Tuesday, January 2, 2018

REVIEW: 'LA to Vegas' - Ronnie Quits Her Job While Captain Dave Deals with an Erratic Passenger in 'Pilot'

FOX's LA to Vegas - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Meet the shoestring budget airline crew and its eccentric passengers who, every weekend, take the roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with one goal in mind - to come back a winner. It won't be easy, but this unlikely group of miscreants and dreamers will eventually go from being strangers on a plane to a supportive, if unconventional, family... well, at least from Friday to Sunday.

LA to Vegas has a perfectly fine pilot. It does a nice and easy job in introducing its six main characters - Ronnie, Colin, Bernard, Nichole, Artem and Captain Dave. But it also features one of my biggest pet peeves in comedy pilots. The story of the episode is the lead character wanting to quit her job as a way to introduce this world and the characters to the audience. It remains an incredibly common trope in pilots. It's annoying every single time as well. The threat of Ronnie leaving this job simply has no stakes to it whatsoever. The episode spends the entire time introducing this character in this world. It would be simply false to believe that she would no longer be a part of it starting in the second episode. Sure, it could have been amusing for Ronnie to quit her job as a stewardess only to continue with the series as a passenger. That could have been a fascinating story. But this pilot mostly just has a lot of fun airing out Ronnie's frustrations with this job and her overall impulsive nature. She's right back to being one of the welcoming faces on this plane during the return trip back to Los Angeles. Again, all of this is perfectly fine. It's just annoying and plays into a cliche that has grown especially tiresome to me.

Meanwhile, the pilot seems very determined to set Ronnie and Colin up as the big will-they?/won't-they? couple of the series. That is increasingly common in comedies like this as well. And ultimately, Kim Matula and Ed Weeks do have some solid chemistry. Sure, Weeks is basically playing the same character that he was playing on The Mindy Project without all of the weird and little neuroses. But then again, this is just the first episode. Right now, he is simply the British passenger who is an economics professor in Los Angeles who flies to Las Vegas every weekend to spend time with the son he conceived during a one-night stand with a magician's assistant. That's a ridiculous premise but it also highlights just how insane and silly this world is striving to be. The execution is pretty strong. Yes, the show plays into this attraction between Ronnie and Colin right away. It has them wanting to hook up in the very first episode. They are a couple whom everyone on the plane knows about and may be rooting for. Captain Dave is certainly creepy when he's knocking on the bathroom door asking if they are having sex. But that's also a funny scene that is completely aware of just how disgusting such an environment actually is.

And then, it's basically Colin's advice that gets Ronnie to accept what her job actually is and that she should continue doing it. In the early going, she's the hot mess character. She's running through the airport getting into her stewardess uniform. That sequence proves right away that even though the majority of the show takes place on this plane while it is up in the air both ways the show will venture out to its immediate environment as well if it suits that particular story. In this case, it showcases just how spastic Ronnie is. She's trying to get a job as a stewardess for a different airline so that she can see the world. She wants that even though it's abundantly clear to the audience right away that she may not actually be the best at this job. She's running late. It's miraculous just how quickly she is able to make it through airport security. That's part of the joke as well. She cuts people as they are in line because this is her job. And then, she just wants to complain about not getting this other job and what her life has become. Sure, it's amusing to see her get semi-drunk and close to hooking up with Colin. But it was still inevitable that it would never be as simple as that. So there is then the predictable beat of her meeting his wife not knowing that the two of them are separated. She is furious for a little while only for things to smooth out in the end with Colin explaining herself. It's a lot of exposition told through misunderstanding. Again, that's perfectly fine if not all that inspired.

Elsewhere, the show is walking a very thin line with the characterization of Captain Dave. He is this very over-the-top character who is meant to be comically absurd. It's a surprisingly great use of Dylan McDermott. He has been unintentionally hilarious on many different shows over the years - American Horror Story, Hostages, Stalker, etc. But on this show, he's actually being asked to be funny. It's a mode that he actually does well because he's playing things for the ridiculous humor. But again, it's a fine line for the show to walk with Captain Dave. He has to be seen as this carefree, ego-driven captain who just walks to drink and have a good time with the people in his immediate environment. He wants to enjoy the perks of being seen in this position of authority. But that humor can only go so far before it makes it seem like Captain Dave is either incompetent or abusive of his power to the point of endangering people's lives for two hours each week. This is only a short flight between the two cities. But it's still a venture that needs to be taken seriously because flight is miraculous and could go wrong any number of ways without a trained individual behind the wheel. The show mostly wants the audience to be having a fun and silly time with Captain Dave. He's a man who is quick to act and be seen as heroic while also being someone whose desires really shouldn't be rewarded either.

All of this basically makes Dave a hit or miss character in this show. The audience's perception and acceptance with him will probably be the big determination of whether or not they will continue with the series. He's the one with the most personality in this premiere. Yes, the Ronnie-Colin story is important as well. But they are in the more traditional romantic roles in the comedy. They are a pairing that might work but are largely defined by that in this premiere. The audience will only accept them as a potential couple worth rooting for if they become multi-dimensional characters through their interactions with everyone else. Meanwhile, Captain Dave can just be a ridiculous joke delivering machine. The running joke about him wanting to have sex in the cabin and Ronnie getting in his way aren't that great. The payoff with his co-pilot going home with the woman isn't a whole lot better even though it also has the weird joke of him stealing Dave's sock. That's weird in just the right way to make it slightly charming. The specificity in the weirdness is what will help make this show stand out in a crowded marketplace. That comes out wonderfully in the conclusion of the main story with the couple wanting to elope. It starts off simply as two naive lovers becoming aware of this crazy world because of their fellow passengers. They get pulled into the craziness and lose their minds. It's enough for the guy to threaten to take down the entire plane. Captain Dave springing into action to subdue him with his legs is just such a fantastic visual joke. It's odd and awkward while still being very effective in de-escalating the tension of the situation. The promise of that moment is strong. So, I'm intrigued to see more from this show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Lon Zimmet and directed by Steve Levitan.
  • Artem and Nichole are other regular passengers of this flight who are series regular characters as well. They are perhaps too broad in this premiere. Artem is basically just the weird guy who unnerves everyone with his presence. He's very superstitious but still ends up winning over the weekend. Meanwhile, Nichole is a stripper who pulls in even more money during the weekend while also recruiting new girls to the business.
  • However, does it make economic sense for Nichole to be a stripper in Las Vegas during the weekends while spending the rest of the week in Los Angeles? It sets up the possibility of her living a double life. She earns money from taking off her clothes. She is very proud about that. But why is she going through the hassle of all of this traveling? It seems like a big expense for her with little payoff.
  • It's a big deal that Colin has a son with this woman he had sex with one night. And yet, it's never really explained who is taking care of him when his parents are both going to Los Angeles for the following week. Hopefully, that kid has someone looking after him as his parents try to figure out their relationship. They can't both be that neglectful as parents. That would be a huge character flaw.
  • It seems very likely that Colin's baby mamma is going to be a significant character this season. I say that largely because she is played by Kether Donohue from You're the Worst. This character seems a little more responsible than Lindsay from her other show. She is looking after a child throughout the week here. But it also seems apparent that she is weird and eccentric here as well.
  • It's weird how the show introduces a third stewardess who is working alongside Ronnie and Bernard who then disappears after it's established that she got the job instead of Ronnie. She served her plot purpose and then the show hoped no one would notice her departure. But then again, the plane seems to manage okay with just Ronnie, Bernard and Captain Dave looking after the passengers.