The Sophomore Test: ‘Chuck’, ‘Reaper’, ‘Dirty Sexy Money’

Think making a television pilot is hard? Pfft, a pilot is nothing. A pilot has an astronomical budget, a lengthy shooting schedule, and a certain level of freedom not seen within an episodic structure. The real test of a series’ quality, then, is the second episode. It’s the one that gives a better indication of a showrunner’s ability to wrangle their initial pilot concept into an affordable and still entertaining series.

So, let’s see how three of the year’s series (None of which I’ve spent considerable time discussing) held up this week not just in terms of ratings, but in terms of quality.

Chuck

What I liked about Chuck’s pilot was its geeky sensibility and slick production values. There has been a lot of talk about Chuck lacking content below that surface, that it rides by on production and concept alone without any depth. And do you know what? I think that these people are correct. And, well, I don’t really care.

The series will only fail at this point if it takes itself too seriously. At this point, the comedy and the drama are almost at odds, fighting it out for the focus of the series. I want the show to be able to embrace its light-hearted side just a little bit more, finding a balance that works for it.

I think the second episode did an admirable job of keeping the series’ geeky elements from becoming too cliched (It was impossible to do so entirely) while keeping things (relatively) balanced. My concern, however, is that they will keep trying to find spy-related storylines and be unwilling to let Chuck’s personal life dominate. This isn’t Alias, the comic setup is good enough to support more personal developments.

The verdict: Good, but not great. It didn’t expand to anything the least bit revolutionary, but it has comic and dramatic potential to be tapped.

Reaper

In the first non-Kevin Smith episode, I honestly felt like there wasn’t a huge tonal shift in Reaper’s second episode. I think that this is, on the one hand, a good thing: after all, I liked the pilot. On the other hand, I think that the similarity had much less to do with a continued sense of quality, and more a sense of deja vu.

Yes, Reaper stayed fairly consistent in its second week, but with that came both its good and its bad. On the good side, Ray Wise stayed sharp as the devil, and Bret Harrison continues to define scrutable in the lead role. But, unlike Chuck, which had a fairly energetic pilot, Reaper’s was occasionally a bit slow and expositional.

I felt this, sadly, extended to this week: the Soul of the Week was uninteresting and uneventful, the Work Bench antics were no more engaging, and Missy Peregrym was just as uninspired as she was last week. While some preferred Reaper to Chuck in the beginning, I felt its procedural element would grow old fast. And, in one episode, I feel it’s almost already there. That being said, the positives keep me watching.

The Verdict: Needs to Show Further Promise.

Dirty Sexy Money

Watching the second episode of Dirt Sexy Money, I was impressed with a few things. The pilot was built on two elements: the fabulous lifestyle of the Darling family, and the murder mystery surrounding Nick George’s father. What this episode did a good job with was emphasizing that these two elements are simultaneously intertwined and distinct. And that, in the end, proves its worth.

I was worried that the murder mystery would take away from the fun of the series, but it was dealt with in the proper manner: rather than being a development for entirely plot purposes, it was instead a point of drama in Tripp and Leticia’s relationship. This allowed it to integrate into the daily lives of these characters, as opposed to sticking out like a sore thumb.

The rest of the episode brought the sleaze: Jeremy’s affair with Juliet’s nemesis, Brian’s illegitimate namesake, a catty family photo and a serious (See, Big Shots? See?) presentation of a transsexual affair. The show is bridging the right gap between comedy and drama, and I feel connected to this family even in their high society way.

The Verdict: On the right track.

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