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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh 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.]
ISABEL (BUSTED NBC PILOT)
(written by Howard Busgang & Tom Nursall; directed by Todd Holland; TRT: 22:46)
The network's description: "ISABEL is a comedy centering on an otherwise normal middle-class family that wrestles with the challenges of everyday life while raising a daughter (Sophia Mitri Schloss, "Grimm") who has magical abilities. Abigail Mavity and Skyler Gisondo also star. Howard Busgang ("The Closer," "Boy Meets World") and Tom Nursall ("Single White Spenny") are the executive producers and writers. Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle") directs the pilot and is an executive producer. Karey Burke ("Free Agents"), Aaron Kaplan ("Terra Nova") and Jocelyn Deschenes also are executive producers. "Isabel" is produced by Universal Television, Kapital Entertainment and Sphere Media."
What did they leave out? It's actually based on the 2000-2004 French-Canadian series series "Le monde de Charlotte."
The plot in a nutshell: "I see beauty other people miss," precocious 12-year-old Isabel (Sophia Schloss) explains in the opening narration. "I'm not sure why I do, I just always have. I've always been different that way. But I don't mind." You see, unlike most girls her age, Isabel passes out at the sight of nature, claims to smell numbers (4 is almond, 7 is chocolate, 2 is lemon) and says she talks to her comatose grandfather in her dreams.
Said developments have placed her in school mandated therapy where her doctor (
Alex Désert) is shocked to find she can do that and a whole lot more. Isabel's family however has bigger worries: namely the decision to pull the plug on her aforementioned grandfather.
Her mother Frannie (Marcia Gay Harden) is distraught at the prospect of her father dying without ever saying he loves her; dad Louis (Kevin Nealon) has been secretly planning to take over his soon to be deceased father-in-law's food truck; her pubescent brother Eric (Skyler Gisondo) finds himself the improbable target of Vivian (Madison McLaughlin), a pretty girl at school who's fascinated with death; and older sister Karen (Abigail Mavity) is, well, your typical teenager. And so when the big moment comes, Frannie finally gets the moment she's waited her whole life for, Louis's secret comes out and Eric gets to first base with Vivian. Really, that's it.
What works: I just don't get...
What doesn't: ...what this show is supposed to be. First and foremost there's no real attempts at humor - the closest it comes to a "joke" is grandpa's doctor (Bradley White), an old classmate of Frannie's, inappropriately hits on her at every turn - rather everything is framed as some kind of quirky cuteness, complete with "isn't this wacky" score. The end result however is a disconnected emotional throughline that shifts between each scene, so much so that you walk away wondering what exactly is the point of all of the above. That's not to say Schloss, Nealon, Harden and company aren't likeable, they just don't particularly resonate.
Furthermore for all the tub-thumping about Isabel's "magical" abilities, they don't do much besides underline the obvious (grandpa really does love Frannie! grandpa knows what Louis is up to!) or play lip service to its own idiosyncrasies (Eric asks if Isabel can see any zits coming in; a random boy named Romero appears to defend Isabel's honor at the therapist's office). In other words, why invest so much in establishing the extraordinary when the end result is banal conclusions we can see coming from miles away? Sans such ambition, the show feels frustratingly scattershot at best and off putting at worst...
The bottom line: ...neither of which seems particularly concerned about being funny.