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.
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.
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.