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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
BONUS FIRST LOOK: COMPANY MAN (FOX)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: "From the creative team behind "24," television's most exciting drama, comes a thriller with a different twist. Executive producers Robert Cochran, David Ehrman ("The Fugitive"), Jon Cassar, Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon ("24") explore the world of espionage through the eyes of an innocent man forced to spy for the National Security Agency. PAUL FISHER, a brilliant engineer who works in the defense industry, is an otherwise ordinary man with ordinary abilities, trying to live a normal life until he's thrust into a world of intrigue, violence and betrayal. Paul is an unwilling spy, forced to serve his NSA handlers in order to hide a secret that could destroy him. His burden is made even greater by the fact that, in order to protect his loved ones, he can't tell them what he's doing. An everyman pushed without warning into a brutal, Jack Bauer-esque world, Paul must learn the ropes of his second "job" very quickly, or die all the while fighting desperately to keep his marriage together. Paul's independent-minded wife, KATE, becomes suspicious when their once-strong bond seems to be unraveling with Paul's increasingly secretive behavior. She's determined to find out what's going on even to the point of hiring a private investigator. Sexy, tough Agency handler SARA BAKER (Stana Katic, "24") cajoles, seduces, bullies and blackmails Paul into working for her. Baker's veneer covers a growing admiration for Paul. But it's her job to pull him away from Kate and guide him through his various missions. TOM WICKS (Billy Brown, "Criminal Minds"), Baker's jaded but extremely competent partner, doesn't share her admiration for Paul's decency; in fact, he may be somewhat jealous of it. Paul and Wicks could not be less alike and the gap between them only widens as they work together. However, as with Baker, Paul has no choice but to trust Wicks with his life. Directed and executive-produced by Emmy Award winner Jon Cassar ("24"), this unique series from 20th Century Fox Television and Realtime Productions combines the excitement of a thriller with the heart of a sophisticated character drama."
What did they leave out: The show was originally conceived with an older lead (Stephen Moyer) who has a teenage son (Jesse James).
The plot in a nutshell: When the NSA's mole (Michael Reilly Burke) at the shadowy Global Defense Industries gets killed trying to deliver them the company's secrets, Agent Sarah Baker (Stana Katic) and her team must find someone else to take down the treasonous company. As luck would have it, Paul Fisher (Jason Behr) is about to start at said corporation as a favor to his best friend Manny Vasco (Reynaldo Rosales). It seems that Paul has left behind a tenured professor job at the University of Chicago to make a fresh start with his wife (Annie Wersching), who's still reeling from the loss of their unborn child. There, after a back breaking three hours of orientation tests, he's tasked to find flaws with the company's latest project - a laser guided anti-ballistic missile shield (or something like that). It's here we also meet Paul's co-workers - the sleep deprived Jeff Greenwald (Michael Goorjian) and the a-little-too-close-to-the-married-Manny Laura Brooks (Sarah Brown). Paul's also sent upstairs to meet his boss, the quietly threatening Frank Novachek (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor). Frank gives him the "company first, life second" speech and pings Paul about why exactly he left the quiet life to come build weapons systems for a government contractor. Finally after his first head spinning day at the company, he's kidnapped by Baker and her team, who in turn give him the lay of the land. GDI, with the help of Manny, has apparently been selling weapons to the Chinese, Somalian warlords and ever other bad guy you can think of. Sarah and her partner Tom Wicks (Billy Brown) good cop/bad cop Paul into copying a particular file on Manny's computer that will (hopefully, but let's face it probably not) prove his innocence or be useful to get Manny to flip on his bosses. Some hand wringing later, Paul makes a go at it during Manny's son's birthday party. He does indeed find the incriminating file but is discovered by Manny in the process. A quick drive to the desert later, a gun-toting Manny spills the beans on his situation - if he didn't do what GDI asked, they would have killed his family. And despite Paul's best efforts, Manny proceeds to blow his own brains out - torpedoing Baker's entire case in the process. Their case in shambles, the NSA has no other option than to make Paul their new "company man," whether he wants to or not.
What works: Jon Cassar literally makes the pilot look and feel like an episode of "24." There's split screen cell phone conversations, a minimalist score, lots of unintelligible technobabble and fancy act breaks (the action dissolves into a surveillance feed before quickly cutting to black). And to its credit, there's an overall slickness to the show that gives it a general sense of intrigue. Now if only it weren't...
What doesn't: ...so darn white bread and vanilla. No one - Paul, Baker, Laura, Manny or Wicks - has a personality on this show. They're all just stoic cardboard cutouts reciting lines. While I realize that in Paul's case, he's supposed to be an "everyman," but does everyone have to be so boring? For all of "24's" slickness, half the fun is its (at times over the top) personalities. Jack Bauer and Chloe O'Brian are not to be found here. There's just nothing to latch on to, nothing to pull you into the show to make you say "I will make an effort to watch this each week." It's especially disappointing considering how perfect a companion this show would have been for "24" (or at least as an appetizer between its seasons).
The bottom line: It's a disappointing (but not really heart breaking) effort.