In the first and second editions of my pilot reviews, I didn’t get to scathe much. I either liked the stuff I watched or I thought the shows were at least deserving of a shot. Not so this week — we’ve got two shows about missing people and two shows about lawyers, and only one of the four is even possibly worth your time. We’ll get to that one in a second, but let’s start with the first brand new network show of the fall season, premiering tonight.
Vanished (Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m.). The premise of this newbie, in a nutshell, is that a high-power Senator’s wife has titularly vanished, and everyone is a suspect and things are never what they seem and trust nobody, etc. Five minute into the show, the Senator has a moment of realization that his wife is gone, via the cliche finding of her new necklace lying strewn about on the sidewalk. It was at about that time that I, too, had a realization — this show blows. There’s a very Tony Scott feel to it, with lots of fast camera movements and “high energy” quick zooms (and the requisite accompanying swooshing sound effects). This, combined with all the suspicious “twists” and turns, is supposed to keep the viewer amped up. While Fox is usually pretty good at this sorta’ thing — as ridiculous as they often are, “24” and this show’s lead-in, “Prison Break,” do a fine job at keeping the adrenaline up — “Vanished,” it would seem, ain’t up to the task.
In fact, the best thing I can say about this show is that Steve the former-fucking-drunk-who’s-now-a-brain-dead-cocksucker (see, “Deadwood”) showed up. And actually, John Allen Nelson, who plays the Senator, is pretty good (he was Walt Cummings on “24” last season). But he’s flying solo here, because the rest of the cast bites. Hard. One of the main characters is the FBI agent in charge of figuring out the what-what, and he’s played by another “Deadwood” alum, Gale Harold (he played Wyatt Earp). While Harold seemed perfectly fine in those “Deadwood” episodes, here on “Vanished” he is absolutely terrible. In fact, I would almost recommend watching tonight’s premiere if only for one amazing moment. See, several months back, FBI Agent Earp had a little professional mishap (which is quite funny in its own right because the show entirely ignores the fact that the agent really made a bad decision, even after things got botched up). Anyway, the Senator is reminding the agent of this little incident, and FBI Agent Earp’s responsive acting is so bad it is the pinnacle of hi-fucking-larious.
But Harold isn’t alone in the bad acting. Ming-Na, who has never impressed me, comes off dull and flat. And real-life murderer Rebecca Gayheart is absolute shite as the do-anything-for-a-story reporter. Not that this is a surprise, really, since she’s never done much to move beyond her Noxzema days (granted, her short stint on “Nip/Tuck” was fine, and she was central to the last great “90210” storyline, but then you’ve got a show like “Dead Like Me,” which became infinitely better the second she was tossed into the wind).
Of course, the bad acting isn’t helped any by the awful dialogue they’re given — it’s so fucking corny and stilted. Romantic clunkers like, “Tell me you love me…say it like you’re going to say it at the chapel” and zingers like, “Do you have enemies? That’s right, you’re a politician” pretty much sum it all up. Although, hands down, the following inexplicable exchange is the highlight of the night:
Senator: Blind faith in the FBI. … Why does that make me nervous?
FBI Agent Earp: Faith makes me nervous, so blind faith must be terrifying.
WHAT? Seriously, not only is the line bad, but it makes no sense within the context of the conversation, where the agent is trying to win the Senator over. Just mind-boggling garbage. Like the show as a whole. Look, it may get decent ratings at the start, with the strong “Prison Break” lead-in coupled with the luck of having an early premier. But there’s no way this thing survives the season (in fact, if it even makes it through the fall, I suspect that when “24” comes back next year, “Vanished” will do precisely as its name suggests).
Kidnapped (NBC, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.). So here’s another show about missing folks, this time the son of a rich and powerful executive. However, while in “Vanished” we don’t know exactly why or how the Senator’s wife has gone missing, the title here pretty much lays it out for us — the kid done been kidnapped. Also unlike “Vanished,” this show doesn’t appear to aspire to any groundbreaking presentation or style. No glitz, no fancy camera shots — it views much like standard drama fare. This is actually a bit comforting, and there’s nothing wrong with playing like a standard drama if the acting and story are good. And from the pilot episode, there’s at least the potential that this could hit the mark.
The main reason I’m going to give this show a chance is because I absolutely love the casting. The parents of the kidnappee are played expertly by Dana Delany and Timothy Hutton. But the stars of the show are two of the guys working to get the son back. On one side there’s the former FBI agent played by Jeremy Sisto, who’s been privately hired by the family to find the boy, and on the other side there’s the current FBI agent played by Delroy Lindo, who stumbled onto the case looking for his missing friend (who was the boy’s bodyguard). Sisto, especially, is interesting as hell to watch. In “Six Feet Under” he showed some great acting chops, but here he shows that he can turn things down and make a more subdued character equally as interesting. While the show itself was decent, I really enjoyed his performance. And the casting is actually great throughout the episode — smaller characters kept showing up making me think “Oh, I love that guy,” such as Denis Leary’s priest/cousin from “Rescue Me,” the Irish guard from “Oz,” and the Latino gang member with the lazy eye from “Oz.” It’s not clear to what extent they’ll all show up in ongoing episodes, but I love seeing that the casting agent for this show is capable of bringing on such solid performers (as opposed to the cheese that runs throughout “Vanished”).
