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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
THE EVIDENCE (ABC)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "People lie. The evidence doesn't. It's the foundation of every conviction � with evidence, justice is possible; without evidence, guilty men walk free. Acclaimed producer John Wells, (�ER,� �The West Wing,� �Third Watch�) and director Gary Fleder (�Blind Justice,� �Runaway Jury�) put a twist on the standard police procedural. At the top of each episode, all of the clues (a locket, a phone, a severed finger) are revealed in a videotaped evidence log. The show then flashes to the day the crime was committed and invites viewers to play along with the heroes as they find each clue, determine its meaning, put the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out who done it. No one knows the importance of evidence more than Inspector Sean Cole. After he lost his wife in a brutal murder, the only evidence the cops had was accidentally destroyed, and it ruined his faith in the system. Fortunately his partner and best friend, Bishop, is there for him, pulling him back to work, pushing him forward, as they both try to solve these complex cases set against the beautiful streets of San Francisco."
What did they leave out: The show's "gimmick" is that each episode will open with Dr. Sol Gold (Martin Landau) cataloging the evidence of a crime. In the pilot's case: a locket, a flower arrangement, a phone and a severed finger with a ring. We then jump back to the crime itself and its subsequent investigation in which the aforementioned evidence comes into play.
The plot in a nutshell: San Francisco P.D. Inspector Sean Cole (Nicky Katt) returns to work after a year-long sabbatical... wait, didn't we just cover this one? Anyway, it seems his wife was murdered and the police department - namely the evidence lab - botched the investigation after accidentally destroying a key piece of evidence. Cole then launched his own investigation and sued the department over the mistake. So it seems after spending nearly a year hitting dead ends, he's ready to return to work (?!) where he reteams with his old partner Cayman Bishop (Orlando Jones, as usual playing the "Orlando Jones" character). Their case: a nurse is murdered just a stone's throw away from a hospital. From here it's all Procedural 101: find the obvious lead, find out obvious lead is wrong, look harder at the evidence, find better lead, etc., etc. The twist of the show is that you know what pieces of evidence are going to be key to the investigation so when they appear (there's actually a brief flash to the Gold's video catalog when they do find one of them) you know they're on the right track. Another twist is that because of his previous experience Cole borderline hates dealing with the crime lab, going so far as to berate one of Gold's team. While not exactly earth-shattering changes to the genre, it certainly kept my interest throughout the show.
What works: Even though it feels very gimmicky, the whole "seeing the evidence before the crime" aspect definitely adds a new layer to the standard procedural. That being said, the show doesn't play it completely straight as it purposely toys with what you know. For instance, when the ring that will appear on the severed finger materializes, Cole puts it on leading you to think it's going to be his finger that gets cut off. But halfway through the episode, Bishop takes the ring and puts it on his own finger, and so on and so on. In that sense the show feels a little cheap, like a friend accidentally telling you what's going to happen in a movie and you spend the whole movie waiting for it to happen. Nevertheless it makes sitting through a fairly pedestrian case much more interesting.
What doesn't: Katt does his best considering the material but you can't help but watch and think how much more fun and interesting he was on "Boston Public." Here he plays yet another in an increasingly long line of brooding detectives who squeezes out a few sarcastic quips every so often. Even his friendship with Jones's character fits into the procedural mold. It's just unfortunate that for all its twists to the genre they couldn't find a fresher dynamic for the leads. And of course, for all its dressing up this is still the standard find body, collect evidence, blah, blah, blah kind of show. If that's your thing you'll like this show but if you're exhausted by it (as I am) it's hard to motivate me to make an effort to watch the show regularly. Sure it's got some new tricks, but in too many ways it's still the same old dog.
The challenges ahead: With all of its soapy hits, is a procedural really what ABC viewers want nowadays? And if it is, will "The Evidence's" new twists be enough to make it stand out? We'll know for sure in 2006 on ABC.