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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:
(Thursdays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)
The network's description: "Part character drama and part mystery, REUNION marks a groundbreaking concept in series television as it chronicles the lives of a group of six friends over the course of 20 years � all in just one season. From the hopes and dreams of 18-year-olds to the realities that irrevocably mark those lives two decades later, REUNION's stories are of love and loss, marriage and death, triumph and scandal. WILL (Will Estes, "U-571," "American Dreams") longs to leave his small town behind. Aided by an athletic scholarship, he will be the first in his family to go to college. CRAIG (Sean Faris, "Life As We Know It"), handsome and privileged, looks forward to the Ivy League with his girlfriend, SAMANTHA (Alexa Davalos, "The Chronicles of Riddick"), whose ambition is surpassed only by her looks and intelligence. The beautiful and sensual JENNA (Amanda Righetti, THE O.C.) dreams of becoming an actress; behind his cynicism, AARON (Dave Annable, "Little Black Book") dreams that his relationship with Jenna will go beyond friendship. CARLA (Chyler Leigh, "Not Another Teen Movie"), innocent and quirky, must choose between loyalty to her father and staying near her best friends. REUNION opens in 2005 at the funeral of one of the friends, whose death is being investigated by DETECTIVE MARJORINO (Mathew St. Patrick, "Six Feet Under"). Before the identity of the deceased is revealed, we're transported back to 1986, as the group is celebrating their high school graduation. The pilot episode follows all six through the summer of 1986, and we witness the formative events that alter their dreams and desires forever. Episode two finds the group a full year later, in 1987; episode three tells the story of a seminal event in 1988, and so on � culminating in the season finale at the friends' 20th high school reunion. REUNION also will build toward answering two important questions raised in episode one: Which of the friends is dead? And how did that death occur?"
What did they leave out: Unfortunately, the show's central gimmick - each episode equals one year - doesn't necessarily translate into compelling drama.
The plot in a nutshell: The pilot opens at the funeral for an unspecified person, whom we're told was one of six best friends - all of whom knew each other since their high school days. Soon enough we flashback 20 years to 1986 (cue the 1980s Time-Life boxed set) where we meet the sextet at their high school graduation - there's Craig (Sean Faris), the handsome, rich kid; Will (Will Estes), the handsome, poor kid; Aaron (Dave Annable), the nice guy; Samantha (Alexa Davalos), Craig's girlfriend; Jenna (Amanda Righetti), the actress wannabe; and Carla (Chyler Leigh), the ridiculously attractive but made to look homely one. And before you can blink we're introduced to the show's various love triangles: Craig is with Samantha however she hooked up with Will during one of their break-ups; Aaron pines after Jenna, who doesn't think of him that way and Carla pines after Aaron, who likewise doesn't think of her that way. Meanwhile, back in the present day we track Detective Marjorino (Matthew St. Patrick, in an unfortunately thankless role) as he investigates the death of the still unspecified person (brace yourself for the Herculean extent the show goes to hide the victim's identity). At the funeral he tracks down one of the six (whom I won't spoil here) and they talk in annoyingly vague terms about "the summer of 1986" and how it would change them forever. They're not wrong as back in 1986 we're introduced to a host of outrageous plot twists, which include but are not limited to: a secret pregnancy, vehicular manslaughter, drunken outbursts, jail time and abortion. In the end each of the six are sent spiraling off in (mostly) separate directions with the promise of more outrageous plot twists to come. Because as the future (again, I won't spoil who here) says, if you thought 1986 was rough, wait until you hear about 1987.
What works: The structure of the show - one year (or at least a few weeks from one year as in the case in the pilot) is played out over one episode - is definitely a unique and intriguing idea. In this case though, the idea itself is more interesting than the execution.
What doesn't: Sadly, the show is far too self-aware of its gimmicky structure. All of the present day scenes are painfully annoying, as the show goes to an almost comical extent to hide who has died, much to the detriment of the mystery central to the show. From everyone talking about the person as "the deceased" to the complete absence of pictures or other personal items you'd expect to see at a funeral (or hell, a police investigation), it all feels very "gimmicky" instead of dramatic. It's one thing to tease you, it's entirely another to constantly beat you over the head. The flashback scenes aren't much better, as the characters are fairly one-dimensional slaves to the twist and turns of the plot. It wouldn't be so bad if everything wasn't so predictable. For instance, when Craig and Will get into a car accident, Craig asks Will to take the fall since he wasn't drinking (and most likely would walk away with probation). Would anyone be surprised to learn that the plan backfires? It's just a shame that such a potentially unique show (okay so maybe Showtime's "Leap Years" tried something similar a few years back) would get handcuffed by such eye-rolling plot twists and heavy-handed execution.
The challenges ahead: Can the show find a dramatic groove between its lumbering gimmicks? And does it really appeal to the post-"The O.C." audience? We'll find out this fall on FOX.