overthinking the idiot box

July 17, 2006

A Little CW Preview

Reviews of The Game and Runaway
by D. Roberts Keenan

A lot of industry eyes are fixed on The CW, the new network touting itself as the best of the soon-to-be defunct WB and UPN. But what the new network lacks is new programming.

The CW upfronts brought a few surprise revelations for industry watchers like SMRT-TV, including the return of the treacly 7th Heaven and the absence of the high-profile "Aquaman" series, Mercy Reef. Without Mercy Reef, The CW has just two new series to bring to the fall lineup: a half-hour sitcom, The Game, and an hourlong drama, Runaway. SMRT-TV has obtained screeners of the pilots, and we offer you a first-look preview at the new shows from the new game in town.

The Game
Let's not mince words: The Game is bad. Really, really bad.

The best that can be said about The Game is that the premise is at least halfway intriguing. It's a sort of wannabe Footballers' Wive$ played for laughs, purporting to explore the ins and outs of the women behind the players of a fictional sports team. But the laughs aren't all too frequent (save for the constant tittering on the laugh track), and spending thirty minutes with these folks seems more like punishment than entertainment.

Every plot development, every character is a pale shadow of a better show. There's the meddlesome mama, the rookie's girlfriend, the star's trophy wife. There's the false crisis with an attractive groupie, and the stiff setup involving the womanizer. It's impossible to say at this point whether the show will get better — after all, there are great shows with mediocre pilots (Sports Night) and mediocre shows with great pilots (Commander in Chief) — but considering The CW has buried The Game at 8:30 Sunday night, it's questionable whether the San Diego Sabers and their women will last out the full season.

Darren Star's Runaway offers a much more enjoyable diversion, but it's not without its problems. Starring Donnie Wahlberg as the patriarch of a family on the run for a crime he's accused of, the show is ambitious in its scope and certainly has quality production values on its side. It likely will appeal to fans of shows like Prison Break or 24 (the mom is even played by Leslie Hope, who played Teri Bauer in Season 1 of 24), but it's easy to see the central conceit of the show wearing thin by midseason.

The most problematic aspect of Runaway is that its premise, a family on the run, is simply too ludicrous to be taken seriously very long. Similarities and comparisons to the 1960s program The Fugitive are inevitable, and it's not hard to remember the Tim Daly remake of that show going under fairly quickly. The plot of the pilot was more than a little hackneyed, as pilots often are, having to do a lot of exposition and resorting to more than a few cliches for story purposes. Hey, it happens.

Still and all, there are interesting character moments and the mystery at the root of everything seems promising enough for at least a few episodes. (Then again, remember last season's ill-fated Reunion, which started off with such a strong concept and mystery and shortly descended into unwatchable melodrama?)

Runaway is set to air at 9 Monday nights, putting it in competition with NBC's new supernatural drama Heroes (which is already picking up good buzz) and Fox's 24 (once that starts up) and new drama Vanished (which looks to be another short-timer). After viewing the pilot, it's safe to say that Runaway is TiVo-worthy, but not yet appointment television.

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