With many shows releasing entire seasons at once nowadays, I haven’t had time to watch full seasons yet, but I have checked out some first episodes and wanted to weigh in on them. Even with the pandemic limiting the number of new fall shows, there are still more than any one TV geek can watch, so here are my first-episode impressions of four September launches:
Veteran director Edward Zwick (“Once and Again”) pours a lot of heartfelt family melodrama into “Away” (Netflix), created by Andrew Hinderaker. The pilot episode executes exactly what it aims for – the work-life-balance drama of Emma (Hilary Swank) as she leads the first manned mission to Mars in the near future – and it also presents the technology respectably well. Emma’s mistake – which creates a rift in the crew regarding her leadership skills — on the Earth-to-moon leg shows how a spaceship chemical fire is put out with a bag of water.
“Away” fibs the 2.56-second lag time between the Earth and moon, instead showing instant communication. I’m not offended by that, but it does demonstrate that this isn’t ultimately a hard-science show. “The Martian” and “Mars” (especially Season 2) combine science with the wonder of the Red Planet, but already I can feel “Away” is more interested in how one family feels when the mom has a 39-million-mile commute. It’s professionally crafted, but there’s not enough originality here.
“Departure” (Peacock), a Canadian-British series that aired in 2019, is also unoriginal, but this latest disappeared-plane mystery isn’t as exhausting to think about because we know going in that it’s a six-episode limited series. While it’s not unusual to have 8-to-13-episode series now, six is closer to four, the length of Stephen King network miniseries such as “The Langoliers” from the 1990s. Except in this case there isn’t the buzz. But knowing the story will be wrapped up in six episodes is a weight off my shoulders compared to the open-ended “Manifest” or “Emergence.”
The first episode is free, and the rest are behind Peacock’s Premium paywall, and I’d almost be tempted to pay except that even in this unusual fall there’s so much other TV out there. Creator Vince Shiao’s series effectively slathers mysteries onto a search-and-rescue procedural based out of British air HQ. Archie Panjabi is crisp lead investigator Kendra, with Kevin Spa– I mean Christopher Plummer as her boss.
There’s some home drama with Kendra’s teenage stepson bringing home a girl, and I suspect this will tie into the wider drama somehow. But so far – even as the tension and thrills of high-tech search methods in the North Atlantic play out — the “What happened to the plane and why?” mysteries dominate, and that’s a good thing. The pilot was leading a double life, someone on a terror watch list snuck aboard, a survivor has been found … Good stuff, good start.
“Away” and “Departure” feel a little past their moment, but “Woke” (Hulu) is the most 2020 of shows, as it chronicles cartoonist Keef Knight (“New Girl’s” Lamorne Morris) gaining perspective after he’s tackled by cops who mistake him for a criminal. I’m reminded very much of “Wonderfalls” (and also reminded that I need to rewatch “Wonderfalls”) as inanimate objects (including J.B. Smoove as a Sharpie) begin to speak to Keef in his transition from blissfully ignorant to hyper-awareness of injustices.
Coming from Keith Knight and Marshall Todd, “Woke” certainly can’t be attacked for being unimportant or out of touch. But oddly, the fact that it’s so completely plugged into the socio-political zeitgeist almost makes it unappealing. “Wonderfalls” is escapist for a viewer yet intense for Jaye in her broader awakening story. It’s hard to find delight in “Woke,” because the truths it points out are infuriating. And I also find myself thinking I like Morris, even as the marketing team behind Keef’s “Toast & Butter” cartoon notes that he plays well with whites because he doesn’t seem too black.
“Woke’s” very nature almost resists entertainment value. But still, Morris is very likable, and I see that “iZombie’s” Rose McIver pops up in five of the eight Season 1 episodes. So my odds of having a “Woke” re-awakening are pretty good.
Before I had even pressed play, “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” (Netflix) was the show in this batch wherein I was most likely to watch the whole season (which includes eight episodes) — because it’s a “Jurassic Park” series. Featuring clean and colorful animation with impressive depth of field, “Cretaceous” is more tantalizing to look at than I would’ve guessed, and creator Zack Stentz’s team does not lazily re-create moments from the movies. The camp’s designers wisely put the campsite above convenient biting height, and the kids ride a zipline across a field of veggie-sauruses. Our hero, Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams), trades smiles with a brachiosaurus.
The group of six youths are racially diverse but stereotypical Gen-Z tweens – including a pink-haired video-blogging sensation (Jenna Ortega’s Brooklynn) — but I’m forgiving of that in a wide-audience cartoon. I can imagine a dad enjoying the first episode with a young son, providing the kid doesn’t scare easily. The episode ends with Darius and cocky rich kid Kenji (Ryan Potter) falling into a raptor enclosure.
I assume Darius and Kenji don’t get ripped to shreds at the start of episode two; I don’t think this will become an outright horror show. (Heck, even in the films, kids survive all the dino run-ins.) But it moves at a brisk pace as it displays the park and its denizens. More than being painless to watch for adults, “Camp Cretaceous” borders on being outright good.
“Jurassic Park: Camp Cretaceous”: