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New Shows For Fall: NBC

September 11, 2010

The Paley Center for Media gave sneak peeks at several of the programs that will debut this season. (Keep in mind, the networks themselves selected the programs they wanted to showcase).

NBC is first, and featured the pilot episode of a new comedy titled “Outsourced” and three new dramas: “Chase,” “The Event” and “Undercovers.”

“Outsourced” is certainly a product of the times.  A fresh from college manager of a call center for a Kansas City novelty company, comes in to work on his first day to discover that the team he was supposed to be in charge of was let go, and their jobs were all sent to India. So, the choice is either to figure out how to pay off those student loans without a job, or fly to Asia and meet the new team of operators standing by. Of course, that’s no choice at all, so we’re quickly introduced to a group of young, attractive and completely clueless to American ways staffers. It’s a fish out of water story on a two way street, as the young manager Todd, likeably played by newcomer Ben Rappaport, must learn about his new surroundings, as his employees are educated in what a “cheesehead” is and why a life sized deer that sings “Sweet Home Alabama” might be something someone would want to purchase.

The show managed not to be completely stereotypical, though the obligatory “sacred cow” had to make an appearance. Look! There’s the obligatory loudmouthed American who has some criticism about everything that is Indian (included here is a comparison of US v. Indian cuisine – Jif Peanut Butter or Spicy Curry: which would you have for lunch?). And they’re hinting at least two love interests for Todd, one of his staffers and an Australian Airlines manager played by yet another “Neighbours” long time cast member, Pippa Black, as she crosses into US consciousness.

“Outsourced” has an undeniable sweetness and charm, and is really coaxing you to like it, however I’m not clear on whether US viewers, who may have actually lost employment because of a similar situation in their own lives, will embrace this as a concept. I’m not being glib, here. Do you remember the series “Hank” which starred Kelsey Grammer as a suddenly out of work upper middle class guy who had to move from his great city life to a less than great life in the sticks? If you don’t remember it, it’s because nobody wanted to see that and the sitcom got the axe without completing its first season. That’s what this program is similarly up against, and all of the goodwill for the characters stumbling their way through this culture shock may wind up being simply a hang up from home these callers can’t prevent.

Moving to drama, let’s take it back stateside to Texas for the Jerry Bruckheimer series “Chase,” which follows the best US Marshalls on the Houston beat. Obviously, the guy that produced the reality series “The Amazing Race” for seventeen trots around the globe (!) knows a thing or two about how to film characters running after each other, and that’s a lot of what this series is, as this intrepid group of law enforcement agents (headed up by Kelli Giddish and Cole Hauser) are both catching the baddies and doing some on the job training of their new recruit (played by Jesse Metcalfe), which is a nice device for bringing the audience in to this world by needing to explain procedure to the newbie.

It’s great having a woman as the kickass leader of the team, and Giddish is very convincing as a person who can handle herself with her guns OR her guns! Hand to hand or pistol to pistol, there is a sense that you’re in good shape if she’s the one doing the tracking. Giddish has the same sort of believable toughness and softness of Annie Wersching from that final couple of seasons of Fox’s “24,” so that’s high praise.

The pilot episode was crafted nicely, giving insights into the various characters, establishing some history as well as giving you a sense of who these people are now and what they are capable of doing. The danger is in the standard formula “let’s cut to the chase” elements that will be all too easy to fall into if the writing isn’t done well. But so far, so good.

One of the most hyped new series on any network is called “The Event,” which reminds me that NBC had a series called “The Big Event” back in the day which was supposed to be a kind of “Ed Sullivan” style prime time variety series (it didn’t do all that well). “The Event” may not do a lot better, as it does throw a lot of variety at you, with all of it in a disjointed timeline from almost the very first moments of the program.

Clearly, it’s playing off of shows like “Lost” and “Fringe” with the unexplained elements, the slowly unfolding mysteries and the flashbacks, which are all captioned for your convenience “Eight Days Earlier,” “Eleven Months Earlier,” and so on. This first ep is chock full of characters that have a tenuous connection between them. People disappear. People are kidnapped. People are hijacked. People are killed. People are imprisoned in some snowy Alaskan penal colony, then embraced by the President. Who is responsible for the unusual things happening, and to what purpose? A pretty good cast, including Jason Ritter, Blair Underwood, and Laura Innes, means that the acting is on point.

My problem with “The Event” can be summed up in why “Lost” worked in its debut. In “Lost,” we were focused on the characters, we were learning about who these people were, right away. The “weird” stuff of the island was just a backdrop to understanding who these people were and what they were doing on this island. To put it a better way, the characters were the hook, drawing the audience into this story of strangeness.

Here, though, most everything is directed at the oddities of what is occurring, and very little character development has been given to the people that populate the story. That makes for a less than satisfying ride, and is a very common mistake when it comes to “high concept” television, so let’s make a note to the writers, the show runners, the producers of these programs. Everything comes from the characters, kids, and here, I didn’t see much of anything in the way of the characters, except a whole lot of boats, planes and automobiles and a few choice special effects. Unless we actually start caring about the people in “The Event,” the only event needed to discuss will be “cancelation.”

And that segues us right into JJ Abrams’ new series, “Undercovers.” Mr. Abrams always begins his series with a question. This time, that question seems to be: “What if Cliff and Clair Huxtable were 15 years younger than they were at the start of ‘The Cosby Show,’ instead of kids had one wacky sister who just acted like a child, and instead of being a Doctor and a Lawyer, were both former operatives in the CIA?”

