Monday, September 18, 2006

Smith: what you should be watching

Thanks to the myriad wonders of the internet, I've gotten a sneak peak and a handful of pilot episodes for new dramas forthcoming from the television networks this season. I've already narrowed my list from what seems inherently interesting to what seems any good at all, because in this day and age where every moment is precious, I don't want to waste my time watching crappy TV.

The solution: Tune in to CBS this Tuesday night and watch "Smith".

Probably the worst thing going for the show is the title. Who tunes in to something called "Smith"? I wouldn't. In a typically unsurprising move on the parts of TV executives and TV writers, they have selected an unspectacular title that really doesn't mean much of anything. Why does this keep happening? At least it's not a gerund-infested gramatically incorrect maddener, in the style of "Judging Amy", "Watching Ellie", "Crossing Jordan", etc. The uninteresting title could ultimately be what hurts it most, but no matter. Shows with really poppy eye-grabbing titles (like "Desperate Housewives", for instance) sometimes turn out to be steaming clumps of loose stool.

So, get over the bad title and watch. You like heist movies? "Smith" is probably for you.... keep in mind it's not altogether uncommon to see caper shows pop up on the TV line up (for instance last season's offerings of "Heist" and "Thief", both of which I did not see, both of which did not make it). A few seasons back they had that caper-type show "Thieves" starring Uncle Jessie and Melissa George (who wasn't all that great in "Alias", but was successful as plot-keystone eye-candy in Mulholland Drive), but the show sunk under its own weight of episodic romantic comedy.

Which poses a potential problem: it's unclear after the pilot if "Smith" will be a boring caper-of-the-week episodic drama, or if it will develop and kind of build off its own heists in a serial story. The writers would be smart to play it the latter way; the idea of having a new thing to go steal each week would get boring really fast. Things certainly look shaped up to travel in the direction of serial.... or at least some of the way (like "ER" or "The West Wing" or a bunch of similar serial/episodic hybrids). Throughout the pilot we're introduced to Ray Liotta's character Bobby, the lead, who works as some kind of executive in a boring office atmosphere by day and as a slinky art thief by night. He's got a group of five or six henchmen to help pull it off with him (most exciting of which is Amy Smart, who rocks pretty hard and is undeniably sexy weilding a taser gun), and they set their sights on a museum in Pittsburgh to make their claim. Bobby gets his jobs from Charlie, played with such alluring nonchalance by the one and only Shohreh Aghdashloo (quickly rising to be my favorite actress), who seems to be an untouchable power broker. Bottom line: they get to Pittsburgh, they steal their paintings, and then narrowly miss getting caught, and one of henchmen ends up dead. Hence, the cops are on their trail.... and so begins the season.

I think I'm endeared to the pilot episode because it threw in some very creative twists and turns that I didn't see coming. The structure of the epsiode shows you the aftermath of the mess in Pittsburgh first, rewinds to show us how they got there (and deepens the cast of characters with backstory here and there), and then replays the art heist in more detail (and with some surprising and badass additions we didn't get to see the first time around.... *ahem* taser gun). We see bits and pieces of how this group of art thieves tripped up, which could lend much needed clues to the cops (and thereby gives us a linked serial sturcture between episodes). The fantastic addition of Virginia Madsen (luminous) as Ray Liotta's wife is a lot of fun too.... what we see first is a cheery soccer mom, but as the episode plays out we get a great twist that suggests she might be more privvy to her husband's nighttime escapades than we (the viewer) was allowed to think at first. Good stuff.

I've stayed out of the way of reviews of this show, in hopes that it won't tarnish my high. I'm invested to see where it's going, in hopes it turns out to be as good as the pilot promises. It's beautifully filmed, all on location it seems, and it all feels very solid: directing, editing, acting, writing. The end of the episode kind of sandwiches in a law-enforcement-hot-on-the-case angle which, to be honest, I could take or leave; the episode succeeded just fine without it, but it kind of fits hand-in-hand with the whole used-to-be-on-parole background of Ray Liotta's Bobby. But what good caper show doesn't raise the stakes with the cops after them? This too could be the lynchpin to the entire series, telling us little by little more about Virginia Madsen's past, more about Amy Smart's showgirl day job and her power over others who rely on her (some for drugs, it seems), more about why that dude from "The Guardian" is a cold-blooded killer with a sniper rifle, and more about why Virginia Madsen's character and Shohreh Aghdashloo's character apparently don't get along.

So, yes. This Tuesday. CBS. 10 pm. Go to it.

1 comment:

Writeprocrastinator said...

You've sold me on premise alone, not to mention the cast. Please tell me that this isn't going to run opposite of L & O Criminal Intent?