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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: THE RICH INNER LIFE OF PENELOPE CLOUD (CBS, 2007)
(written by Jeff Greenstein; directed by ???; TRT: 21:38)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out: "Penelope" marked Marisa Tomei's first sitcom work since "A Different World" nearly 20 years ago.
The plot in a nutshell: It's been a rough nine years since Penelope Cloud (Marisa Tomei) published her "culture-defining" debut novel at the age of 27, or at least that's what she tells us. Since then she hasn't written a thing; coasted by as a graduate writing professor at Berkeley; watched her "didn't want kids" ex-boyfriend/current agent Claude (Angus Macfadyen, making a nice go at comedy) knock up his twentysomething bride; learned her anti-depressant prescription has just ran out; and, more importantly, just realized the person she's been explaining this all to - her recent adoptee from the "Little Sister" program, Adoracion (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress) - doesn't speak a word of English ("Watch more TV, that's how Daryl Hannah learned English," she notes).
Things however are about to change. It begins with her new psychiatrist Dr. Hakim (Erick Avari), who explains her self-medication is probably the root of her writer's block and going off them might lead to those crazy things called feelings. At school, her oddball student Ivy (a pre-"Heroes" Nick D'Agosto) - as in IV, short for Augustus Walbridge IV - challenges her with the Sisyphean task of helping him edit his seemingly neverending manuscript, all the while battling an unexpected bout of horniness. At home, her best friend/lesbian dance instructor Eva (Cynthia Watros) - with whom she once had a drunken fling with in college - does her best to support Penelope going pharmaceutical free. Together they spark Penelope's first wave of creativity in nearly a decade, resulting in her writing the first chapter of a new book. Now if only she hadn't accidentally lifted the whole thing from Ivy's own manuscript.
What works: This was actually one of my favorite scripts last year, there was just something about Penelope's voice that felt fresh and new. I bring this up because it's unfortunate that...
What doesn't: ...a woefully miscast Marisa Tomei drowns out any sound of it. Everything is broad and big here in the comedy department, as Tomei doesn't find a piece of scenery she can't chew - whether it be literally popping pills or aggressively fake typing on her laptop. What's even worse is that it causes the idiosyncratic nature of the show to get lost in the translation. I mean to make a show about a drug addicted writer whose only friends are a (wo)maneating lesbian dance instructor and an adolescent girl who doesn't speak English is a high-wire act in itself. But to make it a multi-camera show (complete with laugh track) adds a degree of difficulty Sisyphus himself could behold. That's not to say there aren't genuine laughs to be had - such as when Penelope amusingly qualifies that when she said she thought Claude's new wife was trash, she was only referring to her book - it's just there's a real sense...
The bottom line: ...a much better show is in here somewhere.