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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: THE MINISTER OF DIVINE (FOX)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: "Who knew church could be this fun? The small, conservative farming town of Divine gets shaken up when their ancient minister dies in the middle of Sunday service and his replacement is GERALDINE "GERRY" GRANGER (Emmy Award winner Kirstie Alley, "Fat Actress," "Veronica's Closet," "Cheers"), a chocolate-loving, joke-cracking lady pastor with a shady past. The members of the church council don't quite know what to make of their new spiritual leader, particularly council president DAVID HORTON (Kevin McNally, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"), who is instantly opposed to this very irreverent reverend. Although David and Gerry agree on very little, over time a mutual respect turns, perhaps, into something more. THE MINISTER OF DIVINE is about the human desire to be part of something bigger than our own messed-up lives and the lives of these council members are plenty messed up. There's HUGO HORTON (Johnathan Tchaikovsky, "Rescue Me," "Off the Black"), David's slow-witted son, who's in love with Gerry's assistant, the equally dim ALICE TINKER (Riki Lindhome, "Gilmore Girls"); OWEN NESBITT (W. Earl Brown, "Deadwood"), an earthy and blunt-talking farmer and NASCAR fan; FRANK POOLE (Malcolm Barrett, "Law & Order"), the fastidious keeper of the council minutes; LETICIA CROPLEY, the no-longer-young church organist and former beauty queen; and JIM TROTT, a paranoid conspiracy theorist who also happens to be the town mayor. Revolving around Gerry's loving but often exasperated care of this eclectic crew, THE MINISTER OF DIVINE offers a humorous snapshot of what it means to be a person of faith in America today. THE MINISTER OF DIVINE is based on the top-rated British series "The Vicar of Dibley" created by Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill," "Love Actually," "Mr. Bean"). In 2004, it was ranked third-all-time-favorite British sitcom in a national poll. From 20th Century Fox Television and Tiger Aspect, THE MINISTER OF DIVINE has been adapted by Emmy Award winner Suzanne Martin ("Frasier," "Maybe It's Me," "Ellen")."
What did they leave out: Weirdly, none of the aforementioned character names matches up with what's actually used in the pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: After Divine's 102-year-old minister dies in the middle of his latest service, the church sends Sydney Hudson (Kirstie Alley) as his replacement. The trouble is the conservative farming town - especially its church council president Wesley (Kevin McNally) - was expecting a man. The arrival of Sydney then ruffles quite a few feathers - "You were picturing a mousy little chick - glasses, Bible, bad breath," she notes. "[And] instead you got a babe with blonde streaks and a magnificent bosom." The rest of the town's congregation - Sally (Riki Lindhome), the dim bulb assistant to the late minister; Hubert (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), Wesley's equally as dim witted son; Buzz (W. Earl Brown), the hickish sheep farmer; Fred (Malcolm Barrett), the nebbish minutes taker; Dorothy (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), a senior who's just about lost her marbles; and J.D. (again, apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), the resident weirdo - however is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. After all things can't get any worse - they've lost the majority of their parishioners to the local Hooters on Sundays. And so Sydney trots out her "End Global Warming" banners and "Ministers Do It On Sundays" T-shirts much to Wesley's horror. Citing her lack of traditional values - and her colorful past - he tries to get her recalled but she beats him to the punch saying she'll leave if he helps fund the church's efforts to replace their broken stained glass window. Thankfully the rest of the town rallies to her defense as she's helped fan the flames of romance for Hubert and Sally as well as brought back senior single night for the Dorothy's of the town. Plus, attendance has tripled due to people's curiosity about Sydney. In the end, Sydney and Wesley reach a tentative truce as both see the benefits of having each other around.
What works: Ummmmmm, that was...
What doesn't: ...terrible. Cartoonish, grating and borderline offensive in parts, "Divine" is essentially an endless string of aimless hillbilly jokes wrapped around a surprisingly one-note premise. Jokes like Buzz saying having a woman minister is "liking praying to a bald Jesus" and having the lights go out after Sydney exclaims that "God wants me here" are the unfortunate wheelhouse here, all of which the laugh track would have you believe are the piece de resistance of comedy. But those are at least harmless "jokes" as a scene in which Sydney notes that she "wishes she could do more" to help the Katrina victims followed by the timid Hubert saying "me too" while gazing longingly at the my-father-doesn't-approve-of Sally goes one step further by having that extra "I want to shower after watching it" quality. Even worse is that the show's overall boozy-gal-comes-to-help-backwards-town-that-hates-her premise doesn't aim any higher than the expected set of cliches. The "Ministers Do It On Sundays" T-shirt bit tells you everything you need to know. The fact that the town is comprised mostly of one-dimensional hicks then shouldn't come as much of a surprise. I realize it's just a sitcom, but come on - can't we aim a little higher?
The bottom line: A bust in every sense of the word.