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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!
Last season, Lifetime ordered six drama pilots, of which three - "Army Wives," "State of Mind" and "Side Order of Life" - made it to series. This is a look back at the three pilots that were passed on.
THE PILOTS THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE CUT: THE MADNESS OF JANE (Lifetime, 2007)
(written by Rob LaZebnik; directed by Tucker Gates; TRT: 41:55)
The network's description: No official description was released.
The plot in a nutshell: Neurologist Dr. Jane Conway (Ever Carradine) is what we in the TV world call quirky. From how she writes notes on her arm to how she builds odd contraptions to help her patients, Jane is one of the best in her field, capable of diagnosing rare diseases given only a few symptoms. That all changes however when her beloved father dies, sending her into a deep depression. You see, it seems that the aforementioned "quirks" are actually symptoms of a serious bipolar condition - one that forces Dr. Rybek (Mark Harelik), the hospital's chief of psychiatry, to commit her. There Jane finds she makes a poor patient as she doesn't really believe that anything's wrong with her. She sneaks phone calls from her team (Brittany Ishibashi, Jeff Bryan Davis) looking for help with their latest case and overrides the diagnoses of Oliver Cornbluth (Frank Grillo), the doctor who runs her group therapy sessions. Nevertheless, Jane finds she actually can't bring herself to leave, as she continues to bounce in and out of said depression while hallucinations plague her at the most inopportune moments. It's particularly hard on her sister Marie (Christine Woods), who's been Jane's de facto caretaker her whole life. While everyone at the hospital was seeing a brilliant Jane, she saw a sister who never slept, self-medicated and spent all of her off-hours in a "Beautiful Mind"-esque room covered in Post It notes. Back at therapy, Jane befriends a fellow patient (Riley Smith, who's battling a hypersexual disorder) who helps her admit that something is indeed wrong with her and she needs help. And so, with Oliver assigned as her caretaker, Jane returns to work - much to Rybek's chagrin - and begins her journey back to mental health.
What works: It's a surprisingly dark show in that Jane's mental illness isn't some kind of "superpower" to help her diagnose patients, she's genuinely ill. Her hallucinations - for instance, she's haunted by images of a Komodo dragon after a patient mentions he lost his arm to one - don't point her to cures, they scare her. And she isn't given a quick fix cure either, the events in the pilot indicate this is step one on a long road ahead. There's also some interesting hints about Jane's father, who may have been suffering from a milder form of her condition. Plus, it's probably the most beautifully shot pilot I've seen in a while (kudos to Tucker Gates). All in all, there's quite a few interesting seeds.
What doesn't: It's unfortunate then that the show suffers from an overwhelming feeling of MOW-ness as all that's missing is a title card that says "the following is based on a true story." All of the "Jane's" franchise elements - the central "case" involves a woman (Kristen Ariza) whose brain is confusing temperatures - feel like afterthoughts as its resolution comes across along the lines of "oh yeah, remember that thing where there's that girl who... well, anyway, well here's how we can fix it." "Jane" is very much a character study and after shot number 27 of Jane staring off into space, the prospect of spending each week in this world gets a little dreary. That, coupled with a few leaps in logic - most notably the idea that any hospital would allow a doctor (no matter how talented he or she is) who's been committed back to work after a few days - overshadows it's more intriguing elements. That's not to say there's not a show here, I just wouldn't be gung ho about discovering what that is.
The bottom line: A bit of promise and a bit of detraction make this a wash.