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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: DEMONS (CBS)
(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: A teenager (Jeanette Brox) being spooked by noises in her house is framed by a lecture on discernment (being able to call a thing what it is) by psych professor Augustus "Gus" Beckett (Ron Eldard). Dubbed the "demonologist" due to unorthodox lectures, Gus has nevertheless gained a steady following since his days as a priest. It seems that he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church several years ago for performing unsanctioned charisms (or exorcisms to us 21st century folk), although the always-ready-with-a-quip Gus thinks it was because he had an affair with a woman (Jaime Murray). His best friend/still-a-priest Mitch (Harold Perrineau) dismisses the latter idea as a priest having an affair with a woman would come off as "good PR" these days. Anywho, Gus discovered at a young age he had a gift for performing exorcisms and still carries the guilt over not being able to save his first victim. Thankfully she's still around in the form of a wet ghost (she drowned herself after being driven crazy by a demon) who appears as a pseudo-Bat signal telling him his services are needed. It also helps that the NSA shows up to tell him a widowed senator's (William Russ) house (the one featured in the teaser) is haunted. Gus however is skeptical at first but things become a lot more apparent when nails literally begin raining from the ceiling during his first visit. Not sure how to proceed, Gus calls on his ex Rebecca (Murray), a researcher in the psychiatric field, to help. She in turn brings along her assistant Conrad (David Clayton Rogers), a dreamy grad student. An awkward reunion later and the trio are Mulder and Scullying their way through the case. Together they interview the senator's daughters - Stevie (the girl from the teaser), the perfect one, and Toni (Kaili Thorne), the goth one who's been dabbling in wiccanism. The latter however turns out to be the expected red herring as it's actually Stevie who's revealed to be possessed, due to the fact she witnessed her mother's suicide and her father coerced her to forget it. Luckily, she's got the neighborhood "demonologist" around to save her.
What works: A hodgepodge of the matter-of-fact mythology of "Supernatural" and the handheld camera realism of "Night Stalker," the show...
What doesn't: ...unfortunately only apes the worst elements of the both. First and foremost is its inadvertently comical cinematography, which causes the demons and other creepy crawlies to look howlingly fake. It's almost as if they used a home video camera circa 1988 as the basis for the film stock used in its various flashback sequences, such as when the senator and his family recount their horrific experiences or when Gus tells the story of the aforementioned victim he failed. While the effort is admirable - it's supposed to look documentary "real" - the execution has the opposite effect. Even worse is that said style often bleeds into the present day action, causing things like the climatic showdown between Gus and the demon to look astonishingly silly. The real kicker though is the closing seconds in which a stone gargoyle turns and looks at the camera. Again, it's supposed to look spooky but it ends up looking like it's going to say "Watch 'Demons' Friday Nights on CBS!" Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed. In any case, Eldard emerges relatively unscathed as he handles the sarcastic/reluctant hero routine as well as anyone could, as does creator Barbara Hall, whose script evokes the underrated nuts-and-bolts style of "Supernatural." Neither however can sustain the weight of the show's look and feel.
The bottom line: Ugh.