“The Gates” and “Scoundrels” Television Review

6/24/2010 Posted by Admin

“Scoundrels” and “The Gates”

Television Review

By our guest blogger, Rebecca Rose

If there’s anything I’ve learned about series premiers, it's that they usually are not that good. You have to be willing to give them a chance. You have to look beyond the hokey set-up, the clumsy acting as actors struggle to mold their characters and the kitschy tricks that writers use to simultaneously get their projects past scrutinizing network execs and to create enough buzz to draw in an increasingly finicky television audience. (Case in point: I thought “Community” stumbled badly out of the gate, but today it ranks as one of my favorite shows on television. And who could forget the abysmal debut for "Seinfeld"?)

This week, ABC gambles on not one, but two new series, with “Scoundrels” and “The Gates” on Sunday nights at 9PM and 10PM respectively.

In “Scoundrels,” a notorious crime family tries to go straight when the matriarch of the family, Virginia Madsen, decides she’s had enough. Essentially, the show is “The Sopranos” if Carmella Soprano grew a conscience. (It might take you a moment to recognize the smoldering actor who plays Madsen’s husband, but yes, that is JAG’s David James Elliot, doing a nice job playing against type).

Based off the hit Australian show “Outrageous Fortune,” “Scoundrels” tries to cover every type of crime family genre. The pilot involves everything from a botched home invasion, a missing priceless heirloom, the Chinese mob, a phony Lupus scam and a creepy blackmailing pornographer. All of that sounds like it might be fun, in an odd way, but the result is muddled, disjointed and forced. Even at their most “dire” moments, I never felt drawn in by the contrived “jeopardy” this family was in.

That said, the acting is stellar, and the characters are quirky and unique. Still, the writers need to figure out what to do with them. Madsen is one of the best actresses around, but throwaway scenes and corny dialogue leave her with little more to do than over act or get loud. Worst mistake so far? Patrick John Flueger playing dual roles as wayward son Cal (channeling Brad Pitt in “True Romance”) and as snoozer, straight-arrow Logan. Here, his range as an actor comes down to this--“Good Twin” = Short hair and tie, “Bad Twin” = Long hair and goatee, thus proving that at least someone was paying attention during all those “Days of Our Lives” evil twin story lines.

“The Gates” begins with a bang--a big one--but it quickly fizzles out like one of those the cheap, store-bought sparklers your mom buys for the Fourth of July.

A seemingly normal housewife (played by the all-too-underused Rona Mitra) takes in an injured motorist to her palatial suburban estate to tend to his injuries. Naturally, she seduces him on the kitchen counter. Unfortunately for him, she’s a vampire, and so she murders him. This sets off a chain of events that are supposed to be dramatic and enticing, but are more like the television equivalent of comprehensive dental reconstruction. The dialogue is so tedious and forced, the plot line so eye-rolling, it’s hard to see how the writers plan to get out of the mess they’ve created. It’s “Twilight” meets “Falcon Crest” with a little “Dark Shadows” tossed in to boot. The result is as awful as it sounds. Oh, and in case you want to stick around?  They've also thrown in some werewolves, because that's the thing to do these days, especially with "Twilight" and "True Blood."

Speaking of "True Blood," any new vampire show is instantly going to draw comparisons to it, and it certainly seems like a gamble to put such a watered-down monster-driven show on the same night. With "Scoundrels" and "The Gates," perhaps ABC is trying to court viewers who like shows such as “Sopranos” and “True Blood,” but are put off by things like violence, gore and...quality writing. “Scoundrels,” for example, would be a hundred times more interesting if it were about the West family as they became infamous criminals, but no.  ABC wants to play safe and family-friendly and give us the touchy-feely side of the mafia.

The same goes for “The Gates.” They want to pull in the same crowd that are hungry for vampire fare, but they don’t take it far enough to be compelling in an already crowded field. With an increasingly competitive cable market, where boundaries are pushed and the writing is some of the best in history, networks can’t afford to play it this safe. If either of these shows wants to survive their clunky premieres, my hope is that they stop trying to be flat versions of shows that better networks and better writers are doing, and focus on finding their own niche.

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  1. Hrushi said...

    More evil, more vampire stuff! Bring it on... :P