Upfronts Analysis: The 5 Worst Showings of the 2009-2010 Upfronts

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The 5 Worst Showings of the 2009-2010 Upfronts

May 25th, 2009

I am quite aware that there is something problematic about judging series based entirely on quick clips, but in many ways that personifies the upfronts process: it’s about making snap judgments, analyzing a show based on its potential when placed through the advertising machines of its respective network. It is true that there are some shows which are only hurt by this process, but then there are others which are so far removed from anything approaching humour or drama that I really don’t think they can be saved.

As a result, this is not a list of the worst shows during the 2009-2010 upfronts, but rather those which have the longest way to go in order to convince me that somehow, some way, they could be entertaining television. There may end up being more disappointing shows this fall/midseason, or shows which fall apart due to showrunning conflicts, but in their very setups/clips/execution these shows have demonstrated absolutely nothing to convince me that they are worth watching (some shows, like FOX’s Brothers which appears to be just downright awful, is so far off my radar that I haven’t even bothered watching the clips, which may explain its absence).

And so the uphill battle begins.

5. Melrose Place (The CW)

I have absolutely zero nostalgia for the original Melrose Place, so I think my problem with this series lies primarily in the fact that I’m struggling to know why it exists otherwise. As far as setups for a show’s first season go, a murder mystery is something that numerous shows have done to good effect (I’d say that Desperate Housewives handled it well for one season, and Veronica Mars made it work as well), and I can see why this reboot would go in that direction. Unfortunately for the show, it’s also nothing but a soap opera: without more than one or two actors who are actually capable, and with an emphasis on scandal and contrived reasons for every single person to become a suspect, the show is so bogged down in soap operatic stereotypes that I’m honestly unsure as to its reason d’etre.

This is what I find frustrating about The CW’s lineup: it isn’t that Melrose Place will be a terrible show, but rather that it will be a worthless show only on the lineup based on its connection with 90210. That, for my tastes, isn’t enough of a reason to put a show on the air, and the clips below do nothing to convince me otherwise.

YouTube: Melrose Place

4. Hank (ABC)

I don’t like multi-camera sitcoms in general, so I must admit that the sudden resurgence of in this year’s schedule is concerning to me. ABC is launching two very different sitcoms in the 8pm hour, with The Middle presenting Patricia Heaton meets Malcolm in the Middle, which looks similarly bad but has more potential with Neil Flynn and a more freeing single camera format. Meanwhile, Kelsey Grammer is trapped in what honestly boils down to the worst combination imaginable: topical post-economic crisis setup, fish out of water comedy, and a gimmicky pilot (the clip more or less gives you the entire plot) that involves a fire engine bed.

There just isn’t a need for this show to exist: Grammer has done more than enough on television for his career to be sufficiently successful, ABC likely had more than enough comedy pilots to make it work, so why are we forced to deal with a comedy that owes more to According to Jim than to, well, real comedy?

YouTube: Hank

3. Three Rivers (CBS)

Moonlight fans made a valiant attempt last year to save their show like Jericho fans saved their own, but they were unable to convince Nina Tassler that the show was worth saving: however, they did convince Nina Tassler that “hunky” Australian star Alex O’Loughlin was worth keeping around, and his presence is pretty well the only logical reason for Three Rivers to find itself on the network’s fall schedule. It isn’t the worst medical drama on the schedule (just wait until we get to #2), but it struggles due to a lack of any real purpose. There’s a fine balance to be struck between creating interesting procedural elements and compelling serialized characters, and Three Rivers has a problem: it doesn’t appear to do either. The cases are highly illogical (you just almost died, but you’re trying to refuse a heart transplant so you can keep playing basketball on a heart that nearly killed you), and the doctors are without any sort of identifying characteristics.

A show doesn’t have to be Grey’s Anatomy, where the cases are just excuses for the characters to investigate their soap operatic lives, but it does need to convince me that, if the cases are going to be the same transplant-like stories every single week, the characters are going to make up for the monotony. And, sorry, Moonlight fans, but Alex O’Loughlin ain’t pretty enough to do it on his own.

YouTube: Three Rivers

2. Mercy (NBC)

And yet, without question, Mercy is the worst medical drama on the schedule, as well as being the most illogical pickup that I can really imagine. I get that NBC wants to move towards conglomerate-owned dramas, and that they are losing ER and are thus in the market for a new legacy show. However, Grey’s Anatomy: Nurses Edition is not that show, especially not with the assembled cast: I think Michelle Trachtenberg is capable of decent acting, but her doe-eyed newbie here is pretty well insufferable, and Veronica, the show’s main nurse, has this “nurses are better than doctors because I went to Iraq” thing going on which feels far too cliched in the battle between the two sides. Scrubs has gotten away with doing the story a few times by letting it be funny, but comedy does not appear to be Mercy’s strong suit, not intentionally anyways.

