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NYTVF: Pilot reviews, part three of six

by Brett Love, posted Sep 7th 2007 1:43PM
NYTVF LogoThe third annual New York Television Festival is now taking place in the Big Apple. As we did last year, we will review each of the pilots in competition there. This is the third set of those reviews.

Last year I reviewed the reality entries at the NYTVF, and this year a disc of drama pilots came my way. It's something I have been looking forward to, because while the pilots are generally very hit and miss, there is always the chance that you will find that hidden gem. While that wasn't the case with the drama pilots here, there was a nice surprise in Dear Harvard. A look at four of the NYTVF drama pilots, after the jump (you can view the pilots at MSN).

nytvf - the agency
The Agency

This one is billed as a dramedy, and that's where the trouble begins. The mix that they tried to pull off just doesn't really work. I look at it as trying to combine The Office with Touched by an Angel. "You got your Della Reese in my Rainn Wilson" leans more to the sardines and Twinkies side of things, as opposed to chocolate and peanut butter.

The show starts out in your standard crazy sit-com office setting. It turns out that the agency from the title is the dispatch station for prayers. As they come in to the office, they go up on the big board and then are assigned to agents, like the main character, Marley (Matt Walton). That's not a bad premise, but the whole thing starts to fall apart when we cut to Annie Winthrop (Nicole Pool), an Oprah like figure, beside herself with grief over the loss of her daughter. There aren't a lot of yuks to be had there, and it makes things like the fat agent doing a bad accent as he pretends to be a masseuse just stand out all the more.

Not that it's all bad. The story of Lionel Calvin (Matt Servito) is interesting. He has started building a following for his teachings which center on the idea that God has abandoned us, and left us with the power of the human spirit. "I think we've been abandoned and I don't know if he, she, or it is coming back." It's especially intriguing when combined with the idea that his growing numbers, aided by the conversion of Annie, are a mark against the agency. I'd like to see more of that story, the slapstick hijinks and ass jokes from the office part of the proceedings, not so much. Overall, it's a flawed concept with some good bits sprinkled throughout. Servito and Walton both stand out with excellent performances.

nytvf - the band
The Band

This one doesn't really play so much as a pilot, as just a random episode of a series. Or possibly, a return of the After School Special series. There is no introduction of the characters. We are just dropped right in the middle of their lives as the band prepares for the big Battle of the Bands performance. Along the way there is a valuable lesson as we all learn together that plagiarism is wrong.

It's very touchy feely, and not terribly exciting. Looking at it as someone who has watched more than my fair share of teen drama, I didn't think that there was really a place for this on television. There are already a number of shows that are doing what they are doing, only much better. I was in that frame right up until the end when one of the characters mentions that it's all about getting the word of God out to people. And then the band name is revealed as Leviticus Rocks, and it hit me. There could actually be an outlet for this show, in the event that one of the religious stations wants to get into original programming, The Band could serve that purpose. If Willy Aames can make Bible Man and Kirk Cameron can keep turning out all of the Left Behind movies, there must be a market out there. It's not for me, but that doesn't mean it couldn't find a niche.

nytvf - dear harvard
Dear Harvard

Of the four drama pilots that I saw, this one is the closest to what I would call ready for prime time. It starts with a solid premise. The 'Dear Harvard' from the title is a blog kept by the main character, Honor, chronicling her quest to make it to the Ivy League. The intro and outro are voiceover's of her latest entries. It's helped along the way by a very good performance from Ella Rae Peck as Honor. It's also the best 'pilot' of the bunch as it really does a good job setting up what the series would be.

Honor's parents have her on the track to make it to Harvard, attending a private all girls school on the Upper East Side. Not everything is rosy though, as we learn that her father has been arrested for insider trading and that fact has turned Honor's world upside down. Her best friend since pre-school is no longer allowed to be friends with her, and she's only able to stay at the school due to a scholarship.

There is a bit of the Rory Gilmore and Chilton Academy feel to it, but in a new enough way to not feel tired. The production values of Dear Harvard are really high as well. It's one of the best looking of the pilots I have seen. That's not to say that the show is without problems. Some of the minor roles are a little rough. But that is something that is not unheard of in a pilot. I would expect some of those casting woes to be addressed, should this one be picked up somewhere.

And where might that be? The obvious big network location for Dear Harvard would be The CW. However, with Gossip Girl already on tap there, it's not really an option. This is a show that I could see making a play on one of the cable networks though. I'd watch Dear Harvard on ABC Family, or The-N. If nothing else, I'd like to see Ella Rae Peck get a gig out of the deal.

nytvf - sacrifice

Sacrifice is a tough one. It's not bad, but I'm not sure the premise is one that can develop a following. Essentially, it's Quantum Leap, now with more God. Jacob Corban (John Paul White) commits suicide after his wife (Kirby O'Connell) dies in an attack, or so he thought. He later finds out, from The Guide (Barry Robinson), that she wasn't able to be identified, but she is alive, and she will wake up. Not only that, but God isn't too happy with his suicide, and Jacob is not fulfilling his purpose. Because of that, his new job is to help others fulfill their purpose.

We see Jacob's first assignment as he helps Private Davis find his way out of a war zone. As his job comes to an end, he suddenly appears in another place and time, with a new mission to accomplish. It all looks really good, the combat scenes are especially well done, but I just don't see this concept working as a series. It might make more sense as a movie, or an installment of something like Masters Of Sci Fi.

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"That's not to say that the show is without problems. Some of the minor roles are a little rough."
I saw your comments above. Could you please use example?
I thought casting was one of the strongest point of "Dear Harvard" pilot. At least "the family" is perfect - father and younger daughter are great.

October 02 2007 at 2:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brooks Williams

People need to stop relying on God to move their stories along. It's easy enough to just add him in there, but to make him a central part of your story is just being lazy.

Find another way to get things going, writers!

September 08 2007 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

3 different God shows? Didn't they get the message after Joan of Arcadia got cancelled that even good God shows don't make it?

September 08 2007 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I caught a few of these...

I really liked 'The Agency'. I could definitely see that making it as a show with a few tweaks.

'Sacrifice' would be too depressing as a TV series. The guy has to die at the end of ever episode! Definitely good as a one-shot, like with a Twilight Zone episode or something like you said.

'The Band' -- definitely felt back-to-school-special. And man, it was way too obvious they could not really play those instruments.

September 07 2007 at 12:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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