Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.
Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
DO NOT DISTURB (FOX)
(written by Abraham Higginbotham; directed by Jason Bateman; TRT: 21:20)
The network's description: "DO NOT DISTURB (working title) (Wednesdays, 9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT): DO NOT DISTURB (working title) is a hilarious workplace comedy set at one of New York City's hottest and hippest hotels: The Inn. Named one of the Big Apple's "10 Best Places to Stay," The Inn is just that the "in" place to be, with its chic dcor, stylish staff and celebrity clientele. Behind the scenes, however, the upstairs/downstairs dynamic tells quite a different story. The hotel's top-notch reputation and sophisticated look is due in large part to NEAL (Jerry O'Connell, "Crossing Jordan") at least in his opinion. Although The Inn's charismatic owner R.J. (guest star Robert Wagner) takes all the credit, Neal is the egotistical, hyper-stylish, detail-oriented general manager who will do whatever it takes to keep the hotel and its employees up to his standards. RHONDA (Niecy Nash, "Reno 911!") is the head of Human Resources who also keeps Neal's demands in check. She's brash, fabulous and brutally honest and runs the HR department from her bullpen downstairs with a set of rules that are all her own. Rhonda does her best to keep the back of the house in line and the front of the house out of trouble. At the front desk handling check-in while wearing 6-inch Manolos is NICOLE (Molly Stanton, "Twins"), an aging model who is svelte, cynical and slightly starving. Fresh from Nebraska is JASON (Brando Eaton, "Zoey 101"), the nave bellman who would prefer to work behind-the-scenes, but was hired to show off his chiseled face and perfect pecs at the front of the hotel. The downstairs staff includes MOLLY (Jolene Purdy, "Donnie Darko"), a reservations clerk who dreams of pop-singer stardom as much as she craves to be part of the action upstairs; and LARRY (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, "The Class"), the head of housekeeping who spends more time on the phone cleaning up his messes at home than he does cleaning up after the guests upstairs."
What did they leave out: "Arrested Development" alum Jason Bateman helmed the pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: The employees at The Inn, New York's hippest new hotel, are figuratively (and literally thanks to the show's large set) divided into two classes - the upstairs workers, headed by the fussy general manager Neal (Jerry O'Connell); and the downstairs workers, headed by the sassy human resources manager Rhonda (Niecy Nash). Each day then is a constant struggle between the two as Neal is always imposing new stunts to keep the hotel on the cutting edge (in the pilot's case, making all the upstairs workers wear ridiculously high heels) while Rhonda is always left to clean up the fallout of said tactics (in the pilot's case, lots of broken ankles) or as Neal puts it, "breastfeed the Hobbits downstairs." Caught in between them are the hotel's staff - Jason (Brando Eaton), the Opie-ish bellhop who longs to work downstairs where people are actually nice; Molly (Jolene Purdy), the full-figured reservations clerk who conversely hopes to get promoted upstairs where her singing talents can get discovered; Larry (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), the gossipy facilities manager; and Nicole (Molly Stanton), the bitchy front desk candy who considers a lollipop lunch. Today however the gang is particularly high strung as owner R.J. (Robert Wagner) is coming in to be interviewed by the Times for a feature about the Big Apple's "10 Best Places to Stay." And everything appears to be going smoothly, that is until Molly's father decides to file a lawsuit over Neal's decision to not let her work upstairs due to her plus size. R.J. orders them to make it go away or both their heads will roll. Neal then decides to let Molly have the job, with the caveat that he'll fire her before she actually lays a foot upstairs. This not surprisingly doesn't sit well with Rhonda and look out, because as she notes, you "don't make a black woman take off her earrings."
What works: To its credit, the show quickly establishes a decent (albeit well-worn) central conflict - that of your stereotypical uppity white guy versus the prototypical sassy black woman - something that after sitting through a string of busted pilots, you begin to appreciate. And while there are a few decent laughs (such as Rhonda's story about an encounter with a half-naked homeless man)...
What doesn't: ...it's ultimately a forgettable 20 or so minutes. And not surprisingly, you can set your watch to how long it takes for the show to fall back on tired cliches like the sassy black woman shaking her head or the uppity white guy clipping his nose hairs. (Anyone want to wager whether the phrase "skinny bitch" comes up at all?) In any case, longtime readers probably know I'm a sucker for multi-camera shows - there's a "putting on a show" quality to them that's still unique to its genre to this day. And with the format currently on the ropes, I'm more than willing to give newcomers the benefit of the doubt (i.e. read the past section) and try not to go in with the expectation it has to save the genre. But that being said, you've got to give us something to root for folks. And even though its network competition is serial killers, medical tomfoolery and an aging game show...
The bottom line: ...it's still a hard sell to get me to watch, let alone recommend, what's being screened here.