Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pilot Review: Graves

Graves (Epix)
Premiered October 16 at 10pm

The second of Epix’s first two original new series is a half-hour comedy starring Nick Nolte, whose only regular television experience was in the ensemble cast of HBO’s short-lived horse racing drama a few years ago. Now he’s prominent as the front-and-center lead on this series about a former president of the United States who has reached a point of exasperation with what his life has become. The White House and its primary resident are the subjects of more and more shows these days, and therefore in a way it’s refreshing to find a series that deals with the commander-in-chief long after he’s left office. This, however, doesn’t offer all that much in the way of enticing content. Nolte’s Richard Graves is a determined curmudgeon who doesn’t seem to enjoy much of anything anymore, and it’s hard to figure out why those who don’t think that he was the worst president in history admire him so much. His wife, played by two-time Emmy winner Sela Ward, is a power player who knows what she wants and knows how to manage her husband, with some help from Roger Bart’s political operator and Ernie Hudson’s fixer. I’m not sure why Skyler Astin’s new assistant is needed, especially since he’s a particularly irritating and overly excitable addition to the cast. Graves getting a new lease on life and deciding that he’s going to undo all the bad things he’s done in the name of goodness and the American people is an interesting call to action, but it’s hard to take Graves’ statement of “I am awake!” seriously when Nolte look anything but energized.

How will it work as a series? Graves is a handful himself, and his blowtorch-happy daughter seems to have more than enough crazy boiled up within her for the whole family. Now that he’s changed his tune, it should be entertaining – and possibly moving – to see Graves defend honorable positions, but I think this show is a bit too much of an uninspired mess to really be sincere.
How long will it last? Epix doesn’t have anything to measure this show’s success against, and decent reviews may help it to sustain itself going forward. At this point, it’s way too early to tell given the network’s lack of experience in original TV programming, but I think this may just get a second season for ingenuity alone.

Pilot grade: C+

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