Friday, December 21, 2012

Pilot Review: Deception

Deception (Mondays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres January 7)

On the one hand, I'm already totally hooked on Deception. It's a melting pot of a lot of successful, enjoyable shows (mostly Revenge and Law & Order: SVU) but with its own feeling. On the other hand, it's ham-fisted and predictable.

Vivian Bowers (Bree Williamson, One Life to Live) is dead from an apparent drug overdose. But during the investigation, it becomes obvious that a lot of people had a lot of reasons for wanting her dead; the FBI has been investigating the Bowers family, particularly patriarch Robert (Victor Garber, Alias), and their lucrative pharmaceutical company for years. To get to the bottom of what really happened to Vivian, as well as to expose the Bowers' fraudulence, they send in San Francisco police officer Joanna (Meagan Good, Eve's Bayou, D.E.B.S.) undercover. Joanna grew up with the Bowers family and was Vivian's best friend until one night when a teenage Vivian tries to run away and Joanna stops her. Set up with her old partner and lover (Laz Alonso, Breakout Kings), Joanna falls easily back into her role as the Bowers' charity case, reigniting a long-lost spark with Vivian's brother Julian (Wes Brown, True Blood) and the anger of her brother Edward (Tate Donovan, Argo). As the case gets more complicated and more family secrets are exposed, Joanna's job of finding Vivian's murderer becomes more dangerous.

The whole thing begins almost identically to Revenge with a curious stranger following Vivian to her car, her recognizing him and inviting him to climb in, then smash cutting to her dead in a motel. Then the primary plotline is put in motion, but everything is actually moving backward to figure out how we got to this point. It's nowhere near as salacious as Revenge, but it's handled decently and manages to be entertaining in its own right. I'm fascinated by the fact that Joanna is black, and I don't know why; perhaps because it's so rare to see strong women on TV, let alone strong, single black women. According to information released by NBC, Joanna is the daughter of the Bowers' maid but from what I can remember that's never mentioned. There's actually a lot of withheld information, and it's kind of obnoxious in the way that you know there's something missing but can tell they're not telling you what it is because it's going to be a "revel" somewhere down the line. There is such a moment in the pilot, and I saw it coming a mile away because this tactic is used. We see Joanna and Vivian as teenagers, the latter talking about escape, intercut with conversations with the youngest Bowers, Mia (Ella Rae Peck, Gossip Girl). The creators make it obvious, at least to me, where it's going.

Creator Liz Heldens (Friday Night Lights) wrote a well-paced and pretty engrossing pilot, but it's things like this that hold Deception (formerly Infamous and Notorious at various stages of development) back a bit. The timeline also doesn't really match up. Meagan Good is decent as Joanna, but she does not look old enough to fit into the story... I did the math once and came up with her age being somewhere around 33-35, but because ages and time aren't really a concern in the pilot, I suppose she could be even five years younger than that. And that's a problem, considering the logic of a lot of the show lies in the history of this character. It's really a shame because Deception is really easy to get into, and it moves quickly enough with enough revelations and questions that I want to continue watching. But as a show, it's not terribly strong. Victor Garber is, predictably, the best part of the supporting ensemble, though it's not hard to be considering how weak many of the players are. Ella Rae Peck and Wes Brown are veterans of primetime soap operas, and they're bringing that campy melodrama style to a show that is otherwise taken seriously, (at least in the pilot). Upcoming episodes look increasingly more soapy, so that issue may resolve itself.

I'm so torn on Deception. I enjoyed myself, but I find that I've already forgotten most of what happened only two days after watching. Nothing all that special or great sticks out in my mind about it, but I have no doubt that I'll watch subsequent episodes when they air next month. It's a really fun way to spend an hour, even if it's not all that challenging or inventive. Sometimes that's what you need.

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