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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.
BUNKER HILL (TNT)
(written by Walon Green; directed by Jon Avnet; TRT: 45:49)
What is it? A drama about a Boston native who returns home to assume the family business: being a cop.
Who was behind it?: Jon Avnet ("Righteous Kill") directed the hour from a script by procedural veteran Walon Green ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent").
The plot in a nutshell: After spending a year in Afghanistan, DEA Agent Mike Moriarty ("Boomtown's" Donnie Wahlberg) is returning home to Charlestown where he'll finally take over the family business - being a Boston cop. It's a job that claimed the life of his father and brother, the latter of which caused him to take the aforementioned tour overseas. And while his mother (the always great to see Kathy Baker) welcomes him back with open arms, Jimmy's widow Erin ("Six Degrees's" Bridget Moynahan) isn't ready to forgive him for running away.
Mike however has more pressing concerns, namely his first case in which a townie, Brendan Walsh (Joe Forbrich), was shot and his pregnant wife was killed during a robbery. He says a Hispanic man with a neck tattoo did it, an event which sparks already volatile racial tensions in the area. Mike's partner, the womanizing Eddie Boyle (Tony Curran), and his fellow boys in blue then proceed to round up all the Hispanic gentlemen they can find and sure enough, one proudly confesses.
Mike nevertheless is skeptical of the confession and proceeds to follow his own leads, including Martin "Mutt" Kelsey (Brian Dennehy), a retired ex-con/mob boss turned florist, and Brendan's shifty father (Lenny Clarke) and brother (Michael Esper). It seems Brendan took a $200,000 life insurance policy on his wife and had been talking about starting his own espresso bar. The DA (Tom Kemp) and Mike's lieutenant (James McDaniel in a blink-and-you'll-miss cameo) however will hear none of it as it opens up the door for an alternate theory on their already iron clad case.
Even worse, Martin has made it clear that justice has its own way of working itself out. Inevitably, Mike - aided by fellow do-gooder ADA Chase Cabot (Jennifer Ferrin) and a newly converted to using his brain Eddie - gets the proof he needs, but not before Martin's promise of things working themselves out comes to fruition.
What works: The rich cast, Avnet's slick direction and a well-selected temp track (featuring the score of "Scent of a Woman" among others) definitely elevates the material above its relatively boilerplate status. That's not to say it's a bad show, it's just all the compelling elements operate around the edges: Jimmy died under questionable circumstances but the commissioner's office refuses to investigate further; Mike's father was the one who put away Martin, a fact that Mike enjoys bringing up; and Erin has unresolved feelings for Mike (not to mention her/Jimmy's son is named after him).
What doesn't: It's just unfortunate then that so much of the pilot is spent on the painfully transparent Walsh case, a fact that's made all the more worse by Mike being the only cop who has the eyes to see it. In other words while Eddie and company comically buy into the easy get, Mike bulldozes his way through the paper obstacles that practically wave at the camera. Putting more salt in the wound is the borderline laughable exploration of race relations in the Bunker Hill area as practically the only people who have more lines than you can count on one hand are white.
That leaves the only meat of the show being the previously noted mythology questions, including how Walsh ties into Martin and why he's so intent on taking care of him on his own. And to the show's credit, it keeps things interesting as the closing shootout between Mike and Walsh ends with Martin essentially ordering Walsh to leap to his death off a nearby bridge. All in all, like I said it's not a bad show...
The bottom line: ...it's just not an overly compelling one.