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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
THE GATE (FOX)
(Fridays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)
The network's description: "Created by Josh Berman ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"), THE GATE (working title) tells the chilling stories of bizarre crimes committed by San Francisco's most aberrant criminals. The series centers on Detective GRAHAM HALE (Johnny Messner, THE O.C.) of the San Francisco Police Department's Deviant Crime Unit. Intense and private, Hale is haunted by personal demons, and he chose this assignment after going AWOL for a year following his partner's death in the line of duty. Hale's new partner is rookie Detective AVA LYFORD (Marguerite Moreau, "Life As We Know It," THE O.C.), whose no-nonsense demeanor and by-the-book tenacity hide both her insecurities and her secrets. Unbeknownst to Hale, she has a hidden agenda � and it might lead to his downfall. In the course of investigating his cases, Hale works closely with his boss, the likable Lieutenant MATT CAVANAUGH (Chi McBride, "Boston Public," "The Terminal"), and with DR. FRANCINE KLEPP, a forensic pathologist in the Coroner's lab and the former roommate of Hale's late partner, Meg. Exploring the idea that "behind every monster there's a mystery," the stories of THE GATE remind us that the "monsters" are everyday people, hidden in plain sight � and that, in each of us, a monster may lurk just beneath the surface."
What did they leave out: "The Gate's" original title, "Deviant Behavior," definitely was more on target to describe the show as the opening scene features a man raping a woman by using a rare spider to paralyze (and eventually kill) her. Yes kids, this is going to air mere seconds after "Malcolm in the Middle" ends on Friday nights this fall. Also for those interested, Dr. Klepp (at least in the pilot) is played by Jessica Steen.
The plot in a nutshell: The victim mentioned above draws the attention of the newly formed Deviant Crime Unit of the San Francisco Police Department, more specifically the police-scanner (and ab crunch) obsessed Det. Graham Hale's (Johnny Messner) who's returning to the job after a year-long sabbatical after his partner's (and secret lover's) murder. He figures out that (gasp!) it's rather odd for a perfectly healthy young woman to drop dead for no apparent reason (you know, except for the pepperoni sized spider-bite on her face). Everyone wants to write her off as dying of natural causes but he decides to investigate the case anyway and blah, blah, blah... you'll easily be able to fill in the blanks here if you've seen a TV drama in the past 25 years. Thrown into the mix are his new motorcycle riding partner Ava Lyford (Marguerite Moreau), your typical Lieutenant-archetype Matt Cavanaugh (Chi McBride) and some gratuitous San Francisco name-dropping (Fisherman's Warf, etc.). Surprisingly that's more or less it.
What works: Somewhere in between all its by-the-numbers crime drama procedural trappings, the show kicks around the interesting idea that those who are good at catching deviants may be deviants themselves. Beyond that, there's a nifty twist at the end that could provide some future sparks but it's nothing that's going to really change the warn-out "find body/search for twisted killer" dynamic central to the show.
What doesn't: There's just nothing here we haven't seen done better elsewhere in the movies and on television. And really folks, are there any ways left to gruesomely rape and/or kill someone? And do you really want to spend a Friday night after a long week of work watching a show whose mission statement is to find those other more disturbing ways? Anyway, those issues aside one also can't help but feel sorry for Chi McBride, who's wasted as the Lieutenant On Every Movie/TV Show (TM pending). Messner is capable enough as the lead but again, do we really need another angsty, job-obsessed detective? It's just hard to get into a show that does little to differentiate itself in its over-populated genre.
The challenges ahead: As previously mentioned, will viewers really want to spend a Friday night after a long week of work watching a show about finding disturbing ways to kill people? And if a show like "The Inside" (which mined nearly identical territory) can't draw an audience, what hope does this show have (and on Friday nights at that)? We'll know for sure this fall on FOX.