Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: The Crown
The Show: The Crown (Netflix, all episodes available November 4)
The Premise: Beginning in 1947, just before the wedding of Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (Claire Foy) to Prince Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith), The Crown depicts the reign of soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth II, currently the world’s oldest living monarch and the longest reining monarch in British history. Her father, King George VI (Jared Harris) is in ill health, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) has just been made Prime Minister a second time, and the world is still recovering from World War II. As with many previous stories focused on the time of Elizabeth II, the series is written entirely by Peter Morgan (The Queen), with at least the first episode directed by Stephen Daldry (The Audience).
WIRED Pilot Program: The Crown
Compelling female leader finding her footing amongst mostly male politicians.
Not enough Elizabeth; lots of men pissed off they don’t have a woman’s power.
The Pilot Program Take: Netflix is playing the long game with The Crown, which will eventually span six seasons. That means the first episode feels a lot like a prologue to the actual story it means to tell. There’s a much bigger emphasis on the end of George VI’s life, his fears for his daughter, and the political unrest at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s. But there are hints of the initial difficulties Elizabeth II will face once she wears the crown. Philip seems stifled by his stunted career as a naval officer, and somewhat unable to cope with making renovation decisions in the family home and taking care of the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
But two scenes near the end of the first chapter help solidify Morgan’s typically steady hand when peeling back layers of privacy to give a glimpse at Elizabeth’s life. The first is the best in the entire episode, with George and Elizabeth in the king’s office, just spending time together. George knows his advisors place the news they don’t want him to read at the bottom of a giant stack of files, so he swiftly advises her to immediately flip a pile over to get to the important stuff—you know, just in case she ever needs to contend with skilled political veterans trying to take advantage of her at the beginning of her reign.
The second is slightly more disappointing, since it’s about two men negotiating the boundaries of their powers. George and Philip go out hunting together, and the king impresses upon his son-in-law that his career and ambitions are all superfluous to being Elizabeth’s husband. (“She is the job. She is the essence of your duty.”) It encapsulates the nationalism of this entire series and its celebration of an unelected, impossibly wealthy figure. Yet it’s still removed from Elizabeth herself, and for a show named after the object that will give the future queen her title and power, it’d be nice to see more of the person who has to bear its weight.
The Verdict: In a welcome twist, The Crown is less of a bombastic, sweeping romance and more of a clear-eyed depiction of Elizabeth’s rise from young monarch to fiercely respected popular figure. To do that, however, the show needs to cover large swaths of time from installment to installment, which doesn’t leave much time to linger on any one particular character, Elizabeth included. And since there’s such a wide-ranging cast, from the royal family to political leaders to the lower-ranking officials surrounding them, it’s hard not to feel shortchanged in the early goings.
TL;DR Keep watching past the first episode. You’ll get to see more of Claire Foy’s performance as Queen Elizabeth—and you’ll get to see if you’re enough of an Anglophile to commit to the full series.
Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: People Of Earth
The Show: People Of Earth (Mondays, TBS)
The Premise: After a car accident, reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) travels to the rural town of Beacon, New York to write an article on a support group for victims of alien abduction. (They prefer the term “experiencers,” since it provides more agency.) His reporting leads him to realize that his memory of his accident may not be accurate—but instead a cover-up for his own experience with extra-terrestrial species.
The Pilot Program Take: Wyatt Cenac is a fantastic comedian who hasn’t had a comfortable landing spot since he left The Daily Show in 2012. But he’s got acting chops—he was great in Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ 2008 movie Medicine For Melancholy—and nabbing the lead in a show with executive producers Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels (The Office) is the perfect opportunity for more national exposure. He can convey the laid-back but serious vibe of an investigative journalist taken off his regular beat, while also being empathetic to the people in an alien abduction support group, and even freaking out a little bit when he finds out what’s been going on with his own memories.
WIRED Pilot Program: People Of Earth
Wyatt Cenac, deadpan and vulgar aliens
Slow-moving, low joke density for a show with only 10 episodes
People Of Earth is a 10-episode single-camera comedy that clearly has some more story to tease out about the intentions of the various aliens—Reptilians, Grays, and Whites—so it doesn’t reveal too much during the pilot. But the supporting cast around Ozzie is worthy of further exploration over the course of the entire season. Ozzie’s hazily successful media boss Jonathan (Michael Cassidy) drives an elaborate standing desk and acts way too weird about keeping Ozzie on the alien story. Gina Morrison (Ana Gasteyer) and Gerry Johnson (Luka Jones) prompt Ozzie to reveal his experience with aliens. Father Doug (Oscar Nunez), a the priest whose church provides a meeting space for the support group, bristles at the possibility of blowback from the rest of the community. Richard Shenk (Brian Huskey) searches for his missing wife and is a little patronizing about his theories of alien hierarchies.
