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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.]
POE (BUSTED ABC PILOT)
(written by Chris Hollier; directed by Alex Graves; TRT: 43:17)
The network's description: "Its 1840 and Boston is in the grips of a series of mysterious murders. When dark forces threaten, the only man who can protect the city is one who has spent his life chasing shadows - the legendary writer Edgar Allan Poe (Chris Egan). The authorities don't like Poe's cocky, devil-may-care attitude, but they need him. His brilliant and unorthodox methods offer the only hope of solving the eerie crimes sweeping the city. While many people fear for their lives - and souls - Poe and his unlikely partner in crime, Celeste Chevalier (Natalie Dormer), are ready to meet evil head on. Celeste is a beautiful and intelligent reporter who's way ahead of her time. Where Poe looks for possible supernatural forces at work, Celeste will stop at nothing to uncover more logical explanations.
There's combustible chemistry between Poe and Celeste, but the dangers of their work and tragedies from their past keep them apart. Each week, sparks fly as Poe and Celeste combat the rising darkness with humor and intellect. For Poe, the greatest mystery of all is his own past. He's haunted by the image of a raven that is somehow connected to the crimes he investigates - and every case brings him closer than ever to discovering its meaning. From executive producer Dan Lin (Sherlock Holmes) and writer Chris Hollier (Alias) comes this romantic, crime procedural that perfectly blends Castle's sexy, playful banter with the dark intrigue of The X-Files."
What did they leave out? The opening case features a "cask of Amontillado."
The plot in a nutshell: "My name is Edgar Allan Poe," recounts the man himself (Chris Egan) in the opening narration. "When I first started writing I drew upon what I knew best: I consider myself an expert in the supernatural, which is why the police often ask me to help them explain the unexplainable... That doesn't always work so well." Case in point: the son of a shipping magnate has been murdered by a seemingly possessed woman named Rowena (Katherine Barrell) - the speaks-in-Latin, climbs the walls variety - and Commissioner Kilpatrick (Kevin McNally) once again finds himself reluctantly calling upon Poe for his services. Aiding him in his quest is the always skeptical Celeste Chevalier (Natalie Dormer), the owner of The Boston Sentinel and widow of his late best friend.
After visiting with Rowena - and bearing witness to her seemingly paranormal abilities - Poe realizes he's seen this modus operandi before: three months ago another woman named Lygia (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress), now captured and institutionalized, murdered two men under similar circumstances. Found on her was a list of five symbols, each presumably corresponding to a murder she planned to commit. Poe's theory: someone or something is completing the list, meaning two other murders are coming. Some sleuthing later and sure enough, there's some merit to Poe's wild idea. Along the way we meet Julian Noble (Leslie Odom Jr.), a medical consultant who gets drawn into their schemes, and Sarah Royster (Tabrett Bethell), Poe's childhood love whom he keeps at arm's length rather than draw into his darkness. Ultimately, Poe and Celeste get to the truth: a supernatural or scientific one, depending upon who you ask.
What works: Egan and Dormer are likeable enough as a 19th century Mulder and Scully but...
What doesn't: ...yikes is this a clunky opener. First and foremost is the dialogue, which has the characters relentlessly explaining themselves in an only-on-TV way - Poe: "Always the skeptic Celeste?" Celeste: "I look for the truth and present it. That's what a reporter does!"; Kilpatrick: "There's been a murder Poe." Poe: "If you've come to see me, it can't be your typical 'bang you're dead' variety."; Celeste: "I just believe that metaphysical is a fog to wade through until one can find the true scientific definition." Poe: "I believe people label things science so they don't have to face hidden realities."; Poe, to Kilpatrick: "I don't need you to believe in the things that I believe to know I'm good at solving the out of the box crimes that have been coming across your desk." - all of which either underlines the obvious or spoon feeds their intentions.
It also doesn't help that Poe is the only man with a brain in a land full of idiots since he - gasp! - reads newspapers and - wait for it! - files them. His paper LexisNexis then allows him to make the aforementioned connections as Celeste, Noble and company stare at him like he's the black monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey." While I get that Poe's supposed to be presented as a pioneer in detective work, remembering crap you read a few weeks ago isn't exactly an awe-inspiring revelation. Even worse, Poe is packaged as a Robert-Downey-Jr-in-Sherlock-Holmes rapscallion, whose roguish persona supposedly beguiles a tragic past.
Said aspects however come across as an afterthought - Poe, to Celeste: "I have an idea but you're going to need to get naked."; Poe, while being arrested: "Cece, bring bail... and my dessert!" - as his lies and schemes are rather tame in the pantheon of such things, especially when they're the means to such obvious ends (he wants to see Lygia? how dare he want to the woman who killed people in exactly the same way!). That's not to say he doesn't have a tragic past (his mother and sister were killed by things that go bump in the night, making him push those he cares about away), it just ends up feeling hackneyed after being put through the aforementioned dialogue wringer and hung out to dry by its Lance Burton-esque bravura. All in all it's not so much the concept that doesn't work...
The bottom line: ...it's the execution.