Here we go again! We're back with more Pilot Buzz and this time around we're looking at everyone's favorite subscription station, the Home Box Office itself, HBO. Despite ever-increasing competition each and every year, HBO has managed to retain its elite status as purveyor of the finest in television comedy and drama, as both their ratings and DVD/BluRay sales of their series can attest. This season we have an interesting slate of pilots coming out of HBO, which we've broken down for you below.
Last time on Pilot Buzz we took a look at the projects coming from Bravo and FX; before that we made our way through ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and The CW. Here's how it works: I’ll be categorizing each network’s upcoming pilots under three headings: “Eagerly Anticipating,” “Cautiously Optimistic” and “Not Expecting Much.” After that, each of you weigh in and let us know in the comments if you agree with my assessment of the buzz for each project, or if you think I'm way off base. We're at the speculation-stage with these pilots, but certain casts and writers give us reason to be very excited for what is to come!
Now, there is a special project on the HBO slate that doesn't really fit into our schema, as 'True Detective' has received a straight-to-series order, bypassing the pilot process altogether. Written by Nic Pizzolatto, 'True Detective' stars an all-star cast of Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Dunn and Alexandra Daddario. McConaughey and Harrelson are a dream-team and they play a pair of detectives in Louisiana; the twist is, the plot of 'True Detective' takes place over a seventeen-year period. The investigation of a bizarre murder in 1995 is framed and interlaced with testimony from the detectives in 2012, when the case is reopened. I'm excited for 'True Detective' and wanted to make mention of the upcoming HBO series, even if it doesn't quite fit the focus of Pilot Buzz.
Now onto the pilots! We begin with a comedy pilot in our "Eagerly Anticipating" category: 'Silicon Valley' by writer and director Mike Judge.
Everything about 'Silicon Valley' seems primed for success, beginning with the creator behind the project: Judge is famous for creating the animated series 'Beavis & Butt-Head' as well as the long-living hit 'King of the Hill,' however he's also the man behind the hit feature films 'Office Space,' 'Idiocracy' and 'Extract.' Judge's idiosyncratic comedy works best in a series format, as 'King of the Hill' proved: when the series began, many viewers didn't quite know what to make of the odd, laid-back humor from the family from Texas, however once the tone was established the series garnered a cult following that kept it on the air for several years. Judge is a writer that knows how to use a subtle touch and I expect no less in 'Silicon Valley.'
Judge is joined by two other writers on this pilot: John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, who both worked with Judge on 'King of the Hill.' Krinsky also wrote the screenplay for the Will Ferrell comedy 'Blades of Glory.' This time around, the trio of writers have set their sights on the "gold-rush" boom of Silicon Valley. As the Logline states, "Set in the high-tech gold rush of modern Silicon Valley, where the people most qualified to succeed are the least capable of handling success."
There is already an impressive cast rolled out for 'Silicon Valley;' given the cult status of Judge's live-action work like 'Office Space' and 'Idiocracy,' I imagine comedians were clamboring to get an opportunity at a role on this series. The star of the pilot is T. J. Miller, an improvisation comedian known for his work on 'Gravity Falls' and 'Dragons: Riders of Berk.' Miller is also offering his voice as his 'Dragons: Riders of Berk' character in the upcoming 'How to Train Your Dragon 2.' Joining Miller is Thomas Middleditch, Josh Brener, Lindsey Broad, Christopher Evan Welch, Amanda Crew, Angela Trimbur, Zach Woods and Kumail Nanjiani--some recognizable names, some fresh faces. It seems very likely that 'Silicon Valley' will serve to launch a few of these careers into the next echelon.
Following 'Silicon Valley,' we have another comedy pilot coming from HBO, however this one kicks off our "Cautiously Optimistic" section for the day. The comedy is from filmmaker siblings Mark and Jay Duplass entitled 'Togetherness.'
