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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: SUSPECT (ABC, 2007)
(written by Ed Zuckerman; directed by Guy Ritchie; TRT: 44:24)
The network's description: "From film director Guy Ritchie (Snatch; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), comes a sophisticated procedural set in Chicago's Area 4 Violent Crimes Unit. Bringing his rock-n-roll filmmaking style to the small screen, Ritchie keeps the evidence moving in a taut drama. A brutal murder sets the action in motion. Immersive hand-held camera work takes us deep into the elite squad as young homicide detectives Panelli and Sawchuck assemble a roster of suspects all with a motive to kill. One by one, Rashomon-style, their stories are dissected. How would each of them take down their prey? How did they become the killer? Cutting edge, stylistic storytelling makes the evidence come alive as the detectives piece together each killer's path. The motive is the story and the tension is the process of elimination. One by one, each suspect gets their own moment until the final reveal brings it all into focus. The Matrix's Carrie Ann Moss, Golden Globe(R) nominee Michael Ealy ("Sleeper Cell," Barbershop) and Charles Dutton star as ambitious investigators driven to find truth and justice not easy or politically correct answers. The unpredictable narrative of this fast-paced drama will keep the audience glued to the screen every week, until each case is 100% solved."
What did they leave out: Like CBS's "NUMB3RS," the show actually uses the stylized title of "SUS?ECT" in its brief title sequence.
The plot in a nutshell: Lt. Chivers (Carrie-Anne Moss), head of the Chicago Police Department's Violent Crimes Unit, informs us that 500 people are murdered in the city each year. This is the story of one of them: Marty Fisher (Matthew Del Negro), an Assistant State's Attorney who was shot to death in a parking garage. She's put together six suspects - Calvin "The Nazi" McCall (Arie Verveen), a vengeful con who Marty put away; Victor "The Wise Guy" Curran (Michael Madsen), a mob enforcer whose boss Marty was investigating; Justine "The Lover" Lambroso (Christina Chang), an FBI agent with whom Marty was having an affair; Jack "The Jealous Husband" Lambroso (Mark Pellegrino), said woman's husband who likes his guns; Ronnie "The Rich Kid" Deutsch (Sam Murphy), a spoiled brat who Marty didn't show any mercy when he was caught dealing drugs; and Rachel "The Widow" Fisher (Cyia Batten), Marty's wife - as well as a recording of a mysterious voice threatening Marty to go on. Photos of all seven then are pinned to a large corkboard and when a suspect is ruled out, we watch as the photo dissolves from the lineup. Helping to rule out said suspects are Chivers's team: the cool-as-ice Tillman (Michael Ealy), the seen-it-all veteran Sampson (Charles S. Dutton), the smart-ass Panelli (Erik Palladino) and the idealistic Grosz (Kathleen Monroe). Initially, "The Rich Kid" and "The Widow" appear to be dead ends while "The Wise Guy" is revealed to be an FBI mole who was working with Marty. The group then turns to more promising leads - one of "The Nazi's" devout followers (Jed Rees) had been tailing Marty; and "The Lover" and "The Jealous Husband's" stories check out a little too perfectly. The real progress is made however when Tillman and Panelli discover Marty had been pocketing evidence money, was up to his eyes in debt at an Indiana casino and had been turning to a pawn shop owner/loan shark (W. Earl Brown, the aforementioned mysterious voice) to buy himself out. Inevitably though, it turns out to be none of these things - Marty, the affair aside, was actually a good guy trying to clear things up and was betrayed by "The Wise Guy" who it turns out was playing both sides. Case closed.
What works: Guy Ritchie's overstylized direction (fisheye lenses, rotating cameras, over the shoulder perspectives, etc.), gives the show some much needed flair and "The Nine's" John Billingsley eventually turns up as an amusingly slimy mob lawyer, but ultimately it's still your...
What doesn't: ...typical flat, lifeless procedural. Even worse, the show's much ballyhooed gimmick - once a suspect is eliminated, their photo is removed from the case board with fancy CGI - turns out to be completely useless as the guy who did it was supposedly ruled out previously. And while I get that's the point - you never know who you can really rule out - it seems kind of silly to spend so much time building up the case board as a tool... only to prove its uselessness 43 minutes later. What's even more amusing - and not in a good way - is that the case itself proves to be complicated for complications' sake (this is a procedural after all) and could definitely have used some sort of tool to keep track of the various connections. Oh wait, what's that - it had some sort of case board all along? As luck would (or wouldn't actually) have it though, it's wasted on simply being a lineup board for the suspects instead of something useful - like an org chart for how everything fits together. All of this though is magnified even more by the fact our heroes are given next to no characterization - unless you count Sampson eating baby carrots in every scene as characterization - while if it weren't for my notes I couldn't tell you any of their names if my life depended on it. Good characters can make you forget all types of flaws, but in this case...
The bottom line: ...I don't think that would have been quite enough.