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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
NOMADS (The CW)
(written & directed by Ken Sanzel; TRT: 29:29)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything. Also, the pilot was filmed as a presentation, meaning only the essential scenes were shot.
The plot in a nutshell: John Virgil (Scott Porter, always great) still has nightmares about his do-gooder brother Kirk going missing. Followed by armed gunmen in the jungle, John simply turned his back and Kirk was gone. Six months have passed since said event and John is still chasing down every flicker of rumor about him with the slim hope that somehow he's still alive. Currently in Bangkok, John has befriended two fellow backpackers: womanizing Aussie Zack (Luke Ford) and sensual Brit Nadia (Gabriella Wright). Both are desperately trying to get John out of his obsessive funk, especially since they'll be parting ways in the morning.
And so John begrudgingly agrees to a night of partying where he meets not one but two strangers who will change his life forever: the first, a telecommunications engineer named Ryker (Warren Kole), innocuously offers him his business card. The second, a pretty American named Donna (Michaela McManus), approaches him about his brother. It seems she's seen John's various missing persons posters around the city and happened to spot someone fitting Kirk's description (complete with devil tattoo on his back) in Koh Tao about a month ago. Excited to have a new lead, John says his goodbyes at the train depot, but not before Nadia's pack is stolen. John and co. follow the thief to the docks, where improbably another man shoots the assailant dead and returns Nadia's pack without a word.
Shaken by the evening's events, they opt to stay in Bangkok another night, where John and Nadia give into their feelings. The next morning, John is accosted by men claiming to be cops, who search his pack and discover Nadia's MP3 player and a bag full of drugs. Even worse, they want to pin the thief's murder from the night before on him. Thankfully, Zack, Nadia, Donna and inexplicably Ryker appear in time to save him, finally revealing what's really been going on. Ryker it turns out is a CIA operative who hires travelers like the aforementioned trio to do random favors under the simplest of auspices - like carrying encrypted files on their MP3 players. The past 24 hours then were John's unwilling audition to join the club - one which could ultimately help him find his brother.
What works: The pilot, filmed on location in Thailand, looks amazing. Scenes in which John and co. walk the streets, literally surrounded by hundreds of locals (and even monkeys!), are a fantastic change of pace from what you usually see on television. The show simply exudes a wandering, meditative vibe that's almost intoxicating. Helping push things along is the stellar cast, with Porter and Wright in particular oozing chemistry. They aren't beautiful, empty shells either - each has their reasons for playing Ryker's game, whether it be Donna's ambition to join the CIA herself or Zack's not-so-silent death wish.
What doesn't: On the flip side the story is painfully slow at times as the premise isn't even revealed until the closing moments of the presentation. Other elements, such as the circumstances surrounding Kirk's disappearance, are likewise kept frustratingly vague. Not that it has to wear its secrets on its sleeve, it's just weird to see John chased by guns in the opening moments only to be followed by 15 straight minutes of what's essentially navel-gazing at the local color. And while folks like myself appreciate the settling into things, I'm sure most will watch this with glazed over eyes. Plus the central hook never quite lands on solid ground: trained operative Ryker can't get encrypted files out of the country without the help of some twentysomething backpackers? Really? Other potential tasks - anything from taking pictures to delivering messages - also feel like long roads to a simple end. All in all, this doesn't feel like anything the network has tried before...
The bottom line: ...which can be taken as a good or a bad thing.