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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
SURVIVING THE FILTHY RICH (The CW)
(written by Rina Mimoun; directed by Michael Engler; TRT: 30:52)
The network's description: "Twenty-three-year-old Megan Smith (JoAnna Garcia, "Reba") has a Yale education, a relentlessly positive attitude and a plan to conquer the world of journalism, despite the fact that she is currently slaving away at a tabloid rag. Megan's plan is thrown off course when, in one whirlwind day, she gets fired, meets cosmetics mogul Laurel Limoges (casting TBD) and becomes the live-in tutor for Laurel's twin teen granddaughters in the heady Palm Beach world of wealth and power. The girls, Rose (Lucy Kate Hale, "Bionic Woman") and Sage (Ashley Newbrough, "The Best Years"), are beautiful, rebellious and less-than-thrilled with their new tutor, but Megan is determined to win them over as she enjoys the perks of her new job - breathtaking private suite, gorgeous convertible and live-in chef Marco (Allan Louis, "Stomp the Yard"). Even the neighbors are fabulous in Palm Beach, and Megan quickly catches the eye of Will (casting TBD), the wealthy and extremely hot dilettante who lives on the estate next door and just happens to be dating Megan's estranged sister Lily (casting TBD). Completing this romantic quadrangle is Megan's best friend Charlie (Michael Cassidy, "Smallville," "The O.C."), who is secretly in love with her. Despite her own complicated romantic and family relationships, Megan is committed to making a difference in the lives of her two headstrong charges as she navigates the treacherous waters of high society in Palm Beach. SURVIVING THE FILTHY RICH is based on the Alloy Entertainment book "How To Teach Filthy Rich Girls" by best-selling author Zoey Dean ("The A-List"). The series is from Alloy Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television and CBS Paramount Network Television with executive producers Rina Mimoun ("Gilmore Girls," "Everwood"), Bob Levy ("Gossip Girl") and Leslie Morgenstein ("Gossip Girl," "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"). Michael Engler ("30 Rock") directed the pilot."
What did they leave out: Marsha Mason played Laurel Limoges in the pilot presentation, a role which is being recast. Two other characters - Will and Lily - don't appear in the presentation, as their sections of the script will be filmed for the full pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: Life after Yale in the Big Apple isn't going so well for Megan Smith (the always adorable JoAnna Garcia). Between her apartment burning down, losing out on a promotion at work (and subsequently learning her old position has been eliminated) and thinking it would be a good idea to dye her hair red, Megan's dream of writing the "next great biography of Hillary Clinton and dedicating it to her daughter" is getting further and further away. Thankfully her former boss (Debi Mazar in a blink-and-you'll-miss cameo) gives her a second chance by introducing her to cosmetics queen Laurel Limoges (Marsha Mason). It seems Laurel needs someone to tutor her twin granddaughters/heiresses Rose (Lucy Kate Hale) and Sage (Ashley Newbrough). She wants them to go to Duke in two years and she'll cover Megan's outstanding student loans if she helps them pull it off. In the meantime she'll get a room at their Palm Beach estate, a car, $1500 a week and a free ticket to the kind of access only the rich can get. Not surprisingly Rose (the naive and sweet one) and Sage (the growing up too fast and doesn't care one) don't take Megan and "The Great Gatsby" seriously as they doesn't fit in with their schedule of photo shoots and sleeping for 11 hours a day. Inevitably though they find some common ground through their mutual family foibles (the twins' parents died in a plane crash in the '90s, Megan's mom took off when she was seven) and sordid past (Megan's sister Lily stole her college boyfriend). Nevertheless the twins still expect Megan to sign off on their every demand - including a waiver to appear in a risque photo shoot in see-through swimwear. Megan however doesn't roll over so easy and thus the show's central conflict is born. Along the way we also meet Megan's best friend/torch carrier Charlie (Michael Cassidy), a waiter from the other side of the tracks, and Marco (a scene-stealing Allan Louis), the girls' chef who is the self-described fairy to Megan's Cinderella.
What works: Much like "Gossip Girl," there's actually a surprising amount of heart to what could easily be written off as a bubblegum premise. A lion's share of the credit goes to Garcia, whose infectious charm ("Oh Room, I may love you more than I love Car.") really makes Megan someone to root for, and Mimoun's script, which breathes an unexpected amount of life into what could have been broad caricatures. Whether it be Megan confessing how jealous she is of Rose and Sage's bond, Rose and Sage discussing their "Pinkberry moments," Laurel realizing what kind of absentee (grand)parent she's been, or Rose coming clean about how she really feels about Sage's behavior, there are quite a few moments that ring true and sisterly, all despite its backdrop of being amongst the rich and elite of Palm Beach. That's not to say it's all kittens and bunnies between everyone - Sage in particular is more than willing to play scorched earth to get rid of Megan, tactics which thankfully for us, open up the show's mythology (Megan's actually from the Palm Beach area but hasn't told her family she's back).
What doesn't: That being said, it's going to take a lot more than this to get me to tune in on a regular basis - especially considering its Tuesday competition. Between the fashion and the sisterly bonding, "Rich" obviously isn't a show made for me...
The bottom line: ...but that hasn't stopped it from being solidly built.