[11/20/09 - 07:06 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Possible Side Effects" (Showtime)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

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.

(written & directed by Tim Robbins; TRT: 58:05)

What is it? A drama about a family-run pharmaceutical business.

Who was behind it?: Oscar-nominee Tim Robbins ("Dead Man Walking") directed the hour from his own script.

The plot in a nutshell: The family-run Hunt Pharmaceuticals is the sixth largest company of its kind. Marnie Hunt ("Big Love's" Ellen Burstyn) is the matriarch of said clan, which includes her three sons - Max (Josh Lucas), the profit-driven CEO; Simon (Jason Butler Harner), the marketing chief with a conscience; and Buzz ("The Incredible Hulk's" Tim Blake Nelson), the research guru with a love for drugs both legal and otherwise. And while Marnie's ambitions and appetites remain boundless, her sons squabble like boys instead of acting like men. They'll need to grow up fast though as they've just been hit by a lawsuit over the death of a healthy 39-year-old man who was taking their cholesterol drug, Zebuloxx. It's a problem that falls on Max's feet as the company's lawyer ("Gossip Girl's" James Naughton) explains that they really have only two options: settle to the tune of nine-figures or make someone the fall guy (who will ultimately serve a few years in prison). And it won't be Buzz or Simon either as each were vocal about their objections to Zebuloxx.

Simon however offers a third option: hire an outside investigator to look into things and if any liability is found, they'll settle. And despite Max's objections - he outsourced the drug's testing to a less than reputable lab, giving the appearance that he bought its approval - Marnie agrees that it's the way to go. Max's problems however don't end there: his son Chip (Miles Robbins) is ditching school, smoking pot and refusing to take his anxiety medication; daughter Libby ("Californiation's" Eva Amurri) doesn't want to get a job, let alone work for the family business; and he and his doctor wife Lynn (Kimberly Quinn) continue to butt heads over who should be home tackling the aforementioned problems.

As for his brothers, Buzz isn't thrilled about which drugs Max wants him to work on; and Simon likewise isn't thrilled by the means to which Max will go to market products to those who don't really need them. And while Buzz begrudgingly follows orders, Max is quietly planning some sort of coup and is leaking information to the press. And if that wasn't enough: Alma Collins (Nadia Alexander), the daughter of the Zebuloxx victim, is planning on offering her own solution in the form of a gun. Her target: Max. Ultimately, despite a few pangs of guilt about the Zebuloxx case, Max decides that he's going to take his own extreme measures - by framing someone else.

What works: The revelations about the pharmaceutical industry aren't exactly earth-shattering, but they are still ugly to watch. Whether it be Max insisting Buzz focus be on treatments, not cures ("People who have sweaty palms, have them their entire life," he explains. "Like high blood pressure, depression, limp dicks - it's the gift that keeps on giving."); seeing how marketing moves forward before they even have an actual product to sell (the latest: FeeVi, the female Viagra); or watching how sales reps "pitch" their products to doctors (Libby is forced to tag along with one, played by "SNL's" Maya Rudolph, who unapologetically bribes and flirts to get orders), it's all very soul crushing to watch.

As for the cast, Burstyn's Marnie is amusingly uncensored while kids Chip and Libby manage to find their own brand of happiness in spite of their family's relative insanity. Amurri's Libby is particularly engaging as she mocks Rudolph's Alexandra ("So why didn't you just blow him?") and isn't shy about confessing she hasn't figured everything out yet, even her sexuality.

What doesn't: None of the brothers are particularly likable as Lucas's Max is every bit the bottom line caricature you think; the dots between Simon's distaste for Max and betraying him don't quite connect; and Buzz is a kooky mess who literally has conversations with the drugs he's working on due to his peyote habit. Furthermore since the story is mostly told from their point of view, it's really hard to engage with what's going on, let alone be compelled to watch on a weekly basis. The real anchor to the show however is the silly thread of pre-teen Alma plotting to kill Max.

Her vengeance includes stealing money from her mother's purse, going to the library to research the Hunt family, printing off a giant photo of Max and buying a gun from two thugs. Um, really? It plays just as silly as it sounds, especially when the closing image of the pilot is of said girl holding the gun up to Max's picture and going "boom." As if the show wasn't on the fringe of reality as it is, this kind of spins it off into science fiction. So to sum up, unlikable leads and a silly subplot end up smothering any embers created by its potentially compelling premise and a few interesting supporting players.

The bottom line: Somewhere between disappointing and mildly entertaining.

  [november 2009]  


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