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12 MILES OF BAD ROAD (HBO)
As widely reported here and elsewhere, HBO ordered 10 episodes of this series - only six of which were completed before the WGA strike. The network then ultimately decided to shelve the show rather than continue production after the strike. In an effort to garner interest by other networks, executive producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason have mailed out copies of the show to various critics across the country. We've acquired a copy of the show's pilot, a review of which follows.
The plot in a nutshell: Sisters Amelia (Lily Tomlin) and C.Z. (Mary Kay Place) Shakespeare are the queens of the Dallas real estate market. For the former, it's all about the business while for the latter, it's all about the latest gossip. Such is the case when the pair - along with their partner Kenny (Leslie Jordan) - give the Cowboys newest running back (Texas Battle) a helicopter tour of their properties. It's here that C.Z. gives us the low down on the highly dysfunctional Shakespeare clan. Amelia has three children - son Jerry (Gary Cole), who's more interested in buying a Navy destroyer to use as a fishing boat than paying attention to his desperate housewife Jonelle (Kim Dickens), who's just donated a fortune to Oprah's latest cause; daughter Juliet (Katherine Lanasa), who's going through a passive aggressive divorce with husband Saxby (David Andrews), whose mistress-soon-to-be-wife Montserrat (Ivana Milicevic) has just moved in with them; and wild child Gaylor (Eliza Coupe) now lives in a tour bus outside Jerry's house after blowing her inheritance to help her loser boyfriend produce another album. And that's just the adults! The third generation includes everyone from Juliet's special needs daughter McKenna (Cameron Richardson) to Jonelle's foreign exchange student/day laborer Julio (Alejandro Chab�n) to Jerry's daughter Caitlin (Cherilyn Wilson), who literally just got engaged to Jesus as part of an abstinence pledge. From here it's your typical soap stuff - Juliet clashes with Montserrat, who's just built a Shinto shrine in their backyard to get married in; Jonelle is horrified by Gaylor's hard living ways; Jerry and Saxby follow their respective pensises; C.Z. tries to get McKenna into the local debutante society; and Amelia just prays that one day her family will do something normal. But regardless of their squabbles, at the end of the day they are family - a crazy one, but still a family.
What works: To its credit, there are some genuinely funny moments - Jerry's befuddled reaction to his daughter's "engagement" jumps to mind - and there's nothing quite like Lily Tomlin reading the riot act in defense of her family but...
What doesn't: ...at the end of the day it's just an overstuffed mess. See if you can follow this: Jerry is secretly having an affair with Marilyn (Leigh Allyn Baker), who used to be his secretary but now runs a local mattress store after their relationship garnered unwanted attention. Since then she's developed cancer and going through a painful chemotherapy. But wait, there's more: she's married to Lyle (Sean Bridges), who's something of a loser/basket case. After Marilyn gets his Sonic order wrong he decides to take his gun out and shoot the burger - this of course being after he spends a full minute espousing the merits of Mannheim Steamroller in the non-holiday months. I'll say it for you: "Whaaaa???" And these are just the storylines I've mentioned. Making matters worse is everyone seems to have taken lessons from the Yosemite Sam/Foghorn Leghorn School of Southern Accents (TM pending), which makes watching a full hour of "I say, I say"-ness quite the chore. Then there's the much-ballyhooed character of McKenna, who's never referred to as anything but "retarded." Even with that uncomfortableness aside, I'm more offended by the "Oh my God, really?"-level of broadness in which the character is written and played. I'm talking old Jerry Lewis movies offensive. Which brings us to my final point - which is "What's the point?" 55 minutes of Texas caricatures? How's that for a way to spend a Sunday evening? Nobody is particularly likeable, everybody is fairly predictable and the humor is few and far between.
The bottom line: Say what you will about "In Treatment" or "John from Cincinnati," they at least tried to do something different. "12 Miles" would have been a giant step backward for HBO.