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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:
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "Additionally, the network announced the pick-up of four shows for mid-season, including the Monday night stalwart THE KING OF QUEENS as well as two new dramas and one new comedy. They include 3 LBS, starring Stanley Tucci in a medical drama about New York neurosurgeons; WATERFRONT, a drama about a colorful mayor in Providence, R.I. starring Joe Pantoliano; and RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, a comedy starring Patrick Warburton ("Seinfeld") from Adam Sandler's production company that follows two couples and a single guy as they navigate the jungles of dating, engagement and marriage."
What did they leave out: Again, a more complete synopsis obviously.
The plot in a nutshell: James Centrella (Joe Pantoliano) is the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island or as his soon to be deputy Marcus (Larenz Tate) puts it in the opening narration - "the biggest city in the smallest state" where the mayor is often more powerful than the governor. It's through Marcus's eyes then that we learn that Centrella is the type of mayor who knows where your grandkids are going to college while at the same time isn't above stranding city councilmen in elevators to prevent them from voting. Currently, his plate is full with a whole smorgasbord of issues at home and at the office - his police chief is under fire for letting a local baseball legend go during a DUI stop only to have him hit a young boy later that evening; his ex-deputy is under investigation by the grand jury for taking bribes; the editor of the local paper (James Rebhorn) has it out for him on both counts; the well-liked attorney general Paul Brennan (William Baldwin) has ambitions for the governor's mansion; and his step-daughter Annabelle (Lyndsy Fonseca) flat out hates him. It's just another day at the office for James Centrella though. Things however take a turn for the worse when the key witness to said hit-and-run is murdered by an antique gun stolen from Brennan's home and some skeletons from Centrella's past are exposed. It seems that Centrella's road to city hall was paved by the mafia, a connection he's not proud of and is working to sever. In between all this his doles out lessons to Marcus on how the city really works and the delicate balance they have to achieve. On the home front, Centrella pleads with his wife (Mary Stuart Masterson) not to neuter his dog, banters with his wise-beyond-her-years youngest daughter (apologies, as I didn't recognize the actress) and exchanges fire with Annabelle, whose recent rebellious streak appears to be tied to her recovering drunk father reappearing after all these years. (Want more family genealogy? Centrella's daughter from his first wife - played by Natalia Cigliuti - is Brennan's star prosecutor.) This all leads to a surprisingly effective climax that ties together all the various threads, not to mention reveals some interesting allegiances.
What works: While it's a far cry from a "Wire"-esque portrait of city politics, "Waterfront" nevertheless manages to paint a colorful picture of a living, breathing city. Sure it's a tad outrageous - everyone from the mayor's secretary to the guy who sells newspapers seems to be armed with a witty comeback - but it's fun and entertaining, something that's often absent in today's doom and gloom TV world. That's not to say it's not without its bite - a showdown between Centrella and Annabelle at the end for example hits some unexpected emotional notes. And then of course there's Joe Pantoliano himself, who's playing the larger-than-life, kicking-and-screaming role he's born to play. Everything about the show seems to emanate from his personality and if you're even remotely a fan of his work, you'll find quite a bit to enjoy about the show as well. There's also quite a bit to be said about the supporting cast, as even the most peripheral of characters gets a solid beat to build off of. Much like its fellow midseason entry "3 Lbs.," "Waterfront" was a pleasant surprise, one I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for.
What doesn't: My only gripe is the show's somewhat needlessly complicated plot concerning the hit and run. Be prepared to break out the dry-erase board to follow all its various zigs and zags only to have it effectively swept under the rug during the conclusion. But the good news is you don't have to know all the details to get the gist.
The challenges ahead: As is the case with any new CBS drama, will there be room on its schedule come midseason for it?