REVIEW: Pilot Season by James Brubaker
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Pilot Season by James Brubaker is a catalogue of American dreams, superstitions, stereotypes, beliefs, ideals, frailties, phobias, desires, and everything in between. If television is a mirror into the soul of the modern consumer, televised listings represent the mired ambitions that struggle to breakout and achieve the ultimate dream of celebrity, decorated by brand-name commercials. On the surface, Pilot Season is a list of synopses revolving around “pilot episodes,” those tantalizing first episodes created to try and sell an entire season’s worth of a TV series. Many digitized corpses are buried in the catacomb of unseen television. Brubaker uses the limbs to elevate to a platform where he can act as cultural anthropologist.
He’s dissecting the American psyche one trite plot twist at a time
, exposing the vacuity of cultural dross. But he does it with a sense of humor. Brubaker nods to the layers of sitcoms that have fossilized themselves into our zeitgeist, like when he dissects a new pilot called I Love Lucy.
“This is neither a re-boot of the classic sitcom, nor a reimagining. The show is neither an adaptation nor a remake. The new I Love Lucy will be a shot-for-shot representation of the original series, in its entirety.”
But rather than being a simple clone, “It will also function as a parody of historical attitudes toward fame, fortune, and the American dream.”
While some of the pilot episodes are creative hybrids of shows in existence, each serves to satirize, illuminate, and juxtapose those “historical attitudes.”
Unlike a television show, where viewers simply watch what’s presented in the tube, the shifting narratives force an examination of the lens we each bring to the screen along with our own biases. “Nuts & Bolts” is about a family of androids who try to hide their mechanical nature from their neighbors. Described as a “sci-fi drama with comedic undertones,” the thematic focus revolves around the question: “Is it possible that these androids, trying to appear human, are more human than the flesh and blood humans surrounding them?” The androids shed light into their humanity, just as the TV shows reveal glimpses into the nature of the observers. There’s a show for almost every demographic, interest broken down by category into equations amounting to pitch points.
One of the more interesting points comes in “Clanking Replicator.” It stars “ED-209” who “is a lonely robot living a society full of fruitful self-replicating robots.” Those familiar with the original Robocop film know ED-209 as the tank-like behemoth that is as destructive as it is dumb, a summation of a company that is cashing in on people’s insecurities. To flip that around and have a show focused on this combat model’s personal struggle for replication is both absurdly provocative and disturbingly hilarious. Some might say exploitative for its rebranding of a familiar franchise; for others, a waft of violent nostalgia.
Within the list of pilots, there are family tales, love stories, economic upheaval as social commentary, a show where two people compete to accrue more debt, and a show called “Regrets.”
“Regrets” is a “reality show in which subjects close to death discuss their regrets and deliver farewell messages to their loved ones.” For the producers, nothing is sacred. Nothing is off limits when it comes to gaining an audience. Sex appeal, hunger, and death are the base instincts manipulated for Nielsen points (1,142,000 households per point in 2012–13), arbitrary millions fueling a drive for things no one needs. Shares stand for the percentage of television sets tuned in to any given program, begging the questions, which TV show represents your interest? Even the act of flipping to a station is an act of commodification, codification, and ultimately, machinification. Pilot Season reminds us that we are all androids in one form or another, even when we do our best to hide from it. Whether it’s drama or comedy depends on your perspective and your taste. Some might call it damn good entertainment. Others might call it social satire cloaked in light crystal displays. James Brubaker’s collection is a cable channel of literature that can’t be missed, if only to remind us of our humanly interdependence with stories in any shape, form, or pixel.
by James Brubaker