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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.]
CHANGELINGS (The CW)
(written by Elizabeth Chandler; directed by Christian Duguay; TRT: 41:21)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything. It's based on Tara Bray Smith's 2007 young adults novel "Betwixt."
The plot in a nutshell: "Ring: A group of three changelings whose powers are only fully realized once they have found each other," explains the opening title card. And with that we meet the three teens in question: Morgan (Jessy Schram), who has dreams of running wild in the forest like an animal... only to wake up covered in dirt; Celine (Allison Miller), who awakens to a feeling of floating... only to find herself several feet in the air; and Nix (Josh Henderson), a loner who camps on the outskirts of town for reasons unknown. Currently their only connection is "The Krak," the local coffee shop where Nix, Morgan and her supportive brother Cam (Austin Butler) work and Celine, along with the rest of their sleepy town, frequents. That all changes after Nix notices a blue glow emanating from the bus driver who's taking them all to a music festival.
Nix inexplicably asks everyone not to go, a warning of danger which falls on deaf ears. Undeterred he follows in his truck where his instincts pay off: said bus driver has a heart attack and collapses, sending the bus into a guardrail perilously overlooking a river. In the ensuing chaos everyone gets out except for Cam, who is trapped underneath one of the benches, and Celine, who's knocked unconscious. Morgan then comes to her brother's rescue by improbably ripping the seat off of him while Celine wakes up in time to literally fly out of the falling wreck and grab onto a nearby suspension wire. She's subsequently saved by Nix, an experience that quickly bonds them. Morgan conversely tries to write off her animalistic display as a hallucination by Cam.
Before the police can ask any questions though, a mysterious stranger (Blair Redford) appears and sneaks Morgan away. Afterwards, a shaken Celine finds herself constantly drawing the image of a waterfall, an image which Nix recognizes as the nearby River Rock Falls, while Morgan garners the attention of yet another stranger (David Gallagher, doing his best Criss Angel) who tries to cozy up to her. Ultimately our heroes all wind up at said waterfall where they discover a cave filled with supernatural looking fireflies and covered in symbols. There the first mysterious stranger (that's right, still no names yet) says he's been waiting for them. But before he can explain why they're scared off by another unseen presence (don't ask).
Left to their own devices, Nix, Celine and Morgan turn to Wikipedia, where they learn the symbols are related to fairies and something called "changelings," their children who serve as protectors of humanity. Without rehashing everything (we're running pretty long here as it is), suffice it to say our trio have special powers (turning into a beast, flying and fortelling when people will die, respectively) as a result of their true otherworldly lineage and are destined to be linked together. Moth, the first unnamed helper, is ultimately revealed to be their changeling guide while Bleek, the second, more insidious one, is likewise a changeling who can turn invisible and uses his abilities to help his own agenda. And while Nix and Celine buy what Moth is selling, Morgan finds herself more drawn to Bleek. Together, Moth, Nix and Celine rally to save Morgan but not before Bleek escapes, proclaiming something bigger is coming.
What works: Schram, Miller and Henderson, despite their best efforts, can't seem to...
What doesn't: ...escape the gravity of this mess. A hodgepodge of ill-defined mythology, half-baked character arcs and silly posturing, "Changelings" never quite comes together. First and foremost, all of the intended emotional throughlines (Nix stays away from people over fears he's the one causing them to die, Morgan feels like she doesn't deserve to be loved due to her hard knock life, etc.) get buried under what feels like an interminable amount of backstory, only a small percentage of which has any real consequence to what's going on. Things like Nix and Celine stumbling across two random people imprisoned in Bleek's lair (because, oh by the way, he gets humans addicted to a fairy "dust" that comes from some unexplained place that allows him to somehow drain their life force, whaaaa?); or Morgan's brother Cam having a crush on the daughter (Tessa Thompson) of the owner of the Krak (Michael Boatman), who's addicted to dust herself are tangential at best, unexplained indulgences at worst, both of which are risky considering the already overstuffed nature of the main plot.
Secondly the show frequently goes to the annoying "genre" well of paving over obstacles with previously unmentioned hocus pocus to avoid actually having to address it. Whether it's Celine getting shot by Bleek (it was just a flesh wound, and oh by the way, don't worry, changelings have healing powers too!) or how our heroes inherently trust total strangers (who cares if I don't have your name yet, I'm drawn to you for some reason!), the show never seems to ask the questions any rational person would. Even worse, the mythology, when it's ultimately spoon fed out, comes across as a needlessly convoluted info dump (the above isn't the half of it), which serves no purpose other than to illustrate supposedly cool stuff happened before and potentially may happen again.
In the meantime we're left to grasp at the few emotional straws, hoping to find what I assume is supposed to be the main thrust of the show: three people, who had already been struggling with their special abilities, discover everything they thought about their lives isn't true and now they're being thrown to the figurative wolves of those who think they know best how to use them. That show is obscured by frustratingly cryptic words from equally mysterious characters, subplots that suggest something juicy will happen only to abandon them completely (i.e. Morgan used to date Celine's boyfriend, whom she still has feelings for, and now she... vaguely dislikes Celine because of it), a scattershot urgency to the proceedings (holy crap I can fly, but wait, now I'm obsessed with this waterfall, let's go there!) and predictable, eye-rolling cliffhangers (Morgan's still in contact with Bleek! Nix sees the blue glow again - from Celine!).
The bottom line: If there's a show in here, I can't see it.