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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 LOOP (FOX)
(Wednesdays at 9:30/8:30c at midseason)
The network's description: "As we reach our early 20s and face the daunting challenges of real life, there are those who choose to embark on a career path and those who'd rather goof off with pals. And then, every so often, there's someone who sets out to do both. Set in Chicago, THE LOOP is the story of SAM (Bret Harrison, "Grounded for Life"), the youngest executive at the corporate headquarters of a major airline, and the first of his friends to get a real job. He must find a way to straddle his serious career and the serious social demands of his roommates. One roommate, SULLY (Eric Christian Olsen, "Dumb and Dumberer," "Tru Calling"), is Sam's older and rowdier brother, whose casual attempts to hold down a series of odd jobs are eclipsed by his attempts to land women. The other roommate, PIPER, is a medical student, Sam's college pal and � unbeknownst to her � his longtime crush. As Sam strives to meet the relentless demands of his boss, RUSS (Philip Baker Hall, "Seinfeld," "Bruce Almighty"), dodge the nonstop advances of his colleague, MERYL (Mimi Rogers, "Austin Powers," "Hope and Faith"), and turn his best-friendship with Piper into romance, he is, by turns, ambitious, exhausted and inspired. Moreover, he is a hero for everyone who has ever tried to work hard and play hard at the same time."
What did they leave out: Amanda Loncar is replacing Becki Newton as Piper for the series. The version of the pilot I saw featured Newton as Piper. Also, much like ABC's short-lived summer drama "The Days" several sponsors will integrate products into the action. It's pretty seamless though (this isn't "American Idol" or "Blow Out" by any means) as the only one that seemed at all shameless was for the Scion xB. I probably wouldn't have noticed it though if I hadn't been aware it was going on.
The plot in a nutshell: Like all twentysomethings, Sam (Bret Harrison) is going through that awkward transition between college life and the working world. He's scored himself a job as the youngest executive ever hired at a Chicago-based airline but still enjoys his nightly pub crawl with his roommates - Sully (Eric Christian Olsen), his older (and frequently job-changing) brother, and Piper (Becki Newton), his best friend and longtime crush. Nevertheless, he's convinced he can handle the demands of both - something which is put to the test during the pilot. His blustery boss Russ (the always great-to-see-on-TV Philip Baker Hall) wants new ways to save costs pronto; his colleague, Meryl (the equally great-to-see-on-TV Mimi Rogers), wants to go all Mrs. Robinson on him; and Piper's birthday is quickly approaching, where he plans to try and turn their platonic relationship into something romantic. Not surprisingly then do these problems overlap incorporating everything from Comiskey Park to travel vouchers to long-distance boyfriends to Long John Silver's to trampolines. It's quite the scattershot plot but it works, resulting in a fun way to spend a half-hour.
What works: While most single-camera shows rely heavily on flashbacks and fantasy sequences, "The Loop" refreshingly just takes the plot ball and runs with it, preferring to incorporate its more goofy aspects (Sully for instance uses his first paycheck at Toys 'r' Us to buy a trampoline) into the plot rather than cut away to non sequiturs. There's just a goofy, fun charm to the pilot that's infectious. Philip Baker Hall though steals the show as the best TV boss this side of "Scrubs's" John C. Maspxnley. To me nothing's quite as funny as people yelling at other people and Hall's Russ loves to yell. My favorite gag though has to be an admittedly pointless subplot in which Sully's friends frequently use Sam's grooming items and clothes for no apparent reason. (Anyone who's lived with lots of roommates at some point in their lives can appreciate that one.) And on a personal note, nothing is cooler to me than a show set in Chicago that's actually shot in Chicago (although I have no idea if that will be the case after the pilot). As a Chicagoan turned Angelino in the past year, I couldn't help but feel the tug of my Chicago days when watching the show.
What doesn't: I'm honestly surprised at the decision to recast Piper. She's just plain adorable in the show and I'd hate to see any potential changes to the show's strong chemistry. In any case, between "My Name Is Earl," "Everybody Loves Chris" (which we'll get to in a second), "Kitchen Confidential" and this show - it's a good year for comedy for once.
The challenges ahead: While no doubt welcoming of its post-"American Idol" slot come January, is there really much crossover audience here? And if not there where else would it fit? We'll find out in January on FOX.