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Stacking the Comedy Pilots: A Pilot Inspektor Preview

Following yesterday's discussion of my personal favorites from the current crop of drama pilots up for consideration for the 2007-08 season, I'm today turning my attention to this year's comedy pilots.

I do have to say that things are looking pretty grim for comedies this year. Sure, the TV landscape is surprisingly lush at the moment with quality comedies like The Office and 30 Rock, but this year's comedy pilot scripts were, at best, sub-par. Which isn't to say that there weren't a few gems glistening among the wreckage (Area 57, pictured, wasn't one of them). So which comedy pilot scripts did I like best? Let's find out.

The Return of Jezebel James
(FOX): What can I say? I loved it. It's a return to form for Amy Sherman-Palladino, revisiting the multi-camera set-up of her days as a scribe on Roseanne, and a female-driven comedy that crackles with wit and depth as it tells the story not of an unbelievable close mother and daughter, but an estranged pair of sisters (Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose) brought together when the older, more responsible sister, Sarah (Posey), asks her impulsive sib, Coco (Ambrose) to carry a child for her. Plus, Scott Cohen turns up as Marcus, Sarah's debonair, if commitment-phobic beau. Quippy repartee, Parker Posey, and Amy Sherman-Palladino? I am so there.

The Middle (ABC): I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this script, a family comedy about a middle-class family living in Middle America. I had presumed that it would probably be a boorish According to Jim-style comedy but instead, it's a thoughtful and funny look at a lovingly eccentric family, seen through the eyes of Frankie (Ricki Lake), the Hecks' harried mother and wife , who is pulled in twenty different directions at once, when she starts a job as a car salesman. From there, she ends up walking down a deserted road in a Superwoman costume after pulling a Thelma & Louise that goes, well, a little awry. You fill in the blanks.

Back to You (fka Action News) (FOX): I'm still hoping that the title reverts back to the original Action News, which perfectly sums up the series, instead of the current title, which vaguely reminds me of I'm With Her or another generic comedy title. In any event, I thought that the script, from Steven Levitan (Just Shoot Me) and Christopher Lloyd (Frasier), crackled with comedic potential, giving us some neurotic, if fully formed, characters that I would enjoy spending one night a week with. (A review of the original audience run-through can be found here, before some eleventh hour recasting.) With a formidable cast, including the likes of Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Fred Willard, and Ty Burrell, and an interesting milieu, this is the comedy to beat this season. Taut, witty, and soulful, it leapt right off the page.

Sam I Am (ABC): This season's comedy pilots were all about quirkiness, but few were able to pull off their conceits. Not so with Sam I Am, which intriguingly blends a mystery plot with its funnies. The plot: a female psychiatrist (Christina Applegate) suffers amnesia following an accident and retains no memory of her life as an evil, embittered soul. Trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her and who she was (not a nice person as she discovers), she learns that she's cheating on her boyfriend and her parents (including Jean Smart) are in fact insane. Look for Gilmore Girls' Melissa McCarthy to pop up as a childhood friend of Samantha's and Jennifer Esposito as her current worst best friend.

Deeply Irresponsible (FOX): Could be FOX's hope for a Malcolm in the Middle replacement, about a family of overachievers disrupted by the arrival of their boozy, irresponsible grandfather (Brit actor Tom Conti), who views his youngest grandchild Brian as the only one he can save from a miserable life of drudgery. The casting of the kids (Macey Cruthird and Nathan Gamble) is crucial here, but I'm definitely tracking this one.

Zip (NBC): If you couldn't already tell, I'm more of a fan of quirky comedies rather than the middle of the road ones. This is sort of The Riches as a straight comedy, about a family of con artists, lead by get-rich-quick-scheme planning dad Trip (Rob Huebel), dreaming of the good life in Beverly Hills. It's offbeat, funny, and the characters are memorable but it might be just a little too out there for NBC to place on the fall lineup, which is a shame, as we could do with a few more intelligently written comedies out there.

