[11/24/09 - 11:53 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Ernesto" (FOX)
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 Emily Kapnek; directed by Marc Buckland; TRT: 26:55)

What is it? A single-camera comedy about a hapless Mexican boy who grows up hoping to find his father and a long-lost love in Los Angeles.

Who was behind it?: Emily Kapnek ("Hung") wrote the script while Marc Buckland ("My Name Is Earl") directed.

The plot in a nutshell: "My story, like every good story, begins in a women's prison," Ernesto Tobasco Diamond explains in the opening narration. He, like all babies born in prison during the early 1990s in Mexico City, was required to remain with his convicted mother until the age of eight. After that... "The Emancipation" begins. And thus Ernesto (Christian Valderrama) is released on his eighth birthday. His mission: to find his father, Neil Diamond. Yes, that Neil Diamond. (His mother, too embarrassed to reveal his true paternity, feeds him said lie.) During his trek his crosses paths with a yuppie couple (Virginia Williams, Carlos Jacott) who offer to take him to Sea World along with their kids. There Ernesto befriends their daughter Madizon (Lucy Eaton) whom he anoints the love of his life: "I knew if she were not an overprivileged white girl, and were I not an illegal immigrant from a Mexican women's prison and were we both not eight, we would probably be together forever."

Their love however is short-lived as she and her family ultimately leave Ernesto behind. Undeterred, Ernesto continues his journey to Los Angeles where - after aging into Wilmer Valderrama - he hopes to hire the best criminal defense attorney to help spring his mother. Unfortunately Johnnie Cochran is dead so he's forced to go with his number two choice: Robert Shaprio (who, no joke, turns up in a cameo). In the meantime he stumbles across Hilario (Hector Jimenez), a fellow child of the Mexican penal system. He in turn has a letter for Ernesto from his mother explaining Neil Diamond isn't really his father... but it got lost at a party at Kevin Federline's (who, again, no joke, likewise turns up in a cameo). In any case he takes Ernesto under his fellow half-wit wing, giving him a job at the Hostess factory.

But despite being armed with a paycheck and an apartment with Hilario, Ernesto still can't quite get Shaprio to take his mother's case. Fate however intervenes when while sulking at a local diner, the fully grown Madizon (Sarah Wright) appears at a nearby table, complete with douchey boyfriend (Nick Zano). And if that wasn't enough, she remembers our hero Ernesto and even still carries a keepsake from their time together at Sea World. Newly invigorated, Ernesto wins the favor of Shapiro's assistant and lands a lunch with the legendary attorney. He agrees to help if Ernesto can get him more details about what crime his mother was convicted of. Next up, Neil Diamond.

What works: It's an unabashedly weird show - Hilario wants to realize his childhood dream of becoming a Ghostbuster; Kevin Federline shows up; Arnold Shaprio hands out notepads with his face on it and steals club sandwiches; did I mention Kevin Federline shows up?; Ernesto thinks his waiter is named Arnold Palmer after asking for the drink that's half lemonade/half iced tea. And while its weirdness has its moments...

What doesn't: ...it doesn't really make any sense. Plot developments just kind of fall out of the sky and Ernesto Forrest Gumps his way through each situation, the running gag being, hey, look at this innocent man-child, isn't it funny he's an innocent man-child. Valderrama not surprisingly parrots his "That '70s Show" character, making it all kind of old hat at this point.

Furthermore, the humor is frequently based on telling some long, meandering story only to quickly undercut it with reality. Among the examples: Hilario explains he's had the letter from Ernesto's mother on him at all times - during his first kiss, during his appendectomy, during his border crossing, etc. - but, whoops, lost it recently. The pilot ends with Ernesto triumphantly calling directory assistance to get Neil Diamond's number, followed by an announcer saying "next time on 'Ernesto,'" and Ernesto quickly admitting, "He's not listed."

More troubling however is I can't say I have any idea how the show would work from week to week other than it will be more randomness for the sake of randomness. The early press surrounding this project likened it to a 21st century "The Jerk." Theoretically it is, but, you know, that had Steve Martin...

The bottom line: ...this has Fez.

  [november 2009]  


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