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First Look: Fall TV Pilots

The weekend of September 12th was spent watching a solid twelve hours of television (6 consecutive hours each day).

This isn’t really anything too noteworthy considering how many weekends have been spent binge-watching everything from Breaking Bad to Daredevil on Netflix, but what made this weekend in particular worth mentioning was the fact that said shows I sat through were special screenings of some of the most buzzed about pilots of the 2015-16 TV season.

The NY Paley Center For Media offered fans the opportunity to catch a first-look at nearly twenty of this season’s newest programming. Pilots from all of the major primetime networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and the CW) were screened in full to those in attendance and, while there were certainly a few misses (mostly where comedies are concerned), it seems that some of this year’s dramas might actually have some potential.

Read below to see which shows are worth watching, and which are definitely missable.

Don’t feel like reading marginally spoilery reviews? Skip to the end of this article for a simple grade scale of the best and worst pilots screened at #PaleyFest.

NBC, ABC, & the CW

Blindspot: B+

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Led by Jaime Alexander, most known for her work as Lady Sif in Marvel’s Thor franchise (and marginally less known for her brief stint on ABC Family’s Kyle XY, which had her portraying another memory-impaired individual), NBC’s Blindspot is quick to deliver on intrigue as the opening scene reveals a mysterious woman climbing out of an abandoned duffle bag in the heart of Times Square.

With no recollection of who she is, why her entire body is covered in tattoos, or just what she was doing zipped up in that bag in the first place, Jane Doe is naturally brought to the FBI for questioning. The fingerprinting and blood tests reveal two rather ominous things about Jane: she’s not in any systems or databases, and her body was flooded with an experimental drug (Zeta) that can erase selective memory and, when enough is present in the body, can cause permanent amnesia. This is already a glaring issue, which seems to intensify when her most prominent tattoo, reading, “KURT WELLER FBI,” leads her to the agent in question. Weller has no memory of every meeting Jane and, when he asks, ““Do you recognize me?” he is met with the sad response, “I don’t even recognize me.

The episode continues much like any procedural crime drama would. It is revealed that Jane’s body is a pseudo treasure map, with each tattoo serving as an individual clue. Once this is realize, Jane and her new FBI guardians are able to use the markings on her body to prevent a terrorist bombing, and naturally save the day (and the bomber’s Statue of Liberty target).

While Alexander’s Jane Doe can’t recall her name, birth place, or even the smallest of personal details, when faced with certain auditory or visual triggers, she suddenly transforms into someone who is fluent in Chinese and possesses the hand-to-hand combat skills of a highly trained special ops agent (something that is further confirmed when one of her tattoos is revealed to be covering up another: that of the Navy Seal insignia).

The motivation for Jane throughout the remainder of the season will likely be her desire to determine the hows and whys of her situation. Interestingly, the close of the episode reveals, through the use of a flashback, that our mysterious Jane Doe willingly flooded her body with the Zeta. Though the audience is now privy to this information, as well as the mystery man who is keeping tabs on Jane, neither the FBI nor Jane herself are aware of her own responsibility for her current predicament- meaning they’ll have to follow those tattoo clues to figure it out.

Blindspot premieres stateside on Monday September 21st at 10/9c on NBC.

The Player: C-

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The concept of the Player revolves around a bunch of nameless and exorbitantly wealthy people who have made a game out of crimes around the world. Their combined wealth created the most high-tech of data analysis systems, referred to as “the House,” which is so advanced that it is able to accurately predict the occurrence of future crimes. Said crime predictions provide the wealthy with high-stakes events to gamble on.

While placing absurdly large bets on the probability of good trumping evil, these rich gamblers rely on a team of three to keep things interesting: the Dealer (aka Cassandra who serves as the Q of the House), the Pit Boss (Johnson, the overseer of the House) and, most importantly, the Player (Alex Kane, the ex-FBI agent with a knack for shooting people, who is bet on- or against- while given 24 hours to stop the crime of the week).

Despite the fairly intriguing overarching concept of the show, the numerous negatives seem to far outweigh the single positive.

