[05/28/09 - 12:45 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Listener, The" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(premieres Thursday, June 4 at 9:00/8:00c; regularly airs Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c)

The network's description: "Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik, "The Timekeeper") is a 25-year-old paramedic who has a big secret -- he's a telepath. Until now, Toby kept his ability hidden, exploring its possibilities only with his long-time mentor and confidant, Dr. Ray Mercer (Colm Feore, "24: Redemption"). "The Listener" follows Toby as he makes the rounds with his energetic paramedic partner -- "Oz" Bey (Ennis Esmer, "Young People F*#king"), helping people in crisis, and in the process trying to unravel the truth about his past. While his professional life is in check, Toby's personal life could use its own rescue. And with the help of Detective Charlie Marks (Lisa Marcos, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman") and his E.R. doctor/ex-girlfriend Olivia Fawcett (Myl�ne Dinh-Robic, "Da Vinci's City Hall"), Toby realizes his gift can help others."

What did they leave out? "The Listener" was the second Canadian-produced drama imported by the broadcast networks in the wake of the WGA strike, the first being CBS's "Flashpoint."

The plot in a nutshell: Since he can remember, Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik) has had a special ability - he can hear people's thoughts. Put up for adoption at a young age after his mother was driven mad by the very same gift, he grew up fearful of said power. But with the help of one Dr. Ray Mercer (Colm Feore), Toby's put together a relatively stable life as a paramedic in Toronto alongside his oafish best friend Osman "Oz" Bey (Ennis Esmer). That is of course until one day Toby hears a woman (Kristen Hager) calling for help... from blocks away. Trapped in a burning car, Toby and Oz manage to save her, during which Toby "overhears" that her son has been kidnapped. She however doesn't say anything to the cops - including Detective Charlie Marks (Lisa Marcos) - inspiring Toby to investigate it himself. And thanks to his ability - and a little help from his trusty bump key - Toby pulls off some solid detective work. It turns out that the woman saw something she wasn't supposed to and one of the men involved is holding her son hostage to keep her quiet. From here the show takes the usual procedural turns - some expected, some unexpected - as Toby and Det. Marks reluctantly find themselves working together to save the woman and her son.

Also along for the ride in Toby's adventures: his on-again/off-again girlfriend Olivia Fawcett (Myl�ne Dinh-Robic), an ER doctor; his boss George Ryder (Arnold Pinnock), whom he manages to sweet talk thanks to his abilities; and Marks's Sergeant (Anthony Lemke), who's openly skeptical of her new "partner." A second episode ("Lisa Says," not airing until June 25) was also provided for review. Said installment sees Toby once again hearing the cry of someone in need, in this case a teen runaway named Daniel ("United States of Tara's" Keir Gilchrist) being beat up by a group of thugs. Toby finds a kindred spirit in the boy as he too knows the harsh world of foster homes and living on your own. That changes however when Daniel "confesses" he killed a fellow runaway named Lisa to gain some street cred with the aforementioned bullies, forcing Toby to look into the matter. He and Det. Marks, whom Oz now dubs "Detective Delicious," eventually track down Daniel's parents and the truth finally comes to light.

What works: It's nice to see a "person with supernatural powers" show in which the abilities are treated more as a gift than a curse. Toby genuinely wants to do good with his telepathic powers, even if he's been dealt a harsh life because of them. And while the show in general is a little bland for my taste, Olejnik proves to be a capable lead - his performance isn't showy or angst-ridden, he's just the right amount of boy scout and tortured soul. "The Listener's" procedural elements likewise have a comfortable edge to them - the plots are by no means a labyrinthian puzzle nor are they painfully predictable, they just get the job done. As for its recurring storyline involving Toby's (and his mother's) origins, it's enjoyably unobtrusive - we don't learn much more by episode five than we know in episode one, however it's touched upon enough to slowly build momentum toward something larger.

What doesn't: The supporting cast, for the most part, doesn't quite gel. Esmer's Oz is tragically buffoonish, as his antics - forgetting to zip his fly and spilling food all over himself - are eye-rollingly juvenile, especially considering he's supposed to be a paramedic; while Dinh-Robic's Olivia has zero chemistry with Toby, making the whole on-again/off-again thing feel very radioed in. Marcos's Det. Marks thankfully helps provide some sparks, albeit while being forced to wear some of the least professionally functional outfits imaginable. Also, as previously noted, it's by no means the strongest procedural ever made - Toby seems to luck his way into and out of his various predicaments without a true means of attack or escape, respectively. Overall, I can't say "The Listener" is a show I'd seek out on a regular basis during the regular season. But as this is the summer...

The bottom line: ...we have to take what we can get in the scripted department.

  [may 2009]  


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