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So you've seen all of the new shows this fall - but what about the ones that didn't make the cut? For the next 30 days we're going to take a "first look" at a collection of 30 pilots that didn't land on the 2009-10 season schedule. Are there any gems that got passed over or are they all deservedly locked in the networks' vaults? Stay tuned.
WASHINGTON FIELD (CBS)
(written by Jim & Tim Clemente; directed by Jon Cassar; TRT: 42:57)
What is it? A drama about the National Capital Response Squad, an elite unit of the FBI.
Who was behind it?: "Criminal Minds" showrunner Edward Allen Bernero executive produced the hour which was written by brothers Jim & Tim Clemente, the latter of which is a former FBI agent. "24" veteran Jon Cassar directed the pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: "In 1999," the opening narration explains. "The U.S. Attorney General mandated the creation of an elite squad of FBI agents, specialists in the investigation and prevention of major crimes involving citizens and our national interests anywhere in the world... [which] became the National Capital Response Squad operating out of the Washington Field Office of the FBI. These are their stories." And with that we meet the members of the NCRS: Raymond Stone ("K-Ville's" Cole Hauser), the squad's commander who doesn't take kindly to bureaucratic oversight; Jackie Palmer ("Firefly's" Gina Torres), their deployment coordinator/motorcycle enthusiast; Mark Chen ("NUMB3RS's" Matthew Yang King), explosives expert; Tommy Diaz ("CSI: Miami's" Eddie Cibrian), evidence expert; his wife Amanda Diaz ("The Wedding Bells's" Teri Polo), medical forensic expert; Dean Jameson ("NCIS: LA's" Adam Jamal Craig), investigative analyst; Rasha Hamali ("Law & Order's" Angel Desai), intelligence analyst; and Terri Porter (Emily Rose), media liaison.
Tying them all together is a massive communications center (think CNN's election touch screen on steroids) overseen by Jameson, giving Stone real time updates on his team's efforts via multiple video feeds. Their latest case: a series of bombings in the DC area (a kayak, a gas station, a storefront) which have sent the city into a panic. More troublesome is that each bomb uses a foreign substance that does significantly more damage than your usual shrapnel-based explosives. Thankfully each team member's unique skill set helps generate some leads - from the fact that each bomb was detonated from a nearby remote to a print left behind at one of the sites to video captures of his vehicle. All of that however takes a backseat when the mayor calls the bomber a coward during a press conference, causing him to attack the FBI itself - killing Terri in the process. Inevitably the gang rallies to avenge her death as they - using methods too convoluted to reproduce here - uncover that the bomber is actually a male/female team, and now must stop them from taking out an entire shopping mall. Sure enough they do and another incident is saved from the headlines.
What works: To its credit, "Washington Field" looks and feels like your typical CBS procedural - everyone is distinguishable enough to merit a paycheck and a case is adequately introduced, investigated and closed - but...
What doesn't: ...boy if it isn't soul-crushingly vanilla and serious in the process. Sure there are a few flashes of non-seriousness (Chen's phone goes off during bomb disposal training, freaking out his students) but for the most part everything is said through gritted teeth. When asked about his team's credentials by the local police, Stone proceeds to rattle off - "Ma'am, we lead the investigation at the Pentagon on 9/11, the Khobar Towers in Saudi, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen and I've done multiple ops in Iraq and Afghanistan" - in pure get-the-fuck-out-of-my-face fashion while a meeting with a Senate oversight committee ends with Stone declaring that his phone call is more important than all this bullshit. Even worse is that all of the character beats are painfully stilted, whether it be the Diazes going on a picnic - complete with their sidearms in the basket! - or Jameson, shaken up by the images of Terri's body, actually saying, "I didn't need to be warned. I need for it not to have happened."
The biggest flaw however is the show's silly reliance on its CNN election board to tell the story. Arms are waived and fingers and spread so often you think they're playing Wii rather than solving a crime. I get that this is all fancy, high-end technology but no one is every going to look cool flailing their arms to spread out crime scene photos, a fact that's even more amplified when the locals oh and ah at the site of Jameson doing just that. That mixed with the show's grim and gritty tone and you have the recipe for an exponential amount of unintended humor. And just when you think the show hasn't overplayed its serious hand, the pilot wraps with Stone offering some unnecessary closing narration (keep in mind someone else does the opening narration) - "That's the thing about my team, what doesn't make the news makes them heroes... but someone has the bear the cost of that security" - during Terri's funeral.
The bottom line: Well, at least he didn't say it using the CNN election board.