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upfronts 2014

Upfronts 2014: Seitz’s Snap Judgments on Fox’s New Shows

Vulture's TV critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, will be watching and evaluating the early clips and concepts of each of the new shows unveiled at this year's upfronts. Here are his thoughts on FOX's shows.

Backstrom
The gist: Rainn Wilson plays a police detective whose considerable gifts are obscured by his hard-drinking, slobbish, flaky ways.
Gut reaction: There are like, ten of these a year. Wilson's brilliant, and we'll always take a bit of comedy with our homicide investigations, but this one's on the wait-and-see list. 

Empire
The gist: Terrence Howard plays the dying patriarch of a music empire whose fortune was founded on drugs. The press materials make it sound like a hip-hop King Lear by way of The Godfather. Lee Daniels (Precious, The Butler) executive-produces.
Gut reaction: I'm in. Could be great, could be okay, could be terrible, but I'm in. Totally, completely in.

Gotham
The gist: Origins of all the supervillains of Gotham City, plus Bruce Wayne/Batman, with future police commissioner Jim Gordon serving as the story's anchor.
Gut reaction: Yes, indeed, the two-minute trailer that you've probably seen already is, in fact, exciting. But it seems awfully dependent on gimmicks that trailer editors use when they've got nothing else to show you: flash-cuts of action, glimpses of characters who don't say anything, hypnotically repetitious music with periodic Inception button noises to artificially inflate the tension. Best-case scenario: Your interest is sustained by strong writing and a great cast (including Jada Pinkett Smith, Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee, and Benjamin McKenzie of Southland, who's got a Christopher Reeve–like mix of intensity and decency) even as the production values decline over time (as they almost always do on network fantasies). Worst case scenario: It's a self-serious version of "At Midnight I Will Kill George Lucas With a Shovel," Patton Oswalt's routine about the Star Wars prequels, which includes the line, "I don't really care about him as a little kid, at all, at all." 

Gracepoint
The gist: An Americanized remake of the small-town murder mystery Broadchurch, about the police investigation of a seeming accident that may have been a homicide, and its effect on the community.
Gut reaction: I'm on board with the "Why do we need a remake of a show that was great already, and in English?" reaction, though of course I'll allow that this could pleasantly surprise me. The cast is great, and it's nice to see Anna Gunn in an active lead role after playing the fly in the ointment on five seasons of Breaking Bad. Plus: Nick Nolte growling, as is his way.

Hieroglyph
The gist: From the screenwriter of Clash of the Titans and Pacific Rim comes this...wait, where are you going?
Gut reaction: I've watched the trailer four times and I still can't tell what the show is about, except that it's set in somebody's fantasy of ancient Egypt and revolves around the theft of a "Book of Thresholds" that unleashes a powerful supernatural force, and that it seems kinda vampire-ish, or demon-y, or something. They clearly spent a ton of money on it, though the flashes of sex instantly beg the question of whether this series mightn't have been better served on pay cable.

The Last Man on Earth
The gist: Will Forte plays the title character, a former bank employee who finds himself completely alone, with the entire planet to himself.
Gut reaction: Easily the most unusual concept and trailer I've seen for a fall 2014 show, this also strikes me as the hardest concept to sustain. It's the first ten minutes of 28 Days Later, or an urban version of the island scenes in Cast Away. But I'm looking forward to it for that very reason. It's as if Forte is betting that he's an inventive enough actor to hold our attention once a week all by his lonesome. It's hard not to be intrigued by that level of confidence.

Mulaney
The gist: John Mulaney plays a stand-up comedian. Martin Short is his boss.
Gut reaction: Fox is hard-selling this as the next Seinfeld. Those are mighty big shoes to fill, and the material in this trailer doesn't exactly set off the genius klaxon. I'll watch Martin Short in anything, though.

Utopia
The gist: In this English-language remake of an unscripted international hit, 15 contestants converge in the wilderness for one year to build their own society from scratch, devising economic and political systems along with all the other expected building blocks.
Gut reaction: Can't wait.

Wayward Pines
The gist: A Secret Service agent spends time in Wayward Pines, Idaho, in search of a couple of federal agents who went missing. Weirdness ensues.
Gut reaction: The very presence of the word pines in the title would scream "Twin Peaks rip-off" even if the trailer didn't show star Matt Dillon encountering all manner of David Lynchian eccentrics, along with other visual tells (extreme close-ups of body parts, empty hallways stretching into the distance). That M. Night Shyamalan is executive-producing doesn't fill one with confidence; quality-wise, will this be closer to The Sixth Sense or The Happening? On the plus side: It's a ten-episode miniseries, and the cast is staggeringly accomplished: Melissa Leo, Carla Gugino, Terrence Howard, Toby Jones, and Juliette Lewis co-star.

Photo: FOX