[06/18/10 - 07:09 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Scoundrels" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "There are two rules that the West family has always lived by: Do not invade people's homes, at least not when they're in them, and never, ever use violence -- unless there is no other option. When Wolf West (David James Elliott) is sentenced to a four-year prison term instead of the expected four months, Cheryl West (Virginia Madsen) realizes she's going to be a single mom for the next few years. With the family coming apart at the seams, Cheryl decides that it's time for them to get out of the family business altogether. However it'll prove a challenging task for every member of the family, since a life of crime is all they've known."

What did they leave out? It's based on the New Zealand series "Outrageous Fortune," which ABC previously piloted as "Good Behavior" back in 2008 with Catherine O'Hara and Gary Cole in the lead roles. Plus, Neal McDonough was originally cast in the Wolf role for this incarnation but ultimately was replaced with Elliott.

The plot in a nutshell: Still very much in love after two decades together, Wolf (David James Elliott) and Cheryl (Virginia Madsen) West are disheartened that their morning coitus is interrupted by the Palm Springs Police Department. It seems the cops, led by Sergeant Mack (Carlos Bernard), are looking for their son Cal (Patrick Flueger), who's wanted for questioning about a home invasion from the night before. You see the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in the West family as they are a clan of criminals - non-violent, non-drug using ones - but criminals nonetheless. And while they've had their fair share of brushes with the law - Wolf himself is actually about to be sentenced to a seven-month bit - they've managed to weather the storms that come with their chosen profession.

Things however take a turn for the worse when Wolf winds up being sentenced to five years, news that crushes Cheryl, who's now left to deal with their various struggles on her own. And struggles they are: Cal turns out to have robbed someone with connections to the Chinese mob who are demanding he return a prized item; daughter Heather (Leven Rambin) has been taking suggestive modeling pictures and is now on the hook to pay for them; and youngest Hope (Vanessa Marano) has been cutting class to work on her screenplay. Only Logan (also Patrick Flueger), Cal's twin brother, has emerged with his head on straight as he's just passed the bar. It's enough to make Cheryl start to realize perhaps they haven't made the best choices as a family over the years and now it's up to her to put them on the right path.

What works: The show starts out rather aimless however once the central drive is established (unfortunately in the final act, but we'll come back to that) there's a sense some fun can be had here. The characters likewise initially appear to be one-note but wind up getting some much needed depth as events progress. Rambin's Heather and Flueger's Cal get the most welcome heft as it turns out they're not the total dim-bulbs they're initially painted as. It's also nice to see Wolf and Cheryl's idealized marriage get put under the microscope as when the tough gets tough, each shows their true colors.

Cheryl's journey in particular proves to be the most engaging as she starts to ask the question we the audience can't help but wonder: is this criminal lifestyle really worth it? Said query opens things up in a way that's refreshing: so often television celebrates and revels in the bad choices characters make that it's nice to see a show wanting its flawed members to strive to do the right thing.

What doesn't: As I mentioned there's a lot to sift through to get to the above. The pilot definitely makes some odd choices as major events like Wolf's revised sentence gets radioed in, having happened off screen and apparently for deus ex machina reasons; and an interesting tidbit about straight-arrow Logan - he had an affair with his vice principal (Jessica Collins) while in high school - gets introduced and promptly dropped. It also doesn't help that the family's foibles take so long to marinate that minute 20 is a different show than minute 40. In other words despite the implied threats to their respective futures - the Chinese mob wanting what Cal stole back, Heather needing money, etc. - they're not really ticking clocks as each revolves themselves in a leisurely fashion. In anything "Scoundrels" needs a second look so...

The bottom line: ...we can see how this show will really work (or not).

  [june 2010]  


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