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So you've seen all of the new shows this fall - but what about the ones that didn't make the cut? For the next 30 days we're going to take a "first look" at a collection of 30 pilots that didn't land on the 2009-10 season schedule. Are there any gems that got passed over or are they all deservedly locked in the networks' vaults? Stay tuned.
LOST & FOUND (NBC)
(written by Chris Levinson; directed by Michael Engler; TRT: 43:39)
What is it? A drama about a female detective demoted to identifying dead bodies in the LAPD's basement.
Who was behind it?: "Law & Order" guru Dick Wolf executive produced the hour which was written by Chris Levinson and directed by Michael Engler ("Privileged").
The plot in a nutshell: Detective Tessa Cooper ("Battlestar Galactica's" Katee Sackhoff) likes to put herself in a victim's shoes - literally. So when Julie Chang, a 22-year-old pharmaceutical rep, seemingly stripped to her underwear and took a swan dive off her apartment building, Tessa goes through the motions of doing just that. It's a stunt which nearly costs Tessa her shield (the site of a half-naked Katee Sackhoff not surprisingly causes a multi-car pileup) as her lieutenant "rubber guns" her, i.e. orders her to turn in her gun and report for psychological counseling. In the meantime she's banished to "the basement," the last rung on the LAPD ladder. Said "lost and found" department is run by Burton Macey ("Kings's" Brian Cox), a foul-mouthed (his four-letter vocabulary is bleeped out, a la "Southland"), self-proclaimed racist ("It makes me right 99.9% of the time.") old cop who's apparently content with spending his days playing cards.
You see, Tessa and Burt aren't allowed to actually solve cases, they can only help identify John and Jane Does (UIDs) and turn it over to the real cops. Even worse, UIDs are widely considered to be next to impossible as Burt confesses to only cracking three in the past five years. As you'd expect, this doesn't sit will with Tessa and she sets out to prove Burt and her bosses wrong. She'll need some help though. To get reinstated, Tessa reaches out to psychologist Max Burroughs (Josh Cooke), a childhood friend who's blossomed from awkward and geeky to married and cute since she last saw him. And much to her chagrin, he's not going to just sign off on her mental health - she's going to need to go through real counseling.
Meanwhile, her first "lost and found" case proves to be as head-scratching advertised: all she has to go on is that the body (since cremated by the city) belonged to an African-American male found in a creek three months ago alongside a Viking helmet and wearing a gold chain with a class ring on it. Thankfully her "be the victim" skills (she literally puts on his personal effects) produce a lead and the usual procedural mechanics start to take over. Along the way we learn that Burt is a little more invested than she originally thought - he even gets help from Anthony (Aussie actor Damon Herriman), an excitable, good ol' boy amateur sleuth who drives around in a replica of the "A-Team" van ("Did you know the dead outnumber the living like 14 to one?" he boasts). Meanwhile, Tessa has one friend left in Abigail ("Day Break's" Bahar Soomekh), a medical examiner/amateur sketch artist who helps her during off hours. Together they manage to get a name for the John Doe - and even (gasp!) solve his murder - but not before being reminded why Tessa is there in the first place. Yup, Tessa is broken and the "Lost & Found" may be her only path toward getting it together.
What works: Deliciously quirky and surprisingly deep, "Lost & Found" reminds me a lot of the recently departed "Life." Spearheading said efforts is the always fun Katee Sackhoff, whose wheelhouse continues to be emotionally unstable but confident and sexy women. Her pairing with the always-awesome Brian Cox is a hoot as they bicker (Burt, on why he should take the lead at a sports bar: "I have a gun." Tessa: "I have tits." Burt: "You win.") and annoy (Burt: "Of all the screwups I get handed Harriet the Fucking Spy.") each other in pure Felix/Oscar fashion. What really sells things however is the great emotional through line of Sackhoff's character: Tessa is the way she is (putting herself in victims' heads) because as a teen she saw her parents die in a car wreck... with her in the backseat. It's a trauma she's desperately trying to save the world from, and she's developed an armor around herself to avoid dealing with it ("I'm a shark," she confesses. "If I stop moving, I die.").
Then of course is the aforementioned quirkiness. UID files appear out of thin air (a la "Early Edition") in "the basement," which doesn't have any outgoing lines (calls can only come in) nor reliable cell service due to it being under a parking garage. Tessa talks to herself and her dog (named appropriately enough, Dog), not to mention offers sarcastic voiceover commentary while questioning suspects. Other fun tidbits include the fact her lieutenant only appears as a voice from a speaker run by his drunk with power assistant/gatekeeper (Andre Holland) while Max routinely finds ways to embarrass himself (crashing into waiters, nearly collapsing while going on a run) despite his newfound cuteness in Tessa's eyes. And did I mention that Anthony drives an exact replica of "The A-Team" van? All of above give some fun wrinkles to the usual procedural song and dance.
What doesn't: The case itself proves to be rather uninteresting and low key. Plus, since Tessa and Burt are theoretically just identifying the victim, there's not a lot of urgency to the proceedings. In other words the stakes aren't that high - they find a name or they don't, end of story. The show of course skirts this by letting Tess and Burt be so good that they end of catching the killer - and once again become de facto homicide detectives in the process. Since this presumably will be the result (or close to it) each week, the idea that "Lost & Found" is some kind of impassable gauntlet loses its teeth rather quickly. The only real investment then is whether or not Tessa can get her shit together, something that will obviously be a series-long process. Solving these types of mysteries may be the meditative undertaking Tessa needs, but that doesn't necessarily translate into compelling weekly television. That being said, so many of the pieces are very much in place it's a shame it didn't work out. Here's hoping Levinson's next project makes the cut.
The bottom line: A noble, but flawed experiment.