Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pilot Reviews: Life on Mars and My Own Worst Enemy

So far this season, I have yet to add any new shows. I turned off Sons of Anarchy 20 minutes into the pilot. After 2 episodes of True Blood, I liked it but didn't love it enough to watch during the regular season. Then there's Fringe, which had a numbingly boring pilot yet I still insist I will give a second chance. But despite the weak offerings, I decided to try two more pilots this past week. One was surprisingly good, and the other unsurprisingly bad.

First let's look at Life on Mars, a remake of a British show I've never seen. The show is about an NYC cop, Sam Tyler, from 2008 who gets into a car crash that sends him back to 1973. Once there, he has to deal with the way cops work in the '70s: waiting weeks for a fingerprint match, beating up witnesses, and ignoring the opinions of female cops. He also has to solve a case in 1973 with major repercussions for his last case in 2008. And the voices through TVs and radios from 2008 do nothing to convince him his time in 1973 is more than a dream.

There's a lot about the show to laugh at (which I'll get to), but what's surprising is how much of it works. First off, the 2008 case may seem like standard Law & Order, but is a lot more fun. It would seem a waste to use Lisa Bonet as Sam's girlfriend/cop partner and Clarke Peters (The Wire's Lester Freamon) as a fellow cop for only one episode, so I imagine they'll be coming back. I'm also liking Sam's difficulties being a cop in 1973, as he struggles to figure out how crimes were solved in the 1970s. It's fun to watch him clash with the other '70s cops while solving an enjoyable enough case.

But while I enjoyed the pilot, I'm not completely sold yet on the series. For one thing, the cast has yet to win me over. Jason O'Mara is likeable as Sam, but the supporting cast plays it very broad. Michael Imperioli and Harvey Keitel seem to be in a contest of who can ham it up more, as Imperioli sports ridiculous '70s hair and Keitel speaks in an exaggerated New Yawk accent. Gretchen Mol as the ignored lady cop seems more annoying than cute so far. Then there's the question of how they can sustain a premise that lasted 12 episodes in the UK. The communications from 2008 via TV and radio are promising, but without more of that this could just turn into a procedural. So I like what I've seen so far, but I'm skeptical about how long I'll keep watching.

With My Own Worst Enemy, that decision was a lot easier. In the show, Christian Slater (Heathers) plays two characters - Edward and Henry - who share the same body. Edward is a super spy who kills people. Henry's got a family with Madchen Amick (the unfortunate duchess on Gossip Girl) and a regular job. While Edward supplies Henry with fake memories, Henry has no idea of Edward's existence. But when Henry retains memories of Edward and gets drawn into one of Edward's missions, he finds himself needing Edward in order to survive.

Some of the blame for why the show doesn't work is Christian Slater. As he showed in Heathers, Slater is most convincing playing creepy, which makes him a decent Edward but a terrible Henry. As Henry, he's too annoying and nasal-voiced to be sympathetic, making it hard to care when threats are made on his life. Since most of the hour is spent with Henry, that's a pretty big problem. Then there's the premise. While I suppose the Jekyll and Hyde idea could have been cool, the constant "Are you Henry or Edward" gets really silly really fast. And it's still not clear what the benefit of it all is. Edward's spy scenes are better, but still seem like a cheap Alias knock-off. Add painfully bad dialogue, and there's not much worth watching.

On an unrelated note, a few thoughts on last night's Project Runway finale. I thought Korto had the best collection and overall deserved to win. But Leanne has been perfectly solid and made a nice if somewhat repetitive collection. The important thing is that Kenley didn't win. She had the weakest collection and probably shouldn't have even made it there. It also seemed appropriate to have Tim Gunn judge for the first time in what was essentially a series finale. So all in all, a fine finale for what was still one of the weaker seasons.

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