Sunday, February 16, 2020

REVIEW: 'Duncanville' - Duncan Projects a Sense of Greatness Onto His Incredibly Average Life in 'Pilot'

FOX's Duncanville - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Annie lives in perpetual fear that her teenage son, Duncan, is one bad decision from ruining his life and will do anything to stop him from doing so. Meanwhile, Duncan's father, Jack, is determined to be a better dad than his father. 

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of FOX's Duncanville

"Pilot" was directed by Anne Walker Farrell with story by Amy Poehler, Mike Scully & Julie Thacker Scully and teleplay by Mike Scully & Julie Thacker Scully

A loose energy radiates throughout this premiere. This isn't a high-concept story. It simply follows the adventures of an average teenage boy, his friends and his family. That's it. At first, that could be annoying because it doesn't seem like there is a lot of interest in that premise. Duncan is a 15-year-old learning to drive, being annoyed by his parents and having a crush on a cute girl. These are plot beats that should be familiar to the average viewer. This show doesn't immediately set out to do something new or different. It just wants to reaffirm the viewer that this simple premise can still be something of immense value once the audience is charmed by the characters and the actors voicing them. And yes, not everything comes together in this premiere. The risk is still present that this show's creative ambitions just aren't set high enough. As such, it may be fine but not a must-watch series for anyone being lured by so many different and competitive platforms. It wants to relax into this world where Duncan thinks he's this awesome and amazing guy even though he is extraordinarily average. That can be universally appealing. Humanity often projects a sense of grand importance onto one's personal journey and abilities. At the end of the day though, that pompous mentality may be the commonality amongst us instead of some actual ability to live a wild and special life. Duncan has flashes of great adventures with rock climber Alex Honnold and Captain Sully. He views those figures as the people who are actually doing amazing things. He doesn't have time to learn how to drive with his parents. To him, that is a relic of the past that should no longer inform his own sense of maturity and independence. His mother, Annie, is incredibly overprotective. She is a ball of energy compacted in a small body. That too is a familiar construct. It plays in contrast to Duncan's father, Jack, who just needs to be liked no matter what because he had an absentee father. That's all that fuels them at the moment. In fact, they too may be nothing more than average parents. They are simply doing whatever it takes to get by in the world. They are furious and upset with Duncan. But they still have the capacity to forgive him once he earns it. He actually knows how to manipulate them as well even though his grand gesture is ridiculously over-the-top. That shows that this premise can still be fun and engaging to watch. It just needs a bit more specificity to it. During Duncan's driving lesson, he hates having his dad in the car because of the stress that brings but loves having his mom because she has a more laidback approach. That too is a universal understanding. The specificity comes when Duncan gets distracted and almost runs into the tree that stands at the middle of the town and serves as its greatest monument. Sure, it's ridiculous to prop up to that extent a place where people where hanged to death. That just underscores how people revere history even when it's one dipped in such heinous and lethal actions. That also makes it funny when Duncan runs it over later on when he sneaks out with his friends. Again, he feels the pressure to sneak out and live a life he feels entitled to living. That can be the thing that ties this entire series together. People project a sense of knowing what is expected of them in life and what it takes to be considered normal. These characters certainly are but they strive for more unique identities as well. That balance can be tricky. Not everything works in this premiere. It's clear the absurd laughs are meant to reassure the audience that this show can be inventive with its format while not trying to be too strange and potentially alienate some viewers. It wants that universal appeal right out of the gate. But again, that may not be sustainable for a long time. So, it should be fascinating to see if moving forward Duncan has to remain the center of every story or if the other characters can be funny outside of that specific relationship.