The Black Box: “Carpoolers”

Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong.

This week, we look at a show that maybe doesn’t deserve to be on this list.

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So, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be talking about this show. Typically I build my queue for this column based on various “worst tv shows of all time” lists as well as the list of television shows canceled after one episode. In this case, however, this show was recommended to me for the list and confirmed as being bad by another person I talked to. The problem with taking recommendations for this column, however, is simple: I have, in the course of writing this column, watched a shit-ton of terrible television. I have a completely different standard of “bad” then most people when it comes to this type of thing. So, with a show like this… I thought it was fine!

“Carpoolers” was a single camera sit-com airing on ABC, premiering on October 2nd, 2007. Man, 2007 was not a great year for media, was it? The show follows four middle-class men who all carpool to their respective jobs in the same office building together. The series ran for 13 episodes and was not renewed for a second season. I know I’d ordinarily do the whole “what they did right/what they did wrong” thing, but with this show it doesn’t really apply. They didn’t really do anything specifically right or wrong, they just sorta did… stuff. So…

What they did: So the idea of linking all the main characters through a carpool is pretty clever, and a good device. I don’t know if it could support a full series, but at least in the context of the pilot it works pretty well. The show itself has a pretty impressive pedigree, coming from Kids In The Hall member and SNL writer Bruce McCulloch. Oh, and also this series had a pair of directors that I trust the hell out of.

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Don’t recognize those names? Maybe you’d better remember them as the twin directorial minds behind “Arrested Development” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. Two projects which give them a pass on whatever mistakes they may ever have made or will ever make in the future. But enough gushing, let’s talk characters and plot. First up, we have Gracen Brooker.

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Gracen, played by Fred Goss, is a peer mediator/ marriage councilor/ I really wasn’t sure WHAT his job actually was. he is arguably the main character for the pilot, as he has the plot focused on him. In this episode, Gracen is made uncomfortable when his wife starts flaunting his newfound wealth and grows paranoid that she makes more money than he does. This is made worse when his loser son gets a job making far more money than he does. Oh and said loser son?

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“When I founded Aviato…”

Yes, that is T.J. Miller, of “Silicon Valley” and a bunch of other stuff I don’t adore nearly as much as I love “Silicon Valley”. See what I mean about this show having a weirdly good pedigree? Also, Miller literally never wears pants in this episode, so if that floats your boat, give it a watch. No judgement here. Also, his character is named Marmaduke for some-fuckin’-reason. The episode ends with Gracen confronting his wife about his insecurities, and the two of them fixing their marital difficulties. Standard sitcom plot but it doesn’t really feel cliche. But he’s not our only character, so let’s get on to Aubrey Williber…

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He’s the one who ISN’T in “Stand By Me”

Williber, played by Jerry Minor, is an overworked dad with too many kids and a wife who lets him do all the work. He isn’t featured very much in the pilot, but he does a decent job with the material he’s given. I’m not sure what he supposedly does for a living because they never make that clear, which is a bit annoying. But, as driver of the carpool, he’s easily one of the driving forces of the plot and godDAMMIT I DID NOT MEAN FOR THAT TO BE A PUN.

Ugh. I’m so mad at myself. Anyway, Laird Holcomb is next.

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He’s the one who IS in “Stand By Me”

Laird, played by Jerry O’Connell, is Aubrey’s best friend and the biggest source of comic relief for the pilot. He’s a dentist whose recently been left by his wife in a messy divorce. Throughout the first episode, we slowly get a glimpse into just how bad his situation is, but don’t worry, this show isn’t about serious issues, it’s about Laird sleeping with just a bunch of women. Which puts him in contrast to the new addition to the carpool…

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I mean, I probably COULD have picked a more flattering photo.

Dougie Lastname (he isn’t given one in the show) played by Tim Peper is an innocent, wide-eyed… man with a job? We don’t find out what he does either. We do see him and his too-perfect relationship with his newlywed wife, but we don’t really find out a ton about him. He is a character who exists to be an audience surrogate, and that’s about it.

I honestly don’t get why this show is really all that disliked. It’s fine at worst. Maybe it was aired after something great and the comparison hurt the show. What was this show’s lead-in?

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                                   No, that can’t be it.

HOW IS THIS SHOW CONSIDERED BAD WHEN IT AIRED AFTER FUCKING “CAVEMEN”???!!! Those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials would seem funny compared to “Cavemen”. What kind of standards of terrible do human beings have? Maybe my tolerance level is just really high, but Jesus. I don’t know, I think the world would have been fine with more stories about Gracen, Aubrey, Laird, and Dougi– Ok, I thought of something bad I can say about this show.

What they did wrong: The names. The names are weird.

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