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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: M.O.N.Y. (NBC)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: "Joe Capanelli became New York's Public Advocate to fight for the little guy. After all, he still considers himself a kid from the old neighborhood, and prides himself on his shoot-from-the-gut attitude. What will change for Joe when the Mayor slips into a coma and he's forced to take his place? What will happen when the person elected to fight City Hall becomes City Hall? How will unpolished Joe learn to work with the refined, headstrong Deputy Mayor who is so opposed to his nonconforming ideas? Joe may be getting the keys to the city, but it's not going to be easy."
What did they leave out: Check out the show's pedigree: Spike Lee directed the pilot from a script by Tom Fontana. Plus: Richard Belzer makes a cameo as presumably his well-traveled "Law & Order: SVU"/"Homicide" character John Munch.
The plot in a nutshell: Joe Capanelli (Bobby Cannavale) is the type of guy, or type of New Yorker rather, that still uses the word "freakin'," calls his best friends "bitches," is a terrible public speaker, still carries Tom Seaver's rookie card in his wallet and loves his kids more than anything. He spends his days as the public advocate for the City of New York, fighting for the little guy alongside his best friend Ates Kiliclioglu (Arian Moayed). He's also first in the line of succession for the mayor (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), a fact that comes into play when a traffic accident puts the mayor in a coma and releases a penguin named Pepe into the streets (don't ask). It falls to Joe then to deal with what the mayor was rushing to respond to - a terrorist cell apparently is going to blow up Grand Central Station that day. Hesitant at first, he reluctantly agrees to go along with the police's plan to storm the home of one of its suspected members. Not surprisingly it doesn't go well as an innocent man is killed, drawing the ire of the local Arab community leaders. Not helping matters is that Joe is constantly butting heads with the mayor's deputy Francine Tyson (Carmen Ejogo), who doesn't think he's fit to fill the mayor's shoes. She more or less advises him to stick with the mayor's figurehead duties - like throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees/Mets game - and leave the other stuff to the grownups in the room. Also along for the ride are the mayor's unapologetically gay bodyguard (Rick Fox) and the mayor's no nonsense assistant (Amy Ryan). In the end, Joe's "Joe"-ness helps keep the peace among the Arab leaders and he and Francine reach a tentative truce. They'll need to as word comes down the mayor isn't expected to wake up from his coma.
What works: To its credit, the show manages to make New York feel like part of the show rather than a name checked backdrop. Moments like when Joe gets booed at the Yankees game - while the rescued penguin gets a round of applause - feel decidedly "New York" without being too gimmicky. Tom Fontana's script also wisely doesn't paint Joe as the artificially neutral, calming voice among a sea of blowhard Republicans and Democrats (a la "Mister Sterling") - he's simply Joe. He's the guy who's gonna push aside a prepared dedication speech and simply say, "This is New York City. Look around - it's freakin' amazing!" He's the guy who's going to spend city dollars to make sure his daughter gets a ride home when he can't be there, no matter how bad it makes him look. And kudos to Bobby Cannavale to somehow finding a way to make Joe walk that tightrope between "how you doin'" caricature and multi-faceted character without actually falling onto either side.
What doesn't: It's said aspect that makes the show both silly and compelling at the same time. "The world's spinning twice as fast as usual and here I am playing pocket pool," Joe notes while on the sidelines during the aforementioned terror crisis. It's just one of several lines that makes you both groan (when was the last time somebody actually used the phrase "pocket pool?") and still like the guy. That weird balance expands into the plot as well - the same accident that puts the mayor in a coma also sends Pepe on a "March of the Penguins"-esque detour. Weird? Yes. Surprisingly compelling? That too. And it's all packaged in an "only in New York" kind of way that almost sells me on it. Could it have turned into something great? Possibly. For right now though it's just too uneven of a show to really feel bad about missing the cut.
The bottom line: A surprisingly likeable show that doesn't quite make "the leap."