Danny & Noah (aka Untitled Kohan & Mutchnick) (CBS): This was towards the bottom of my script pile so I only recently got around to reading it (after the painfulness of Cavemen and its brothers in awfulness) and was somewhat pleasantly surprised by it. Written by Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, it's about two writers (Brian Austin Green and Jay Mohr)--one gay, the other straight--who are longtime best friends attempting to write another book after a best-selling trilogy and the long-suffering assistant (Jessica Capshaw) who tries to keep them in line. It's cute without being pretentious and hopefully lacks the ability to stunt cast the guest star of the week.

And there you have it. There were a few that I tried really hard to like but just couldn't get behind (The Thick of It and Mastersons of Manhattan, for example) and others that were so bad that I couldn't get them out of my mind (Cavemen, Dash 4 Cash). I did like the script for Fugly but, sadly, just can't get behind the casting choices that the network has made.

Which comedy pilots are you excited about? And which ones are you hoping make it onto the networks' respective fall scheduled?


Anonymous said…
I do not have the opportunity to read scripts but from the descriptions, casting, etc. I think CBS's I'm In Hell could be the perfect companion of How I Met Your Mother.

The other comedy I think has potential is Up All Night. This could be the new spin on the Cheers formula that was so successful back in its day.

Comedies really come down to the writing though as the actors are only going to be able to do so much with the material that is written for them. If the writers are not making good jokes (see Joey) then the show will fall flat.
The CineManiac said…
I recently acquired the scripts for several pilots, but I'm not sure which ones were even filmed. Here's the list, which I'll get to reading this week, since school's out:
The Rich Inner Life of Penelope Cloud
Playing chicken
Cashmere Mafia
Fort Pit
The Mastersons of Manhattan
Canterbury's Law
I honestly don't know if any of these were even produced, except for Mastersons & Cashmere.
Anonymous said…
I am really looking forward to Jezebel James. I wasn't sure how I felt about the wonderfully talented Amy Sherman-Palladino turning her attention to a half hour multi-cam show but with her quick wit and this excellent cast, I don't see how it could go wrong.

I also enjoyed the script for Back to You. I think it has a lot of potential. (Although I agree that Action News is a much better title!)

Sam I Am kind of sounds like a female version of My Name is Earl but I think Christina Applegate is a good lead so it could be fun. And the rest of the cast seems great too.

I look forward to checking these out!
Anonymous said…
I, too, loved Jezebel James.

I didn't read a lot of comedy scripts I really liked. I definitely read some I didn't (Atlanta, I'm in Hell).

I thought Sam I Am was cute, but I wanted it to be better. The parents were the best part.

One that I really liked that isn't mentioned here is the Thank You For Smoking-esque Business Class. My big worry there? Two words - Horatio Sanz.
TxGowan said…
What about the remake of Manchild? Was it just a mess? I enjoyed the UK show (not a LOT, but enough to watch it) and the casting of the US version seemed interesting.
I was really hoping for the Untitled Sachs/Judah project at ABC, I love their work. However, I've heard it didn't test well.
Anonymous said…
I have high hopes for Parker Posey's work. She seems great in everything she does. I've heard good things about The Mastersons of Manhattan to.

By the way, is anyone interested in trading any of these scripts (drama included) for other scipts, tv and film? If so, maybe you can hit me with a reply (on here?) and exchange e-mail adressess, etc.
Anonymous said…
no big bang theory? it's so great - friends meets frasier! i attended the taping and loved it. i hear it tested well and have my fingers crossed that it gets picked up. i think it's a great companion for 2 1/2 men.
Anonymous said…
Anyone read the Deeply Irresponsible script?

I actually saw the grandpa/grandson tandem(played by Tom Conti and Nathan Gamble respectively)in action during a run through. Hilarious.

I know it's probably a long shot but I hope it gets picked up.
Abe Burnett said…
So I know it's really tacky of me to ask, but I'd really like to read some of the new comedy/sitcom pilots. Why? Because as an aspiring TV writer I think there's a lot I can learn from what other writers do well, or really badly. In particular I'd love to read Big Bang Theory, but I'd be overjoyed to read any of the new pilot scripts. If anyone has any of these scripts and is willing to share them with me (and thereby take some credit for nurturing my potential) you can email me at abevionas at gmail dot com. I appreciate it already.

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