One of the great perks of working in this business we call Show is getting your hands on certain films and TV shows before they're released to the rest of the world for mass consumption and criticism. It's a sneak peek before the official sneak peeks.
Here in Los Angeles, the TV pilot season (a TV junkie's favorite season of all) has finally ended, and the networks have cherry-picked the productions they think are worthy of occupying the comfy spots on their fall schedules. And here in Los Angeles, I am fortunate enough to have friends in places with access to screeners of the dramas and (few) sitcoms that made the cut for the 2007-08 season.
So, allow me to grant you access to a pre/review of what Madison Avenue saw at Upfronts last month in New York. Yours truly was lucky enough to get a sampling before most critics get their hands on them.
So remember kids, you heard it here first:
CASHMERE MAFIA (ABC)
The opening of this Lucy Liu starrer is a blatant Sex and the City rip-off. No wonder - it's the brainchild of Darren Star. Do we need the voiceover narration? Is Lucy Liu's character writing a novel? Does she have a newspaper column? I don't think so.
Cashmere focuses on a quartet of power-playing women who are likable for the most part. However, it will take a while to distinguish each character. It may be tricky keeping track of who's who because each gal appears to have been torn from the same Working Girl fabric (and whaddyaknow, it's been written by the same guy who penned the 1988 Melanie Griffith comedy). However, the producers seem to be working on that - one of the ladies takes a dip in the lesbian pool and hides it from the rest (I'm sure her secret's out by episode 3).
Favorite moment: Miranda Otto's woman scorned discreetly confronts and challenges her adulterous husband (played by Mariska Hargitay's real-life Greek god of a husband...whatever his name is) at a black-tie fundraiser, right before she goes on stage to accept an award: "Take a good look around you. Look at our friends. I'm going to sleep with one of them, you'll never know who, and you won't do anything about it. Then, the slate will be clean, and we can start over fresh."
Cue the girl-power music.
FIRST-ECHO-METER: 6 (out of 10)
Bret Harrison plays a slacker dude who drives a crap station wagon, works at a Home Depot-type store, where he flirts with his cute coworker, and learns on his 21st birthday that his parents have sold his soul to the Devil (a well-cast Ray Wise). What's a college dropout to do? Work for Lucifer of course! And by "work," I mean collect souls that escaped from Hell by sucking them up with (cue the ingenious product placement) a handheld Dirt Devil vacuum.
Reaper admirably attempts to be the male Buffy - witty, funny, and scary. Let's hope the show's got some juicy mythology in store for its potential fanbase.
WOMEN'S MURDER CLUB (ABC)
Um, more like The Angie Harmon Mystery Hour. What I thought was supposed to be an ensemble mystery turns out to be a drama vehicle for the Law & Order alum. Based on the bestselling novels by James Patterson, Murder Club borrows the premise from Cashmere, only this time the ladies work in the criminal justice system and swap theories on serial killers during mimosa brunches.
While I appreciate the attempt at making this a Sex-and-the-City-meets-CSI, I find that the genre-blending leaves an funny aftertaste. Conversations jump from ex-husband-bashing and bedspread shopping to forensic analyses and fingerprinting. Awkward!
PUSHING DAISIES (ABC) *A First Echo Fave
Ladies and gents, here we have the Best Pilot of the Year - Brilliant. Flawless. Refreshingly original. Newcomer Lee Pace (I already envision his mug gracing future covers of Entertainment Weekly) plays a piemaker who has the unusual ability to bring people back from the dead - simply by touching them. This gift allows him to team up with his cop friend (Chi McBride) and solve murders. First touch: the murder victim comes to life, and he asks them how they died. Second touch: they die again before someone else takes their place on Death's doorstep (within one minute).
Things get a bit more complicated once our piemaker is reunited with his childhood sweetheart during a murder investigation, and the chemistry that follows couldn't be sweeter.
This cinematic and whimsical murder-mystery/romantic-comedy is truly something we've never seen before on television.
