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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
BONUS FIRST LOOK: THE MASTERSONS OF MANHATTAN (NBC)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: "The Mastersons are anything but typical. Amanda is on trial for murder. Victoria hasn't left the house since the 1980s. Laura still hasn't recovered from being kidnapped as a child. And Roger is pretending to be a doctor. This is the world of stretch limousines, hushed secrets and dysfunctional New York City socialites, where at any given moment a wild plot is unfolding. From courtroom drama to bedroom drama, these remarkable family members live so over the top that you can't help but laugh with them�and at them."
What did they leave out: It's basically "Soap" without the narration... or the humor.
The plot in a nutshell: In the first of many bizarre plot twists and character connections, "Mastersons" opens with Marshall (Jonathan Cake) being murdered by a shadowy figure, who may or may not be his wife - heiress/ex-porn star Amanda Masterson (a surprisingly low key Molly Shannon). Now on trial for a murder she's in no rush to acquit herself from, Amanda nevertheless is aided by her hapless attorney Joseph (Brian Benben) - the son of the family's maid Rosemary (Marylouise Burke) - who longs to be part of the Masterson family, not to mention carries a torch for Amanda herself. Along for the ride are Amanda's naive, inexplicably British sister Victoria (Natasha Richardson) - whose agoraphobic tendencies have kept her from leaving the house for the past 20 years. She's married to Roger (also Jonathan Cake), who just happens to be Marshall's twin brother. (Insert shocking twist music here.) Then there's the youngest Masterson sister, Laura (Amanda Walsh), who's returned home from the Peace Corps with her new fiance Bobby (Shane McRae) and the hopes of actually being acknowledged by her sisters. And last, but not least, there's Amanda's boy-trapped-in-a-girl's body daughter (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress) and Penny (Jasika Nicole), a nurse/struggling actress who's been taking care of the Mastersons' ill father while also carrying on a affair with Roger and plotting the Mastersons' downfall with her real lover - Bobby! (Insert more shocking twist music here.)
What works: I can't help but admire the show's ambition - there really hasn't been many attempts to do a show in the vein of "Soap" in quite some time. And to its credit, it does swing for the fences - from its plot (twin brothers! secret affairs! British people!) to its intricately designed two-story set. The problem is...
What doesn't: ...it's just not that funny. All of the show's various twists and turns come across as lead balloons rather than the campy, fun moments I assume are intended. That's not to say a few decent laughs don't squeeze in - Roger on his relationship with his brother: "We used to finish each other's...." - and - Laura, after being chastised that "a man is dead" during one of her tantrums: "But somebody who looks exactly like him is still alive!" - but those are drowned out by drawn out, lame jokes like having Victoria say "good morning" and "good night" to each of her army of servants - sequences which I should add showcase the show's full throttle laugh track that would make you believe "Mastersons" wrote the book on comedy. The biggest offense though is that nobody really stands out - all of the characters are just sort of... there. I mean isn't it bad that in the final reveal you're thinking to yourself, "Oh wait, who's that nurse girl again?"
The bottom line: A miss, but a well-intentioned one at that.