[12/04/09 - 11:54 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Back" (CBS)
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 Dean Widenmann; directed by Mark Pellington; TRT: 42:37)

What is it? A drama about a family man who returns home to discover eight years have passed.

Who was behind it?: Dean Widenmann ("CSI: Miami") wrote the script, which was directed by "Cold Case's" Mark Pellington.

The plot in a nutshell: Richard Miles ("Jericho's" Skeet Ulrich) returns home from work to the unthinkable: his kids Shannon (Emily Meade) and Michael (Connor Price) are somehow teenagers and his wife Cheryl ("ER's" Sherry Stringfield) screams at him to leave, saying her Richard died eight years ago to the day: September 11, 2001. For Richard however it is September 11, 2001 and he's just returned home from his job at accounting firm Gorman & Shaw in the World Trade Center. The police are equally baffled: he doesn't seem crazy and he's wearing exactly what he wore when he was last seen that fateful morning. "I don't understand," he says when shown today's paper. "Join the club," the detective quips. What they do know is this: Richard is no longer welcome in said home as Cheryl is now married to Tom Barnes ("Scrubs's" John C. McGinley), a firefighter.

Unsure of what to do with him, the police send him to Dr. Stone ("24's" DB Woodside), a psychiatrist and 9/11 counselor. He explains what did happen on September 11, 2001, none of which makes sense to Richard. He goes on to share that Richard and his 23 co-workers were never found and eventually declared dead. And while the police's leading theory is that Richard faked his death for the insurance money, Stone believes Richard's story, if only because it's so preposterous that no con man would ever try it. The only question then is where was Richard for the past eight years? The following day Stone decides to take Richard to Ground Zero in the hopes of jogging his memory. And while it does prove to Richard the events of 9/11 did happen, it doesn't give him the answers he's looking for.

In the meantime we learn Cheryl and Richard's marriage was rocky at best at the time of his "death." Cheryl subsequently hit the bottle pretty hard only to eventually be saved by Tom. And while Tom is a great husband, he hasn't been the best father to Shannon and Michael. She's subsequently taken up with a harsher crowd while he's turned into a quiet shell of his former self. Inevitably, they all reach out to Richard in some form: Cheryl to confess she's too fragile to deal with him returning to their lives; Tom to warn him to stay away for the exact same reason; Shannon after Richard rescues her from the clutches of a few overzealous boys; and Michael, through Cheryl, to apologize for stealing $5 from his wallet the morning before he disappeared. Meanwhile, a vandal has broken into Richard's hotel room and spray painted "Richard Miles: You Should Have Stayed Dead" in bold red letters. Confused and frightened, Richard does the only thing he can: take a walk through New York City to the tune of Augustana's "Hey Now." There he once again spots the impossible: another co-worker, Patty Keene - presumed dead like himself, getting onto a bus.

What works: You'd be hard pressed to find a prettier, more beautifully shot pilot as Mark Pellington brings an visionary's eye to the proceedings. Ulrich and Woodside likewise bring a soulful presence to the material that helps sell some of its more ethereal tendencies. The show also wisely gives each character a valid perspective - you feel for both Richard and his family as neither really understands what's happened, all they know is life has impossibly put them back together. All in all, I really want to like this show...

What doesn't: ...now if it only weren't so damned frustrating. When the current serialized landscape demands a complex mythology and a sense that you know where the story is going, your opening gambit simply cannot be this tiny. Literally here is all we know about Richard's predicament by the end of the pilot: one, like himself, none of his co-workers bodies were found; and two, he thinks he sees one of them in New York City. That's it. No other clues, nothing. All we the audience and Richard the character are left to infer is that he was brought back for a reason (the pilot even opens with the George Illes quote: "Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.").

He thinks it's to make up for the mistakes he made as a father and husband. Really that's it. So as fun and exotic as slow motion shots and sweeping orchestral music can be, you've got to have some meat in between them. And while I certainly appreciate the richness of each character's predicament (whether it be Michael thinking God took his dad away as punishment for stealing that $5 bill or Richard seeing this experience as a second chance to be a better person), the idea of just leaving the giant elephant in the room virtually untouched for 42 minutes and change borders on criminal. I'm more than happy to follow a high concept show down the rabbit hole...

The bottom line: ...you just need to tell me what that high concept is.

  [december 2009]  


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