Saturday, May 17, 2014

Upfronts Round-up 2014: Top Picks

This past week was Upfronts Week, where representatives from all the television networks tried to sell advertisers on their programming plans for next season. The goal of Upfronts is to get advertisers to buy lots and lots of commercial time, and this is accomplished through schedule announcements, trailers for new shows, and opportunities to hob nob with celebrities. Upfronts week is exciting for us TV fans, because it’s the first time we get a taste of what we may enjoy next season. Based on watching the trailers for all the new shows that have been released, here are five shows that I think may be worth a watch next year.

Midseason on ABC

Galavant will air during this winter’s “Once Upon a Time” hiatus. Alan Menken (“Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and many other things of awesome) is the composer for this medieval musical that seems to be in the spirit of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Spamalot.” Galavant was a celebrated knight until a very silly King (“Psych’s” Tim Omundsen) stole away the love of his life (she wanted fame and fortune more than true love). Now, the Princess of Valencia needs Galavant’s help to save her kingdom, and this might just be an opportunity for Galavant to get his mojo back.

There’s usually that one trailer every Upfronts Week that makes me go “OMG, I need to see this show RIGHT.NOW.” For 2014, Galavant is that show. It feels like a lot of things and people whose work I love (“Spamalot,” “Pushing Daisies,” Alan Menken, Tim Omundsen) all rolled up in one. The music is fantastic, and Omundsen especially hits just the right mix of evil and comedic with his performance. My insta-love for “Galavant” worries me, however. Musicals on television can be hit or miss. When the plot is about the music itself (“Glee,” “Nashville”), it usually works. When it’s not, however (“Viva Laughlin”), there’s usually trouble. “Galavant” will probably burn brightly for a short while, but it should be a fun ride.

Tuesdays at 8 on ABC

“Selfie,” a half-hour comedy, appears to be a “My Fair Lady”/”Pygmalion” update. Karen Gillan (Amy Pond from “Doctor Who”!) stars as social media obsessed pharma girl Eliza Dooley. After an unfortunate incident involving getting sick on a plane, Eliza wants to be beautiful both inside and out (instead of beautiful on the outside and “butt” on the inside), so she enlists the help of Henry Higgins, someone who is actually good at his job. Henry is going to teach Eliza how to be a decent person (his first lesson is to have Eliza learn her receptionist’s name), and I’d bet there’s going to be some romance along the way as well.

I’ll be honest, I was originally turned off by the title “Selfie” all on its own. But if you can get through the full trailer, you can see that this show might have more depth than it originally lets on. I know much of my nerd brethren is upset that Karen Gillan is playing someone so vapid, but it doesn’t really bother me. I’m an objectively smart person (two advanced degrees, a good job) who has some nerdy interests, but something you might not know is that I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of celebrity gossip (I’d be rich if I had money for all the times somebody said “how do you even know that!” to me when I rattle off a fact about a celebrity). So interest in celebrity culture does not, by itself, make one permanently vapid. I also think Gillan and John Cho have great chemistry, and I have enjoyed previous work from both of them. I feel like there’s the potential for there to be a lot going on under the surface here.

The Flash
Tuesdays at 8 on the CW

“The Flash” is DC Television’s spinoff of “Arrow.” You may recall seeing Barry Allen (“Glee’s” Grant Gustin) in a short multi-episode story arc in the middle of the latest season of “Arrow.” It’s no surprise that particular story arc was actually a backdoor pilot of sorts for “The Flash.” By the end of the arc, Barry, a nerdy, absent-minded scientist, had been struck by lightning in his home town of Central City. From the trailer for “The Flash,” it looks like that lightning strike gave Barry his super speed, and he’s going to rely on his good friend/Arrow Oliver Queen for some advice on taking up the superhero mantle.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Gustin’s portrayal of Barry Allen in “Arrow,” mostly because he played a rather loathsome character on “Glee” a few years ago, and I just couldn’t get past that. Seriously, Sebastien was just awful! If “Arrow” is any indication, however, the DC Television team knows what they are doing when it comes to translating comics into meaningful, compelling television, so I am willing to give “The Flash” a shot this fall.

Midseason on the CW

“iZombie” is one of the shows that both Sarah and I are most looking forward to, mostly because Rob Thomas, creator of “Veronica Mars” is the creative force behind it. Loosely based on the DC comic series, iZombie will feature Liv (Rose McIver), a zombie who gets a job in a coroner’s office as a slightly less morally shaky source for the brains she must eat to maintain her existence. When Liv eats a brain, she takes in the memories of the deceased, and she starts to use this ability to solve murders. It’s kind of like “Pushing Daisies” with an even more undead twist.

As we’ve stated many times here on MTVP, Rob Thomas is definitely in our pantheon of great TV showrunners, and “iZombie,” with its strong female lead, seems right in his wheelhouse. I also like the casting of Rose McIver as Liv. She’s been a lot of fun to watch as Tinkerbell in the latest season of “Once Upon a Time,” and I’ll be interested to see what she can do with the opportunity to carry a show.

Midseason on FOX

I’m not really at all into hip hop music or culture, but given the pedigree of FOX’s “Empire,” it seems worth a look. The show is the story of a hip hop mogul (Terrence Howard) who has just been diagnosed with ALS. He needs to figure out which of his two sons should inherit his music empire. Complicating things, his ex-wife (Taraji P. Henson) has just been released from prison, and she wants her share of the company back. It looks like each parent will try to shepherd one of the sons to be the receiver of the inheritance. Much family drama is sure to ensue.

When watching the trailer, I started just making a list of the big names involved in this project, and it was quite impressive. It’s directed by Lee Daniels (“Precious,” “The Butler”) and written by Danny Strong (“Game Change”…and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” if you’re a nerd like me). It stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. Timbaland has supplied the music. Like I said, I’m not really a hip hop person, but with a pedigree like that, how can I not check it out? I never liked country music before watching “Nashville,” either, you know.

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