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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) 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 the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
WYOMING STORY (The CW)
(written by Amy Sherman-Palladino & Dan Palladino; directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino; TRT: 40:13)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything. And while the project was often referred to as "The Damn Thorpes," a brief title card bills it simply as "Wyoming Story."
The plot in a nutshell: "Our father always said that you become a man when you know who you are and where you belong," Dinah Thorpe (Renee Smith) explains via the opening storybook narration. And with that we meet her brother, Gideon (Sean Faris), who at 18 left the family's Big Whiskey, Wyoming horse ranch to find his place in the world, only to be called back shortly thereafter with news of the sudden death of his parents. Anointed the guardian of his three younger sisters - the aforementioned Dinah, who's had to grow up too fast; middle child Maggie (Emma Grabinsky); and precocious Bird (Alisha J. Newton), who's afraid of horses of all things - Gideon finds himself the reluctant patriarch of the Thorpe clan.
And in between getting the girls ready for school and keeping the ranch solvent, Gideon has to fend off vultures like Hollister Ames (Alan Ruck), a chuck wagon mogul who's not too shy about his plans to take over the Thorpes' land. Meanwhile, Big Whiskey gets a new resident in the form of Lucy December (Scarlett Johnson), a chirpy New Yorker who's arrived to take care of her crotchety grandmother (Kathleen Chalfant). In town while looking for work she crosses paths with Gideon and invites herself over for dinner. And while she thinks she's walking into "Little House on the Prairie," she ends up bearing witness to a full on family meltdown. You see, Gideon has a brother, Dakin (Ryan Hawley), who's off spreading his wings and finding himself at Stanford, all things Gideon never had the chance to do.
It's a sore wound for Gideon, one that gets all the more sorer as Dakin returns home to a hero's welcome from the girls - all despite barely being around since their folks died. At dinner then Gideon and Dakin have it all out, complete with fisticuffs, much to Lucy's horror. Said event causes Dakin to tuck tail and run, leaving the girls heartbroken. Fortunately it's nothing a breezy, late night horse ride can't cure, or at least restore the status quo.
What works: There are so many moments where if you close your eyes a little and squint, you'd swear you were watching "Gilmore Girls." (One scene in particular, in which Lucy wanders into a dress shop run by "Gilmore" alum Rose Abdoo and is inadvertently talked into various purchases, might as well be a deleted scene from the show.) Whether it be the use of various "Gilmore" music cues on the temp track, the rambling rat-a-tat dialogue or the greeting card portrayal of small town life, "Wyoming" is, if anything, another reminder that the Palladinos need to be on our TV screens each week.
As is custom from them, the characters are mostly bright, shiny objects infected with a zest for life, giving the show a more than welcome spark. And while the plot is far from revolutionary, there's a sense that Big Whiskey is a living, breathing world filled with quirky inhabitants, each with something to say.
What doesn't: The casting here in general leaves a lot to be desired. Smith's Dinah in particular emerges as the weakest link as she plays nearly every scene in a rushed, exasperated way that takes the charm out of the dialogue and borders on grating. On that same note, Johnson's Lucy, while thankfully more even-keeled, ultimately comes across as much more nervous and out of her element than her character dictates. Faris's Gideon conversely feels more at home, albeit a little lost in his stoicness. For instance, Gideon is secretly sleeping with Hollister's wife, former beauty queen Sugar (Amber Seyer), however he couldn't be more robotic about his choice to do so.
In other words, if you haven't guessed already, Gideon and Lucy definitely aren't Luke and Lorelai. What really struck me though was the surprising amount of weird edits and directing choices. Scenes stop and start at odd moments for no discernible reason, a fact that doesn't help its relatively free-flowing plot. The pilot also opens with a clumsily staged series of vignettes in which we don't actually see Gideon's face, almost as if it was going to lead to some sort of big reveal. All in all, it's definitely a very rough-around-the-edges show with some salient flaws but I still can't quite help but...
The bottom line: ...see its potential.