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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.]
MIDNIGHT SUN (NBC)
(written by Lisa Zwerling; directed by Brad Anderson; TRT: 44:42)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out? It's based on the Israeli drama "Timrot Ashan," which translates to "Pillars of Smoke."
The plot in a nutshell: A child - Cole (Arien Boey) - awakens to another serene day at Midnight Sun, a self-sustaining community in Dugan, Alaska devoted to various green pursuits. He looks for his father Alex (Oz Zehavi), whom he discovers having an argument with the group's charismatic leader Blake Maxwell (Titus Welliver, doing his Titus Welliver thing). Maxwell nevertheless assures Cole that everything is going to be okay. 24 hours later, a delivery truck arrives to find the entire place deserted with all 37 of its members MIA. Tasked with solving said mystery is the town's affable deputy Sam Fuller (Michael Raymond-James), who prides himself on knowing each face in town. He's quickly joined by FBI Agent Leah Macallen (Julia Stiles), the prerequisite city slicker, who's spearheading her own investigation. And while Fuller likens Midnight Sun to a bunch of harmless nature nerds, Macallen believes something more ominous: Maxwell is a terrorist with links to refinery explosions, fatal bombings and arson, all in the name of "saving the world."
His going underground then is a signal that something big is coming. Collectively however they can only come up with one lead: a series of Cole's drawings left behind that point to a nearby glacier, one that can't be reached on foot. Along the way we meet a host of townsfolk with ties to the missing, including Cole's mother Rory (Emma Bell), who didn't want her son to be a part of the group; her overprotective father Garth Harring (Connor O'Farrell), the town's sheriff who may be in the group's pocket; and Miranda Brooks (Alexia Fast), a local teen who received an odd voicemail from one of the missing (Lucien Laviscount). We likewise learn a little more about our heroes - Fuller is a widow with a closeted son Owen (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor) while Macallen admits her brother was in a cult for a while, seeding her own vendetta. She's lying though: a series of flashbacks ultimately reveal she was the one once in a cult... with Maxwell among its members.
What works: There are some compelling aspects at work here, most notably Raymond-James's Fuller, whose relaxed demeanor is a welcome counteragent to the usual mechanizations of the genre. He's a skeptic in a refreshingly honest way, a pragmatic peacekeeper in a town that puts being left alone as its top value. It's however not quite enough to overcome...
What doesn't: ...the pilot's more daunting flaws. First and most tellingly is that the "cult" in question is depressingly vanilla, its only trademark being each member wears a green Livestrong-esque bracelet bearing their name. Hell, even the usually great Titus Welliver feels sedated as the rote calmly voiced, mumbo-jumbo spewing leader. Equally as frustrating is the - and forgive the obvious choice in words - glacier-like pace in which the aforementioned events move. The middle acts are literally just Macallen marinating in the local color, as glimpses of her past life intrude on her thoughts as a result of the insomnia brought on by the endless daylight in the region. Even when things actually happen - the flight to the glacier site crashes! - they're quickly shuttered in the name of slowing things down again - Macallen wakes up hours later with medically-induced amnesia!
I get that we're not going to get all the answers in the pilot but what little is actually given feels like blood from a stone and a not that particularly interesting stone at that. Whether it's Macallen's connection to Maxwell to Sheriff Harring's own ties to Midnight Sun, they're either shamelessly telegraphed or casually brushed off. The end result is a show filled with a cornucopia of bland, mostly smiling faces - including a half-dozen more not mentioned above - that may or may not be hiding something, a facet that ultimately applies to even investigators themselves. I'm all for making nesting dolls worth of mystery, but absent any truths to hold onto - and coupled with an obstructive pace - it's...
The bottom line: ...hard to rally around this one.