[11/19/09 - 09:24 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Limelight" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

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.

(written by K.J. Steinberg; directed by David Semel; TRT: 49:01)

What is it? A drama about the freshman class and faculty of a performing arts school.

Who was behind it?: "The Nine's" K.J. Steinberg wrote the script to the project, which was directed by David Semel ("The Cleaner," "Life," "Heroes"). McG and his Wonderland Sound & Vision banner also executive produced. Music producer Pharrell and choreographer Fatima Robinson also served as consultants.

The plot in a nutshell: The Public Paige Academy for Performing Arts (PAPA) is the country's top school of its kind. Each year 8,000 aspiring students apply, of which only 150 are invited to interview. The pilot then tracks this "callback weekend," which will see said number cut to 45. For Zoe Green ("The Riches's" Shannon Woodward) and Eddie Auerbach (Canadian pop star Kyle Riabko), best friends since childhood, it's the culmination of their lifelong dreams of becoming performers. The same goes for Xavier Davis ("One Tree Hill's" Robbie Jones), a street musician; Georgia Peech ("Life's" Jessy Schram), a literal Georgia peach; Kevin Chang (newcomer Telly Leung), a teen runaway; and Jasmine "Jazz" Barkley ("My Wife and Kids's" Brooklyn Sudano), an aspiring dancer. And not surprisingly, nearly all of them have their own personal hurdles: Georgia relies too much on her looks, Kevin gets injured during the initial stages, Jasmine has a case of stage fright; Eddie has daddy issues about his famous musician father; and Zoe in plagued by her insecurities (not to mention is secretly in love with Eddie).

Deciding their fates then are David Laddeman ("What About Brian's" Matthew Davis), the school's newly installed artistic director; Marcel Dupuis (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), the hard-to-impress music director; Nina Khari ("Boston Public's" Sharon Leal), the school's Hollywood success story who's returning to lend a hand; and Vincent Marlowe ("Sleeper Cell's" Oded Fehr), a self-destructive acting icon. They too have their own problems, most notably that the kind-hearted David is in love with the stunning Nina, who used to be married to the egotistical Vincent. Over the course of the weekend - which is structured into three parts, complete with title cards (individual performance, assigned performance and final audition) - we see that said dynamic applies to their teaching methods as well: David is reassuring and patient, Vincent is demanding and, well, impatient.

The students then progress on the various expected tracks: Eddie and Xavier cruise through, Jasmine and Kevin struggle, and Zoe and Georgia get cut early on. They of course manage to talk (or perform in Zoe's case, which we'll come back to in a second) their way back in and all but Jasmine ultimately make the final roster. She however has bigger issues: it turns out she's Nina's long-lost daughter whom she gave up for adoption at a young age. It's nothing however that can't be cured by PAPA's incoming class of 2013 breaking into an acoustic version of Fatboy Slim's "Praise You."

What works: I've always a sucker for dramas that step out of the usual cop, doctor and lawyer genres and this one definitely has the potential of being a noble experiment. Overall, there's a lot of pieces to like: Davis's David and Leal's Nina have a nice chemistry as lovers with a history of bad timing; Xaiver's talent proves to be the wake up call Marcel needs; and as "Glee" has expertly proven, cast-wide musical performances can be a lot of fun.

What doesn't: The problem is that so much of the show is bogged down by silly contrivances and a panache for never actually showing these supposedly talented people perform. Only pieces of the actual auditions from our heroes are shown followed by exclamations of "brilliant!" or "great job!" Zoe for instance is billed as a gifted comedic actress... however her Lucille Ball impression that dazzled everyone is only glimpsed. Georgia talks her way back into the finals and clinches it with a scene from "A Streetcar Named Desire"... that we never see one word of. Maybe it's just me but it's kind of hard to root for someone when you're not really sure why they are there.

Even worse, the few moments that are actually shown are eye-rollingly trite - Zoe sings "You Don't Know Me" at the weekend's closing party that not only impresses Vincent, not only finally gives Eddie a clue that she's in love with him but also inspires others to take the stage and begin playing the song along with her. It's supposed to be a bring down the house moment, but it doesn't quite connect mostly because it's hard to believe that Zoe the shrinking violet got this far in the process without an ounce of confidence. She, and everyone else, should be bringing the house down if they expect to be there, not wallowing in self-esteem issues. I get that it's supposed to be her storyline, but it's not compelling to watch.

The bottom line: A interesting, but fatally flawed, effort.

  [november 2009]  


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