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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three 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 or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 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 entry:
SIX DEGREES (ABC)
(Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c this fall)
The network's description: "Who will you touch? Who will touch you? They say that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person through a chain of six people, which means that no one is a stranger... for long. In this hour-long drama from the producers of "Lost" and "Alias," six very different New Yorkers go about their lives without realizing the impact they're having on one another - yet. A mysterious web of coincidences will gradually draw these strangers closer, changing the course of their lives forever. Is it happenstance? Fate? Is there a greater force at work in our world, guiding us along and connecting our lives? This intriguing tale of intertwined destinies reminds us that romance, success, peace or forgiveness might be right around the corner, but they can also be lost in an instant. It's a story that underlines just how small the world really is, and how someone just five people away might be shaping our future right now. Jay Hernandez ("Friday Night Lights"), Erika Christensen ("Flightplan"), Bridget Moynahan ("Sex and the City"), Dorian Missick ("Lucky Number Slevin"), Hope Davis ("About Schmidt") and Campbell Scott ("The Secret Lives of Dentists") star."
What did they leave out: It's easy to see why this show will follow "Grey's Anatomy."
The plot in a nutshell: Somewhat syrupy narration by Jay Hernandez spells out the concept of "six degrees of separation," that in a city of millions, we're actually only a few people (well, six to be exact) removed from each other. And so our story begins with Mae (Erika Christensen), a free spirit who's arrested for indecent exposure after a magical night on the town. Her court-appointed attorney is Carlos (Hernandez), who's instantly smitten and calls in a few favors to get her off. He's rewarded with her phone number, which unfortunately turns out to be fake. Undaunted (and because, in TV and movies, stalking is romantic), Carlos tracks down her place of employment, in this case a hip nightclub, where he quickly finds he has no chance of getting in. Outside however he meets Damian (Dorian Missick), a limo driver who takes pity on him, offering a quick ride to the front door (plus his stylin' jacket) so he can get in VIP style. And again, because this is TV, he just misses Mae, who's decided to quit (but not before picking up a mysterious black box from the club's safe). Unsuccessful, he returns to Damian, who's in the middle of being harassed by his bookie's thugs (it seems he's got a bit of a gambling problem). Carlos rescues him and the seeds of friendship are born. On the Mae front, it appears her history isn't as clandestine as her nice girl nature would have us believe. A quick die-job later, she's interviewing for a nanny position with Laura (Hope Davis), a recently widowed mom who's looking to rejoin the workforce. Laura leads us to Whitney (Bridget Moynahan), a high-powered ad executive who she "meets cute" at a nail salon where they quickly bond over their mutual choice in nail polish and their love of Sonic Youth. Whitney it seems, despite all her success, is worried her boyfriend (Jonathan Cake) is cheating on her and the pair brainstorm a way to trap him. Whitney also brings us to the final "degree," Steven (a silver-maned Campbell Scott), a washed-up photographer whom she tries to employ for one of her company's ad campaigns. He initially rejects her offer, confessing he's lost his inspiration due to his bout with drug addiction. From here the six's lives begin to overlap more and more - Steven happens to regain that "spark" after spotting a stranger (who we know to be Laura) crying on the streetcorner after giving her late husband's belongings to goodwill; Damian and Carlos unwittingly reveal to us Whitney's boyfriend's true nature; Damian starts taking work from his mobster brother in order pay of his debts, work that includes finding a runaway (whom we see is Mae); and Mae, feeling the heat to find her, packs her bags again and heads off to the subway where she runs into of all people - Carlos.
What works: To its credit, all of this meeting cute and other happenstance could easily come off as hokey and artificial, but for some reason it doesn't (well, at least for now). As someone who's lived in big cities all of his adult life, I can attest you'd be surprised how often you run into friends and colleagues in the most innocuous of places. And "Six Degrees" definitely recreates that sometimes magical, "big city" feeling that our best friend/greatest love/etc. could literally be around the corner. Helping matters is a fine cast, which brings much more to the table than what's on the page. And that brings us to...
What doesn't: Unfortunately it's easy to see what a potential house of cards the show is based on. Fate and happenstance are great in small doses, but a series about them? Sure we're willing to give the various coincidences a pass in the pilot (and even there it's a little long in the tooth), but what about six or seven episodes down the road? Inevitably as these characters grow closer and closer the show will either have to become less and less about their fatalistic travels (or risk becoming hokey and artificial) or more and more about the characters themselves (or risk losing the any potential dramatic heft). It's a delicate balance, one that us jaded TV critics know rarely is maintained over a show's lifespan. Nevertheless, the cast's pedigree certainly makes me want to root for the show far more than I'd like to admit and its post-"Grey's Anatomy" time slot is prime real estate for the sentimental romantics out there.
The challenges ahead: It's got the "Grey's" compatibility factor down - complete with schmaltzy narration and doe-eyed, lovestruck characters - so it's just a question if viewers are willing to stick with the ABC train on Thursdays.