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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 10:00/9:00c this fall)
The network's description: "SMITH (Tuesday, 10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) stars Emmy Award winner Ray Liotta ("ER," "Goodfellas,") as a criminal mastermind in a drama about a close-knit crew of career criminals who plot and execute intricate and ingenious high-stakes heists across the country. Though Bobby Stevens (Liotta) appears to be a regular family man with a nine-to-five job, he's actually an expert thief who is seeking just two or three more big jobs so he can finally leave the business for a comfortable, lawful lifestyle with his wife, Hope (Academy Award nominee Virginia Madsen, "Sideways"). Bobby's second family, his core band of partners, each bring their own areas of expertise to pulling off the biggest and most sophisticated armed robberies. The FBI is determined to catch the team but is most interested in capturing "Smith," the crew's mysterious leader and the brains behind the entire operation. It remains to be seen whether Bobby will be able to extricate himself in time from the scores that give him such a rush, or if his retirement will be a forced one -- behind bars. Jonny Lee Miller ("Trainspotting"), Franky G ("Saw II"), Simon Baker ("The Guardian") and Amy Smart ("Felicity") also star."
What did they leave out: Chris Bauer, Michelle Hurd and Shohreh Aghdashloo all have recurring roles - the former two as F.B.I. agents pursuing the team and the latter as Charlie, Bobby's fence.
The plot in a nutshell: We open on Bobby Stevens (Ray Liotta) and his team (all wearing white masquerade masks) as they scramble to escape the police - one of them mortally wounded by several gunshots. We then jump back an hour to see the actual heist - a museum, more specifically several paintings (including a Rembrandt). Things appear to be going flawlessly, that is until one of the unaccounted for guards decides to be a hero. We then pull back a full three weeks as several vignettes (complete with title cards) give us a formal introduction to the crew. There's Bobby and his in-the-dark (?) wife Hope (Virginia Madsen), who seem to be living the perfect suburban existence (complete with cute kids and the prerequisite house on a cul de sac); Jeff (an awesome Simon Baker) who's enjoying a relaxing day of surfing; Tom (Jonny Lee Miller), just released from prison and ready to get back in the game; Joe (Franky G), a nice-guy body shop owner; Shawn (Mike Doyle), Joe's friend who's an in-debt-to-his-eyeballs gambler (not to mention whose wife just happens to be making googly-eyes at Joe); and Annie (Amy Smart), a Vegas showgirl running credit card scams. Text messages from Bobby assemble the crew and we learn their respective roles - Bobby's the planner, Jeff's the guns, Tom's the alarms, Joe's the wheel man, Shawn's the tech and Annie is the distraction. And so we march toward the inevitable link up with the pilot's opening moments, during which we get the full picture of the characters' relationships, how things went down and who didn't make it.
What works: This is 100% not the show you'd expect based on the above, not to mention 100% not what you'd expect from John Wells or CBS. First and foremost is the show's lean, methodical pace - everything just clicks, plain and simple. Not a word is wasted, nor a scene overplayed. It's basically "Heat" if it was told entirely from Robert De Niro's character's perspective. Half of the show's fun is just watching the skill of Bobby's crew - not to mention that of the actors, Wells as a writer and Christopher Chulack as a director. The other half is the surprise that for the most part Bobby and his crew are portrayed as genuinely bad people. Hell, Baker's Jeff and Smart's Annie are both essentially sociopaths. Baker alone has two major "are they seriously having his character do this" moments, while an early misstep by Smart's character is explained by the last possible scenario you'd think of. After NBC's "Heist" and FX's "Thief," we finally have "the" show about thieves.
What doesn't: No complaints - between this and NBC's "Friday Night Lights," Tuesdays are going to be a lot more fun this fall.
The challenges ahead: Can "Smith" take down NBC's "Special Victims Unit," the "Law & Order" franchise's top draw?