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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! 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.]
HALLELUJAH (BUSTED ABC PILOT)
(written by Marc Cherry; directed by Michael Apted; TRT: 44:24)
The network's description: "In the town of Hallelujah, it's like the devil grabbed hold and won't let go. Formidable Del Roman (Terry O'Quinn) uses his wealth and power to pull the strings of the local police force and control the town from behind the curtain. But there's a stranger on his way to Hallelujah and if things don't straighten out, there's going to be hell to pay. Rye Turner (Donal Logue) is a good man, but lately he and his family have fallen on hard times. A tragic accident has turned his 8-year old son Matthew mute and left his wife Ruth (Frances O'Connor) racked with guilt. The whole town of Hallelujah is suffering, but when Rye almost hits a stranger by the side of the road, his luck begins to change. Rye invites this stranger, Jared (Jesse L. Martin), to stay for a while, but Ruth isn't as easily taken in by this charming drifter.
When Jared's arrival coincides with a rather miraculous event, even Ruth agrees that Jared is a welcome change to the town. Of course, Del Roman isn't nearly as enchanted. As these two very different but equally powerful characters face off, the small town of Hallelujah will become the landscape for an epic battle between good and evil. Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives) imagines a vivid reality where good and evil struggle mightily for the upper hand. Set to the rousing gospel music of the town's church choir, Hallelujah is one of the season's most absorbing and original new character dramas."
What did they leave out? For all the aforementioned tubthumping about an epic showdown between good and evil the actual product is far more subdued. There are no special effects and the like, just the underlying suspicion that Jared may in fact be a higher power.
The plot in a nutshell: "Before I tell you this story, you should know: I was a miserable sinner," Caleb Turner (Jonathan Scarfe) explains via the opening narration. Case in point: he was caught kissing Vienna (Arielle Kebbel), the philandering wife of Hallelujah's most powerful businessman Del Roman (Terry O'Quinn), a decision that gets him the beating of a lifetime from his thugs (McKinley Freeman, Johann Urb) as a result. During said scuffle, he prays for God to save him, not to mention the town itself, which is in the midst of hard times. "This is the story about the night I asked God for help and how everything began to change." And with that we meet Caleb's brother Rye (Donal Logue), a recovering alcoholic who still blames Del for the death of their father.
He's counting on the Sheriff's (Brett Cullen) investigation of the beating to expose Del's various misdeeds. The town however will have none of it as Del owns the local distillery, not to mention is responsible for countless philanthropic endeavors for the church. As Caleb so aptly points out: "That's what rich men do, they get away with stuff. I don't begrudge him that. One day when I'm rich, I want to get away with stuff too." Further sating Rye's frustrations: the arrival of Jared (Jesse L. Martin), a mysterious stranger whom Rye nearly runs over while consumed by his troubles.
An unexpected friendship follows as Rye invites Jared (who improbably manages to fix Rye's seemingly totaled truck) for a meal at his family's diner plus an open-ended stay at his home. Said development doesn't sit well with Rye's wife Ruth (Frances O'Connor) who's concerned after learning Jared is an ex-con not to mention still riddled with guilt and anger over son Matthew's (Griffin Cleveland) recent brain injury that left him a shell of his former self. Rounding out the Turner clan is daughter Becca (Zoey Deutch), who finds herself being wooed by Del's own teenage son Gideon (Robbie Amell). Ultimately Rye, inspired by Jared's views on the need to confront evil, decides to hold a town meeting to confront Del about his transgressions.
This of course is met with the expected cold shoulder from the town however Rye does gain a friend in the church's Deacon May (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), who indicates he has a "source" in Del's camp that can help them: Vienna, with whom he's having a full-on affair. Before anything can come to light however, Del himself - after some urging by his troublemaking caretaker Dulcie (Della Reese) - confronts the Deacon over said affair and his murderous ways are finally revealed. But when the Sheriff himself is dragged into the ensuing cover up, the last vestiges of his loyalties are used up. Perhaps Rye will finally get the justice he so desperately craves. Heralding better times ahead: Matthew, after a few heartfelt words from Jared, miraculously starts to emerge from his shell.
What doesn't work: First and foremost, it's just unfortunate virtually everybody winds up slipping into an "I say, I say" Foghorn Leghorn-esque Southern accent. I love Donal Logue and Terry O'Quinn as much as anyone but wow are there some rough patches here (I'd throw a few exaggerated dialogue exchanges in here but it still wouldn't do it justice). It doesn't help that Jared is presented as this eloquent, self-deprecating fellow, making everyone's borderline cartoonishly speaking tendencies all the more apparent. Toss in a twangy temp score that manages to undercut all tension - both dramatic and comedic - and it's not hard to see why this one didn't make the cut.
What does: For what it's worth, "Hallelujah" isn't a bad show per se. A small town version of "The Stand" is definitely an intriguing concept while a weekly series featuring Logue, O'Quinn, Martin and co. makes my fanboy heart go pitter-patter. Sadly, the end result feels like an odd mix of hillbilly archetypes, heavy-handed religious allegory and a flair for long-winded speeches told to others off-camera. Ultimately, in this case it's hard to see the forest for the trees.
The bottom line: Definitely a pass.