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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.
BOLDLY GOING NOWHERE (FOX)
(written by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day & Glenn Howerton; directed by Wayne McClammy; TRT: 23:16)
What is it? A single-camera comedy about the captain of a low-level starship who wants to go rogue.
Who was behind it?: "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's" Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton all penned the script off a concept by Adam Stein. Wayne McClammy of "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" and "I'm Fucking Ben Affleck" fame directed.
The plot in a nutshell: We gave the original script a spin last year but here's a fresh recap: In the year 2189, Ron Teague (Ben Koldyke) is the captain of the Galactic Coalition Spacecraft Rock Collector 7. And unlike what we've come to expect from starship captains, Ron spends his days dealing with the tedium of space rock collection and his slightly deranged crew. Case in point: pilot Joyce Beck ("Accidentally on Purpose's" Lennon Parham) is tired of everyone using their
holo simulation deck training privileges to create their own personal brothel. ("Sunny's" Day turns up as a crew member looking to "train himself off.")
But Ron has a plan: arm the ship with nuclear assault weapons and do some real exploring. Unfortunately for him, Supervisor Bob Thompson (Oliver Platt in a cameo) has sent Inspector Zander Centari ("Sunny's" Howerton) to check up on their rock collection status. And despite their best efforts to fool him, he stumbles onto the plan. Busted, the straight-laced Zander demands to debrief the crew and get to the bottom of what's really going on.
During said interviews we learn just how crazy everybody is: Cobalt ("The Wire's" Chad L. Coleman) is equally overzealous about his security officer duties and his bodybuilding trophies; humanphibian mechanic Pete ("The Knights of Prosperity's" Lenny Venito) thinks he's being discriminated against for being half man, half amphibian; Robot ("Chuck's" Tony Hale) is routinely victimized by Ron over fears that his kind may rise up against their human masters ("He's hiding my penis from me," he whispers); comm officer Startemis ("Sunny's" Artemis Pebdani) loves her weapons; Joyce alternates between loving and hating Ron ("The last time I trusted you I had to have an abortion... it was an emotional abortion. It's when you have to suck out your own feelings and throw them into the trash."); and Lt. Lance Brigsby ("Sunny's" David Hornsby) is a spineless slave to his cheating wife Tracy ("Sunny's" Kaitlin Olson, likewise in a cameo) back home.
Left with no choice, Ron and company decide their only option is to try and win Zander over to their cause by hazing him. This of course goes as well as can be expected, as their harmless hazing accidentally turns into killing him with a phase pistol (which in turn results in a debate over whether the smiley face with XXs or --s for eyes is stun or kill). And so goes the voyages of the Rock Collector 7...
What works: Its quasi-"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"-in-space premise is just as funny and ridiculous on the screen as it is on the page, even more so in some parts. Sequences like Cobalt doing a pose down to "Thus Spake Zarathustra" (the opening theme to "2001: A Space Odyssey") and the increasingly crazed interviews with Zander set to "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" (also from "2001") are awe-inspiringly hilarious while the then relatively unknown Koldyke and Parham are real finds (the former for instance tackles most problems by taking pitches from the crew, writing them down and then throwing the pad at Parham's character).
There's also a lot to be said about the production design as it somehow manages to meld the high-tech world of the future with the doldrums of modern life (the bridge for instance looks like a bunch of cubicles stacked together, complete with nearby break area). The real joy however is how much fun everybody involved seems to be having with the concept as a baker's dozen of sci-fi concepts are amusingly lampooned. In other words, if the image of Charlie from "Sunny" in a towel waiting to use the holodeck to masturbate makes you laugh, you will absolutely love this show.
What doesn't: The script has definitely been neutered a little for obvious reasons: I don't think phrases like "baby dick" would fly on the broadcast networks (although weirdly the word "motherfucker" is used - but bleeped - at one point). Also, the manic energy that makes "Sunny" so great sometimes gets lost in translation. Moments like Ron arguing with Startemis over whether to let Supervisor Thompson through the comm and Ron yelling at a crew member who refuses to answer him ("John. John? John. John? John!" etc.) don't quite have the zip of some of the other sequences. Nevertheless, all of the above is easily forgiven considering how much fun - and dare I say "bold" - this pilot is. And with Larry Charles reportedly giving it a new pass...
The bottom line: ...we can only hope this noble experiment doesn't end before the public at large gets a chance to see it.