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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 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. Keep in mind 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. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
(TBA at midseason; TRT: 43:21)
The network's description: "AMC announced today it has greenlit the dramatic series Rubicon. From writer and executive producer Jason Horwitch (Pentagon Papers, Medical Investigation), Rubicon is a conspiracy thriller that follows an analyst at a New York City think-tank whose work leads him to uncover a hidden clue that points to an unfolding global conspiracy. The one-hour, 12-episode weekly series will be produced by Warner Horizon Television. Rubicon marks the third series order from AMC. The first two series that the network developed were Mad Men and Breaking Bad."
What did they leave out? Co-star Lili Taylor, as far as I can tell, doesn't turn up in the pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: It's Will Travers's (James Badge Dale) birthday. He however doesn't have much reason to celebrate. As an analyst for the American Policy Institute in New York City, Will spends his days coming up with ways to stabilize - and destabilize - the country's interests around the world. And because of the sensitive nature of his job, he cannot speak of his efforts to anyone outside the company, making him something of hermit as a result. That all changes when a co-worker (Lauren Hodges) innocuously asks for his help on a crossword puzzle. The clue: "Lucky lepidoptera larvae eat this." The answer: "Marsilea quadrifolia" (Latin for a four-leaf clover). Later that day he takes a stab at another crossword from a different paper and the same clue turns up: "Lucky lepidoptera larvae eat this." And another, and another. And the connections go deeper than that, all of the intersecting words involve the same thing: the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial). So what then is this fourth branch that the clover refers to?
Will runs it up the flagpole to his superstitious boss David (Peter Gerety - he, among other things, won't go near the number 13) who dismisses it as tomfoolery on the part of the crossword editors. After Will leaves however it's obvious he was onto something as David takes it to his boss Kale (Arliss Howard) where he inexplicably decides to take credit for the discovery. Shortly thereafter David is killed in a (seemingly) unrelated train accident, leaving his job, his prized motorcycle and a message to Will: "Drive away. Don't look back. It's time." This causes Will to launch his own investigation into David's death, where he stumbles across Ed Bancroft (Paul Butler), a chess-playing shut-in who warns him "they" hide in plain sight. Along the way we meet Will's other blink-and-you'll-miss co-workers: the sharply dressed Grant (Christopher Evan Welch), the nicotine addicted Miles (Dallas Roberts) and the kindly single mother Maggie (Jessica Collins). We're also privy to brief glimpse at an ominous conversation between six old white people (including the always great Roger Rees) as well as a storyline involving the newly widowed Katherine (Miranda Richardson) whose husband (Harris Yulin) killed himself after spotting an actual clover in his morning paper. In the end Will must decide whether to fight this apparent cabal from the inside or simply run away.
What works: You'd be hard pressed to find a more featuresque pilot during the coming season. Allen Coulter, who's helmed the openers to everything from "Damages" and "Sons of Anarchy," gives New York a decidedly empty, hollow feel that hangs over the characters like a dark cloud. Whether that translates into compelling television however...
What doesn't: ...is an entirely different matter. "Rubicon" may be the most frustratingly slow, visually self-indulgent pilot I've seen in some time. There isn't a slow pan or a haunting stare that this show didn't like, making its 43 minute run time feel twice as long. Even worse, "Rubicon" plays its cards so close to its vest that they're almost welded there. We learn next to nothing about our hero aside from he's good at his job, apparently doesn't own a comb and suffered a personal loss involving "Natalie and Shawnie," making it awfully hard to rally behind his adventures. I'm all for shows that reward paying attention but in this case the kernels of story are so small - and so easy to predict - that it starves the viewer. Hell, even when the veil is finally lifted on whatever is going on, it's only to show the expected old white guys (and gal) deciding the fate of businesses, countries and citizens. Overall it's great to see a genre like this on television but...
The bottom line: ...let's hope this incarnation gets more entertaining, not to mention picks up the pace, as it goes on.