[11/23/09 - 11:48 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Suburban Shootout" (HBO)
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 by Michelle Ashford; directed by Barry Sonnenfeld; TRT: 24:25)

What is it? A single-camera comedy about a seemingly typical suburban town where the housewives are literally at war with each other.

Who was behind it?: Michelle Ashford ("Medical Investigation") wrote the script based on Roger Beckett and James Gary Martin's U.K. series of the same name. Barry Sonnenfeld ("Pushing Daisies") directed.

The plot in a nutshell: Georgica Bay is the type of town where the milkman still delivers, deer wander up to your doorstep and strangers always wave hello. Such is the draw for childhood sweethearts Rebecca ("Miss/Guided's" Judy Greer) and Glenn ("Notes from the Underbelly's" Michael Weaver), who've given up life in the big city for the welcome comforts of small town life. It also marks a shift in their careers: Glenn is now the breadwinner, finally promoted to chief of police after riding the sergeant's desk for years on end, while Rebecca is making a run at homemaker/crime novelist, leaving behind her career as a corporate lawyer. "[But] what if her old life - her hectic, noisy, dirty, often exhausting life - what if that had been the dream?" she asks about herself in the opening narration. "Hon," Glenn cuts in. "Come on, if that was the dream, what's this?" Her response: "The opposite."

And with that Rebecca finds herself the focus of not one, but two welcome wagons. First up: Barbara Steele ("Reno 911's" Kerri Kenney), a well-meaning, environmentally conscious but overly curious housewife. She's subsequently interrupted by another, Natalie Davenport (fellow "Notes" alum Rachael Harris), who openly flirts with Glenn (upon handing them a gift basket: "I wish my husband had such rock hard buns to go with his 'sausage.'") and is likewise overly curious about their arrival in town, not to mention overly hostile towards Barbara. The two even come to blows - literally - while off powdering their noses. Natalie however emerges victorious and sends Barbara on her way.

You see, Natalie wants Rebecca to meet her "boss," Camilla Diamond (Kelly Preston), who in turn wants to recruit her to their cause. "There are only four ways to prevent mid life from becoming a soul sucking, screaming nightmare," Camilla explains to Rebecca from the back seat of her mammoth-sized SUV. "Botox, lypo, Prada and lube." Well five, actually. It seems that Barbara and Camilla used to be the best of friends. But one night they walked in on a home invasion and in a fit of rage, Camilla beat the intruder to death with a golf club. Stunned by the adrenaline rush (and surprised by their newly found attraction to each other), the pair bury the body and vow to make sure something like this never happens in their town again.

And thus their organization began, eventually adding the boozy Natalie ("All of us are absolute sluts for a good crime yarn.") and the sardonic Louise Banks ("Reno's" Mary Birdsong, "And some of us are just sluts."). But the power inevitably went to Camilla's head and she turned them into a mob, shaking down businesses for protection money and taking out anyone who got in their way, including Glenn's predecessor. Barb ultimately had enough and left the group and now works to stop Camilla's reign of terror. Camilla conversely believes that "if you want America the beautiful, sometimes you got to be ugly to get it." Case in point: she frames Rebecca for blowing up the Wicker Barn, who's been delinquent on their payments, to use as leverage in getting Glenn to turn a blind eye to their activities. Barb conversely hopes to finally have an ally in Rebecca against Camilla. Which side will she choose? And would Glenn even believe such an outrageous story? Either way, wouldn't it make a great crime novel?

What works: It's a very broad, over-the-top show that doesn't take itself too seriously. If the image of Kerri Kenney cracking a vase over Rachael Harris's head or Mary Birdsong taking an M-16 to a white picket fence or Kenney calmly continuing her conversation with Judy Greer while reloading her rifle under heavy fire brings a smile to your face, this is the show for you. It's essentially "Desperate Housewives" done as "Spy Vs. Spy" with a lot more bullets. Greer, Harris and company likewise seem to be having a lot of fun.

What doesn't: The over-the-top shtick however gets repetitive as you get "the joke" very quickly. Everybody aside from our loving couple is practically a caricature as they get blown up, shot at or beaten up Wile E. Coyote-style every couple of minutes only to emerge relatively unscathed. The hook of the show then is what happens when you drop a seemingly normal person amongst this craziness. Well, in turns out that Rebecca isn't "normal" either - she quickly tables the normal holy-crap-these-people-are-murderers reaction any rational person would have in favor of keeping quiet because she's terrified of Camilla... and it's easy fodder for her book. In other words, the show is essentially a question of who's going to get a piano dropped on them this week and how will Rebecca reconcile staying quiet about it. It's a premise that ultimately feels very flimsy at one episode, let alone as a series. So while some people may be up for this kind of thing...

The bottom line: ...I can definitely see why HBO wasn't.

  [november 2009]  


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