers, since the Schooled trailer was a mixture of clips from the ’90s-set episode of The Goldbergs that aired this season (aka last year’s original pilot) and clips featuring A.J. Michalka’s Lainey, who will be joining Tim Meadows and Bryan Callen in the spinoff. I like Meadows and Callen on The Goldbergs, but I thought the backdoor pilot for Schooled was the season’s worst episode by a lot. I think Michalka could add some of the balance that was missed in that episode, though. So … we’ll see!
7) Single Parents | It’s notable that I laughed out loud once — at Leighton Meester and the package delivery guy — which was more than I laughed at any of the comedy trailers presented by Fox or NBC. Taran Killam basically playing Pete Holmes wasn’t instantly funny, but I’ve thought that Meester was a stealth comedy star for years, even if Fox’s Making History didn’t make her a real comedy star. Brad Garrett is usually pretty reliable, but he wasn’t all that funny here. Mostly, what the trailer did was focus on the three recognizable leaders, and that left a lot of less recognizable co-stars who were treated as filler. If they’re more than filler, this could be decent. It has a Splitting Up Together vibe. That worked for Splitting Up Together.
6) The Fix | The trailer has a comparable feel to Ten Days in the Valley, which tanked fast on ABC last fall and also co-starred the great Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje. Or Red Widow. Or Missing. ABC likes attempting strong female lead-centered highly serialized shows, usually at midseason, but only the ones created by Shonda Rhimes have been able to hold a full season’s worth of momentum lately. I like the Marcia Clark/Trial of the Century angle, and Robin Tunney ought to be a solid enough lead. The supporting cast is good, and creators Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain have done stuff I’ve liked in the past.
5) A Million Little Things | Nothing in the trailer for this Thirtysomething Reasons Why (or Netflix and Big Chill?) look at friends dealing with the aftermath of a buddy’s suicide did anything for me. It all felt derivative and manipulative (albeit less manipulative than NBC’s The Village, due to the absence of a three-legged dog). However, give me a TV show with Romany Malco, Ron Livingston, Allison Miller and James Roday and I’ll probably watch a few episodes of it. Nothing about the Boston-ness of the trailer set off any of my internal bad-accent warning sirens, so that could be a plus.
4) The Rookie | I reserve the right to be utterly mortified at having liked this trailer when I get sick of the show after an episode or two, but I generally like Nathan Fillion’s schtick and this feels like a very basic and pure distillation of his “Snark in places that aren’t snark-appropriate” thing. The trailer doesn’t capture how serious or not serious the show around his snark is going to be and that could make a big difference. Is it going to be gritty and grounded, like Southland, or is it going to be broad and generic L.A.-based police hijinks? And when Richard T. Jones’ character refers to Fillion as a “40-year-old rookie,” that’s just a figure of speech, right? The show’s not pretending Nathan Fillion is 40, is it? This seems like a show that could succeed.
3) Grand Hotel | As absolutely everybody has correctly said, it’s like a Jane the Virgin spinoff set at the Marbella. And I would tune in for that, especially with Demian Bichir, who is one of the most instantly watchable actors out there. The entire key to the show, which I can’t tell from the trailer, is how many of the relatively unknown young actors cast for their variable degrees of hotness will also be able to act. It’s got a good backdrop, a pretty cast and Bichir can ground a lot of drama.
2) Whiskey Cavalier | At first, this looked like the sort of silly action romance that you might see as the show-within-a-show you might get on a series set in Hollywood, like the kind of show Kyra Sedgwick’s character on Ten Days in the Valley might have written on. Or the kind of show the kids at the all-white dorm on Dear White People might watch. Then Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) showed up and I was like, “OK. I will watch a show in which Lauren Cohan doesn’t have to do a bad Southern accent, doesn’t have to constantly be mourning the death of loved ones, periodically gets to clean and change her outfit and yet still gets to kick butt.” You can watch for Scott Foley if you like, but I’m watching for Lauren Cohan. And ABC will just hope you don’t remember Thieves or Notorious or several incarnations of The Catch or any other recent attempts the network has made at a romantic-comic action show. Romantic sparkle is really hard to do.
1) The Kids Are Alright | On one hand, I’m uncomfortable with how much The Kids Are Alright looks like somebody said, “We still want a show about a big, funny Catholic family like in The Real O’Neals, but we got too much bad press from the gay stuff.” On the other hand, the tone and style of this blend of The Real O’Neals and The Wonder Years looks like it’s handled well, especially with Michael Cudlitz looking well-suited for a gig as a tough-but-loving blue-collar ’70s dad. Of all of ABC’s ABC-y shows, this is easily the ABC-iest.
On to CBS tomorrow!