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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.]
UNTITLED ALLAN LOEB PROJECT (BUSTED TNT PILOT)
(written by Allan Loeb; directed by James Sadwith; TRT: 41:44)
The network's description: "Executive producer/writer Allan Loeb, whose recent screenplays include The Switch and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, has crafted this drama based on The Rabbit Factory by novelist Marshall Karp. Recently widowed police Detective Mike Lomax and his newly married partner, Terry Biggs, delve into a world of mystery, intrigue and occasional hijinks. Lomax, who continues to receive humorous and heartfelt weekly letters from his wife a year after her death, tries to navigate the singles world while also maintaining his pedigree as one of L.A.'s finest. This pilot comes to TNT from Lionsgate Television."
What did they leave out? "The Rabbit Factory" is the first in Karp's "Lomax & Biggs" series of mysteries. The fourth novel, "Cut, Paste, Kill," was published earlier this month.
The plot in a nutshell: Mike Lomax (Steven Weber) and Terry Biggs (D.L. Hughley) are slightly dysfunctional detectives with the LAPD. Terry is newly married, begrudgingly tasked as stepfather to her kids (Mike: "Dakota, she's the oldest one right?" Terry: "Hell if I know.") while Mike is newly widowed, a wound that his late wife hopes to heal by sending him letters each week with innocuous instructions on things to do to get over her (Terry: "Your deceased wife reaches across time and space and asks you... to brush your dog's teeth? (A beat.) White people."). They however have bigger concerns at the moment: someone has murdered
Mickey Mouse Rambunctious Rabbit, the beloved mascot of Disneyland Familyland, in broad daylight.
It proves to be the first in a series of murders somehow related to owner Lamaar Enterprises' change in corporation strategy as the family-friendly brand is now doing everything from making R-rated movies to licensing their characters' likenesses for slot machines in casinos. And sure enough our heroes - which include fellow sardonic detective Jessica Keating (Rhea Seehorn) and technology expert Thelonious Mueller (Bradford Anderson) - turn up a wide range of suspects and - forgive the pun - down the procedural rabbit hole we go. Not surprisingly the killer turns out to be the last person they suspect, literally. Along the way we meet Mike's in-laws (Blake Clark, Carmen Serano) who likewise are trying to help him move on.
What works: It's very much in the TNT procedural wheelhouse - serviceable policework combined with a few flashes of character development - albeit with a slightly higher "hijinks" quotient. Weber and Hughley definitely have chemistry and are more than capable as the leads...
What doesn't: ...I just wish it was more compelling. It's not for a lack of trying though: Lomax and Biggs are banter machines to the point it almost becomes white noise. Nary a scene goes by without the two devolving into a silly debate that supposed to be either funny or charming but winds up being neither. Not helping matters is their barrage of quips are often painfully dated (Pamela Anderson, Burt Lancaster and Chia Pets are all namechecked), stilted (Terry's attempts to offer up his reviews of Lamaar's films fall on deaf ears) or just plain eye-rolling (Terry does an "impression" their lieutenant - played by Brett Rice - which involves... saying they should go do their jobs no matter what, because that's hilarious?).
The case itself also hinges on the detectives finally stumbling across the obvious: wait, you mean the tape of Lamaar's farewell address with the giant date stamp on it doesn't match up to the date of the earthquake depicted? Because a) the person who faked it wouldn't take the time to shoot it again without such an egregious giveaway and b) there is no b, it's just that dumb of an a. I realize the criminals aren't supposed to be the bright ones but the cops? These tendencies ultimately make the show's few proposed honest moments - whether it's Mike improbably pulling a gun on Terry to find out if he's the one sending the letters; or Mike befriending a kid in the cancer ward who's got a better grip on mortality than he does - come across as hollow at best. At the end of the day...
The bottom line: ...TNT definitely had better options to go with.