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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.]
THE QUINN-TUPLETS (CBS)
(written by Chris Kelley & Mike Kelley; directed by Mimi Leder; TRT: 36:26)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything. And while it was filmed as a presentation, it actually runs a healthy 36 minutes and change.
The plot in a nutshell: Title cards inform us that in the spring of 1980, the world's first "test tube quintuplets" were born "to a pioneering feminist" named Rebecca Eden Quinn (Molly Parker) and "the unprecedented event both captivated and polarized the nation." The lives of Quinn and her "Quinn-tuplets" then were the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Michael Shaw (Dougray Scott) which ultimately transitioned to a blockbuster television series that ran for 17 seasons. 30 years later, in present day Brookline, Massachusetts, Rebecca and Michael are reliving the highlights of said efforts on her deathbed. Her dying wish: to have all her children back under the same roof. You see, the show ended on relatively sour grapes as everyone went their separate ways: Patrick (Sam Witwer) became a cop; Joe (Kenneth Mitchell) went into construction and got married; Charlotte (Anna Chlumsky) toils as a local sports reporter; Grady (David Giantoli), following a failed acting career, teaches theatre; and Miriam (Amber Tamblyn) became a doctor.
And so they all return to the place they (and America) called home for their developing years where the memories (including a few clips from the show) come flooding back. There we learn the various family dynamics, whether it be that Patrick resented what Michael did to the family, especially after he married Rebecca and had a daughter, Sophie (Juliette Goglia), of his own with her; or that Grady enjoyed the spotlight and seems the most well-adjusted. We also pick up that each is currently struggling with their own demons - from Joe and his sexuality to Patrick and his drug habit/anger issues - ones they realize start to feel a lot less scary when they open up about them to their siblings. To that end, Miriam - inspired by her mom's final words - emerges as the gang's new surrogate mom and suggests they're stronger together than apart.
What works: It's a very slickly done project - from the opening archival media footage to the 1980s needle drops to the faux DVD scene selection tag at the end, everything looks very sharp and convincingly dated without being too distracting. Parker and Tamblyn as expected make the most of what they're given while a few intriguing moments capture the inherent creepiness of filming peoples' lives for entertainment purposes. Unfortunately the project as a whole, despite its subject matter...
What doesn't: ...feels surprisingly unambitious. "The Quinn-tuplets" doesn't really leverage its compelling origins beyond being an impetus for everyone returning home and being the source of Patrick's resentment for his stepfather. And even those ultimately prove to be tangential - you could find and replace the above backstory with a litany of scenarios and achieve the same effect - as even the few windows into their atypical upbringing - Rebecca told everyone that she's marrying Michael during their annual family photo while he's filming them... because he's family now! - don't achieve much beyond restating the obvious. The show itself also ends on a odd note: everyone votes to participate in the "Quinn-tuplets" retrospective (a special, not another weekly series), much as they did as teens to end the show, while Miriam agrees to move into the family home to inspire everyone to stay closer.
From there it's not entirely clear the show how would have worked going forward: the closing moments suggest there are dozens of interesting stories to tell ("Miriam's heart gets broken," "Patrick starts a garage band," "Joe wins the state championship," "Grady lands lead in 'Hamlet,'" "Charlotte dates a college boy") and yet they all seem tangential to what's going on with them now. One presumes then the show was some kind of fairy tale childhood that doesn't resonate with them in the present. While obviously that's a valid plot choice, as noted above, it takes away from the supposed uniqueness of the show. "The Quinn-tuplets" might as well be their quaint Super 8 home movies, not a television phenomenon that one assumes would have profoundly affected their lives.
Not helping matters is that none of the characters really pop. Scott's Michael is Rebecca's saintly caretaker with only clandestine motives; Parker's Rebecca is billed as a pioneering feminist/mother (she was on "60 Minutes!") and yet we rarely see her interact with the kids; and the motivations behind the kids' respective paths are hardly touched upon. Again, strip away the "Quinn-tuplets" fluff and it's a pretty vanilla family drama. At the end of the day, being too ambitious is one thing...
The bottom line: ...offering up the usual family drama claptrap under the guise of something unique and different is something else entirely.