[07/29/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Bedford Diaries, The" (The WB)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

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:

(TBA at midseason)

The network's description: "�The Bedford Diaries� explores contemporary New York City-based college life through the unique prism of a provocative Human Behavior and Sexuality class. Controversial and charismatic Professor Macklin (Emmy Award-nominated Matthew Modine, �And the Band Played On, � �Any Given Sunday�) will challenge and inspire the show's youthful ensemble of students as they explore their identities, relationships and sexuality in the most exciting city in the world. Among the students is the smart and attractive Sarah (Tiffany Dupont, �Cheaper by the Dozen�). Sarah has everything going for her until her brother Owen (Penn Badgely, �The Mountain�) walks into class. It's one thing to share in class, but Sarah hadn't planned on discussing her sexuality in front of a sibling. Owen's new class partner is Natalie, �The Jumper� (Corri English, �The Dale Earnhardt Story�). Two years ago, Natalie had a change of heart mid-dive off the roof of the Student Union. Now physically recovered, she has to face the gossip mill and her ex, Richard (Milo Ventimiglia, �Gilmore Girls, � �American Dreams�). The quintessential Park Avenue bad boy up until the moment his girlfriend jumped, Richard is now a semi-changed man � sober, attending class and editor-in-chief of The Bedford Bugle. In stark contrast is the working-class Lee (Ernest Waddell, �As the World Turns�), who has a noble heart, an artistic soul, a serious girlfriend and a fascination with Zoe (Victoria Cartagena, �Baby Fat�). Zoe talks a fast, flirty and kinky game, but despite her brash veneer, she's still a virgin. Also starring Audra McDonald (�Wit, � �Law & Order�) and Peter Gerety (�The Legend of Bagger Vance�)."

What did they leave out: If you thought last year's "life as we know it" was obsessed with sex, move over bacon... And in a strange twist, the pilot I saw included a "coming attractions"-esque reel at the end that apparently was shot to show the network potential future storylines (and there are a few doozies).

The plot in a nutshell: Matthew Modine plays Professor Macklin, a popular, but controversial professor at the fictional (?) Bedford University in Manhattan. There he teaches the school's most sought-after elective, a Human Behavior and Sexuality class. Only 12 students are accepted each semester and each are given a video camera to serve as their private confessional over the course of the class. Among the students are the prototypical TV college kids: Sarah (Tiffany Dupont), the "good" girl; Richard (Milo Ventimiglia), the spoiled rich kid; Natalie (Corri English), the suicidal one; Zoe (Victoria Cartagena), the slutty one; Lee (Ernest Waddell), the working class one; and Owen (Penn Badgely), the nice guy and sister to Sarah. As you'd expect, it's not long before the respective potential pairings become apparent: Owen finds himself drawn to the potentially dangerous Natalie, Zoe throws herself on Lee despite him having a girlfriend, and Richard and Sarah argue in a way only future lovers do. We're also (thanks in part to the confessionals) privy to each person's secret (some of which the WB's PR spoils for you above but I won't recount here) which will apparently lead us to a deeper understanding of their personalities. Intermixed between the students we get a few brief scenes of Macklin outside the classroom, which include his colleague (Audra McDonald) and the head of his department (a sadly underutilized Peter Gerety). Basically, that's pretty much it.

What works: Somewhere in here is a good show with some interesting young actors. Unfortunately, it's going to take some digging to find that good show.

What doesn't: It's almost nausea-inducing how sex-obsessed this show is (and I say that in the sense that it overwhelms the plot, not as being offended by it being in the show). Obviously, I get this is a show about a human behavior and sexuality class (and college is very sexually focused time), but still, at some point aren't there other aspects of these characters' lives to explore? Last season's sadly short-lived "life as we know it" took quite the beating for being sex-obsessed, but at the same time it wrapped that obsession in humor and used it as a way to explore the three lead's friendships and lives at home. In "Bedford," we're given little to latch on to outside of each character's sexual predilections and history leaving them feeling very self-absorbed and empty. Even worse is that there's almost no attempt to be funny or even give an authentic look at college life. Basically these are six people whose entire lives revolve around one class and the sex they had, are having or want to have. Does that sound like your average, supposedly gifted, college student? Nevertheless, Modine, Badgely, Ventimiglia and the others have all helped create interesting characters elsewhere, so one hopes given some time and stronger material they'll be able to make their characters evolve beyond caricatures. Until then, we're stuck with bad soap-opera tactics rather than character development (Richard for example is prone to throwing his wine glass against the wall when he's angry, ooooh).

The challenges ahead: Is there an entertaining show to be had here beyond it's current sex-obsessed core? And is that really what the WB fans are clamoring for? We'll find out next year on the WB.

  [july 2005]  


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