The Verdict While the pilot doesn’t accomplish much with the story except revealing Ozzie’s hidden experience and the existence of hidden aliens, it does sketch out a way for him to stay in Beacon, get to know the rest of the support group, and open up more possibilities for science-fiction comedy. There’s a second episode airing right after the first on Halloween night, and it gives a better picture of how the show will progress incrementally while indulging talented comedic performers.
TL;DR Come for Wyatt Cenac, stay for the tight-knit, small-town bickering over the existence of aliens.
Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Good Girls Revolt.
The Show: Good Girls Revolt (Streaming now on Amazon)
The Premise: It’s December 1969, and the staffers at News of the Week—a big-audience, big-credibility, big-money national magazine—are scrambling to cover Altamont, one of the last major headline-grabbing events of the decade. But an even bigger story seems to be unfolding in the magazine’s offices, where the Week‘s underappreciated female researchers are learning that the male colleagues who take their work for granted (while also often taking all the credit) could be guilty of more than just sexism—they might also be breaking the law.
The Pilot Program Take: Normally, Pilot Program adheres to a strict guideline of only reviewing a new series’ first installment. But since the pilot of Good Girls Revolt technically debuted last fall—when it was part of Amazon’s you-rate-it, we-make-it voting program—we decided to check out the first two installments, just to get a better sense of where the show was headed. And it’s a good thing we did, because Revolt makes some much-needed improvements between episodes one and two, turning a crucial corner from a sixties-slavish reference-o-‘rama to a noticeably more invigorated workplace drama.
WIRED Pilot Program: Good Girls Revolt
Not that Revolt‘s core elements needed too much tinkering. The set-up is irresistible: Based on Lynn Povich’s 2012 book The Good Girls Revolt, the series is a fictionalized account of a 1970 anti-discrimination suit filed against Newsweek by nearly 50 of its female employees—a crucial white-collar uprising, not to mention a timely one. And the cast’s central trio is swell: Patti (Genevieve Angelson), an aspiring rabble-rouser with flower-power leanings; Jane (Anna Camp), the well-heeled scoop-seeker; and Cindy (Erin Drake), a wannabe novelist who’s saddled with a dinky husband. Real-life lawyer-activist Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant) is only glimpsed briefly in the first two installments; Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) also pops in sporadically, often with just enough time to steal the best lines.
So it’s a drag when the first episode of Revolt—which begins as news of the Altamont fiasco hits the East Coast—soon gets stuck in its own sixties daydream, as the talk in the News of the Week newsroom quickly becomes an over-chatty haze of pointlessly invoked Nixon-era flashpoints. Plaster Casters! Ken Kesey! Easy Rider! They’re all crammed into the conversations here, often with the graceless speed of a “We Didn’t Start the Fire” verse, and almost always at the expense of the characters, who deserve to be defined as a bit deeper than Cool Girl Who Really Digs Santana or Old Square Who Doesn’t Get Iron Butterfly. It’s impossible for a show set in the past to avoid referencing it, of course, but Revolt‘s pilot spends way too much energy rehashing the decade, and not enough time inhabiting it.
By the second episode, though, things are progressing, both in terms of history and narrative: The mystery of what went down at Altamont—which felt like a diversionary tactic in the pilot—is now in the rearview, allowing the women of Good Girls to focus instead on the crummy hierarchy that rules News of the Week: The female staffers are mere “researchers” who make the calls and do much of the heavy lifting, and yet are never granted the bylines so easily handed over to their male colleagues. It’s a backwards attitude that’s reflected in the relationships between Patti, Cindy, and Jane, all of whom are in romances with, or in awe of, men who are clinging to the the traditions of the past (thankfully, one of these dreary dudes gets dumped by the end of episode two—a wise choice not just for the dumper, but for the showrunners, too). When the three of them start taking steps, even small ones, to declare their independence, the juicy cultural conflicts at the heart of the show begin to rev up—and Good Girls starts to feel close-to-great.
The Verdict: Revolt has a worthy cast, a promising premise, and a unique vantage point with which to view the struggles of the ’00s through the lens of the past. It just needs to keep its nostalgia-tripping in check and make sure its characters—and its storytelling—maintain a forward momentum.
TL;DR: Hey, we didn’t mention Mad Men even once in our entire review!
Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Eyewitness.
