[07/16/07 - 06:16 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Life Is Wild" (The CW)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

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!

(Sundays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)

The network's description: "Katie Clarke (Leah Pipes, "Clubhouse") may never forgive her veterinarian father, Danny (Brett Cullen, "Ghost Rider," "Friday Night Lights"), for dragging their entire blended family out of New York City to spend a year living in a broken-down lodge called The Blue Antelope in a game reserve deep inside South Africa. Everyone in the family, including Katie's 11-year-old brother Chase (K'sun Ray, "Smith"), Danny's second wife Jo (Judith Hoag, "Armageddon"), her rebellious teenage son Jesse (Andrew St. John, "General Hospital") and 7-year-old daughter, Mia (Mary Matilyn Mouser, "Eloise"), is sure Danny has lost his mind. But Danny's reasons go beyond his desire to keep his troubled family together while making a difference in the lives of the people and animals of South Africa: his deceased first wife Claire grew up at The Blue Antelope and it's still home to her reclusive father Art (David Butler). After just a few days in South Africa, the family has already encountered an injured lioness, a lost cub, and a gentle giraffe. They've also met a few locals, including a handsome young Brit, Oliver Banks (newcomer Calvin Goldspink) and his twin sister Emily (newcomer Tiffany Mulheron), whose father Colin Banks (Jeremy Sheffield), runs a safari business for wealthy tourists, and Tumelo (newcomer Atandwa Kani), a teen who dreams of becoming a veterinarian. While they are definitely outsiders, Katie and the rest of the family are nevertheless beginning to love the breathtaking vistas of the bush country and the vibrant culture enveloping them. A year in this strange but beautiful place might not be so bad after all. LIFE IS WILD is a production of CBS Paramount Network Television Inc., Warner Bros. Television and Company Pictures, an All 3 Media Company, with executive producers Michael Rauch ("Love Monkey," "Beautiful People"), Charlie Pattinson ("Wild at Heart," "Shameless") and George Faber ("Wild at Heart," "Skins"). Bryan Gordon ("The Office," "Curb Your Enthusiasm") directed the pilot."

What did they leave out: Brett Cullen and Judith Hoag's roles have subsequently been recast with "Hidden Palms's" D.W. Moffett now playing the former and "Everwood's" Stephanie Niznik as the latter.

The plot in a nutshell: The Clarkes initially appear to be like every other family as they get ready in the morning - siblings Katie (Leah Pipes) and Chase (K'sun Ray) fight over bathroom time, stepbrother Jesse (Andrew St. John) makes jokes at the former's expense, stepmom Jo (Judith Hoag) offers words of encouragement for their first day of school and dad Danny (Brett Cullen) reminds Katie it's her turn to feed the cat - except for the Clarkes, the cat is actually a lion cub and their home is the Blue Antelope gaming lodge in South Africa. So just how did this atypical clan come to be? Our narrator Katie gives us the lowdown - barely a week ago they were in New York City where Danny served as a veterinarian to the stars. And despite a relatively drama free life, Danny longed for something more, something like helping with the Theileria annulata outbreak in South Africa. Making the decision even easier - his stepson was recently arrested for beating up Katie's boyfriend (more on this in a second). And so with the promise of a much more salt of the earth, disciplined lifestyle, Danny and Jo pack up the gang for their grandfather Art's (David Butler) aforementioned gaming lodge halfway around the world. There we get a history lesson about the family - from how Danny met his first wife (Art's daughter) in the Peace Corps to the fact she died not that long ago to the hint that Katie looks just like her. In any case, the lodge has seen better days and Jo wants to help Art turn it back into the bustling destination it once was. The kids then not surprisingly have a much more mixed reaction. Chase and Mia (Mary Matilyn Mouser), the youngest of the group, are dazzled by the amazing animals (giraffes! elephants!) while Katie is more concerned with being able to get in touch with her distant (figuratively and literally) boyfriend. As for Jesse, he finds a kindred troublemaking spirit in local boy Oliver (Calvin Goldspink) as well as a girl to impress in Oliver's sister Emily (Tiffany Mulheron), both children of rival lodge owner Colin Banks (Jeremy Sheffield). Meanwhile in decidedly South African-only problems, word reaches the family that a wounded (read: dangerous) lioness has wandered into town looking for food. (I wonder if that will come up again?) Anyway, also along for the ride is Tumelo (Atandwa Kani), an aspiring vet himself who befriends Katie in the hopes of becoming Danny's apprentice. From there things more or less head down the expected path, as Jesse's reasons for laying out Katie's boyfriend become apparent (if they haven't already), the kids adopt one of the lioness's cubs and the "call of the wild" so to speak reaches out to all of them.

What works: It's more or less the "'7th Heaven' in Africa" show you'd expect (or a rehash of "Second Noah," if you remember the short-lived ABC drama), making it good news or bad news depending upon your taste. In either case, the show looks downright fantastic (it's actually shot in South Africa) and there are some decidedly "wow" moments with the animals.

What doesn't: Conversely, this is still very much your assembly line family drama, complete with earnest dad, supportive wife, snarky daughter, firebrand son, etc. In other words, there isn't a character you haven't seen before or a plot twist you don't see coming from a mile away. To its credit though, the show tries its darndest to use its South African elements to put a fresh spin on things, elements which unfortunately can't mask its shortcomings on the originality front. As for the recasting of Cullen and Hoag's characters, one hopes Moffett and Niznik can add a fresh spark to the proceedings.

The bottom line: Exactly what you'd expect, for better (or worse).

  [july 2007]  


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