[07/15/08 - 12:33 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Cleaner, The" (A&E)
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

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(Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c starting tonight)

The network's description: Each week THE CLEANER follows Benjamin Bratt as William Banks, a recovering addict who helps others get clean by any means necessary as he struggles to maintain his own rocky personal life. William works with an eclectic team. Swenton is a wily smart aleck who is great undercover and always jealous of Akani, the beautiful, manipulative, and mysterious woman who always seems to get the best assignments and might just have a romantic past with William. Darnell is the newest member of William's crew. Darnell is deeply indebted to William for helping his younger brother get clean, but he must balance his deep religious convictions with the kind of work required as part of William's team. Together with this eclectic group, William works week-in and week-out to bring addicts of all kinds to the point where they are ready and willing to get help and begin the difficult process of getting clean. With every success and every failure, William wrestles with his own demons through an unusual relationship with God. He's a man caught between an unwavering commitment to his work, deep love for his family, and the ghosts of his own addictions. Bad for his personal life, perhaps, but these are the tensions that make William the one you want helping a troubled loved one, the one you trust to do whatever is necessary, the man you want by your side in your darkest hour. In the face of tragedy and addiction, William Banks will risk everything to be The Cleaner.

The plot in a nutshell: "William Banks (Bratt) is a man with a calling," we're told in the first moments of the pilot episode. This calling, however, is getting in the way of taking care of his family. See William's kids angry that he's not around more often. See William's wife (Amy Price-Francis) try to understand his calling while her patience gets thinner and thinner. See William talk to God, seeking guidance and giving backstory to his relationships with the characters around him. William's crew consists of Akani (Grace Park), sexy and cocky, who doesn't open the letters from her father that William brings to her (oh, and the two of them slept together when William was separated from his wife); Swenten (Esteban Powell), who provides some comic relief for never getting to do the fun part of the job like driving the sports car after the grab has taken place; and best buddy Mick (Gil Bellows), who wants nothing more than getting his shaky marriage back on track. Darnell (Kevin Michael Richardson) is an auto salesman indebted to William and jonesing for a spot on his team as soon as an opening comes up. The user-of-the-week appears when the cousin of the teen in trouble asks William for his help. "If you think you can help, help. That's what you do, right?" "Yeah," William replies with gruff earnestness, "that's what I do." Troubled teen Zach starts stealing from homes in his middle class neighborhood to pay for his drug habit and his mother (guest star Clare Carey) asks for William's help. William's workload takes a toll on his wife and they fight but, later, when she sees him save the life of a young user, she becomes more understanding. It isn't long before William and his crew zero in on Zach and get him the help he needs. Meanwhile, Mick gets a call from his wife that their marriage is over and, without giving too much away, William may not be able to save everyone.

What works: Bratt is a fine actor and shows he has the strength to ground the series and bring the supporting cast up to his pro-level. I wish I had more to add but let's look at...

What doesn't: A lot...but "The Cleaner" is not a total failure and everything that doesn't work is fixable. Bratt's character William Banks may be having a hard time juggling the personal and professional sides of his life but the threats never seem truly dangerous. Every aspect of this series needs to truly dive into what is at stake for everyone involved as opposed to safely skating around it. Bratt leaning on his talks with God is a nice device but since we never see or hear God, we only have Bratt looking up at the sky and saying things like "I don't ask for much, do I?" The heavenly device used on "Saving Grace" is much more effective because you're watching a relationship develop in Grace and Angel Earl. William also needs to be more fragile to be interesting. In the pilot, he's too all knowing and his role is more the conscience and savior for everyone around him. Things would be more interesting if he were constantly on the brink of falling off the wagon himself. Also, it's difficult feeling for this guy when we're only told what he mess he was when he was using. Some well-placed flashbacks or having some of his past demons still tempting him would make us sympathize with him. The supporting cast does their job with their stock roles but the only standout is guest star Gil Bellows ("Ally McBeal"), who would have added something for Bratt to work against. Finally, the "case" of the week will only be compelling if there's a personal tie to someone in the cast. And watching the group track down the user-of-the-week and get them into rehab is already not interesting enough on its own. And though the split screens help move the action along, they shouldn't be expected to bring the only amount of grit to the series.

The bottom line: If "The Cleaner" can go all out and push the envelope across the board, this could become a noteworthy/can't-miss series. Unfortunately, the pilot leaves you wanting more---a lot more.

  [july 2008]  


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