Free Fall Season Online Premieres Reviewed

It was a long and boring summer for television this year, but with the fall TV schedule just around the corner, I’m starting to get excited about some of the new shows that are popping up. At the start of the summer, I thought that I would have lots of exciting new shows to check out, but with the exception of Burn Notice (which is freaking awesome), this summer’s crop of new shows was a major let down for me. Too much reality TV and not enough compelling fresh content.

Normally, the start of the Fall TV schedule is a pretty busy time for me. If I don’t catch a show from the very beginning, there is a good chance that I’ll never tune in, so I try to catch as many of the pilots as possible. I won’t end up subscribing to all the shows, but I like to check all of the new ones out, so that I can figure out which ones deserve a season pass. This year, this task got a little bit easier because a couple of the studios have been making some of their pilots available early.

Last week, NBC released free pilot downloads on Amazon’s Unbox service, for 4 of their upcoming shows. Not to be outdone, CBS decided to release an episode of the Big Bang Theory early. Over the weekend I checked out all five of the early releases and had some mixed reviews on the new shows.

The Bionic Woman – Going into the fall schedule, this was my most anticipated new show. I never saw the original series, but I love super hero storylines and after what NBC had done with Heroes, I had high hopes for this series. Dave Zatz watched the pilot and he said that he was unimpressed. My thoughts were pretty much the same. The final 15 minutes of the show had some great fight scenes, but the first half an hour included a lot of bad acting and weak dialogue. My final verdict was to still set up a season pass, but to give it a lower priority over some of the the other shows.

Chuck – I’ve always been a sucker for spy shows, so when I saw that NBC was producing a spy show for geeks, I knew that I’d want to check it out. Overall, the show held some promise, but I felt like it was trying a little too hard. The show is based around a tech guy who works for the TV equivalent of Best Buy’s Geek Squad. He somehow ends up getting caught between the NSA and the CIA when a friend sends him all of their data. He ends up getting recruited to help out both agencies and must save the day each week, because the US Government apparently doesn’t back up their data. While I liked the action scenes and the comedy/romance chemistry between the actors, at the end of the day, Chuck fell back on too many geek stereotypes for me to believe that this will survive past the first few episodes. There was more then one moment where viewers are asked to suspend reality, just so the show can set up their plot. While I like that NBC wants to appeal to the geek crowd, because most spy shows already have the geeky character providing tech support for all of the cool spy gadgets, I didn’t really think it was necessary for the leading character to be an expert on setting up home theater equipment.

Life – Before the start of the TV season, I hadn’t really heard about Life, but once NBC made the pilots free, I figured that it was worth checking out. Life is the story about a guy who spent ten years in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit. After being released, he’s reinstated in his former job as a detective and must solve crimes each week. Damien Lewis is the main actor in the show and his character is a cross between the detectives in Law and Order and Monk. He seems to have a knack for finding clues, but doesn’t have a lot of tact when it comes to talking with people. If this one hadn’t been a free preview, there’s a good chance I would have missed it, but after seeing the pilot, there’s an even better chance that I’ll miss it. There wasn’t any good chemistry in the show and Lewis ends up coming across more freaky then brilliant. While this formula has been successful for detective series in the past, it didn’t seem like enough to keep this one from being canceled after a few episodes.

Journeyman – This show was already on my list of things to check out this season, but it wasn’t a priority. The show is about a guy who gets caught into some kind of a time warp and must go back and help people correct mistakes in their past. The show has been compared to Quantum Leap, so I figured I could use it as a good fall back show, in case nothing was on. After seeing the pilot though, it’s clear that I misjudged this one. Journeyman is amazing. This is one that I will be looking forward to every week. At the end of the pilot, I literally had goosebumps. The show is a lot like Quantum Leap, but instead of being cheesy and formulaic, it’s dark and complex. I can tell that there will be a lot of mysteries revealed over the course of the season. One of the things that I really liked about the show, was that it looked at science fiction from a realistic perspective. In Quantum Leap, the audience was expected to think about time travel as normal, but in Journeyman, characters respond in the same way that your friends would respond, if you tried to tell them you were traveling through time. I liked the entire pilot to begin with, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have NBC set the series in San Francisco. This isn’t something that everyone will appreciate, but seeing some of my day to day haunts throughout the show, is a fun experience and adds something unique for Bay Area residents.

The Big Bang Theory – I saw the previews for this one and had pretty much made up my mind to miss this show. In general, CBS’ sitcoms tend to be a little too family friendly to appeal to my tastes, but when CBS offered the pilot for free through Unbox, I decided to try it out. Overall, I wouldn’t put it at the top of my season pass queue, but the show did turn out to be a lot better than I expected. The show is about a couple of ubber geeks who end up having a cute girl move in next door. I figured that the comedy would be pretty formulaic, but was impressed by how intelligent the dialogue really was. I’m not sure what direction they plan on taking the sitcom, but the characters were compelling enough to make it worthwhile to check out future shows.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the studios experiment with early releases for their shows, but this season it seems like they have really stepped up these promotional efforts. As a TV fan, I like this trend because it lets me check out new material before the start of the Fall season bonanza. Not every show is going to be a hit, but after a very slow TV summer, even a sneak peak at the new schedule is a welcome relief from the reruns and the baseball. It may not be as good as starting the entire Fall TV season two weeks earlier, but it is nice to be able to check out a few of the shows, so that I can start to make decisions on which season passes to make a priority. With even more new shows coming out and plenty of my favorites returning, I think viewers are in store for a great fall TV schedule this season.

