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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.]
THE WIDOW DETECTIVE (BUSTED CBS PILOT)
(written by David Hubbard; directed by Davis Guggenheim; TRT: 44:35)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out? Michael Irby and Eriq La Salle turn up in thankless roles as a superstitious detective and the squad's lieutenant, respectively.
The plot in a nutshell: The morning routine of LAPD detective Denny Brennan (John Corbett) is disrupted by the news that today's paper has a story branding him "The Widow Detective." After all, he's lost three partners in the past 10 years and selflessly continues to orbit the lives of their respective widows: hairdresser Lainey (Jennifer Beals), who has since remarried; restaurateur Jill (Paula Marshall), a mother of three girls; and most recently, Maya (Natalie Martinez), whose seven-year-old Dante (Jason Hernandez) is Denny's godson. Said relationships however aren't without their complications: Lainey and Denny have a chaste attraction while her grown son Troy (Elyes Gabel) has just passed the detective exam and wants to be Denny's partner; Amanda (Conor Leslie), Jill's eldest, is about to get married to Eric (Jason Gerhardt), a detective in Denny's squad; and Maya's Dante desperately wants Denny to be his dad.
Denny nevertheless presses on with his quasi-husbandly duties, not to mention his latest case: a nurse has been murdered and the top suspects are Hector (Gary Perez), an overly amorous patient; and her son Wesley (Mario Ardila Jr.), who recently learned his convict father (Jose Zuniga) was still alive, a fact she hid from him. From here it's down the usual procedural rabbit hole - the obvious suspect has an alibi, the first confession comes too easy, the real culprit was staring at them all along, etc. - all while balancing the aforementioned personal foibles, most notably that Troy is reckless and angry, putting both his and Denny's lives in danger; while Dante runs away after being told Denny isn't going to be his new dad. Ultimately, Denny finds a way to keep his various plates spinning and, of course, catch the bad guy.
What works: There's some potentially intriguing elements simmering under the surface, namely how the show will reconcile Denny's own parental issues with his almost pathological need to be the good guy for Lainey, Jill, Maya and company. I just wish...
What doesn't: ...there were some actual cracks in Denny's facade. Hubbard writes and Corbett plays Denny as nothing short of a saint, whether it's turning down a confused Maya's sexual overtures; giving Dante the perfect pep talk about being there for him even if he isn't his dad; or starting a food fight to alleviate some of Amanda's pre-wedding stress. The only thing that actually seems to bump him is Troy, but that's only because he's terrified that he blames him for his father's death - which of course he would because he's a saint. Absent any temptation or darkness, the end result is a rather milquetoast exploration of what are obviously complex dynamics.
I'm not asking for endless shades of gray, just an acknowledgement of the inherent perils of what he's doing. Who among us wouldn't pause for a few beats after Beals's Lainey professed her love and suggested they run away together or question their actions after hearing a seven-year-old boy explain we are the reason he ran away? Denny on the other hand, with his superhuman integrity, doesn't even flinch. The show doesn't do itself any favors on the procedural end as the case of the week is as vanilla and predictable as it gets, not to mention plays out like an afterthought (it's a full eight minutes before we even see Denny attempt police work). Likewise the concept itself is literally radioed in - the opening runner is a pair of drive-time DJs discussing Denny's story in the paper - giving a clunky air to the proceedings. Overall, whatever interesting aspects exist in the show...
The bottom line: ...are suffocated by its relentless earnestness.