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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh 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.]
THE SMART ONE (BUSTED ABC PILOT)
(written by Donald Todd; directed by Michael Fresco; TRT: 23:11)
The network's description: "How can people raised exactly the same see life so differently? Meet two sisters who are total opposites. Jude (Portia de Rossi) is brainy, logical, and intellectual. There's no code she can't crack. Her sister Candy (Malin Akerman) has great people skills and regular-folks appeal. If life were a popularity contest, she'd always win. And if you asked them... each would say, "I'm the smart one." Jude is single, beautiful, driven, and a little prickly (not the warm and fuzzy type). She's also a politically brilliant campaign manager. The candidate she was backing just lost the mayoral race to a former beauty pageant queen and weekend weather reporter - who happens to be Jude's sister Candy. Candy is popular, enthusiastic, a PTA mom with a loving husband - Buddy (David Arquette) - and now she's been elected to the top spot in City Hall... no doubt to her sister Jude's amazement.
Their mother Helen (Jean Smart), who's no slouch in the smarts department herself, knows that Mayor Candy can't be successful without Jude's help. So she hatches a plan to get Jude to join Candy's team. Now, who's really the smart one? With Jude's braininess and Candy's connections, this combination could be dynamite - or at least explosive. It won't always be pretty, and the sibling rivalry will get intense, but in the end, these sisters always vote for each other. From Emmy-winning talk show host and executive producer Ellen DeGeneres and executive producers Donald Todd (Hart of Dixie, Samantha Who?, Ugly Betty) and Lauren Corrao (The Job), comes this smart new comedy, set against a political backdrop, about two very different sisters who will put family first, and finally learn to appreciate each other's unique gifts."
What did they leave out? While scripted as a multi-camera show, it's actually shot single-camera. Plus, Nestor Carbonell had been cast as Nathan Charles - a good-looking, charming, single, successful real estate developer whom Jude once had a fling - however the character was ultimately dropped.
The plot in a nutshell: For over 30 years it's been the same story between sisters Candy Cooper (Malin Akerman) and Jude Swann (Portia de Rossi). Candy is all heart and enthusiasm, living a charmed life as a beauty pageant queen-turned-weather girl. Jude is conversely smart and relentlessly driven, unbeaten in her efforts to date as a campaign manager. That was until Candy - in an effort to impress her daughter (Claire Engler) - ran for mayor of Sacramento and improbably defeated Tom Holiday (Michael Boatman), whose campaign was run by - you guessed it - Jude. After the initial humiliation passes ("I lost to a housewife who wants to increase funding for the libary."), their mother Helen (Jean Smart) suggests she go to work for her sister.
After all, she's bound to be in over her head as her chief campaign adviser is her hairdresser Natalee (Stephanie Beatriz), whose prime talent is being able to smell a person's hair and tell what kind of products they use. Jude reluctantly agrees, albeit mostly because all her other candidates have let her go due to said loss. There she quickly finds herself in the midst of two controversies: Candy's surfer husband Buddy (David Arquette) outsourced the manufacturing of their campaign T-shirts and the media learns that Candy never passed her 11th grade history final, the latter of which Jude herself leaked in a last ditch effort as part of the Holiday campaign. Hoping to diffuse both issues, Candy holds a press conference in which Jude feeds her answers through an earpiece. And while a near disaster at first, Candy ultimately rebounds and shows that - with Jude's help - she just might have the knack for politics.
What works: It's very much a one-joke premise, that of course being - in case you missed it - that Jude is smart and Candy is dumb.
What doesn't: Nearly every bit pivots on this to broad effect, whether it's a flashback to Candy's youth ("The label said rinse and repeat, but it didn't say when to stop."), a viral video from her appearance on "Wheel of Fortune" (her guess for a famous phrase: "The British Are Homely! The British Are Homely!") or just her present day ineptitude ("People don't want facts, they want truth. Do you think facts kept the Founding Fathers warm through that long winter at Gettysburg? Or facts helped Lewis and Clark defeat the Indians at Mount Rushmore?").
Jude likewise spends most of her time bemoaning the fact she lost to such a rube ("I lost to a surfer, a housewife and a hairdresser. I was the bad guy in a movie about a rag tag bunch of can-do misfits."), a fact that gets increasingly more hammered over the head with each passing act (Candy, while looking for a marker: "How is there no green? All we ever heard about from the last mayor was green this and green that."). What's at first presented as a modest mismatch eventually becomes a cartoonish dichotomy. Hell, even Candy's husband Buddy gets in on the idiot action (Jude: "Read the label where the shirt was made." Buddy: "Vietnam." Jude: "Do you know how wrong that is?" Buddy: "Sorry. Viet-nam.").
It's not that Akerman or de Rossi are bad per se, they just get swallowed up in the shallowness of said foibles. And between the using the earpiece-to-parrot-answers-but-still-getting-it-wrong trope and the giving-a-ridiculously-made-up-fake-name-to-someone-to-avoid-admitting-who-they-are bit (all TM pending), it's all well worn territory. Even its attempts to give Candy and Jude's dynamic an emotional context (Helen: "With your head and her heart we can really do something here, something real.") feel tacked on and unearned. All things considered...
The bottom line: ...its one joke isn't funny.