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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three 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 or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 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 entry:
THE NINE (ABC)
(Wednesdays at 10:00/9:00c this fall)
The network's description: "So much in life is beyond your control. You may go about your day like any other when suddenly a random moment, an accident, a blessing, even a stranger redirects your life forever. And on that day, it's up to you to decide if that moment will stop you in your tracks or lift you up to new heights. Nine people will face just such an unexpected twist when they are caught in a bank robbery gone wrong and endure a 52-hour hostage standoff that will leave more than one person dead. When all is said and done, these people will never be the same. They will share the common bond of what happens inside the bank and will be forever affected and intertwined because of it. From the creator of "Without a Trace" and an executive producer of "The West Wing" comes a dramatic character study that will keep audiences hooked with the mystery of what happened during the hostage standoff. Each episode will begin with a flashback to reveal another 10 minutes of the hostage crisis, uncovering why and how these nine strangers are still linked today. Tim Daly ("Wings"), Chi McBride ("Boston Public") and Scott Wolf ("Party of Five") star."
What did they leave out: As noted in the above description, this isn't a "24"-style take on a hostage crisis but rather an ensemble drama about the lives of those involved after said event.
The plot in a nutshell: Small vignettes introduce us to nine characters, all of who are making their way to the bank in question (mostly for innocuous reasons). There's Nick (Timothy Daly), a cop whose career is threatened by his gambling addiction; Kathryn (Kim Raver), a workaholic district attorney; Egan (John Billingsley, who's by far the breakout star here), a schluby guy who's contemplating suicide; Malcolm (Chi McBride, now with hair), the bank's manager; Felicia (Dana Davis), Malcolm's daughter; Jeremy (Scott Wolf), a nice-guy doctor; Lizzie (Jessica Collins), Jeremy's girlfriend and co-worker (who has some big news for him); and sisters Franny (Camille Guaty) and Eva (Lourdes Benedicto), who work as tellers at the bank, the latter of which has developed a crush on Nick, a regular customer. Forever tying them together is Lucas (Owain Yeoman), who, along with his brother (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), plan to rob the bank. Just as the standoff begins we cut ahead to "52 hours later," as things have apparently become a full-fledged hostage crisis/media circus. A S.W.A.T. team busts into the bank, revealing the nine in an almost unrecognizable state - Nick has one arm handcuffed to a railing, half of Kathryn's hair has been cut off, Egan has disabled the robbers, Felicia has developed amnesia and most notably: Eva has been shot. Intercut between all this (yes, there's more), are "Inside Man"-esque interviews of Lucas and the nine as they are questioned about the robbery. We quickly learn that the nine have developed a deep friendship as the result of the event, so much so that they can't help but reach out to each other once they're released. More importantly, it's changed them - some for the worse (Malcolm, like his daughter, wants to pretend nothing happened; Jeremy and Lizze find their relationship fractured), some for the better (Egan finds himself with a new zest for life; Kathryn finds her cold facade fading away). And after one of them dies (you don't need to be Nostradamus to figure out who), they're reunited at that person's funeral, where Kathryn and Egan decide the remaining eight should regularly meet for dinner in order to catch up and stay in touch. As usual, I don't want to spoil any more but suffice it to say that a "big reveal" at the end will make filling in the gaps (as mentioned in ABC's PR, each episode will begin with a flashback to reveal another 10 minutes of the hostage crisis) all the more interesting.
What works: An enormous amount of credit goes to the actors, who literally have to play two different people (the "before" and "after"), not to mention take us through the motions on how they got from A to B. Billingsley's transition is by far the most interesting, as he sees the event as a second chance at life. There's a great sequence in which his wife walks in on him throwing out his old clothes as he's simply just excited about buying new ones. He's followed closely by Daly and Raver's characters, both of which slowly come to realize their old ways of doing things aren't working. Likewise, there's a great sequence between the two in which she calls him late at night and they don't know what to say but it just feels good for them to talk. These are just two examples of how the show takes little moments to give us insight into the characters, not to mention make us care about them. As for the "mystery" aspect (i.e. what happened during those 52 hours), the show wisely doesn't let it overpower the plot or the characters. If anything it feels like things will grow organically from here. In other words, there's a sense we'll get information about those missing hours in a way that doesn't feel shocking but rather as a way to explore the characters themselves. It's a delicate balance, one of the show pulls off swimmingly.
What doesn't: Despite all of the above, there's not really a sense of "oh wow, I have to watch this show every week." That's not necessarily a bad thing - not everything has to be "Lost," "24," etc. - it's just those expecting some big serial are going to be surprised to find out it's more of a character piece. If anything, it feels like something you might discover on DVD, blow through five or six hours of and feel good about finding.
The challenges ahead: "The Bachelor," "Alias," "Invasion" and "The Evidence" have all failed to capitalize on "Lost's" lead-in, will "The Nine" be the one that does?