Roush Review: ‘Blindspot’, ‘Life in Pieces’, and ‘Minority Report’ Are Desperately Seeking Originality
Is Blindspot the next Blacklist? Is Life in Pieces the next Modern Family? Is Minority Report the next…you guessed it, Minority Report? The first night of the official new TV season provides a sobering preview of much of what’s to come in the weeks ahead: a rollout of derivative network wannabes that too often feel like anything and everything we’ve seen before.
Blindspot: The Next Blacklist?
If originality is too much to hope for, at least in some cases we can settle for solid execution, putting a tempting glaze on what might otherwise look like leftover fast food. So it is with the night’s most promising newbie, Blindspot, which NBC is positioning and heavily promoting as the successor to The Blacklist (which may have fallen off many a viewer’s radar after moving to Thursdays).
Its concept couldn’t be higher: A disoriented Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) is discovered stuffed in a bag in Times Square, emerging naked and covered completely in tattoos, the largest one pointing her toward FBI agent Kurt Weller (Strike Back‘s Sullivan Stapleton), who joins her to try to decode the mysteries and criminal conspiracies hidden within the other symbols on her body. Alexander is terrific at conveying Jane’s panic and confusion, which only escalates when she’s put in danger and suddenly exhibits mad wonder-woman combat skills. “How do I know how to do all of this?” wonders this heroine with a Jane Bourne identity, shaking after each violent encounter.
The “Why me?” and “Who is this woman?” puzzles, enhanced by fleeting shock-cut flashbacks into her past, will likely fuel Blindspot for quite some time, much as the secrets within the Red-and-Liz relationship have kept Blacklist percolating, though frustrating just as many with the endless tease. How long Blindspot can sustain this is anyone’s guess, but there’s good initial chemistry between Alexander and the gruff Stapleton, and the action sequences pack a jolt, including a memorably harrowing fight inside the Statue of Liberty in the pilot episode.
Blindspot‘s greatest battle, though, may be in luring the audience away from two long-established fan favorites in the 10/9c time period: ABC’s Castle (season 8) and CBS’s NCIS: LA (season 7), both starting strong with episodes in which key characters—newly installed Capt. Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) in Castle, Callen (Chris O’Donnell) in LA—go off the grid in dangerous missions. The Castle season opener, first of a two-parter, is especially enjoyable, as P.I. Castle (Nathan Fillion) contends with a missing wife, a daughter (Molly Quinn) who unbeknownst to him has become his best operative, and dastardly villains who, in a squirm-inducing set piece, torment the captive Castle with a bag full of scary spiders.
Even Blindspot‘s ninja goddess might run screaming from that creepy-crawly dilemma.
Blindspot, premieres Monday, Sept. 21, 10/9c, on NBC
Life in Pieces: Another Modern Family
Who knew James Brolin could be this funny? That’s the most delightful takeaway from the first episode of the smartly cast multigenerational family comedy Life in Pieces, which has the great fortune of airing behind the mega-hit The Big Bang Theory (once again displaced to Mondays while the NFL takes over CBS’s Thursday until late October). This proximity could, of course, be a mixed blessing if Life loses too much of Big Bang‘s lead-in, but the show’s biggest problem is one of over-familiarity.
Suggesting that if you’ve seen one modern family you may have seen them all, Pieces hews so close to the Modern Family formula—the main difference being that it threads together four disparate subplots each week instead of three—that it’s hard to feel any sense of discovery. This becomes even more apparent when the first episode ends with the kind of groaning platitude Modern Family once overused: “Life is about these moments, these pieces of time (Get it? Life in Pieces), these slices of life that flash by but they stay in your heart forever.” Maybe now that they’ve dispensed with that sentiment in the pilot, we can all move on.
RELATED: Video: The Cast of Life in Pieces
There’s no questioning the ability of Pieces‘ terrific ensemble, led by Brolin as John, the adorably daffy and jovial patriarch who, in the best storyline, stages his own 70th birthday celebration as a funeral. Oscar winner Dianne Wiest is every bit his match as Joan, his devoted but exasperated wife, and there are moments between them when you might wish CBS had aimed for an homage to Parenthood instead.
As their grown kids, each neurotic and/or needy in different ways, Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt (Heather), Fargo‘s Colin Hanks (Greg) and The Newsroom‘s Thomas Sadoski (Matt) are more than capable of earning our affections and sympathies, even when dealing with tried-and-true situations like taking the family on a college-tour road trip or dating while living in Mom and Dad’s house. The writing and humor can be lively and sophisticated—until you get to the thankless storyline involving Greg’s wife Jen (Zoe Lister-Jones), whose first-child labor pains leads to poop and vagina jokes of unexpected crudeness. (Next week, Jen brings in breastfeeding consultants, and I’m not sure I want to go to there.)
Like with any series, some pieces work better than others. But as a whole, Life in Pieces just doesn’t add up to anything new or terribly special.
Life in Pieces, premieres Monday, Sept. 21, 8:30/7:30c, on CBS
Minority Report: Future Schlock
Every so often, you see a TV show and think it might have worked better as a movie. And then there’s the dreary Minority Report, based on the Steven Spielberg film from 13 years ago, where you can’t help thinking it was better off in its original medium. This is the one about “precogs,” psychic genetic mutants whose tortured visions of the future allow them to see and solve crimes before they occur. In this sequel, set in 2065, the Pre-crime unit has been toast for a decade, but precog twins Dash (bland Stark Sands) and Arthur (smug Nick Zano) have secretly returned to the city, with Dash trying to get back in the game by enlisting the help of skeptical detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good), who’s as tough as she is beautiful. Problem is, Dash can’t do it alone, needing his self-absorbed brother to complete his visions, and guess who’s not interested.
“You think you can fix the past by meddling with the future?” nags their sister Agatha (Laura Regan), seen as a hologram from exile, begging Dash to return home. “The future you cannot see is your own,” she warns.
I’m afraid I can see Minority Report‘s future if things don’t get more compelling soon. This type of futuristic procedural was more sharply and wittily done in Fox’s quick-fade android drama Almost Human, which barely eked out 13 weeks in 2013-14. Report could use a hero as endearing as Human‘s evolved robot Dorian (Michael Ealy). While Good is perfectly spunky as Det. Vega, Sands’ deer-in-the-headlights take on Dash is woefully colorless. The show’s advanced tech is more memorable than any of the characters, and the cops spend so much time in the precinct waving their arms to bring up on-screen info it feels like Tinder forensics. In which case, I’d be swiping left for “Pass.”
Minority Report, premieres Monday, Sept. 21, 9/8c, on Fox
Questions? Ask Critic Matt Roush!
TV critic (and occasional TV therapist) Matt Roush answers viewer questions and concerns in his Ask Matt column each week. Wondering about plots, characters and twists on your fave shows? Submit your query to Matt via the form below: