[07/09/12 - 08:12 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "The Brain Trust" (TBS)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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[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.]

(written by Marco Schnabel; directed by Dean Devlin; TRT: 46:32)

The network's description: "Dean Devlin, executive producer of TNT's hit series Leverage, is teaming up with Marco Schnabel (TNT's The Librarian movie trilogy) for this pilot about Detective Billy Doyle, whose career and life have hit rock bottom after he accidentally ends his partner's career. Doyle's life gets turned around, however, when a recent murder case gets unexpected and unconventional help from three hyper-smart geniuses from a private think tank. If Doyle can survive the chaos and keep these new partners in line, they just may be the antidote to resurrect his career and, ultimately, his life. BRAIN TRUST (working title) is being produced for TBS by Devlin's Electric Entertainment."

What did they leave out? "Brain Trust" was one of four drama pilots commissioned by Turner in September of 2010, the others being "Dallas," "Perception" and "The Rabbit Factory."

The plot in a nutshell: "My name is Billy Doyle and I used to be the best cop in Portland," the man himself (D.B Sweeney), drunk and asleep in a stall, explains in the opening narration. "Obviously, things have changed." You see, a few years ago Billy kidnapped a powerful suspect hoping to scare a confession out him. Five lawsuits, two demotions and one ex-wife later, he's hanging by a thread at the department. "The last time you cleared a case, this country had a white president," his captain (Kadeem Hardison) quips. His last chance then arrives in the form of a missing persons case: Arnold Dobler, a member of the government funded think tank Remington Innovations. And when Doyle finds him dead from an apparent suicide, he's ready to rubber stamp it as closed.

That is of course until Arnold's friends at the group - physicist/engineer Franklin Gilpin (Michael Urie), biologist/chemist Nelson Kirby (Jed Rees) and neurobiologist/psychologist Jessica Ashton (Lindy Booth); all socially challenged in their way - offer up a different theory: he was murdered and the suicide was staged. Their evidence however is mostly hyperbole, including a keycard at the scene from a local fitness center - something you wouldn't expect from a 98-pound weakling like Arnold. Doyle reluctantly agrees to look into it - with said trio in tow - and the center's owner Jake Axelrod (Don Cortese, practically wearing an "I'm guilty" sign) points him to a disgruntled ex-employee who was jealous of Arnold's relationship with a nutritionist who worked there. Once again all signs point to the case being closed until our motley crew suggests otherwise, putting Doyle in another situation that could destroy his career. Sure enough they sway him to their side and a new ongoing partnership is born.

What works: The show's "The Big Bang Theory"-solving-crimes concept definitely has legs. Coupled with its "Leverage"-esque sensibility (that show's font is even used for the temp titles), there's plenty of impetus to think it would have been a viable show. Sweeney, Booth, Rees and Urie are all likeable enough, albeit a little too silly at times for my tastes. It helps that we get at least one solid bon mot per act, my favorite being Doyle's "pep" talk to the gang after being locked in a sauna and left for dead ("You're going to let your giant brains sweat to death in here because Jake Axelrod, a football player with a porn name, is smarter than you?").

What doesn't: On the flip side, the show seems more than content to just pick the low hanging fruit as Franklin, Kirby and Jessica are the standard assortment of geek tropes (Franklin's a germaphobe! Kirby wears T-shirts that say things like "Dyslexics are Teople Poo!" Jessica has random neuroses!); Doyle is predictably flustered by his oddball partners ("The only reason I knew that was the end of a sentence was because you stopped talking."); and the case itself might as well be lined with landing lights to guide the plot in. Throw in a bingo card worth of expected silliness - the prerequisite slow-motion walk (complete with Kirby tripping), the guys inevitably ending up in their tighty-whiteys, incessant "look-something-wacky-is-happening" score, the list goes on and on - and it ultimately eats away at any of the aforementioned good will.

The real challenge however is that none of these characters feel like real people as it's all just silliness for the sake of silliness. Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy the silly as much as the next guy but at a certain point the stakes become meaningless and the characters simply float away. Even Doyle's miraculous journey from hangdog to golden boy in his department feels weightless and unearned, happening simply because we need a reason to get the band together each week. I'm not asking for an intricate map to their souls, just a simple touchstone to make a little sense of the silly. All in all, the bones of the meal are there...

The bottom line: ...it's just missing the meat.

  [july 2012]  


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