[01/21/07 - 10:49 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Dresden Files, The" (Sci Fi)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Sundays at 9:00/8:00c starting January 21)

The network's description: "(from Sci Fi's press release) "The Dresden Files" tells the story of Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne), a regular guy with an irregular life � he�s a wizard, a practitioner of magic, who uses his unique abilities to solve the cases that come through his Chicago storefront office. Harry lives in the same work-a-day world you live in, but he can also operate in the world of the supernatural, the metaphysical, and the unexplainable. Dresden unravels otherworldly schemes and crimes and does battle with the forces of darkness, all while keeping his true activities veiled from Lieutenant Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz) of the Chicago Police Department. Think you understand how the world works? Get schooled with "The Dresden Files," a supernatural detective series based on the best-selling novels of Jim Butcher."

What did they leave out: The first episode isn't actually the pilot. Nor is the second. It'll actually air as the fifth episode at the end of February. And it'll be a condensed version of the original two-hour pilot.

The plot in a nutshell: Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne) is your typical hard luck private investigator... except, you know, he's a wizard, complete with his own magical advisor Bob (Terrence Mann), the ghost of a medieval wizard. So instead of looking into cheating husbands or thieving wives his standard case is a boy who believes there's monsters following him or a curator who thinks the ghost of his daughter is haunting him. He's also an "unofficial" consultant to Chicago cop Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz) when her cases get a little too beyond the normal. Such is the scenario in the first episode, when a flayed body is found with no signs of struggle. As luck - or the convenience of TV plot devices - would have it, Harry's already involved in the search for the killer when a boy approaches him claiming monsters are after him - monsters who apparently kill people and take their skin. Along the way flashbacks fill us in on some (but not all) of Harry's past - he grew up bouncing from gig to gig with his magician father, angry at the person (or thing) that killed his mother - his only solace coming from a magical bracelet owned by his late mother that protects him from harm, not to mention gives him special abilities. Back in the present day, things unfold in typical procedural fashion albeit with the added bonus of being able to call on random magical spells as MacGuffin devices. Thankfully the boy's predicament turns out to mirror Harry's own experiences growing up - that is being "special" and coveted by two ideological opposites. You see it seems Harry's father and uncle belonged to a "high council" of wizards and fought over how best to raise Harry, the full implications of which aren't completely revealed. And so goes the hard luck life of Harry Dresden, just getting by one case at a time.

What works: I've always dug Paul Blackthorne - his turn on the busted ABC pilot "Pros & Cons" (read the review) proved it was only a matter of time before he got his own show. And as one would expect, he brings his usual brand of roguish charm to "Dresden Files." I'm also a huge fan of any show that tries to put a new spin on the procedural genre, unfortunately...

What doesn't: ..."The Dresden Files" proves to be too scattershot - in everything from its tone to its plot to its execution - to really be that enjoyable. In both episodes available for review (airing tonight and next Sunday), "Dresden" routinely falls into the trap that most science fiction shows fall into - solving problems with technobabble and MacGuffin devices. How do we stop the murderous skin stealing monster? Of course, let's use the random spell Bob happened to be working on in the opening act! How do we save Connie from a body switching ex-con? Of course, let's make a voodoo doll using the blood she happened to leave behind when she cut her hand on Dresden's door knob! Such resolutions feel lazy on "CSI: Miami" and "House" as it is, to have it happen in a science fiction show - where literally anything can happen - feels even more eye-rolling than usual. Equally as frustrating is that characters are introduced without explanation while others disappear without another mention. (Although this may be a result of the show airing out of order, I'm not quite sure.) There's also its ill-defined "mythology." Spells and monsters simply seem to fit whatever the plot needs to advance instead of being actual threats. As I said, everything feels very scattershot. Even the show's strongest asset - a series of flashbacks to Harry's youth with his father - unfortunately disappears in the second episode. Maybe I've been watching too much "Dexter" but I had hoped they'd be a regular part of the series. Overall, those hoping to see a "sci fi" procedural will be disappointed by its lazy plotting and those hoping for a new "sci fi" serial to sink their teeth into won't find much of a meal.

The challenges ahead: The last time Sci Fi made a major scripted push outside its Friday night niche - six years ago - it was a disaster. Will the network's new Sunday lineup prove to be different?

  [january 2007]  


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