Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pilot Watch: ABC's people who need people

Praise the lord and pass the ammunition! The ABC pilots have arrived! And the nice people in the ABC PR department have even thoughtfully grouped them thematically. On the first disc, and the only one I watched, were "The Nine," "Six Degrees" and "Help Me Help You" -- all part of the network's latest attempt to duplicate the success of "Lost." With the failure of "Invasion" and "Night Stalker" (not to mention "Surface" and "Threshold"), someone in development realized that maybe it isn't the skiffy elements that made "Lost" a hit, so now they're trying to borrow another theme: a diverse group of strangers brought together by unusual circumstances.

Will these work any better than the last batch of clones? We'll see. Some first impressions -- remember, these aren't reviews, as many, many, many things about these shows can and will change between now and September -- after the jump...

"The Nine"
Who's In It: Tim Daly, Chi McBride, Kim Raver, Scott Wolf, John Billingsley, Owain Yeoman, Jessica Collins and many more
What It's About: Nine survivors of a 52-hour bank hostage crisis find themselves inextricably bound to each other long after the ordeal ends.
Pluses: Novel concept and a tense pilot, well-directed by "West Wing" alum Alex Graves. The writers (primarily Hank Steinberg from "Without a Trace") do a very cool thing narrative-wise, skipping over virtually the entire bank robbery outside of the first and last minutes -- which makes the crisis seem much scarier than if we had to sit through all the usual hostage cliches. (I have little doubt that frequent flashbacks to fill in the gaps will be yet another gimmick lifted from "Lost.") Good cast, notably McBride, one of the great underrated actors of the last decade.
Minuses: While I have nothing against Scott Wolf, did we really need another "Party of Five" alum to make the "Lost" comparisons more obvious? Does Lacey Chabert have a sitcom deal at ABC? Not sure where the show goes from here; is it just a soap opera about the lives of people who wouldn't have otherwise met, or is there more?

"Six Degrees"
Who's In It: Jay Hernandez, Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Bridget Moynahan, Erika Christensen, Dorian Missick
What It's About: Like the game says, we're allegedly all connected to each other by only six people. This is the story of six people -- an idealistic public defender, a burnt-out photographer, a widowed single mom, an ad executive, a limo driver with a gambling problem and a young woman on the run -- who eventually won't need Kevin Bacon to be connected to each other.
Pluses: That cast. Hernandez, Scott, Davis, Moynahan and Christensen all have healthy film careers in their respective niches, and whether they're in it because they wanted to work for JJ Abrams or because they all have big mortgage payments, it's impressive to have them all on one show. Good performances, potentially interesting characters, good cinematography and use of New York locations.
Minuses: Like "The Nine," I'm not sure what the show is long-term. Unlike "The Nine," the pilot wasn't exciting enough to keep me from asking that question every 10 minutes or so. Are these six people all best friends and hanging out at a coffee house by mid-season? And how do Campbell Scott and Hope Davis (who've worked together on four other movies, notably "The Secret Lives of Dentists" and "The Daytrippers") not share a frame of film in the pilot?

"Help Me Help You"
Who's In It: Ted Danson, Jere Burns, Charlie Finn, Suzy Nakamura, Jane Kaczmarek and more.
What It's About: A group therapist tends to the needs of his patients while suffering a mid-life crisis.
Pluses: I love Ted Danson. There, I said it. While I rarely watched "Becker," I enjoy the guy in pretty much anything else, and he gives a funny performance as a pompous, pretentious twit struggling to deal with his wife (Kaczmarek) leaving him for Biff Logan. Nakamura is also very good as a social incompetent who can't control what comes out of her mouth.
It's shot on film with no laughtrack, but the writing frequently has the set-up/joke rhythm of a multi-camera sitcom, making an awkward fit.


DonBoy said...

the success of loss

How poetic, and yet a typo.

Carrie said...

I LOVED The Nine. I have serious questions about whether it can continue to be interesting after one season, but the pilot raised enough questions about that "missing" hostage time to definitely keep me interested for a few more episodes. My main draw to the show is Tim Daly. Loved him in Eyes, love him in this.