'Togetherness' has a fairly bland logline: "Two couples living under the same roof struggle to keep their relationships alive while pursuing their individual dreams." While there's nothing inherent to grab viewers, I remain optimistic about the project due to the writer/director team behind it. Mark and Jay Duplass have written and directed several critically-acclaimed films, including 'Baghead' and 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home.' While Mark Duplass is also an actor known for his work on 'The Mindy Project' and the Mumblecore feature film 'Humpday,' it seems that both brothers will remain behind the camera on 'Togetherness.' The Duplass style is one about human emotion and scenes driven by character desires rather than twists in the plot. The pair have proven a deft touch and a deep understanding of human nature; if they keep the humorous buoyancy alive and well in 'Togetherness' they could prove an ideal fit for HBO.
So just who will be starring in 'Togetherness?' None other than feature film star Amanda Peet. Peet has recently been appearing on the series 'The Good Wife' however she is best known for her work in feature films like 'Identity Thief,' 'Please Give' and '2012.' She has proven her comedic chops in films like 'The Whole Nine Yards' and its sequel, as well as her recurring role on 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.' Peet will be joined by Melanie Lynskey ('Two and a Half Men,' 'Up in the Air') and Steve Zissis, who previously worked with the Duplass' on 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home.'
Next in the "Cautiously Optimistic" category is a drama with a lot of potential: 'The Missionary,' executive produced by Mark Wahlberg and Malcom Gladwell. Wahlberg has proven he knows when a project will work: he has produced the hit series 'In Treatment,' 'Entourage' and 'Boardwalk Empire,' among others.
'The Missionary' is described as follows: "A young American missionary in 1960s Berlin becomes involved with the CIA." Not a lot of information, but enough to give us a taste of what's to come. A period drama, 'The Missionary' will get to play in the political strife and intrigue of 1960s Germany. The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, ripping a nation in half and practically turning its greatest city into a prison. The theory behind the wall was that the Western half of Berlin still had lingering Nazi party fascist politics; rather than risk heading down a dark path once more, the powers-that-be declared a guarded wall would be constructed to keep these people separate. Throughout the 1960s, passage through Berlin and out of the city was heavily restricted and thousands attempted forcible escape.
Now we know the setting: so who is in the cast? As it stands we have but one name--Benjamin Walker. The thirty-year-old American actor who played Lincoln in 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' will play the titular Missionary. This series has the potential to capture the intrigue of 'The Saint' or delve deeply into the tumultuous world of European politics of the 1960s. I have hopes for the pilot, but it could just as easily become a stereotypical mess.
Now we come to the "Not Expecting Much" category of pilots from HBO, leading off with a comedy called 'People in New Jersey.' The interesting aspect of this project is that it is written by Bruce Eric Kaplan, a cartoonist for The New Yorker. Kaplan has written for television before, including several episodes of 'Six Feet Under' and a handful of episodes of 'Seinfeld,' including "The Cartoon" where he lampooned his own place of business, The New Yorker itself. Kaplan is currently one of the executive producers on HBO's hit series 'Girls.'
The Logline for 'People in New Jersey' reads: "A hilarious, poignant look at life today as seen through the prism of an adult brother and sister living in New Jersey. They each struggle to get through the day, asking themselves the big questions, the little questions, and everything in between." There is nothing new here and there remains no cast attached. This seems like a project that could come and go without much fanfare, especially considering the competition this season.
Next up is a drama called 'The Leftovers' from writer/director/showrunner Damon Lindelof. Many people are touting Lindelof's involvement as reason alone to expect big things from 'The Leftovers;' after all, Lindelof wrote for 'LOST' as well as wrote the screenplays for 'Prometheus' and the upcoming 'Star Trek Into Darkness.' 'The Leftovers' is "the story of the people who didn’t make the cut after the Rapture happens, and a world that will never be the same." Not only did we very recently have a series of feature films about the same event and cast of characters, but it is a difficult sort of story to tell without annoying or upsetting the majority of your potential viewership. Also, an awful lot of viewers responded negatively to the unexplained twisting of both 'LOST' and 'Prometheus,' so Lindelof's involvement has not given me any reason to be excited for 'The Leftovers.' Funnily enough, leftovers is precisely what this pilot will become.
So that's our Pilot Buzz for HBO! Agree? Disagree? Sound off below!