The question is delightfully answered by Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (get to know those names!) who play the couple in question (and in danger) as their Agency contact Gerald McRaney stoically hands them the assignment to track down an agent that had vanished and may be involved with giving US military secrets to the enemy.

This show is fun,  funny, very sexy, very smart and well-paced, and definitely recalls elements of such previous hit series as “Hart to Hart,” “Moonlighting” and “To Catch a Thief.” The one thing that might work against it is it might be a bit too easygoing, which may mean your mom and dad will love it, which, in turn, could ruin its cred for everyone from the next generation. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take! Interestingly, Boris is a native of Austria and Gugu is from the United Kingdom, playing these All-American agents out to help protect the US from harm. And that brings us back to the concept of “outsourcing.”

So, grades for the pilot episodes that NBC showed:

“Outsourced” B- (but I think it will still get canceled anyway because of the “misery” issue).

“Chase” B (I think if the plots are intricate enough, it will do well).

“The Event” C- (and if we don’t start learning about/liking the characters, this grade will slip lower, fast).

“Undercovers” A (the only series on this network I’m convinced will still be around this time next year).

Up Next: CBS

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2010 8:55 pm

    I haven’t read because I was unsure if there’s gonna be spoilers. So um, are there spoilers?

  2. aliciamaud permalink
    September 11, 2010 9:11 pm

    Well, you don’t find out whether the American picks Jif Peanut Butter or Spicy Curry for lunch…that secret remains safe!

    (Didn’t seem to me that anything was “spoiled.”)

    Thanks for this…I have my fingers crossed for “Undercovers!”

  3. September 11, 2010 10:46 pm

    No! Would I spoil you? I did not reveal anything that hasn’t been revealed in any of the promos for these shows… So as long as “promos” don’t count as spoilers, you’re good.

  4. September 11, 2010 10:48 pm

    Yay!!! Now I can read everything. i was a little nervous.

  5. September 12, 2010 10:14 am

    ‘Outsourced’ seems ill timed in this xenophobic, “you took my job!” climate. More importantly, the economy has depressed wages so much it’s starting to be cheaper to hire US folks for these same jobs. Plus, didn’t we already see this back when it was directed by Ron Howard and called, ‘Gung Ho’?

    Definitely relieved to hear that ‘Undercovers’ is living up to the hype (though my personal feeling is there isn’t enough hype on this show). The leads look wonderful together and the chemistry between them (based on brief teaser videos) seems organic and authentic. Loving the inclusion of Mr. McRaney!

    ‘Chase’ doesn’t do anything for me, except I will watch it because I love Cole Hauser. He’s such a great actor and it’s nice to see him on a series. I loved his bit on ‘K-Ville’.

    Everything comes from the characters, kids, and here, I didn’t see much of anything in the way of the characters, except a whole lot of boats, planes and automobiles and a few choice special effects. Unless we actually start caring about the people in “The Event,” the only event needed to discuss will be “cancelation.”

    LOL! Seriously. You’ve being very generous with Blair Underpants. I feel like he’s become the new Ted McGinley or Taye Diggs, whose handsome face is often, but not always, the harbinger of cancellation.

  6. September 12, 2010 1:05 pm

    I’ll probably wind up watching Outsourced because it’s on Thursday nights when I watch Community and The Office. Is Parks and Rec still on Thursdays? I’ve thought some of the commercials for Outsourced looked funny/cute (and anything’s got to be better than NBCs summer show “100 Questions” which I really wanted to write about, but it was just too, too painful).

    I’ve got some interest in Chase because I like things that seem to revolve around criminal profiling (which was something I considered studying when I was a youngster). Profiling in the “Think like a killer” sense, not the “Oh snap, a brown person” sense, of course. But odds are I won’t watch it, because I don’t get too invested in the hour-long dramas.

    Undercovers looks fun, and I love Mr. Major Dad, so I might tune in for that. The Event…eh…. not so much.

  7. September 13, 2010 1:12 am

    @Snarky’s Machine Good call on “Gung Ho.” And in a way, that is right where we’re at again. A lot of people have a lot of angst for calling Asia to get credit card info or to find out about their computer issues as it is. The cast is really good, and it’s nice seeing more minorities appearing on the screen, but I fear the worst for them.

    People are pre-judging “Undercovers” as something not so good, but I hope they’ll tune in for the pilot. I don’t know if an A is completely deserved (there is one character that puts that grade up for debate) but I do stand by it.

    Admittedly “Chase” could be great one week and a dud the very next one, based on the scripts. The pilot was pretty together, which is why it scored so high.

    And I have to be kind to Mr. Blair Underwood! He’s one of my many, many birthday people!

  8. September 13, 2010 8:17 am

    @dean, you know I love Mr. Underpants. He does bring sort of sexy gravitas to all his roles and I am always happy to see him. I just like pulling his pigtails. 🙂

    I think Undercovers will be the breakout show in spite of the less than aggressive push by NBC. It’s got the right pedigree; people will watch anything by JJ – even Mission Impossible: III.

    I wonder why couldn’t a show about Indian folks be about Indian folks rather than centering on how some white guys feels about these “wacky” Indian folks? Why not a great show tapping into either a Mississippi Masala or Bend it Like Beckam vibe, which treats folks of Indian descent like human beings rather the punch line to Kwik-e-Mart style jokes.

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