[07/06/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Men in Trees" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

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:

(Fridays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)

The network's description: "Finding a good man in today's world isn't as difficult as some women think. You just have to watch out for the signs. You wouldn't drive with a blindfold on but, for some reason, women continue to date with one. Relationship coach Marin Frist knows what to look for, what to avoid and what will make her happy. As the many fans of her two bestselling books could tell you, we're all in charge of our own happiness. Marin's personal happiness includes the upcoming wedding to her "perfect man." But like many people full of advice, she fails to apply it to herself. On her way to a speaking engagement in Alaska, she learns that her fianci has cheated on her... the wedding plans are instantly over. Slapped in the face with personal failure, a snowstorm then leaves her stuck in a small town full of the one thing she really doesn't need -- available men. Marin's friends and her publisher try to lend long-distance support, but the fact remains she's been living with her eyes closed for too long. Now that they're finally open, she sees the amazingly beautiful world surrounding her, and for the first time she'll have the chance to stop and breathe. Now if she could just get the raccoon out of her hotel room, this place might be perfect. From the head writer of "Sex and the City" and the director of the Academy Award(r)-winning "Walk the Line" comes a fun and sexy drama about finding love in the most unexpected places. Anne Heche ("Nip/Tuck") stars."

What did they leave out: If - and this is a big if - you can look past the egregious plot holes, there's actually a charming little show here.

The plot in a nutshell: Marin Frist (Anne Heche), like all successful authors/relationship coaches on TV shows and in movies, is about to find out that she's doesn't know the first thing about relationships. Case in point: on a trip to a speaking engagement in Alaska, she accidentally learns her fiance has been cheating on her (note to all potential TV/movie philanders: don't buy the same make and model laptop as your soon-to-be-wife, she might accidentally take yours). Said development is just the beginning of the Crappiest Day Ever (TM pending) as Marin finds small town Alaska life a bit challenging. Between the lack of cell phone service to the surrounding wildlife frequently making their way into town to the out of whack social dynamics (men outnumber the women by a wide margin, making them the ones in charge). But as luck would have it, small towns on TV are populated by quirky, offbeat characters that will inevitably win you over. There's Buzz (John Amos), the crotchety pilot of the only airline in town; Sara (Sue Mathew), the hooker with the heart of gold; Ben (Abraham Benrubi), the nice-guy owner of the local bar; Theresa (Sarah Strange), Ben's estranged wife who gives Marin the lay of the land; Patrick (Derek Richardson), the aw-shucks operator of the only hotel in town (and the only radio station in town); and Jack (James Tupper), the scruffy guy who will undoubtedly be paired with Marin down the road. And if that wasn't enough there's Jane (Seana Kofoed), Marin's editor who flies in for moral support and Annie (Emily Bergl), Marin's stalker, who's opted to follow her to Alaska (seriously, I'm not kidding). And so after melting down at her forum, said group comes to her rescue and shows her the wonders of life when you slow down and look around. This as you'd expect leads her to decide to make a go of it in Alaska, leaving behind - for now at least - her big fancy life in New York.

What works: In terms of setting a scene, "Men in Trees" is virtually flawless. Alaska hasn't looked this good since... well "Northern Exposure," but hey that was 15 years ago right? Regardless, the show's supporting cast is top notch, bringing that "small town" feel it so desperately want to achieve. But...

What doesn't: ...it's really hard to overcome the show's biggest flaw - there's really no reason for Marin to stay, let alone be there in the first place. A big shot author - one a stone's throw from being on "Oprah" no less - is doing gigs in dinky little towns in Alaska of all places? Peoria, Illinois was booked? It's very silly. But even if you give that a pass, there's still the question of why she stays. Marin's breakup with her fiance essentially comes off as amicable and the efforts to make her "deal" with it - a raccoon tears up her wedding dress (whaaaaa?) - come across as forced at best. The show then banks on the charm of the town - and charm it does have - to rationalize her decision but it ultimately feels like "setting up the premise of the show" than an organic plot development. Plus, did I mention one of the regulars is her stalker?

The challenges ahead: Can ABC launch a drama on Friday nights? Considering it spit up and chewed out much better offerings ("Thieves," "Once & Again") one best not get too attached.

  [july 2006]  


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