Davis Freeberg is a technology enthusiast living in the Bay Area. He enjoys writing about movies, music, and the impact that digital technology is having on traditional media. You can read more musings at

13 thoughts on “Free Fall Season Online Premieres Reviewed”

  1. See, now I thought ‘Life’ was great. The fact that he was found not guilty, but when he went to the prison to interview a suspect, the guards still called him a convict. Turns out that even though his conviction was overturned, the guards said ” you may not have been guilty of the crime, but we know what you did to that corrections officer while you were here.” There’s some back story there…

    Plus, now that he’s rich, he drives a Bentley GT and pulls people over with it.

  2. I did like how he pulls his enemies over to give them traffic tickets, but there was something about his rich guy, I’m better than everyone attitude that really bothered me. It’s great that he has all this money and all that, but do I really need to see some halfway mentally disturb character dating women that would be way out of his league without the mansion? It just seemed really shallow to me. I’d rather see him pretend to be poor and have compelling relationships, if they want to go in that direction. If they want to make him wealthy, then they should take a page out of Batman and make him give money to charities or live really frugally even though he’s super rich. I don’t think that the show will be terrible, but the entire premise of the show seemed pretty flimsy and something that will get old after a while. It will be neat to find out more about the conspiracy that put him into jail, but I tend to prefer shows where the characters are more like real everyday people.

  3. “I tend to prefer shows where the characters are more like real everyday people.”

    That’s why I like Dexter so much.

    I didn’t get the “I’m better than everyone” vibe from him, especially when he kept repeating “I’m not impressed/in love/something or other with this car” to himself

    …and I have to agree, the super-hot female partner who has a substance abuse problem, as well as the almost-as-hot lawyer is pretty unbelievable, but it’s got Alan Arkin to balance it all out. Not emmy-worthy by any means, but I’m going to follow it until they cancel it.

  4. Agreed on Burn Notice. We love it! I’m pretty sure I caught the original mention from one of your articles on Zatz so thanks very much.

    On the others we’ll just have to see. Bionic Woman is tolerable. Won’t be missed if they cancel it though. Ditto the Big Bang Theory. Hard to judge most sitcoms from their early episodes though. 30 Rock wasn’t really that great at first for example, till they hit their stride.

    Awaiting Dexter impatiently. The new book is coming out this month too…

  5. I started watching Burn Notice for Bruce Campbell, but was surprised when I really connected with all of the characters. The whole show comes together perfectly. It’s too serious, but still not quite a comedy. My favorite part of the show is how much Sam loves beer. In almost ever scene, he’s trying to get a free one. If I ever run into Bruce Campbell in real life, I will offer to buy him a beer just in tribute.

    I haven’t seen Dexter yet, but have purposefully avoided coverage because I know that I will love it. I’ve got it in my Netflix queue right now, but right now am trying to get caught up on Lost, so I can stay current this season. There are some shows that are better to take in weekly and some to get a big dose of all at once. I’ve got a feeling that Dexter will be the type of show that I’ll want to watch all weekend.

  6. i thought Chuck was pretty funny. i’ve begun to accept the fact that pilots sucks a little in order to develop the plot. we’ll see what happens i guess…

  7. “pilots sucks a little in order to develop the plot”

    Given a network (forget which) canceled a series after one episode two years ago, they may not have the luxury of time.

  8. right, thats my point, i don’t give up on a show if i felt like the pilot wasn’t as good. example: the pilot of studio 60 wasn’t that great at all, but the next 3 episodes were good. in the end the show was canceled, then brought back due to popular demand. sorry, i wasn’t very clear the first time…

  9. Studio 360 was brought back? I thought it was dead. Somewhat deservedly really, even though I thought there were some good things about it (and even thought I l-o-v-e-d SportsNight).

    Well, I watched both Journeyman and Life. I thought Journeyman was okay, and certainly the ending paid off. Have it set up as a season pass, we’ll see how it goes. That thing between his eyes when he furrows his brow really bugs me though. Dude, five minutes in the doctors office…

    I like Life very much. No, the hot women didn’t really bother me. The character was interesting, certainly different from anything we’ve seen. I’ll be watching…

  10. Studio 60 came back for a few episodes to close out the season before it was canceled for good.

    And man, I loved SportsNight too. Do you remember the episode that ended with Casey saying, “You’re wearing my shirt.”? Best payoff line I think I’ve ever seen in a TV show.

  11. Glenn,
    Let’s get something straight– I never said the hot women bothered me, just commenting on Davis’ “real people” reference. Hell, make Alan Arkin a hot woman and now you’ve got a show! j/k.

    Loved SportsNight too, and I’m not that into sports. Whenever I (begrudgingly) watch Desperate Houswives with my wife, all I can think about is “hey, that’s the woman from SN”

  12. I really enjoyed this summers TV. Since you didn’t I guess I’ll form my own opinions about fall tv too.

    I thought this summer was one of the best ever. Of the top of my head:
    new show: Burn Notice, Damages,

    Returning shows: 4400, dead zone, psych, eureka, monk

    Burn offs – the nine, standoff, drive (some burnoffs were online only but I”m counting it)

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