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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.]
THREE INCHES (BUSTED SYFY PILOT)
(written by Harley Peyton; directed by Jace Alexander; TRT: 1:06:34)
The network's description: "In Three Inches, professional daydreamer and underachiever Walter Spackman is struck by lightning and develops a unique "super" power -- the ability to move any object using just his mind... but only a distance of three inches. He's soon immersed in a world of extraordinarily ordinary people like himself and learns that "super" is just a state of mind. The pilot is written by Harley Peyton (Twin Peaks), who also serves as executive producer. Fox Television Studios is producing with executive producer Robert Cooper, through his company Landscape Entertainment."
What did they leave out? Original planned as a drama (the 90-minute pilot for which was screened for us here), the project is being redeveloped as a half-hour comedy.
The plot in a nutshell: Walter Spackman (Noah Reid) hasn't exactly set the world on fire. At 26 years old he's still living at home with his mother Belinda (Andrea Martin) despite endless promises he'll get his own place with his best friend Macklin (Brandon Jay McLaren), still bouncing from one menial job to another (dog washer being the latest) and still pining after his best friend Lily Theroux (Alona Tal), the literal girl next door. That all changes however when he finally decides to declare his love for Lily... only to be told she doesn't feel the same way. Even worse, he's struck by lightning in the ensuing rainstorm. Thankfully he makes a full recovery, only to realize something's different: he can move objects with his mind... all of three inches.
And while Walter is ready to write it off as another sad sack development in his hard knock life, he's approached by Troy Hamilton (James Marsters), a former military intelligence officer turned private contractor, who tries to sell him a different story. You see while Walter's ability may initially come off as a glorified parlor trick, there's actually some amazing applications for it. For instance, most doors and safes can be opened with the subtlest of movements to their internal mechanizations. Furthermore, a team of those endowed with such gifts can do virtually anything - one he wants Walter to be a part of.
And so Walter agrees to a trial run with the team: Carlos (Antony Del Rio), who bills himself as superhero The Human Smell; Todd (Craig Eldridge), who can see two minutes into the future; Ethan (Julian Richings), who can talk to insects; Annika (Naoko Mori), who can replicate any sound she hears; and Watts (Stephanie Jacobsen), who can alter the emotions of those around her. They, like Walter, have what appear to be silly skills that ultimately prove to be very useful when put in the right situation. After all, being able to emit a deadly fart around you friends: pointless if you're not 12 years old. Being able to emit a noxious gas when surrounded by gunmen: very handy. Their first mission then: stealing a mysterious package at the request of an important client. Sure enough, they're all up to the task... that is until they discover what the package really is, a revelation that sheds a much darker light on what's really been going on.
What works: There's an inherent cleverness to the show that's quite a bit of fun. It's always nice to see superpowers celebrated rather than derided as a curse. Here it's amplified by an undercurrent of exploration: when their minds are put to it, who knows what application can come up with for their powers. Helping sell all of the above is a winning performance by Marsters, who brings a wonderfully thoughtful, reassuring aura to Troy ("I am offering you the chance to make a life that fits the size of who you really are," he says in his pitch to Walter).
Reid likewise makes for a compelling lead, one who's underachieved in life to the point that even when he gets a break in the form of superpowers, he doesn't realize what he's been given. The rest of the cast also gets their chance to shine, whether it's Carlos's need to give comic book style narration to what's going on, Ethan's heartfelt reveal about how Troy was the first person to look at him like he's normal, or Watts's hard shell that beguiles a sweet center ("Three inches... sounds about right," she quips after sizing up Walter). All in all, there's buckets of potential at work here.
What doesn't: On the flip side, the actual mechanizations of the pilot are somewhat all over the place. It takes a solid 20 minutes before any of the above falls into place as the build up of Walter's foibles feels needlessly lengthy and repetitive. Furthermore, even when it kicks into gear, there's an odd mix of tones at work: there's Walter's slightly wacky home life where his mother is constantly making him things to eat and offering up parental platitudes; the gloomy wanderlust that surrounds Walter's life in general; the unabashedly sweet sense of family and community between our heroes; and the harsh consequences of what they could be involved in.
It's not so much that they're irreconcilable, they just don't quite fit together as presented. Coupled with the wide array of curveballs thrown by the closing acts - including Brandon (Kyle Schmid), a powerless member of the team whom the others dub "Captain Normal," who randomly parachutes in - there's just something off about how it goes about its business. Nevertheless, it's hard to deny the innate strength of the concept and the gallantry of its characters so here's...
The bottom line: ...hoping we get to see more.