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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: DASH 4 CASH (The CW)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: No official description has been released.
What did they leave out: See above.
The plot in a nutshell: "The following is a fictional reality show," the opening title card informs us. "It's not real. The characters are actors and the content is completely scripted... by highly trained, very good looking Hollywood writers." And with that our chirpy host Ananda Lewis (playing herself) gives us the lowdown on the show itself. Basically it's a much more convoluted version of "The Amazing Race" in which six teams of two contestants race across the country for a $500,000 prize where they must navigate obstacles and make decisons on which routes to take. Various checkpoints then are set up along the way (one per episode) where the first place team receives a "blue ball" which they can in turn trade in for cash, help or directions. The last place team then receives the dreaded "red ball." Get three of those and you're eliminated (cleverly meaning that theoretically no one could be eliminated until the 13th episode). As for the contestants, there's Meredith (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and Dottie (Jud Tylor), two sugar-and-spice sorority sisters ("Not being able to volunteer for a few months is what I'm going to miss most," the former muses); Calvin (Rick Hall) and his son Michael (Robert Hoffman), who's a constant source of disappointment to him; Rick (Johann Urb) and Durkin (Bert Belasco), two former college roommates, the former of which is gleefully unaware of the latter's crush on him; Noelle (Brianna Brown) and her recently discovered half-brother Nick (Kyle Bornheimer) who's creepily attached to her; Gerry (Ben Falcone) and Melanie (Janina Gavankar), newlyweds with anger issues; and Ronnie (Kevin Christy) and Ikbal (Maulik Pancholy), two geeks whose only excursion out of state was to the last Comicon. Their first task: build a ladder out of a set of intricate pieces and use it to climb over a beach bluff. There they'll have their choice of transportation - ranging from car to horse - to get to the next area. From there, the various alliances and rivalries begin to appear - from the sorority sisters charming the geeks into helping them ("They have the looks of the girls in the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues but the grace and dignity of the girls in the J. Crew catalogues," Ikbal notes); to a mutual crush between Michael and Noelle spurning jealousy from Nick; to Gerry and Melanie's overly competitive nature getting the best of them ("If you want to be a lawyer, you go to lawyer school," Melanie says. "If you want to be a correspondent on 'Access Hollywood,' you win a reality show.") But it's not all purposely nonsensical tasks, we're also treated to the racers downtime between heats at the hotel. There Durkin hides all but the hand towels after Rick showers, Calvin does naked one-armed push-ups while singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and Ronnie and Ikbal muse about whether the girls actually like them ("If she lets you touch her elbow you're in," Ronnie tells him. "I know, I Googled it.") Yes, boys and girls, this isn't your typical reality show. In any case, another equally nonsensical task involving zip lines later and the first checkpoint is reached, much to the various racers delight and/or chagrin.
What works: It's almost stunning how many details the show gets right - from the overly revealing confessional videos, to the bizarre audition tapes to the purposely silly challenges (the car vs. horse bit is priceless). The real amusement though comes from the note perfect contestant archetypes. No reality contest stone was left unturned here as every racer is some amalgam from the pantheon of reality show contestants. The actors themselves also prove to be up to the task as there's just as many "over the top" characters as subtle ones, giving the show a solid variety. There's also a refreshing lack of snarkiness in the script. Creators Boyce Bugliari and Jamie McLaughlin seem to genuinely enjoy the various avenues the reality genre allows their characters to explore, rather than backhandedly completing the genre that very often takes away their jobs. And plus, it's just plain great to see a show try something new instead of sticking with the tried-and-true comedy formulas.
What doesn't: On the flip side, sometimes I wonder if the show is a little too in on the joke. First and foremost is that while it vaguely looks like a reality show, director Betty Thomas still shoots "Dash" very much like a single-camera show, complete with coverage and other elements that constantly remind you what you're seeing isn't real. I almost wish the show took a step back into the "is it real or not?" territory mined by the short-lived Comedy Central series "Contest Searchlight," which tried to pass itself off as a genuine "Project Greenlight"-esque series. That would undoubtedly help sell the more outlandish twists of "Dash," such as when a homeless man steals Gerry and Melanie's car or when Calvin nearly breaks Michael's foot while pedaling a bike too fast, which feel like stunts rather than the spontaneous elements they're supposed to be thanks to the show's cinematography. At the end of the day though, this is exactly the type of experiment I love seeing done on television.
The bottom line: A charming, albeit far from bulletproof, effort that should have definitely seen the light of day.