Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pilot Review: Lucky 7

Lucky 7 (Tuesdays at 10:00 on ABC)

I'm a bit confused by Lucky 7. Not with the show itself; it's about as straightforward as a show can get. I'm confused about what it's doing on ABC's lineup. Lucky 7 is unassuming. Nothing about its concept, cast or execution is wave-making, earth-moving, or exciting. It's a small drama (bordering on soap) with a small budget and a big cast of small names. And to then stick it in the timeslot ABC has had some big issues filling with any success shows a total lack of confidence. To be successful, Lucky 7 would have had to be stellar entertainment. But it's not.

Lucky 7, based on the BBC series The Syndicate, tells the story of a group of down-and-out blue collar workers whose lives would be forever changed with just a little bit of money. At a tiny, hole-in-the-wall gas station/convenience store in Queens, seven employees have been chipping into a lottery pool for months. Matt (Matt Long, Jack & Bobby) and his girlfriend have two kids and no home, so he's been living with his mother and brother Nicky (Stephen Louis Grush), who also works at the station. Nicky's an ex-con who owes big money to a drug kingpin. Denise (Lorraine Bruce, from the British original) is stuck in a loveless marriage; Samira (Summer Bishil) wants to go to Julliard rather than marrying the Indian doctor her parents have picked out for her; Leanne (Anastasia Phillips) is a young mom; Antonio (Luis Antonio Ramos) wants to be responsible but still give his family the world; and gas station owner Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr., The Wire) is just trying to hold it all together with the impending sale of his business to a larger chain. Everyone's down on their luck, until the numbers they've been playing in the Empire State Lottery for months are chosen, and they become millionaires.

Well, that's not entirely true. There's a twist in the pilot that one of the seven, Antonio, doesn't actually receive any of the money because he stopped paying into the pot. So for now, they're a lucky six, not a lucky seven. Well, a lucky five, since Bob ends up in the hospital about halfway through the pilot. Sorry, a lot happens before the lottery numbers are even drawn, and pretty much all of the plot exists to illuminate the irony of the show's title being Lucky 7. The characters are all a bunch of sad sacks with a lot of problems. And I don't mean white people problems, either. Real problems. Matt's girlfriend is about to take their kids and leave him; Denise is severely overweight and has a cheating husband; Nicky's about to get every bone in his body broken; Leanne can't afford her daughter's lunch; and so on. It gets to be a bit much, especially in the first half hour when everyone is introduced and their issues put on display. Everyone's so damn depressing, and since the pilot starts with a "flash forward" of Matt and Nicky evading someone in a high speed car chase, we know that even with winning the lottery, not much is going to change for these people. They're still going to have problems, possibly even more problems. The money won't save Denise's marriage, and it won't take away Nicky's bad-boy streak. So we're left with a show with a bunch of characters who are perpetually in moral crisis, or in financial straits, or in emotional turmoil. It's exhausting.

I will say, however, that despite its heaviness, I actually found myself enjoying Lucky 7. It's by no means a masterpiece, and it looks pretty weak compared to the theatrics of Agents of SHIELD earlier in the evening, but it feels very personal and very human. The direction by Paul McGuigan (Sherlock, Devious Maids) is simple, constrained, and intimate. There are a lot of closeups (don't worry, it's not as extreme as the Les Miserables film) to give us the feeling of being in the room with these people, particularly with Matt, who is the pilot's main focus. Matt is one of the most relatable characters in the ensemble, thanks to a strong performance from Matt Long. His desperation feels honest and real. The remainder of the cast is mostly adequate, without many standouts (except for a grating performance from Lorraine Bruce, whom I hoped would just stop talking by the pilot's end). The script from Jason Richman & David Zabelt (Detroit 1-8-7) is mostly unremarkable; it's serviceable, but there isn't anything particularly memorable about the dialogue and no characters truly stand out as original. And like I said, it leans heavily on the dramatic and depressing side without much humor or light points.

When it's all said and done, Lucky 7 is fine. I liked it. It's inoffensive and kind of entertaining. It has a decent message at its core about how much we strive for wealth, the lengths we will go to receive it, and the problems it fails to solve (and can even create). It's very much a middling pilot: didn't hate it, didn't love it. I don't have much to complain or rave about. It's there, and it's fine. You decide whether that's a good or bad thing.

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