Upfronts 2021: NBCUniversal and Fox’s Trailers Ranked

·5-min read

This week, broadcast networks and their streaming counterparts are showing advertisers and the general public what they’ve got for the upcoming season. While it’s far too early to judge the actual shows, a sense of promise — or of doubt — can be picked up from these early looks out of the upfronts presentations.

Here’s a look, in rough descending order, of how this critic is feeling about each show’s potential, first from NBCUniversal’s Peacock (trailers for NBC proper have yet to be released), then Fox.

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Peacock

The Lost Symbol

NBCUniversal’s trailers for its Peacock dramas tended towards a polish and professionalism. “The Lost Symbol” is impressive simply because of the names involved alone — an adaptation of the work of Dan Brown, produced, as were the Tom Hanks movies including “The Da Vinci Code,” by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. And the trailer pushes a moody darkness and high-gloss look that feels like the sort of thing network dramas used to do well; this trailer seems as much about announcing what Peacock can do generally as it is about the particulars of this one show. And if Ashley Zukerman doesn’t quite bear the gravitas of Hanks — well, who but Hanks does?

Dr. Death

Podcast adaptation “Dr. Death” looks, like “The Lost Symbol,” like a test case for dark, adult drama on NBCUniversal’s streaming side. The true-crime limited series is nothing new for NBCUni — this looks like a potential successor to the “Dirty John” franchise, which ran first on Bravo and then on USA. (Like “Dirty John,” “Dr. Death” began its life as a nonfiction podcast on the Wondery network.) The trailer does an effective job of teasing the series’ story of a surgeon destroying the health and lives of those who go under his knife — in particular, it elegantly balances the presence of all three of its stars (Joshua Jackson as the titular potential sociopath of a surgeon, and Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater as those pursuing him). The risk, perhaps, may be in true crime fatigue, although that hasn’t seemed to set in yet.

Fox

Pivoting

Probably the most promising of Fox’s suite of trailers, if only by dint of three TV favorites playing the leads. Eliza Coupe, Ginnifer Goodwin and Maggie Q play best friends who are mourning the loss of the fourth member of what was one a quartet of pals; together, they set out to start new acts in their lives. The trailer merges a relatively light touch with the sort of chicken-soup-for-the-soul warmth that Fox’s competitors tend to do better. A show about three women supporting one another as they move through grief and try to reinvent their lives sits outside the causticness that’s tended to define the Fox comedy brand, for better and for worse. Not every joke in the trailer lands, but the three stars are charming enough to suggest that this is worth a look.

“The Big Leap”

This trailer seems in part intended to appeal to the audience that’s embraced Fox’s unscripted offerings of late — it’s set in the universe of a dance-competition show that might not be entirely out-of-place alongside “The Masked Dancer” and “I Can See Your Voice.” The trailer, not unlike that of “Pivoting,” goes for straight-up uplift, with a character played by Simone Recasner (a TV newbie) pushing for her shot to succeed on a dance-competition show and cracking sweet, melancholy jokes about how hard the pandemic has been. The best case scenario here would seem to be a show that merges the witty music show Fox is great at right now with a we’re-all-in-this-together vibe. However, Recasner’s gumption as she seeks her shot colliding with the ironically detached production team of the show-within-a-show might be too reminiscent of “Smash.”

“The Cleaning Lady”

This trailer — enticingly or frustratingly — gives relatively little information as to what viewers should expect, though Élodie Yung, playing a doctor who came to America and ends up cleaning up for the mob, certainly seems to be a compelling screen presence in what we see of her. It remains to be seen how much the show will toy with and subvert clichés — lusciously shot images of blood seeping, the constant threat of danger to a child motivating everything — rather than simply indulging them, though.

“Welcome to Flatch”

There’s real talent in front of and behind the camera here, but the trailer for Jenny Bicks and Paul Feig’s new series filled this viewer with dread. A mockumentary about small-town life in the fictional town of Flatch recall, in what Fox showed viewers, less “The Office” than the 2004 comedy “Napoleon Dynamite” — a film that tended to take a condescending view of its subjects’ little lives. Anything is possible, but jokes that include actor Sam Straley saying he makes graffiti as “part of that thug life,” followed in short order by the performer Chelsea Holmes attempting to “make it rain” with loose bills, feels dated at best. It’s interesting, though, that this, too, seems to continue in the quasi-inspirational vein of “Pivoting” and “The Big Leap”: The trailer mocks its characters for a while, but ends on an up note of celebrating the town and what can happen there.

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