Friday, June 25, 2010

Pilot Reviews: Scoundrels & The Gates

Scoundrels & The Gates (ABC)
Premiered June 20 at 9pm & 10pm

Six years ago, ABC aired an original series called “The Days” only during the summer, and though I didn’t get a chance to see it, it only lasted six episodes. Last summer, ABC burned off not one but four cancelled series – “Pushing Daisies,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” “Eli Stone,” and “Samantha Who?” – while airing spillover episodes of a now-cancelled series, “Better Off Ted.” In what seems like a desperate attempt to compete with cable networks like FX, TNT, and USA which air full seasons of their original series during the summer, ABC has decided to launch three shows in the summer this year. “Rookie Blue” will be reviewed early next week, and it’s not quite as relevant here because ABC is pairing it with a reality series, a type of show that has dominated network television summer schedules for years.

The two Sunday night series feel incredibly like summer shows, and not in a good, “Burn Notice” kind of way. Rather, they seem to be created strictly for a dumber audience, as if network representatives expect TV watchers to be prepared to watch any garbage during the summer, with standards considerably lower than during the regular September-May television season. Beyond being ignorant and insulting, it’s disappointing. I’m not convinced that either of these series actually would have had any potential to be good had they been executed differently, but these results certainly don’t impress. Pinpointing exactly what makes each of these shows so awful isn’t the easiest of tasks, but the sum of the parts is majestically lackluster at best. The dialogue in both shows is horrendous, and there’s not one sympathetic or intriguing character to be found on either show.

“Scoundrels” features what have to be the dumbest criminals in the world, where one kid even sews his name into his ski mask. The gimmick of a criminal family didn’t work at all in Showtime’s abysmal one-season drama “Meadowlands,” and it fails here too. Virginia Madsen was so sweet in her Oscar-nominated supporting role in “Sideways,” so her casting as an aggressive, no-nonsense matriarch mastermind doesn’t make much sense. It seems that the family has only one truthfully smart member, and that’s the blond daughter who pretends to be drugged while drugging her assailant’s drink, but even she goes out of her way to appear stupid. Pesky flashbacks and lines like “yes, most definitely way” are even more regrettable than the poorly-constructed characters. The family trying to go straight doesn’t seem like it will work out or be worth watching, and the imprisoned father’s evil laughter at the cell at the end is probably a fitting preview of how preposterous everything to come will be.

And then there’s “The Gates,” the more obviously bad of the two shows. Besides the lack of any need for yet another vampire show, this one is a tragically badly-scripted and poorly-conceived idea. The first question is why a community of vampires and other supernaturally-enhanced misfits would allow a human chief of police to come in to supervise their community. The old chief may be retired in Mexico, as the impossibly annoying Nick continually harps on, but the new chief is going to have his blood drained and end up in a ditch somewhere if he keeps pushing and antagonizing the residents. As it turns out, the old chief beat him to it, but I’m sure he’ll get himself in real mortal trouble soon enough. A high school student building a lie detector is among the most puzzling and ridiculous notions I’ve ever heard, and it only serves to make the chemistry between the two teens all too obvious. To cap it off, Rhona Mitra, formerly of “The Practice” and “Boston Legal” and never a good actress, makes for the worst vampire I’ve ever seen. I can’t decide which is worse: the expressions on her face or the tacky special effects employed on the show. As far as pale “True Blood” imitations go, this one can be considered a poster child. Rivaling its lead-in for bad dialogue, here’s one sample of the Shakespeare from this show: “They can be a real bitch, can’t they?” / “So can you!”

It turns out that sharing a Sunday night showcase and being awful aren’t the only things that links these two shows. Another common thread is the mention of lupus on both series, which is used in a discussion of literature to inspire a romance on “The Gates” and used by the criminal family’s younger daughter as an excuse to skip an entire year of school on “Scoundrels.” It would be too simplistic to say that one of these shows is too original while the other isn’t anywhere near original enough, so I hope that surprising link serves as the only interesting factoid related to these two shows. Judging by these two (I haven’t seen “Rookie Blue” as of this writing), ABC should immediately stop production on any original fare they’re planning to premiere in the summer. These shows are among the most dismal pilots I’ve seen in a long time, and while I imagine that they’ll make it through the entirety of their eight- and thirteen-episode runs, respectively (and then fade into television oblivion), they really don’t deserve it. Bring back “Better Off Ted” and please spare audiences even one more minute of these terrible shows.

Both shows: F

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