Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Fall ’08 TV Season Blitz, Day 3: Week in Review (Privileged, Fringe, DND)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 14, 2008

Privleged
(Tuesday Night, 9:00-10:00 PM, CW)

Cast: Joanna Garcia, Lucy Hale, Ashley Newbrough, Allan Louis, Anne Archer, Brian Hallisay, Michael Cassidy

Premise: Megan (Garcia) is a New York writer struggling to come up with tabloid fodder for the trashy magazine she writes for, when her boss (Debi “Only Chick in the Entourage Credits” Mazar in a one-ep cameo) mercy-fires her and reccomends she hook up with prolific, super-rich cosmetics mogul Laurel (Archer). Megan wants her for a mentor, but Laurel wants her to tutor her two spoiled granddaughters, Rose (Hale) and Sage (Newbrough). Megan reluctantly agrees, thinking it’ll be an easy paycheck, but finds the girls, especially the domineering Sage, to be more than she bargained for. Meanwhile, she crushes on new hunk neighbor (Hallisay), and is crushed on by platonic male friend Charlie (Cassidy).

Thoughts?: Privileged is like the Florida Marlins of prime time TV, picking up cast-offs from cancelled TV shows of yesteryear and hoping to turn them around. Joanna Garcia comes from Welcome to the Captain, Lucy Hale was the adopted daughter of The Bionic Woman, and Michael Cassidy was one of The 4400–even former Oscar nominee Anne Archer is a layover from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where her character was recently killed off. Building a show around spare parts like this is always a risky proposition, especially with a premise that seems timestamped from 1987, but like the Marlins, Privileged does an adequate, if hardly transcendental job of making the most of it.

Several of the characters are stock as you can get, especially black, gay chef Marco (Louis), who just needs some dark sunglasses and more colorful pants to be Meschach Taylor in Mannequin. But Garcia is a decent poor-man’s Amy Adams, cute and precious but firmly moralistic and genuinely caring, and Ashley Newborough looks just like a slutty, evil Winnie from The Wonder Years (though twice as terrifying as that probably sounds). Anne Archer probably wishes she could still act like the boozy narcissist she played on Philadelphia, but she lends minor credibility to her bemused matriarchal role, and the two prospective male love interests do a decent enough job of matching Garcia’s starry-eyedness, and making their respective courtships seem appropriately innocent for a show presumably aimed at young teens not quite ready for open promiscuity in their TV drama.

The show’s central conceit–yet another fish-out-of-water story, with would-be city girl Garcia living in swanky high society in Southern California, teaching young girls how to be young ladies and learning about life and love in the process, probably–is pretty fucking boring, actually. That said, there are a couple of genuinely above-average moments, as when Garcia has just been fired from her tabloid job, and after recounting the state of her life’s affairs, she concludes “Oh my God, EVERYTHING IS BAD!” These are, of course, often counter-balanced with cringe-worthy moments like when Garcia gets locked on her apartment  fire escape naked, and a boy observing from down below notes that he can see her “vajayjay” (oh Grey’s Anatomy, what you hath wrought). Still, the show stays afloat on just enough humor and semi-earned sentimentality to at least be something parents should be more comfortable with letting their daughters watch than lousy attempts to re-capture 90210‘s glory days.

Hit Potential: Kinda doubt it. Parents might prefer their kids to watch it, but unless those kids still think that 14 is more mature than they’ll ever be, they’re likely to be more enticed by the “New GOSSIP GIRL: Next Monday” ad on the screen’s lower-right-hand corner. I’d be surprised if it lasts a whole season.

Worth Watching?: Not really gelling for me. But if you’re like my friend Sonja and can’t get enough of anything involving precocious kids or Amy Adams (or in this case, I suppose, Amy Adams look-and-act-alikes), you might dig it.

Fringe
(Tuesday Night, 9:00-10:00, FOX)

Cast: Anna Torv, John Noble, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo, Blair Brown

Premise: A plane is found with all its passangers dead, seemingly of some bizarre virus, and the FBI is called in to investigate, including Olivia Dunham (Torv). When her partner John is infected with the virus himself when chasing down one of the suspects, Olivia searches out the brilliant but now-mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (Noble), whose research on a similar virus she believes may be able to help her. To do so, she enlists the help of his equally brilliant but troubled and estranged son Peter (Jackson). Together, the three trace the virus to a mysterious, but heavily protected corporation called Massive Dynamic, which Olivia’s supervisor Phillip Broyles (Reddick) says is just the beginning of a far wider global phenomenal of metaphysical weirdness.