The Show: Eyewitness (Sundays, USA)
The Premise: A hush-hush late-night tryst between two teenage boys in rural New York is interrupted by a brutal triple-homicide—leaving a killer on the loose, and convincing the two young eyewitnesses that, more than ever, they need to keep their relationship a secret. But if they want to keep a low profile, they’ll have to outwit Helen Torrance (Julianne Nicholson), a local sheriff who’s eager for a shot at redemption, and who just happens to be the foster mom of one of the kids.
The Pilot Program Take: Based on the hit Norwegian series Øyevitne, this stark bit of rural noir—are we pronouncing that right?—is trying to accomplish a lot in its first episode, shifting from family drama to detective thriller to high-school soap and back again. Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight) moves briskly through each new set-up, but even she can’t distract from Eyewitness’ quicksand-like exposition, which overwhelms the story and overburdens the actors, who are forced to constantly drop small bits of backstory into even the most casual conversation. Slow your roll, Eyewitness! We’re in the boonies! Isn’t it supposed to be more mellow up here?
WIRED Pilot Program: Eyewitness
She’s the sheriff.
She’s the Sheriff.
Still, when Eyewitness finds time to relax, small rewards abound: The tortured dalliance between Lukas (James Paxton) and Philip (Tyler Young)—one’s comfortable with his sexuality, while the other fears what his father will think—is portrayed with the appropriate mix of teen-romance awkwardness and small-town paranoia. And Boardwalk Empire’s Nicholson plays her dedicated but clearly ready-for-some-excitement sheriff with a calibrated, flint-eyed coolness that makes her briefly glimpsed flashes of doubt all the more revealing. Alas, Helen spends a good portion of the pilot playing catch-up to a murderer whose identity we already know; if Eyewitness can move past its procedural aspects, and go deeper on the ripple effects of the crimes at hand, it could be something to behold.
The Verdict: The Eyewitness pilot has strong performances and a suitably mysterious small-town setting, but it’s often weighed down by unnaturally hand-holdy dialogue and an unwieldy amount of competing story-lines.
TL;DR: Eyewitness is worth a trip upstate–but we’re not quite sure we want to move in just yet.
Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Berlin Station.
The Show: Berlin Station (Sundays, Epix)
The Premise: When a series of embarrassing US secrets are revealed by a mysterious international hacker known only as Thomas Shaw—a name that truly Styx in your head—the CIA dispatches agent Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) to its Berlin outpost, where he’s tasked with tracking down the source of the leaks. But it turns out Miller’s new colleagues are keeping a few secrets of their own.
The Pilot Program Take: I have several weird wheelhouses, including—but not limited to—spy flicks, post-Cold War German culture, and pretty much anything starring Richard Jenkins. So I’m clearly the target audience for Berlin Station, whose pilot lacks the momentum-maxing oomph and intrigue of, say, The Americans, but makes up for it with an ace supporting cast, including Jenkins, Rhys Ifans, and Battlestar Galactica’s Michelle Forbes. They’re all part of the tense, troubled Berlin office that’s slowly coming undone—and not just because of Shaw’s illegally obtained CIA revelations: Jenkins’ character, a close-to-retirement lifer, is carrying on an affair with his secretary, while Ifans’ hard-partying field agent has gotten way too close to one of his sources. Even if Miller doesn’t succeed in finding the mole, there’s a good chance this crew will likely self-destruct.
WIRED Pilot Program: Berlin Station
Needs more tinkering and tailoring.
So why isn’t the first episode of Berlin Station more fun? Part of the problem is Miller, the show’s ostensible anchor; as played by Armitage, he’s so square-jawed and square-intentioned, he almost fades into the dark German night. And the show’s titular spook-center can feel overly crowded at times, full of interchangeably urgent-seeming employees—all of which makes it hard to tell which of them deserve our focus.
Thankfully, Berlin Station comes alive when it plunges into its namesake city, what with its dour safe-houses, rooftop-rendezvous spots, and stark interrogation rooms. The show’s best moments are the ones that get the agents out of the office and into the tempting world around them, whether it’s Ifans’ oily agent unwinding on a moonlit party boat, or Jenkins’ bureaucrat trying to tactfully, matter-of-factly negotiate with his German counterpart over a meal. Berlin Station has already found the perfect setting for its damaged characters; the real mystery is whether or not the show can corral and connect its’ players various moral crises into something bigger than just a bunch of run-of-the-mill spy-jinks.
The Verdict: Berlin Station has many of the pieces and performances it needs to be a solid thriller, but it could use a lot more tinkering and tailoring.
TL; DR: Gut enough for now.