The real problem with The Player is the fact that Kane (the show’s male lead) is entirely motivated by the murder of his ex-wife Ginny. This sub-par plot device isn’t anything new, almost all shows involving men with grey moral codes are spurned by their personal desire for vengeance, but Ginny wasn’t in the episode long enough for her death to impact anyone other than Kane himself. As an audience member, I was wholly impartial to Ginny’s death since it was essentially the equivalent of seeing a random subsidiary character get the axe at the top of a CSI episode. To have an entire show revolve around the death of someone that nobody ever really cared about to begin with seems like something that will pigeon-hole The Player within a few episodes, which is unfortunate considering the overall concept of the show would be interesting if approached in literally any other way.

Ironic that a show about gambling isn’t worth the gamble itself.

The Player premieres in the US Thursday September 24th 10/9c on NBC.

Quantico: A-

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Quantico is an interesting hybrid of conspiracy, drama, soap, and action.

The show begins with a shot of FBI agent Alex Parrish collapsed in a heap, surrounded by rubble and smoke. As she picks herself up and gets her bearings, the camera pans out and we see that she is actually standing in the ruins of a recently bombed Grand Central Terminal.

This is the present and its bleakness only grows as the episode progresses.

The entirety of Quantico’s pilot intersperses flashbacks of FBI training at the titular base in Virginia with the chaos of the present as the audience is told that one of Parrish’s former classmates was likely a traitor at the base and is the terrorist responsible for the recent attack on Grand Central. Much of episode one is spent on introducing the new wave of FBI recruits, allowing the audience to follow along as Parrish details the first week of training to the officers questioning her in the present.

By the close of the episode, Parrish is framed for the attack, forced to go on the run in order to piece together what really happened and determine which of her former classmates is the one responsible for the largest act of terrorism against the US since 9/11.

What’s most interesting about Quantico is the fact that viewers are provided the opportunity to solve the mystery of “Who is the traitor?” alongside the show’s lead. We know only as much as Parrish herself, heavily reliant on the information she is able to provide, and are just as interested in discovering who framed her.

Quantico premieres on ABC Sunday September 27th at 10/9c.

Containment: C+

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Containment is without a doubt the CW’s attempt at capitalizing on the success of shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead and FX’s The Strain.

Focused on the outbreak of an Ebola-like contagion known as H7N2, Containment opens nine months after the initial discovery of said virus. We are greeted by complete and utter chaos, buildings on fire and people screaming in the streets while trying to avoid the numerous other people that are bleeding from the mouth and seemingly prepared to spread their illness to anyone in reaching distance. The quarantined section of Atlanta is a literal breeding ground for the infection, which is spread through contact and fluids, and is a hellish nightmare that people cannot escape from.

Much of the pilot of Containment takes place on the day H7N2 is discovered as being a possible act of bio-terrorism. Patient Zero, the source of the outbreak, is discovered to be an illegal immigrant who had brought vials of the virus into the United States. The emphasis on the fact that such a contagion could cause destruction on a global scale leads to the full quarantine and lockdown- rather, lock in- of the outbreak zone. People are fenced in like caged animals and given little to no information about what is happening. The promise of, “everything will be okay,” falls flat when the final shots of the pilot cut back to the present and show what horrors are to come.

As an ensemble show, Containment couldn’t be more of a CW show if it tried, throwing together a bunch of good-looking people and putting them in horrible situations that will no doubt require them to become closer. The only issue is that, so far, none of the characters are particularly interesting to watch. The plot switches repeatedly from one person to the next and, though all characters are meant to be linked in some way, currently the show seems more disjointed than cohesive.

There’s certainly room to grow and, once the show finds it’s footing, it could easily become a guilty pleasure watch for many people. Once it passes the obligatory, “explanation and information,” phase of the plot, and delves into the actual full-scale outbreak, Containment will probably serve as a fun bit of mindless entertainment.

Containment is slated for a mid-season premiere on the CW.

About the author

Silje Falck-Pedersen