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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: FOOTBALL WIVES (ABC)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: ""Football Wives" centers on the lives of three women and their husbands who are teammates on a fictional NFL franchise in Orlando. Their decadent lives are seen through the eyes of innocent newcomer Donna, whose new friends quickly indoctrinate her. Because when your husband goes from poor college student to newly-minted millionaire overnight, your lifestyle explodes. In no time, Donna learns being a football wife is anything but a game. It's not only the team obligations and the obsessive fans. Hot groupies, addictive drugs, excessive shopping, outrageous greed, ravenous desire and bitter jealousy all mask the nagging anxiety that this party train is one injury away from ending. Director Bryan Singer ("House," Superman) takes us behind the scenes with American royalty to see how instant success pushes these women around and how they push right back. Gabrielle Union (Bring it On, "Night Stalker"), Lucy Lawless ("Xena"), Kiele Sanchez ("Lost"), James Van Der Beek ("Dawson's Creek"), Brian White ("The Shield") and Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible) and Eddie Cibrian ("Invasion," "Third Watch") star in this comedic soap that mixes the best of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and "Desperate Housewives" to become a Dallas for the new generation. Marco Pennette ("Ugly Betty") adapts the massively successful British series into super raunchy, campy, yet exclusively American fun. You don't have to be a football fan to love the football wives."
What did they leave out: Director Bryan Singer makes a brief cameo as a music video director. And somebody is nearly eaten by a crocodile. And no I'm not making that last part up.
The plot in a nutshell: Life as the wife of an Orlando Ray is pretty sweet. There's the shopping trips to Miami via private jet, the enormous houses and equally as enormous jewelry, not to mention the "bitch nights" when they hit the town during their husbands' away games. Conversely, being a football wife is a full time job. That's the first lesson new mom Donna Reynolds (Kiele Sanchez) learns after her husband Brian (James Van Der Beek) is drafted by the Rays and signs a huge five-year contract. Somewhat uncomfortable with their new lavish lifestyle ("I still have underwear from freshman year," she notes), Donna is nonetheless shown the ropes by the wives' queen bee, Tanya Austin (Lucy Lawless). And sure enough it proves to be as creepy of a sorority as advertised as everyone has some sort of drug or eating disorder. But Tanya herself has bigger problems - her husband, veteran quarterback Jason Austin (Eddie Cibrian), is being forced out by the coach (Spencer Garrett) in favor of a hot young (but mysteriously unseen) free agent. Sensing the end of her lifestyle, Tanya will do anything and everything to the Rays' owner Frank Wallingford (a surprisingly invisible Ving Rhames) to keep that from happening. Also thrown into the mix is Chardonnay Lane (Gabrielle Union), a burgeoning pop star whose longtime boyfriend - star receiver Kyle Johnson (Brian White) - recently proposed, finally giving her full-time admittance into the wives club. Their engagement isn't all its cracked up to be though as she clashes with Kyle's mother (Holly Robinson Peete), who still lives with him. It's Donna however that proves to have the biggest problems and the biggest secrets. Unbeknownst to Brian, she had another child at 16 and gave it up for adoption, a fact the current adopted father is exploiting for a cash payout. Making matters worse - her party girl sister Nicole (Arielle Kebbel) isn't too good at keeping secrets, especially after she catches the wandering eye of Jason. A game of "telephone" soon follows as word gets to Tanya, who offers to help Donna in exchange for future favors. And it's not long before Tanya tries to cash in said favor as she attempts to cover up that she accidentally killed Frank (or did she?) after learning her efforts to keep Jason on the team have failed.
What works: The show has a few fun characters (Kyle's mom) and a few fun lines (Kyle's mom upon learning Kyle's engaged to Chardonnay: "So when's she due?") but...
What doesn't: ...it's all so disappointingly predictable and obvious. All the plots - baby blackmail, fiancee clashes with mother-in-law, wife who will do anything to stay ahead - are straight out of the warmed-over-soap-opera-plot playbook while only marginal effort is given to put a fresh spin on them. And while most of said plots are straight out of the U.K. original, that world was decidedly more in the "super raunchy, campy" mold than this show professes to be. Everything here is played extremely straight and its few attempts at being super raunchy (Nicole appears wearing only a mascot uniform) or campy (um, they use the word "bitch" a lot and somebody gets slapped 30 minutes in) only remind you what a pale imitation this show is. Making matters worse is a cast that doesn't seem to be enjoying themselves - the boys in particular sleepwalk through the show while of the girls, only Lawless appears to be having any fun at all. Equally as distracting is the show's "maybe-I've-watched-the-game-once-or-twice" treatment of football. All of the team's particulars are kept frustratingly vague (Brian's position is identified as "defense") while no one will mistake the behind-the-scenes operations as an episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks"... or even "1st and Ten."
The bottom line: It's the type of show that reminds us what "Desperate Housewives" does on a weekly basis is no easy task.