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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
THE PILOTS THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE CUT: 1321 CLOVER (CBS, 2007)
(written by Brad Walsh & Paul Corrigan; directed by Walt Becker; TRT: 19:56)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out: It's basically if a family comedy was shot like "The Office."
The plot in a nutshell: Rob Murphy, Husband/Father ("Best Week Ever" staple Paul F. Thompkins) has agreed to let a film crew document his family's life in the hopes of getting enough money for a larger house and his children's future education (not to mention a two-man submarine). And in typical fashion, he's the kind of hapless, sex-starved and selfish oaf we've come to expect from the genre. Whether it's being overly competitive with a couple of kids while playing video games at the mall, being mesmerized by a hot mom's thong or lying about getting a promotion to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, he's got all the bases covered. Not surprisingly then, his silently suffering wife Sharon ("What About Brian's" Amanda Detmer) isn't too thrilled about the camera's newfound presence - especially when it catches her in the middle of an afternoon beer ("My doctor said it was good to have one a day while I was nursing and this is light beer so I figure two is cool."). In any case, the show's centerpiece is their son Tyler's (Logan Grove) Hello Kitty-themed birthday party ("It's totally cool with me," Rob confesses. "I don't care that it's feminine... or Asian.") where it doesn't take Nostradamus to figure out Rob will make a complete ass of himself. And so he does in rock star fashion, throwing his back out while goofing off in the kids' bounce house and having Sharon find some inappropriate pictures he took of the local moms. At the end of the day though, Tyler genuinely loves his dad ("I'm glad you're my dad, you don't care how much TV I watch," he admits while Rob tucks him in. "I really don't," Rob deadpans.) while Sharon can't stay mad forever.
What works: To its credit, the family-comedy-done-as-"The Office" premise has more legs than you'd think - the confessionals, the camera guy hiding to catch secret moments, the look at the camera reactions all hit solid beats. Now...
What doesn't: ...if it only wasn't so ho-hum and forgettable. Part of the problem is Rob, Sharon and Tyler literally have 95% of the lines (and Rob himself accounts for the bulk of that), which makes the show feel very claustrophobic. There are no Angelas, Kevins, Stanleys, Oscars, etc. to mix things up, it's just Rob says something dumb, Rob does something dumb, Sharon frets, Tyler smiles, Rob apologizes, Sharon forgives, wash, rinse and repeat. And while I get that's the point - it's supposed to be a documentary about "modern American suburbia" - it still would be nice to have some counterweights to the action. The real problem though is that it's more of the same - wow, the husband's self-absorbed idiot and the wife somehow tolerates him! Are these really the only characterizations possible in the family comedy genre? And even worse it leads to the same old jokes about dad being lazy, dad being obsessed with boobs and dad in general being kind of a douche. All in all, while I can appreciate what's being aimed for here...
The bottom line: ...the material itself comes up short.