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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 PILOTS THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE CUT: STARTING UNDER (FOX, 2008)
(written by Bruce Helford; directed by Andy Ackerman; TRT: 18:33)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out: "Under" was initially given a blind series commitment however FOX eventually passed on the project. Plus, for whatever reason the cut I was shown ended up coming in around 18 minutes, a few shy of the standard 22-minute sitcom.
The plot in a nutshell: After over 20 years of marriage, Bernie (Bernie Mac) and his wife have called it quits. But despite getting "two new roommates - peace and quiet," Bernie finds his job - graveyard shift at the newspaper printing plant - can't quite cover both his alimony payments and his new digs. Hoping to help, his son Bernard (Bert Belasco) approaches Bernie with a proposal - come work as a liquor rep at his company, Mighty Friendly Spirits, and move in with him until he can make ends meet. Bernie protests at first, but eventually agrees, noting "I know you need me." His joking aside, it turns out Bernard does in fact need his dad as his staff - desperate Ken (Ken Davitian), superstar Gina (Andrea Parker), sports guy Todd (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor) and assistant Rosa (Silvana Arias) - hasn't quite warmed up to him. It seems Bernard is a business school grad with no real experience or street smarts, the exact opposite of his dad. And thus their Felix and Oscar routine is born, one that becomes more apparent at home as Bernard spends his nights painting watercolors while Bernie makes a mess and watches the game. Bernard however reaches his breaking point when Bernie decides to invite the whole sales staff over, where they discover Bernard's not exactly "manly" qualities - from said painting to his daily affirmations taped to his bedroom mirror. Thinking his reputation is ruined, Bernard nearly fires Bernie but not before he gets some tough talk from Bernie about what a real man he's turned into. And so, whether it be as father and son, roommates or boss and employee, Bernie and Bernard's relationship is just beginning.
What works: Not really any better or worse than the live action show FOX did pick up ("Do Not Disturb"). "Starting Under" is more or less exactly the show you'd expect. From his lessons to his son about how to be a man to his overly ripe ego, all of "The Bernie Mac Show" staples are here...
What doesn't: ...minus the real comic voice that show had. While "Bernic Mac" never really had a laugh-out-loud sensibility, it did have a genuinely entertaining point of view built around Mac's own experiences. "Under" then feels decidedly sitcomy, from its "Odd Couple"-esque premise to its often eye-rolling jokes. Among the "highlights": after his suit keeps on slipping off his dresser while ironing it, he literally staples it in place; Bernie asks the still-learning-English Rosa for a W-4 form on his first day, only to have her show him a can of WD-40. (I'll wait for you to stop groaning.) On the flip side, Mac is a genuinely funny guy ("I told [Bernard] when he was young I wanted a boy.") - one just hopes there's a better vehicle for him out there...
The bottom line: ...than this one.