Ranking All of the Sci-Fi Pilots at SDCC 2016 Preview Night

Thursday, 21 July 2016 - 11:00AM
Comic Book TV Shows
San Diego Comic Con
Powerless
Thursday, 21 July 2016 - 11:00AM
Ranking All of the Sci-Fi Pilots at SDCC 2016 Preview Night
SDCC 2016 officially kicked off last night with the traditional annual Preview Night, in which Warner Bros screens upcoming pilots for lucky Comic Con attendees. This year was a particularly strong batch of shows, which included the "gritty" Archie Comics adaptation, Riverdale, the DC Comics workplace comedy, Powerless, alien abduction comedy People of Earth, H.G. Wells vs. Jack the Ripper time travel drama Time After Time, and the Frequency reboot. Here are our rankings of all the sci-fi pilots shown at Preview Night, although the "worst" pilot was still decent (and certainly better than last year's crop, which reached its nadir with Blindspot):

5. Time After Time



Time After Time was the weakest link, not because it was bad, but because it was all-too-familiar. It opened with a typical grisly murder of a prostitute (in an alley, no less) and didn't get too much more original from there. There was an opportunity for some social commentary about our current time, and it was somewhat poignant to see Wells (UnREAL's Freddie Stroma) express despair and disappointment at the violence, selfishness, and superficiality of our current time. But as much as I admired the points the show was making, particularly about gun control in the United States, but it often made those points too explicitly to really hit home (similar to Supergirl this time last year). 

4. Frequency



Frequency feels like a reboot no one was asking for, but against all odds, the pilot is slickly entertaining, twisty, and enjoyable. The pilot was well-acted by Peyton List (in a gender-swapped Jim Caviezel role) and Riley Smith (as the Dennis Quaid character), and the character development may not be HBO-quality, but it gets the job done. For hardcore sci-fi fans, the portrayal of the "butterfly effect" is completely incoherent, perhaps even more than usual, and the attempts at "science" are laughable, but it would have been much more surprising if its portrayal of time travel hijinks were scientifically plausible. Whether you'll like the show depends on whether you consider the "butterfly effect" inconsistencies to be bad or distractingly bad.

3. Riverdale


I'm not sure what possessed anyone to give Archie Comics a gritty reboot, of all things, but Riverdale is just as well-acted, charming, and entertaining as we've come to expect from Flarrowverse producer Greg Berlanti. Many forget that before he worked on Flarrow, he was a writer on teen soaps like Dawson's Creek, and that knack for melodrama is on full display here. The inexplicable decision to also include a murder mystery makes this show a weird hybrid of Dawson's and Twin Peaks (a vibe helped by the presence of Madchen Amick), with a cheeky, self-aware tone reminiscent of The Flash. The flashes of meta-humor help to elevate the show when it threatens to become too cartoonish, and Camila Mendes' performance as Veronica Lodge is a notable standout. Whether this will be a legitimately good show or a well-made guilty pleasure will depend on the direction it takes after the pilot, but it's definitely worth a look.

2. People of Earth



The drama pilots were all entertaining, but the comedy pilots unexpectedly knocked it out of the park. People of Earth had fewer laugh-out-loud moments than Powerless, but it was extremely well-written and irreverent, especially when it took on both corporate pretension and PC culture (the supposed alien abductees would rather become "experiencers" because it affords them "more agency," and one disgruntled experiencer explains, "Calling someone an abductee is similar to slut-shaming"). But even better, it was also surprisingly humanistic and heartwarming, finding the humanity in the cartoonish conspiracy theorists (and failing to find the humanity in the obnoxious CEO character), and emphasizing that we're all weirdos in the end.

1. Powerless


Powerless
Powerless was hands-down the biggest surprise of the night. I was skeptical about an Office-style comedy that takes place in the DC universe, but Powerless--which stars a surprisingly great Vanessa Hudgens and nerd hero Alan Tudyk--was funny, nerdy, and cohesive in its themes, illustrating the heroic nature of ordinary people more than an actual superhero narrative ever could. Most comedies take a while to really find their voice and sense of humor, but between gags about insuring people and buildings from the constant danger of falling rubble to speculation about whether Aquaman is better at oral sex because he can breathe underwater, Powerless seems to have found its niche. Especially if it gets funnier as it goes along, as most comedies do, it will be a show to look out for next year.
Science Fiction
Sci-Fi TV Shows
Comic Book TV Shows
San Diego Comic Con
Powerless

Load Comments