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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: TRAVELING IN PACKS (ABC)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: "Imagine if you could have all the benefits of a committed relationship without having to actually be in one. Meet "the pack" Carol, Mary and Ivy three girls in their early thirties who live together, eat together, work together. It's basically "Golden Girls" in their thirties, but these girls have much better shoes and people still want to have sex with them. A year ago, the three of them decided to invest in their friendship by buying a house together. Their philosophy on life - why be single when you're single? Carol and Mary are sisters. Carol is a smart, fun, sexy girl. Girls want to be like her, guys want to be near her. She owns Bark 'N Park, a mobile pet grooming service, with Ivy, her stylish best friend and housemate. Mary is an attractive, somewhat uptight therapist who keeps her shoes in Tupperware. She sees patients in the basement of the home the three girls bought together a year ago. Their arrangement as a pack offers the girls necessary emotional support as well as a higher lifestyle. As Ivy says, a 30-dollar bottle of wine split three ways is much better than a 10-dollar bottle on your own. These are modern, confident women who fancy themselves "sexual chic" - meaning they sleep around but have taste when it comes to whom they have sex with, where they have sex and what they're wearing when they have sex. The pack's friendship is tested when Carol shows up for breakfast after having slept with Ken, one of Mary's patients, who has a history of hurting women. Mary wrestles with whether to approach the situation on the side of professionalism or "sisterism." Ivy reluctantly involves herself in the squabble by going to Ken to assess his damage. But her plan ultimately backfires. In the end, with the help of her friends, Carol realizes Ken is not the guy for her. She tells him that any guy who can't make it past "the girlfriend wall" isn't worth having. After Ken gets dumped, he returns to therapy with Mary where he realizes he made the biggest mistake of his life and spends the whole first season trying to woo Carol back. The pack knows life has a bottom line: Who wants to eat alone, go to movies alone, be sick alone and deal with breakups alone? Men have always traveled in packs, and now it's happening for women. Executive Producer Jhoni Marchinko and Director James Burrows, both of "Will & Grace," take us on a comedic journey into the lives of three girls who demonstrate that it's a lot easier to negotiate their thirties if they travel in a pack."
What did they leave out: It's more "Caroline in the City" than "The Golden Girls."
The plot in a nutshell: Carol (Virginia Williams), Ivy (Shawnee Smith) and Mary (Missi Pyle) are about to celebrate their first anniversary as co-owners of the same house. The former pair are the maneating sugar and spice owners of the "To Fur With Love" dog washing company ("We were already washing high end bitches' hair," Ivy reveals about their origins as co-workers at a hair salon. "Why not move on to a poodle?") Mary then uses their basement as the office to her psychiatry practice. She's also Carol's sister and the resident lesbian, the stereotypes of which she mocks only to confess that they're actually true. Life then is pretty good for the girls ("We're like the 'Golden Girls,'" quips Ivy. "Except we have better shoes and men still want to have sex with us."), that is until Carol hooks up with and subsequently falls for Ken (Owain Yeoman), one of Mary's patients. It's a revelation that doesn't go over well with Mary as she knows from her sessions that Ken is actually quite the lying womanizer. And so despite the best efforts by Mary's own therapist/last-guy-she-was-with-before-she-realized-she-was-gay (a blink-and-you'll-miss Michael Boatman), Mary decides to give Ken a talking to about his relationship with Carol. Ivy likewise threatens Ken after she realizes how hard Carol's fallen for him (she lets him place her on hold - the horror!) and together they nearly derail the relationship. Thankfully, Ken's douchebaggery beats them to the final blow as Carol decides anyone who can't make it through Ivy and Mary isn't worth her time.
What works: I'm always a big supporter of the multi-camera sitcom format but...
What doesn't: ...even my blind devotion to the format can't ignore this. A cookie cutter comedy in the worst sense - quirky, only on TV jobs, check; quirky, only on TV living situation, check; over the top laugh track, check; the list goes on - "Packs" is the type of show that finds the idea of a Mexican-Indian restaurant high comedy (curri margaritas, hilarious!). And somehow Shawnee Smith delivers lines like - "Do you remember that guy I was going out with in a rock band and you didn't like him? That was meddling, heavy meddling." - with a straight face. I think my laptop even groaned after I typed that in. Everything just feels canned and artificial, like it literally just fell off the assembly line from Dave Barry's infamous sitcom machine. I hate to pile it on but I'm grasping at straws to say something else. In the end, Carol's closing lines say it all, "[Ken] would have been another Pete, a re-Pete."
The bottom line: My computer just groaned again.