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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 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. Keep in mind 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. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE (The CW)
(Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00c starting this fall; TRT: 31:39)
The network's description: "The life of a high-fashion model appears glamorous and sexy, but as every new model quickly learns, behind the beautiful faade is a world of insecurity and cutthroat competition. Two teenage models who are about to discover this world for themselves are Raina Collins (Sara Paxton, "Last House on the Left"), a stunning beauty with a secret past, and Chris Andrews (Benjamin Hollingsworth, "The Line"), a strikingly handsome Iowa farm boy. When Raina makes an unforgettable impression at a show introducing the new line from designer Zac Posen (appearing in a cameo role), she steals the spotlight from her friend Sonja (Mischa Barton, "The O.C."). Sonja has been out of the country for mysterious reasons and is now desperate to reclaim her standing as the reigning supermodel. While Raina and Sonja live at the top of the fashion food chain, Chris is starting at the bottom, having just been discovered by agent Simon Lockridge (newcomer Dusan Dukic) of the Covet Modeling Agency, which is owned by former supermodel Claudia Foster (Elle Macpherson, "Friends"). At his first photo shoot, Chris' inexperience almost derails his career until Raina comes to his rescue, showing him how to relax and work the camera. That afternoon, Raina brings Chris to the "models' residence" where she lives along with other young hopefuls, including Marissa Delfina (Ashley Madekwe, "Secret Diary of a Call Girl"), Egan (Jordan Woolley, "As The World Turns"), Issac (Corbin Bleu, "High School Musical 2") and the current alpha-male-model known as Kai (Nico Tortorella, "Twelve"). At an exclusive industry party that night, Chris is again impressed by Raina's generosity when she steps aside to make sure Sonja lands a job that will resurrect her career. However, after an ugly scene with Simon, Chris is left to question whether he can survive in this world of dangerous excess and fleeting fame. THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE is from Katalyst Films in association with CBS Television Studios and Warner Bros. Television with executive producers Ashton Kutcher & Jason Goldberg ("True Beauty," "Punk'd"), Karey Burke ("True Beauty"), Mike Kelley ("Swingtown," "Jericho") and Carol Barbee ("Swingtown," "Jericho"). Christian Duguay ("Coco Chanel") directed the pilot."
What did they leave out? The pilot was actually shot as a presentation running just over 31 minutes. The final version will be expanded to include the missing elements from Adam Giaudrone's script.
The plot in a nutshell: Zac Posen is missing the final piece to his 2009 Fashion Week show - supermodel Sonja Stone (Mischa Barton), who's supposed to be wearing the signature design from his latest collection. And he's not the only one who's waiting: it seems Sonja's been missing in action for the past six months, hiding out in Rio from a swirl of rumors about rehab. Nevertheless she does turn up - only to discover the dress doesn't quite fit. Left with no other option, Zac and company turn to rising star Raina Collins (Sara Paxton) whose walk ends up saving the show. Across town we meet Chris Andrews (Ben Hollingsworth), an Iowa teen visiting New York with his family. While having lunch he's approached by Simon Lockridge (Dusan Dukic), a modeling agent who "makes beautiful people very rich." Flattered and intrigued, Chris agrees to a "go see" with Simon's boss, Claudia Foster (Elle Macpherson) of Covet Modeling Agency. There Chris and Raina "meet cute" and she offers her stranger in a strange land some tips on surviving the world of modeling.
Chris then proves to impress Claudia enough to have some pictures taken and Raina agrees to take him under her wing and show him the ropes. And he's going to need the help: awkward, embarrassed and Clark Kent-ish, Chris only seems to relax around Raina. She in turn has some problems of her own - being the newly anointed next big thing comes with a wave of jealousy from her competition while secrets from her past are on the verge of coming out after her brother brings troubling news from the homefront. Also along for the ride are Raina's best friend/fellow up-and-comer Marissa (Ashley Madekwe); current industry flavor of the month Kai (Nico Tortorella); resident party machine/drug dealer Egan (Nico Tortorella); and Egan's wingman Isaac (Corbin Bleu), all of whom share accommodations at the agency's dorm-esque apartment. From there things hit their expected beats: Sonja makes a play to regain her throne as the next Versace girl; Chris learns from Kai that Simon's interest in him isn't so innocent; Isaac deals with a medical problem; and Raina discovers Sonja's big secret. Yes, it may not be a beautiful life after all.
What works: Expertly cast and brimming with chemistry, "The Beautiful Life" is a flat out joy to watch. Sara Paxton and Ben Hollingsworth have an undeniable spark that permeates the entire show, one of that somehow manages to capture the lightning in a bottle that is being young and discovering the world. And while the modeling profession has been dissected to death on television as of late, Adam Giaudrone has found a surprisingly engaging lens to view it through in Raina and Chris. More importantly, "Life" taps not only the obvious touchstones - drugs, sex and lies - but also the simple concept that the modeling profession operates on a fleeting whim, that there's no rhyme or reason to it. Chris and Raina are kindred spirits in that they both realize that and yet still manage to find the good inside themselves (look for Azure Ray's "Sleep" as their go to theme for moon-eyed navel gazing). It's an intoxicating premise, one that hopefully won't get lost in feeding the typical teen show machine. The rest of the cast likewise proves to be uniformly top notch, including Barton's Sonja, a potential Ghost of Christmas Future for Raina; and Macpherson's Claudia, the confident architect of her brood's careers. Both bring a fun, meta edge to the proceedings that compliments our heroes' journeys.
What doesn't: Being a grown man and having to confess I really enjoyed the teen modeling show...
The bottom line: ...because I really did.