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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.]
AWAKENING (BUSTED CW PILOT)
(written by Bill Laurin & Glenn Davis; directed by David Van Ancken; TRT: 39:16)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out? The pilot comes in at just over 39 minutes so presumably there's a few beats here and there from the script that weren't shot as part of the presentation.
The plot in a nutshell: "Okay, I'm going to tell you the truth and it's nothing like you've been told," explains the opening narration. "They're everywhere. They don't stumble or lurch through the night. They walk among us. They look like us and act like us. They're zombies and you'd never know it... until they wake up and kill. This is the Awakening." And so, after the prerequisite stranded couple on the roadside being attacked by just that scene, we meet sisters Jenna (Lucy Griffiths) and Jayce Lestrade (Meredith Hagner). Jenna's a successful New York City defense lawyer, happily in love with her money manager boyfriend Matt (Brian Hallisay) while Jayce recently finished grad school and is likewise in love with her beau Ted (Mckean Rand). More than that though, as we learn at dinner with their parents Eunice (Lauren Holly) and Evan (Al Sapienza) featuring literal ladyfingers, they're also - you guessed it - zombies.
You see, as said opening suggests, zombies "live" among us as regular people. They aren't the "Walking Dead" variety either, they can look and act just like us and have managed to control their cravings via an intricate network of pathologists and medical schools that supply human meat. Jenna however takes it one step further: she refuses to eat human completely, a decision she's stuck with since her teen years (under the guise of bulimia). Jayce conversely is sliding the other way: she announces, in an effort to reclaim her true identity, that she's had fresh human and finds it's hard to go back to the dead stuff. Evan is horrified by said news as he "lived" through the 1960s when the zombies last tried to reveal themselves to the world, only to be hunted and killed as a result. Jayce's dangerous path then could help trigger another awakening and see history repeat itself.
And he's not wrong either: someone is in fact hunting them: a nameless government agent (Titus Welliver) and his protege Simon (Demore Barnes). They're hot on the trail of just such a movement, spearheaded by Jayce's zombie boyfriend Ted. He wants the zombies to stop their assimilation into the "pre-dead" culture and start being themselves, including eating live humans again - developments Jayce is all too willing to take part in. And despite Jayce's - and other zombies' - attempts to get Jenna to go along, she'll have none of it, preferring to run away with the very human Matt, who's been offered a promotion in London. Ultimately as the aforementioned agents move in and Jayce gets deeper and deeper into trouble, Jenna finds herself unable to stay away. Zombie or not, family is family.
What works: There's something inherently compelling about the idea of giving zombies their own culture, not to mention a burgeoning war between the dead and the pre-dead. The more the breadcrumbs the show leaves in said direction - they're offended by Hollywood's portrayal of them ("Like anybody eats the brains!" Ted quips); humans and zombies can have children together, the spawn of which have a 50/50 shot of turning out as one or the other; etc. - the better. Unfortunately...
What doesn't: ...it never quite blossoms into a cogent hook. Zombie culture just seems to involve banging on drums in front of tiki torches while preaching how they should embrace their true selves while for all of Evan's tub-thumping about the previous uprising, the average Joe doesn't seem to know zombies exist. Making it even more vanilla is how the zombie effects are almost too subtle: they can do "the full Romero" as Jenna puts it but for the most part they look like the veiny vampires from "The Vampire Diaries" (complete with super strength) when the time comes for them to zombie-out. Plus, for all the talk of Jenna being a flourishing attorney and having a solid grip on her zombie tendencies, she's far too indecisive and timid for my taste.
Usually pilots close on the beat of taking up a mantle or accepting a decision whereas here it just kind of tables the issue for another day (the cliffhanger being, of course, who Welliver's unnamed character actually is). Not helping matters is the general silliness of having your two leads names be nearly identical (I had to re-read the above multiple times to make sure I got Jenna vs. Jayce right), plus Griffiths's unfortunate tendency to slip into her native British accent. Welliver is conversely a hoot as the stone-faced "villain," making you almost wish the show was about his relentless quest to stop the zombie menace. That's not to say Griffiths and Hagner aren't interesting (the latter's increasingly sociopathic embrace of her zombiehood leads to some nice moments, for instance), they're just like most everything else in the pilot:
The bottom line: Bits and pieces of curiousness that never quite coalesce.