GOSSIP GIRL (The CW)
Dawson's Creek had that student-teacher affair. The OC had teens in jail. And in the first episode of this pretentious piece of prep school treacle, we're given a showcase of sex, cocaine, alcohol...and (horror of horrors!) bad writing. Blake Lively (of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, her surname does nothing to reflect her acting skills whatsoever) plays the prodigal daughter who returns to her Manhattan high-society roots and dives into a pool of rich kids, their delusional parents, and obligatory cute guys who play nerds on TV but in real-life are not.
1999 called. It wants its Cruel Intentions knockoff back.
And I thought this summer's Hidden Palms sucked.
THE BIONIC WOMAN (NBC) *A First Echo Fave
I'm a big David Eick fan (Battlestar Gallactica), and this re-imagining of the 70s cult hit wonderfully fills in the void left by Alias. Michelle Ryan is the new, brunette Lindsay Wagner, and this time Jamie Sommers has a deaf kid sister (yeah, it ups the mush factor, but it kinda works).
You know the drill...Horrible car accident disrupts Jamie's life. Secret government agency rebuilds her. Shady conspiracy shit hits the fan. If this show is scheduled behind Heroes, Monday nights will never have been this awesome since Melrose made a similar schedule switch 13 years ago.
DIRTY SEXY MONEY (ABC)
Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) is a lawyer who inherits a dysfunctional dynasty after his dad croaks. ABC's calling it the redheaded stepchild of Dallas and Dynasty. I'm calling it a soapier Arrested Development. Lots of suds involved (big cast of characters), but enough to keep it from being washed away?
Standouts: Glenn Fitzgerald as a hot-tempered reverend with a secret and Samaire Armstrong as the Paris-esque socialite of the effed-up fam. I'll watch.
I was very intrigued by this show. I loved the sets, the costumes, the soundtrack and overall look (even the freakin' transitions are retro)...For a moment I thought I was actually watching a rerun of Knots Landing circa 1979. However, it was unusually slow compared to other pilots, and the opening shot is literally, um, a jawdropper. And it's on CBS, you ask? Once home to the senior-skewering Walker Texas Ranger and Touched by an Angel? Props to them for having the balls to put this on the air.
The premise: Vanilla midwestern couple and their brood move to a Chicago 'burb where the couples are spicy (look, it's Grant Show!) and the parties spicier (Quaalude anyone?). You name it, they snort it. My one nitpick: I never saw a single key drop in to a fishbowl.
THE RETURN OF JEZEBEL JAMES (Fox)
I was never a Gilmore Girls follower, but I totally picked up on the same sharp, lengthy dialogue (thanks to GG creator Amy Sherman-Palladino) in this new multi-and-single-camera sitcom. Possibly the best sitcom pilot (I mean, how many are there to pick from?)...or maybe this is just the only sitcom I'll watch...Parker Posey is a manic book publisher (comedy) who learns she can't bear children (drama) and then asks to her kid sis (Lauren Ambrose) to be the surrogate (dramedy). Finally! Someone's bringing My Sister Sam in to the 21st century.
Zachary Levi (that preppy prick from Less Than Perfect) is a "geeky" electronics store clerk who accidentally gets top-secret government files downloaded into his brain. Enter the CIA, who recruits him to help them stop bad guys.
Nicely shot. Funny as hell. And from Josh Schwartz (The OC)? Just pray we don't get a Mischa Barton cameo.
BIG SHOTS (ABC)
Desperate Housewives...with dicks. Dylan McDermott, Michael Vartan, Christopher Titus, and Joshua Malina are CEOs who hang out at the country club and talk about their messy lives over some brewskies.
Due to the testosterone factor, the campy fun is hard to find. Will viewers buy four men sitting around talking about their work and love lives? Does ABC expect to lure male viewers to this one-hour drama? I don't see the words "Smackdown," "NASCAR" or "Playstation" attached to it anywhere, so who knows?
So, there you have it. CBS is trying hard to shed its gray hair. ABC is luring all of the richies. NBC is going geek-chic. And the CW continues to try to get out of the shadow of its Big Four brethren.
Notebooks closed. Class dismissed.