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THE GATES (ABC)
(Sundays at 10:00/9:00c beginning June 20)
The network's description: "Nestled inside a private mountain community are The Gates. The image of perpetual suburban bliss, each street is lined with perfectly manicured homes protected by the massive iron gates, but a dark and delicious secret is buried just beneath the surface of this picturesque neighborhood. Like most families that settle inside The Gates, the Monohans are unmoored from a complicated life they abandoned in Chicago. Named the new police chief of The Gates, Nick Monahan is expecting a change of pace in this quiet suburb. His wife, Sarah, and their children, Charlie and Dana, are embarking on new adventures as well.
Their house is to die for, but despite the excitement, Sarah is still burdened with the revelation that her husband may not be the man she thought he was. And Charlie and Dana will face some challenges of their own: Along with navigating the trials and tribulations of adolescence, they'll face the daunting task of fitting into their new upscale school where their new friends run in tight knit packs. There's something very different about this place, almost... haunting. Unions will be complicated by friends with an unnatural influence. Insatiable housewives will struggle with ravenous cravings, and teenagers will be cursed with keeping their beastly instincts in check. The Monohans are facing an uncertain fate, and Nick is about to get tangled up in a mystery in which he'll begin to piece together the dark truth about their new home, and the supernatural elements that lurk behind the shadows of The Gates."
What did they leave out? Producer Fox Television Studios has been behind three other summer pushes in recent years as part of its international co-production model: ABC's "Defying Gravity," NBC's "Persons Unknown" and FOX's "Mental."
The plot in a nutshell: All the Monohans want is a fresh start and on paper The Gates appears to be just that: an idyllic suburban community with no big box stores and where everyone knows your name. Even better as the new Chief of Police, Frank (Nick Monohan) learns there's virtually no crime to speak of, in no small part due to the hundreds of cameras and other security devices installed around town. Today's only scandal: someone hit a mailbox while trying to avoid a young girl playing in the street.
Meanwhile, Frank's wife Sarah (Marisol Nichols) gets the welcome wagon in the form of Claire Radcliff (Rhona Mitra), her striking neighbor. She gives Sarah the lay of the land, including a nudge to go see Peg Mueller (Victoria Platt), a holistic doctor in town who has herbs that can cure just about any ailment. At school, son Charlie (Travis Caldwell) quickly befriends kindred spirit Andie (Skyler Samuels) who encourages him to try out for mock trial. Andie's boyfriend Brett (Colton Haynes) however is less impressed and sees him as a threat.
Lastly, youngest Dana (McKaley Miller) is putting on a brave face to keep her parents happy. What none of the Monohans know however is - and we the audience quickly learn - there's far more insidious things going on in The Gates than they could dream of. It all begins with the Radcliffs as Claire and her husband Dylan (Luke Mably) scramble to cover up her latest transgression, continues with an mysterious rivalry between Peg and fellow herb peddler Devon (Chandra West), and ends with Brett's brewing resentment over Charlie threatening to break "the code" certain residents of The Gates pledge to live under.
What works: I'm all for supernatural journeys that serve as metaphors for the human condition. (By the way I'm fully assuming the promos have spelled out what's hinted above: there be vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night at The Gates.) Here said creatures' struggles mirror that of the charms and malaise of suburbia: the draw of safety and contentment versus the cost of subduing our more lively, selfish instincts. It's a potentially fun playground, one which promises lots of mythology behind how said state came to be.
What doesn't: It's just unfortunate that for now, all of the above is on the back burner while the relatively vanilla foundation of the Monohans is built. Frank and Sarah are by far the least interesting characters as their prerequisite ignorance can't be washed away fast enough. We've seen their story many times over: he's obsessed with his job where his keen instincts always land him in hot water, she's tired of him being all consumed and ignoring his duties as husband and father. Not helping matters is that we the audience get way ahead of them on the information pipeline. Hell, we learn more in the first five minutes than either Frank or Sarah will learn in the entire hour.
Whether that's the fault of the writing - for putting the figurative cart before the figurative horse - is anyone's guess, either way it makes for frustrating viewing, especially when it distracts from the show's far more compelling aspects. That's not to say these supernatural elements are particularly awe-inspiring, it's just a welcome wrinkle to the usual new guy/gal/family-comes-to-town-with secrets plot. And it helps that the aforementioned mysteries aren't kept purposely vague: events are unfolding, we just don't fully understand what they are. And while I have no idea if what's ultimately revealed will make great television, it's at least an upgrade from our initial (don't worry, I won't say gateway here) window into the show's world.
The bottom line: It will get better when the secrets are out right?