The dialogue and storyline? No great shakes. But not bad, either. While I was watching this show, I didn’t have any negative thoughts, I had some positive ones, and I was mildly intrigued about what would happen next. All of which is to say, I’ll be giving this a shot. The question for NBC, of course, is who else will give it a shot, and it’s facing a pretty big uphill battle here. “The Biggest Loser” doesn’t seem like the best lead-in, although folks looking for “Law and Order,” which has owned this time slot forever, will probably be inclined to stay. But it’s also squaring off against “CSI: New York” and ABC’s new “The Nine,” so the ratings may not come in fast and furious. If the show can live up to some of the potential gleamed in the pilot, and NBC gives it a little time, “Kidnapped” may manage to stick around for the season. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to see it joint “Vanished” in the nether regions of cancellation.
Shark (CBS, Thursdays, 10 p.m.). I was very mixed coming into this show. On the plus side, it stars James Woods, who is generally very entertaining to watch, and the smoking hot Jeri Ryan, who’s very entertaining to look at (and has shown at least a modicum of acting ability). On the negative side, it’s another bloody show about lawyers. I tried to rely on the positive, giving the show the benefit of the doubt, but that lasted all of about two seconds — the show opens with Woods giving a typical closing argument to a jury, making the cliche “You can hate my client because he’s an asshole, but that doesn’t mean he’s guilty” speech. Hell, they used that in The Devil’s Advocate for Christ’s sake — if a show is pinching from a Keanu movie one minute into the pilot, there’s no way it’s gonna be smooth sailing.
And it’s not. The basic premise of the show is that Woods’ high-powered Los Angeles defense attorney has a minor crisis of conscious and ends up flipping sides at the behest of his friend, the mayor, becoming the lead prosecutor for the new “high-profile crime unit” of the DA’s office. Said DA is Jery Ryan, with whom Woods’ shark character, of course, has a contemptuous relationship. Woods is also given a pack of bright-eyed misfits from the prosecutor’s office as his team, so he gets to play leader and teacher. This gives him the ability to give them, and the viewers, all sorts of insightful nuggets throughout the show, like “Your job is to win — justice is God’s problem.” Great.
Woods also has the requisite 16-year-old daughter with whom he has a strained relationship. There’s really nothing else to say about that.
I knew this show was just full of shit, and lacked the realism it clearly wanted, when Jeri Ryan’s DA talks about how she wants the Rams to come back to L.A. but that she’s not holding her breath. Nobody in L.A. wants the Rams to come back, so that’s just bunk. Although, the biggest bit of bunk would come later, when the now-prosecuting Woods meets up with his opposing attorney, whom he has, of course, banged (it is James Woods after all and, if stories are to believed, he’s schtupped just about every woman west of the Mississippi). Anyway, she rails on him for making being a defense attorney look like something that’s dirty and needs to be rehabbed, and for selling out his profession. The whole speech was forced, retarded and dumb. Which is the overall feel of the show, so it fit right in. Too bad, really — I’d love to see Woods in a good show. But this just ain’t it.
Justice (Fox, Wednesday, 9 p.m.). Another lawyer show. This one, unlike “Shark,” is a serial (like about 90% of the new dramas this year) following the prosecution and defense of a high-profile murder. Some dude’s wife ended up floating in the pool, and he’s of course the one accused of doing it, and he happens to be somebody famous. I’m not exactly sure who he’s supposed to be or why he’s famous — I just couldn’t pay attention to this thing. It’s basically a mix of the “CSI”-style crime procedural and the “Law & Order”-style law procedural, with a bit of that previously mentioned Tony Scott-style glitz thrown in for good measure.
It’s a shame, really, because I loved Victor Garber (who’s one of the lead defense attorneys here) on “Alias.” Ditto that for Eamonn Walker (who works with Garber) when he played Kareem Said on “Oz” (man, second “Oz” love in this column — I may have to go Netflix some of the old episodes again). But they weren’t nearly enough to do it for me. In fact, 15 minutes into this pilot, I actually turned it off. It’s not that it’s actually that bad (it’s certainly better than “Vanished,” and probably better than “Shark”). Rather, I was just so bored, in combination the other crap I had to watch in putting this column together, that I couldn’t do it. Look, this show will do fine when it first premieres at the end of this month. But when CBS’ “Criminal Minds” returns in September, the ratings will take a dip. And when “Lost” returns in October? Yeah, I think we all know how this one will play out. Better luck next year, Fox.
Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. Although he currently lives in Washington, D.C., he makes his triumphant return to Boston next month.
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TV | August 21, 2006 | Comments ()