[06/14/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Standoff" (FOX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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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:

(Tuesdays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)

The network's description: "There's no crisis situation they can't handle ... unless it involves each other. MATT FLANNERY (Ron Livingston, "Sex and the City," "House") and EMILY LEHMAN (Rosemarie DeWitt, "Cinderella Man") are the top-ranked negotiators in the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU). They're trained to talk their way through volatile situations. They're experts at knowing what makes other people tick. They're also sleeping together a secret that they agreed to keep to themselves, until Matt reveals it to the entire world during a tense hostage standoff. The public revelation causes friction between Matt, who relies on gut instinct, and Emily, an academic who analyzes every move. Their relationship also gets them into major trouble with their boss CHERYL CARRERA (Gina Torres, "Alias," "Firefly," "24"), head of the Los Angeles CNU, and raises eyebrows among their CNU colleagues, including intelligence officer LIA MATHERS (Raquel Alessi, "Ghost Rider"). While Matt and Emily really should be split up for being romantically involved, they're too valuable as a team. STANDOFF combines the relationship banter of audience favorites like "Moonlighting" with the adrenaline-paced suspense of hits like "24." The series advances a fundamental idea: that in life and in love, "Everything is a negotiation.""

What did they leave out: The show's original title - "Primary" - actually seems more appropriate considering how often the term is used in the pilot.

The plot in a nutshell: It's just another day at the office for the F.B.I.'s Crisis Negotiation Unit's two top negotiators Matt Flannery (Ron Livingston) and Emily Lehman (Rosemarie DeWitt). In this case their office is downtown Los Angeles, where a famed family show actor (Tom Wopat) has taken his children hostage over fears he'll lose his job, his wife and his children now that his extramarital affair has been discovered. Nevertheless, Matt (the primary on the case) feels like he's close to getting him to surrender. But an overly aggressive stance by the tactical team's commander (Michael Cudlitz) has spooked him, destroying all of Matt's credibility in talking him down. Left with no other options, Matt opts to share his own similar troubles - that he's sleeping with his partner and that if anyone found out, it could destroy both their careers - in the hopes of calming him. For whatever reason it works and the day is saved. But the real crisis is how to handle this newfound revelation, seeing how everyone heard it over the radio. The next day, a furious Emily wonders what possessed him to out their relationship, as the "looks" by the other team members have already begun. Matt simply states he does what it takes to diffuse a hostage situation, no matter what the cost. As you'd expect, said explanation goes over like a lead balloon and their relationship begins to unravel. A meeting with their boss - and Matt's ex-partner - Cheryl Carrera (Gina Torres, unfortunately saddled with your typical TV "boss" roll here) - further exacerbates things as Emily says it's a dead issue, that they're no longer seeing each other and they're both professional enough to not let it interfere with their work. The latter statement is put to the test in the pilot's second scenario as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Muslim ("Invasion's" Michael Mitchell) has strapped a bomb to his chest and taken a local coffeehouse hostage. And as you'd expected, Matt and Emily's frayed emotional edges come into play as they struggle to work together (with Emily now as primary). As luck would have it though, this is TV and they manage to get past their issues long enough to stop said assailant, using a risky move that literally puts Emily's life in Matt's hands.

What works: The "primary/secondary" relationship is a genuinely interesting dynamic, one that I can't recall being detailed before in TV and film. It basically says that the "primary" position is so draining and exhausting that the "secondary" position has to be his/her complete emotional support structure - offering kind words, subtle suggestions and so forth - in order to alleviate said stress. The opening scene does a fantastic job of illustrating this and it's easy to see how becoming "involved" with your partner would complicate things. It also provides a unique prism to view your standard TV/movie hostage scenario cliches, making them less eye-rolling than usual.

What doesn't: While Matt and Emily are great professionally, it's their personal relationship that's hard to buy into. Since we never actually see them behaving as a couple pre-outing, everything feels so after the fact (i.e. we're told too much instead of shown). Because of this it makes it hard to buy into their predicament and their subsequent struggles to stay professional. Certainly over the course of the show the gaps may be filled in, but in terms of the pilot itself things suffer because of it. Making things even less palatable is that Matt and Emily aren't particularly funny or charming (making the "Moonlighting" comparison in FOX's PR a little head scratching) and they don't banter or argue in said fashion (making even a "Bones" comparison just as head scratching). Even their personality types - he's Mr. Gut Instinct while she's Ms. Academic - feel a little like afterthoughts rather than genuine traits. All in all, let's just say a really great premise gets off on a bad foot here.

The challenges ahead: Will "Standoff" follow in "Bones's" footsteps (which also started on Tuesdays at 8:00/7:00c) and grow into a hit?

  [june 2006]  


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