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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! 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.]
HAIL MARY (BUSTED CBS PILOT)
(written by Jeff Wadlow; directed by Brad Silberling; TRT: 47:33)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out? The cut screened runs about four and a half minutes over your standard network pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: If Leigh Ann Tuohy and Erin Brockovich somehow had a love child, it would be Mary Beth Baker (Minnie Driver). As the guidance counselor for a public school in Atlanta she's used to seeing liars, cheaters and the like on a daily basis. The experience has equipped her with a top flight bullshit detector ("If I could catch a football the way I can catch a liar," she notes. "I'd be the cutest wide receiver in the NFL.") not to mention a tough but fair bedside manner with her students. She would of course trade all of the above for peace of mind. You see her teenage son Josh was murdered a year ago in the Solomon Projects.
And despite dumping every penny she has into private investigator Barney Cox (the always great Stephen Tobolowsky), not to mention leaning on her former high school beau-turned-police detective Carlos Mendonza (Enrique Murciano), the case remains unsolved to this day. That all changes however when another boy, Thornton Tate, is murdered under similar circumstances. Mary Beth subsequently rattles the cages of Barney and Carlos to no avail, forcing her to investigate on her own. Her only lead is KZ (Brandon T. Jackson; "The only people that know my real name is God, my grandmother and the police," he notes), Josh's fast-talking, troublemaking best friend, whom she spotted during the TV report about Thornton's murder. A confrontation with her taser later, Mary Beth puts KZ on notice that she blames him for Josh's death and thinks he's involved with Thornton's as well.
He ultimately informs her she's got it all wrong: he too has been looking into Josh's death and has made the same connections. And with that an unlikely partnership is born. Together they start to make some headway into what's really going on but not before KZ, currently on his second strike, gets charged with interfering with a police investigation, and Mary Beth, after taking too much time off of work, is forced to quit her job. She however has a solution: if Barney will sign off on them working as private investigators for him, their legal and employment troubles go away for the time being. He reluctantly agrees and soon enough, they're bonafide PIs.
What works: Driver and Jackson are likable enough as Erin Brockovich and Martin Lawrence Light, respectively. She puts on a red cocktail dress and delivers a homemade apple pie to Carlos in order to milk him for information, he calls doormen racist loudly so his partner can sneak by. She dishes out a See-You-Next-Tuesday or a Shut-the-Front-Door as needed, he's up for playing the pizza delivery guy who barges into a place he's not supposed to be to create another distraction. It's all pretty stereotypical stuff as even Ingrid (Noureen DeWulf), Mary Beth's technologically savvy assistant, aptly remarks to them at one point "says the sassy Southern white woman to the street smart black man." Throw in Billy (Jet Jurgensmeyer), a precocious neighborhood kid who's wise beyond his years, and not one but two needle drops from Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" and all your cliched bases are covered.
What doesn't: Assuming you can get by the above, the case itself is something of an improbable mess. Whether it's general feats of only-on-TV-ness (two PIs, armed only with a taser, can rescue a room full of girls being sold as sex slaves from their captors, captors who apparently have local politicians and policemen at their beck and call) or literal "whaaaa?"-ness (Ingrid hacks into Thornton's "home server" to see the photos on his computer), it makes less and less sense the more you look at it. Even worse, the ultimate rationale behind Josh's murder proves to be rather wonky - he fell in love with a hooker and was trying to rescue her from the life, same as Thornton did; you know, typical teen stuff. All in all, is there a show in here somewhere? Probably. "Sassy Southern white woman and street smart black man" solving crimes isn't the worst of this year's hooks. As it is though...
The bottom line: ...I'm far from intrigued.