[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show:"Us and Them" (Network)
Airs:Midseason TBD
The Pitch: "It's 'Gavin & Stacey' only it isn't written by the actors playing the boorish besties, so it's probably going to be even more about the cute kids in love."
Quick Response: FOX's midseason comedy "Us & Them" is "Cute!" with a capital "c" and an exclamation point. With Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel, it has a pair of leads who are utterly winsome and adorable and look pretty together and have a cuddly chemistry if not any heat. Both Ritter and Bledel are capable of being funny under the right circumstances -- Rory Gilmore's "funny window" is smaller than his, but it's not non-existent -- but the pilot has little desire to make them funny, which is perfectly fine. Let the attractive kids in the middle be likable and worth rooting for as a couple and then you can let the veterans and the wacky people rounding out the cast bring the humor. The formula, at least for the pilot, works better in theory than in practice. And I'm OK with that. As I'll always say, pilots are about establishing the universe and I know with 100 percent certainty that Kurt Fuller, Jane Kaczmarek, Michael Ian Black and Kerri Kenney are capable of being funny, even if they're all mostly going through the motions in this first installment, which is based heavily, but I don't think line-for-line, on the "Gavin & Stacey" pilot. Once the writers can tailor material for those four supporting players, the chuckles ought to follow, rather than just letting them parrot lines already said by other actors in a comedy most Americans probably haven't seen. So I've got total faith there, but I'm not convinced yet on Dustin Ybarra and Ashlie Atkinson, who are playing the roles originated by "Gavin & Stacey" creators Ruth Jones and James Corden and they're playing them very similarly to the way Jones and Corden played them. I think there might have been a school of strategy wherein the American Gavin and Stacey were given a very different set of strange, wacky, totally incompatible friends, who served the same purpose in the narrative but didn't have to be identical to their predecessors. Those are Jones and Corden's characters and those characters were written by two actors who knew what they wanted to do and what they could do. Ybarra and Atkinson are left trying really, really hard and watching them becomes exhausting rather than funny. I hope American scribes begin to get a sense of what Ybarra and Atkinson do that's different and write to that, even if the plot leads the characters to the same place. Til I see them do some stuff that was meant for them, I don't want to pass any real judgment, because they're doing a performance of a performance here. This was, incidentally, yet another pilot that didn't need an in medias res structure. I think the feeling must have been that the story was too straight-forward without it, but I didn't feel like I really got very much when I reached the end and learned how the goofiness from the beginning was set in motion. But the journey in the middle was totally pleasant.
Desire To Watch Again: FOX has a handful of the likable-not-funny pilots that are this year's gold standard and the network could make a comedy block with "Us & Them," "Surviving Jack" and "Enlisted" (probably with "New Girl") and that would be a two hour comedy block that I'd find largely agreeable. The problem with almost all of these shows -- plus ABC entries like "Trophy Wife" and "Back in the Game" and NBC's "About a Boy" -- is that while I'd definitely watch all of them in the right slots, they maybe don't generate the passion required to not just entertain viewers, but to FORCE them to tune in every week. And if you can't do that, sometimes you're just left with "Bent" or "Goodwin Games." But I'd watch "Us & Them" again. Sure.

 

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All of my 2010 Take Me To The Pilots Entries