Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pilot Review: The Listener

The Listener (NBC)
Premiered June 4 at 9pm

Does it ever seem like, after a while, all shows look alike? It often becomes hard to discern what exactly the “hook” of a show with a special consultant slash cop who has a secret ability that makes him the perfect person to solve crimes is. That’s entirely the case in this Canadian series being broadcast on NBC, featuring the unenthusiastic Craig Olejnik as telepathic paramedic Toby. Unlike other flashy TV characters like Shawn on “Psych” or Patrick on “The Mentalist,” Toby doesn’t tout his abilities, and therefore just seems to luck out every time with his perceived reckless hunches and willful courage. It doesn’t look like people pay him too much attention, though it’s not as if they shut him out completely either. It would be a far more intriguing show, in my opinion, if either of those was in fact true.

The first case of the series isn’t terribly interesting, involving a woman in a car crash and a mystery child taken by an ex-cop. It’s nothing daring, nothing new, and nothing about the way Toby solves it is remotely fascinating or thrilling. There’s no illicit existing or budding romance between Toby and one of the detectives, and the supporting cast is indiscernible if present at all. It’s basically a one-man show, with only Colm Feore (President Taylor’s husband on “24”) as Toby’s professorial confidante, who stresses the dangers of Toby’s secret being revealed. It’s just not terribly gripping. The weakest part, however, is Toby’s talent itself.

Toby has the ability to read minds. In the opening moments of the pilot, he discusses how it’s often harder to turn the voices off than to hear them in the first place. What ensues in the premiere, however, doesn’t follow that logic. Toby hears people insult his clothing while walking on the street, but doesn’t catch the frightened thoughts of a child about to fall off a cliff. What he hears is hardly as compelling as the offensive garbage Sookie is privy to on “True Blood.” He doesn’t seem to have any ability beyond hearing people’s thoughts, unlike the lamest of telepaths, Matt Parkman on “Heroes,” who is able to convince people of his will by entering their thoughts. As a show, “The Listener” rides on Toby’s ability to hear what people think to drive forward its dramatic core and hook people in. Simply put, Toby just doesn’t have a cool power, and that’s where the show fails.

How will it work as a series? Well, the pilot wasn’t much to write home about, but it also didn’t present any kind of special, important case or spin an origin story about Toby’s first foray into using his powers, so this should pretty much be indicative of what the show will be like. Hopefully the supporting characters will be fleshed out a bit, since Toby doesn’t possess the charm to carry his own show.
How long will it last? A 13-episode first season has already aired in Canada, and NBC picking it up for American audiences is a good sign. CBS imported fellow CTV series “Flashpoint” during the summer, and it’s been renewed, so perhaps “The Listener” will follow. I don’t think it will strike much of an exceptional chord in the United States, and going up against repeats of “The Mentalist” and “Private Practice” seems unwise. One season it is.

Pilot grade: D

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