The show could surprise me, but I find it highly unlikely: the preview goes to great lengths to provide a love triangle (plus an intra-hospital relationship – how original!), and to spend enough time on melodrama to convince me that even if the show has the bones of something decent, its priorities are so far in the wrong place that there’s nothing left over. The show doesn’t debut until midseason, and will be airing against American Idol, so NBC clearly doesn’t have much faith in the show either.

YouTube: Mercy

1. Accidentally on Purpose (CBS)

There is nothing you could do to make me watch this show. Pamela Fryman, who directs every episode of How I Met Your Mother, directed the pilot, and I have to wonder to what degree she realized that the show was going to come across this badly when sold to the American public. If Cougar Town represents a bad idea surrounded by a solid cast and an actual television show, then Accidentally on Purpose is quite literally Knocked Up: Cougar Edition, which is one of the most creatively bankrupt ideas I can possibly imagine. Then when you consider that the pilot is only on the air because CBS has been struggling to find Jenna Elfman a comedy for a few pilot seasons now, and you have yourself an idea that feels entirely removed from any concept of creativity or quality.

The clips provided just look plain bad: there isn’t a setup for a television show, here, in any way that I can imagine. There’s setup for parts of a television show here (Ashley Jensen deserves so much better), but when you put them together you get something that hews far closer to Two and a Half Men than HIMYM or any other solid comedy. The show has an initial setup that can only really sustain a small number of episodes, and then you have to wonder where they can really take this, having been backed into the corner of a domestic partnership and a pregnancy, to really investigate these characters which are already defined so carefully by age, gender, etc. There’s no room to grow, ironic considering the child growing inside of Jenna Elfman, and considering that CBS is pairing the sitcom with HIMYM I have to wonder just what they think they have here.

YouTube: Accidentally on Purpose

11 Comments

Filed under Upfronts

11 responses to “Upfronts Analysis: The 5 Worst Showings of the 2009-2010 Upfronts

  1. I believe Alex O’Loughlin will mesmerize and capture viewers with his performing skills and his facial expressions abilities. I do believe! Go Alex!

  2. Pingback: Upfronts Analysis: The 5 Worst Showings of the 2009-2010 Upfronts

  3. Pam

    Why don’t you read what actual organ recipients/donors think about the show. They are thrilled about it, and you know what?….I think their opinion holds more credence than yours.

    http://www.transplantbuddies.org/tbx/messages/3/50436.html?1241268315

  4. MariaMoonlight

    Hopefully Three Rivers will be better than most medical shows on now…
    you’re wrong about one thing..Alex O’Loughlin is pretty enough..I’d watch him reading the phone book

  5. I can’t wait to see THREE RIVERS and Alex O’Loughlin as Dr. Andy Yablonski! In this important series Alex O’Loughlin will show us again that he’s charismatic and extremely talented in every role he chooses to play. He’s the only actor who made watching TV much more interesting for me. I miss seeing him in a series on one of my favorite TV networks. Alex O’Loughlin combines great looks with intelligence, empathy, versatility and a wonderful sense of humor.

  6. MoonMaiden

    First of all, I beg that the reviewer gets the spelling of Alex’s name correct – it’s O’Loughlin- before casting stones.

    Secondly, Alex is much more than just a “pretty face”. If you had watched Moonlight for the entire 16 episodes, you would have been privvy to a compelling performance, week after week. His versatility as an actor is unparalled in my opinion, and I am certain that given this chance to shine on our tv screens once again in “Three Rivers”, will entice more viewers to becme enthralled with his talent.

    Just as Moonlight had a rocky start and became more finely tuned as it progressed, “Three Rivers”, like many other new series, will grow into a very meaningful and successful hour of television.

  7. LOL. Alex O’Whatever fans.

    Anyway, I take issue that the multi-camera format is necessarily more limiting than the single-camera format.

    • This is a fair point – reading it over, it reads more generally than it had intended.

      The Middle benefits from being able to more clearly indicate their location, well, in the middle of nowhere: the stock sitcom set of Hank just doesn’t provide the same opportunity as it relates to depicting the supposed theses of the respective series. I understand that Hank is focused on the domestic setting, and the multi-camera setting is built for that, but it’s such a narrow and cliched focus that is almost predicated by the format, making it the more unlikeable of the formats.

      [/Shameless use of my thesis arguments for blog response]

  8. ohno

    Julia Ormond was the only reason I would have attempted to see Three Rivers at all…too bad she is being replaced.

  9. Pammy

    …”And, sorry, Moonlight fans, but Alex O’Loughlin ain’t pretty enough to do it on his own.”

    Amen to that!!!!!

  10. Moonlightaddicted

    It is fantastic to have Alex back again in the television. I am already wanting to see how the doctor Andy Yablonski. I am sure that it will do a big role, since Alex is the biggest actor and the show seems also very good.

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