Thoughts?: So far, so strange. Even more than creator J.J. Abrams’s flagship series, LOST, Fringe seems hellbound on being the X-Files for a new decade, with all the international, under-the-surface conspiracies and the WOAH SHIT visuals that that would imply. So far, we’ve already had comatose bodies with translucent skin, drug-induced dreamworld interactions (helllloooo The Cell), and implied communication with the dead (“How long has he been dead?” “Five hours.” “Question him.” A pretty badass way to end an episode, gotta say). But it’s X-Files through a decidedly Abrams-ish lens, with all the fictional corporations (Massive Dynamic already has plenty of Hanso Foundation and DHARMA Initiative echoes), extreme visual close-ups (even an arguable homage to LOST‘s eye-opening opening shot) and shrieking violins at emotional climaxes that that implies.

Of course we all know that LOST ain’t nothin’ without Kate, Locke and Sawyer, just like The X-Files would never have gotten off the ground without the chemistry between Mulder and Scully. And while there’s plenty of WOAH SHIT moments to go around in Fringe, the show still has aways to go towards proving that the emotional core is there to carry it past the monsters of the week. So far, Olivia doesn’t seem like too much more than Meredith Grey with a gun instead of a scalpel, and CRRAAAAAZY scientist Dr. Bishop was already starting to get on my nerves by the end of the (admittedly too long) 80-minute pilot. But any show featuring Lance Reddick (uptight lieutenant Cedric Daniels of The Wire, who doesn’t exactly seem like he’s branching out with his role here) and the long-delayed comeback of ex-heartthrob Joshua Jackson (who positively stole Dawson’s Creek and went a long way towards making The Skulls watchable) certainly has a couple aces in the hole in that respect, so I’m hoping that might be enough to build on.

Even besides that, the premiere of Fringe was far from perfect–the plot was garbled, with one totally nonsensical twist already under its belt, and the action scenes were far from what those of an J.J. Abrams show should be. But the potential, and the pedigree, is certainly there. And the titles–big titles, placed on the screen like part of the scenery.  Love that stuff.

Hit Potential: Depends a little on the human element previously mentioned, and apparently the ratings out of the box weren’t as good as FOX expected, but based solely on mystery and prestige, we should get at least one full season, with possibility for more if people decide they have time in their lives for two Abrams-produced constantly-expanding mysteries.

Worth Watching: Don’t see why not. Seems like the best is yet to come, in any event.

Do Not Disturb
(Wednesday Night, 9:30-10:00, FOX)

Cast: Nicey Nash, Jerry O’Connell, Molly Stanton, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jolene Purdy

Premise: A bunch of people work at a hotel. Wackiness ensues.

Thoughts?: Between this and his work last year in Carpoolers, Jerry O’Connell has become something of the patron saint of delightful little half-hour sitcoms with absolutely no staying power or chance of long-term success. Hard to say why Do Not Disturb pleased me as much as it did, and I guarantee I won’t be making a point to watch it with any sort of regularity, but something about the lack of ambition the pilot displayed was sort of charming. For one thing, there was no attempt at giving any sort of backstory, just jumping in to a new episode (Nash berates O’Connell for his office philandering, but finds herself unable to resist one of her employees) like the show had already been on for two seasons. Then there’s the laugh track, which I somehow always forget like 75% of sitcoms still have. Then there’s the fact that the show takes place in a hotel, but they barely seem to mention anythign hotel-related in the entire episode. Then there’s the fact that this show somehow made it to FOX, even though in a season five years ago, it probably wouldn’t rate higher than a PAX or UPN.

I dunno, maybe I just love a good sassy black woman / dorky white guy dynamic, but Do Not Disturb definitely hit the spot.

Hit Potential?: Dear lord, no. They should be cracking champagne if this thing makes it a dozen episodes.

Worth Watching?: Not on primetime, but it’d be perfect 3:30 in the afternoon watching if it somehow goes long enough to make it to re-runs someday.

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