[08/01/07 - 10:58 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Spellbound" (The CW)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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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!

(pilot not ordered to series)

The network's description: No official description has been released.

What did they leave out: The screened pilot was actually shot as a "presentation," meaning it's more of a selection of key scenes (around 34 minutes by my count) rather than a full blown first episode. Should it have been picked up to series, the footage would have been expanded into a full pilot.

The plot in a nutshell: "Once upon a time on an enchanted island called Manhattan there lived a girl named Alex," explains said namesake (Lauren Bittner). She had the perfect boyfriend (Jordan Belfi), the perfect apartment and the perfect job as a life coach. (She's also a witch, but we'll come back to that in a second.) Anywho, her latest client (Erin Chambers) has been trying to escape being "the other woman" with her cheating boyfriend, whose regular girl is apparently fake, boring and "kind of smells." The trouble is - as Alex finds out after tagging along for support - that guy is actually her boyfriend. And so gone are the perfect boyfriend and the perfect apartment (the lease was in his name) as Alex turns up on her best friend's (Enuka Okuma) doorstep with nowhere else to go. Also offering a shoulder to cry on is her no-nonsense mom (and fellow witch) Bunny (Annie Potts) who thinks Alex is throwing away her talents as the most naturally gifted witch in 10 generations. You see Alex put away her spell book - not to mention most of her self-confidence - ever since her father took off after learning what his wife and daughter really were. She nevertheless puts her bravest face forward and throws herself into work, more specifically a new client (Eddie Kaye Thomas) who needs some help getting the courage up to ask out his longtime crush at work. When things don't go well - he's too shy for his own good - Alex finds herself casting a spell to give him some much needed confidence. And like all spells on TV shows, something goes wrong - in this case, he gets too much confidence. And so, between Bunny and Alex's cousin/assistant Chrissy (Aya Cash), the trio must try to find a way to reverse the spell before he drives his paramour away forever. In the meantime she somehow stumbles (or thanks to her mother, magically comes) across her dream apartment - a sublet whose roguish landlord (Justin Hartley) isn't shy about his attraction to Alex or all women in general. In the end, Alex finds that being a witch isn't all bad and maybe the perfect guy is literally just around the corner.

What works: Surprisingly charming and likeable, "Spellbound" has a sweet sensibility about itself without being too saccharin. Newcomer Lauren Bittner proves to be a fetching lead as much like "The World According to Barnes's" Ryan Devlin, her big break is undoubtedly around the corner. The same goes for Justin Hartley, who's once again the boy who can't quite grow up, in this case a caddish author who pens romance novels under a female pseudonym and subsequently thinks he knows everything about women. Their scenes together provide most of the pilot's highlights as their love/hate for each other is born from real chemistry. Creator Maggie Friedman also cleverly finds a way to put a new spin on the "woe is me, the beautiful woman in the city" routine. Alex's self-doubt is uncommonly articulate (she confesses to her mom that "I hate him, but that doesn't mean I still don't miss him") as her father's rejection haunts her, but not enough to keep her from trying to find happiness when it presents itself.

What doesn't: Conversely this is still very much a breezy, don't-think-about-it-too-much kind of show. Much like "The Dresden Files," MacGuffin devices are around every corner since every problem can - forgive the word - magically be solved out of thin air. Here we're told spells are like tattoos - in other words, hard to remove - but literally minutes later we learn there's a spell (with a few more ingredients than usual) that can do just that. Lax rules like that don't add much drama as we know they can be manipulated to fit any scene without consequence. In addition, once again we're saddled with narration for narration's sake. Alex's uniqueness comes across much better in action than via her "once upon a time" voiceovers. Regardless, I'm sure we'll be hearing from Bittner, Hartley and Friedman once again in the near future and I confess I'm kind of looking forward to it.

The bottom line: A cute show that didn't quite make the final cut.

  [august 2007]  


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