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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!
THE EX LIST (CBS)
(written by Diane Ruggiero; directed by Timothy Busfield; TRT: 45:29)
The network's description: "THE EX LIST is a comedic drama about Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reaser, "Grey's Anatomy") - a single, 30-something, successful business owner who is surprised to learn from a psychic that she's already dated her future husband AND there's a catch: if she doesn't find him in the next year, she'll remain alone forever. During a bachelorette party for her sister, Daphne (Rachel Boston, "American Dreams"), Bella learns from the psychic she must revisit her past relationships and sort through the mistakes to find her soul mate. Skeptical, Bella begins to analyze every past liaison and failed romance with her close circle of friends, Augie (Adam Rothenberg, "Mad Money"), an endearing guy who has listened to Bella's love woes since college, Vivian (Alex Breckenridge, "Dirt"), Augie's long-term girlfriend, and Cyrus (Amir Talai, "Campus Ladies"), who's chronically unemployed and full of wry observations. Once Bella witnesses proof of the psychic's other predictions, her cynicism disappears and she begins her search. Along her trip down break-up lane, Bella is determined to remain optimistic and receptive, believing that when destiny reopens doors to the past, every relationship can matter in the future. Diane Ruggiero ("Veronica Mars") and Jonathan Levin ("Charmed") are executive producers for Twentieth Century Fox Television."
What did they leave out: It's actually based on "Ex Ha-Mitologi, Ha-" (a.k.a. "Mythological X"), an Israeli comedy created by Sigal Avin.
The plot in a nutshell: For the final stop at her sister's (Rachel Boston) bachelorette party, Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reaser) thought it would be fun to visit Marina (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress), a local psychic, to have everyone's fortunes told. Hers however proves to be the most surprising: if she doesn't marry the man of her dreams in the next year she'll be single forever. And while normally Bella would dismiss such a proclamation, Marina got too many details about her life right - from the fact that she owns a flower shop to the fact that she's sharing custody of her dog Rufus with her ex Elliott (Mark Deklin). Nevertheless, Bella can't help but assemble a complete list of her exes. Not sure where to begin she pleads with Marina for guidance, only to be told to just follow the signs. As luck would have it for Bella though, a bird just crapped on her (no, I'm not kidding) and the newspaper she uses to clean it off (again, not kidding) points her to the name Diamont, as in Johnny Diamont (Eric Balfour), her weepy, guitar playing beach bum ex from seven years ago. And as a flashback recounts, he was dumped (on his birthday no less) for good reason - he was a clingy, overly emotional mess. Still Bella decides it's worth checking out his latest gig where presto - he's become an eyeliner-wearing, tattoo-covered rocker and his signature song is, wait for it, "Bitch, You Left Me On My Birthday." Intrigued by Johnny's new image - a fact her housemates (Adam Rothenberg, Alexandra Breckenridge and Amir Talai, the former two of which are a couple) are more than willing to mock - Bella decides to try and restart their relationship. It doesn't take a psychic however to figure out where things go from here as Johnny eventually shows his true colors, leaving Bella to - once again thanks to a seemingly random sign - cross off the next guy on her list.
What works: I guess at the end of the day...
What doesn't: ...I don't really "get" what this show is trying to do. It's not a rom-com take on "My Name Is Earl" as Bella isn't really trying to improve herself or learn anything by going through her "ex list." (If anything the only flaw she's given is that she's slightly neurotic, which can be said about virtually every character on television nowadays.) Nor is it really a "supernatural" show in that Bella is being guided by the hand of fate - all of her "signs" really are random events. There are no winks or music cues or the like to say that they mean anything, Bella just assumes they are signs in the same way people subconsciously tie their day's events to their horoscope that they read that morning. And it certainly doesn't take the "How I Met Your Mother" route, where clues about the identity of the mother are piecemealed to us over time. What we're left with then is basically just a straight relationship show with the hook being we'll get the "ex of the week" in each episode - which would be great if the show was charming or whimsical or cute or consistently funny (the only real laughs come from Bella's pals). But it's not...
The bottom line: ...leaving a show that feels limp as a result.