Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pilot Review: Second Chance

Second Chance (Wednesdays at 9:00 on Fox; Premieres January 13)

With a generic title like Second Chance (formerly The Frankenstein Code and Lookinglass, both of which are much better options), you know you're likely not going to get something groundbreaking. Consider the dialogue which kicks the show off (in voiceover, obviously, because every single series needs a voiceover nowadays): "What would you do with a second chance? Before you answer, let me give you some advice: second chances can be a real monster." Not exactly the most interesting way to start a pilot, and things don't get much better from there.

The titular event refers to 75-year old Jimmy Pritchard (played initially in a wasteful cameo by the legendary Philip Baker Hall), a disgraced, alcoholic former sheriff who believes he was justified in fabricating evidence against criminals. He has a tense relationship with his son Duval (Tim DeKay, White Collar), an FBI agent, but he loves his granddaughter (Ciara Bravo, Red Band Society). When he tries to stop a break-in at his son's, the perpetrators throw Jimmy off a bridge to his death, disguising the murder as suicide. Unknown to everyone else, however, twin tech geniuses Mary (Greek's Dilshad Vadsaria) and Otto Goodwin (Adhir Kalyan, Rules of Engagement) earmark Jimmy as a genetic anomaly and use his body for scientific purposes. Jimmy is incubated for 84 days, after which he awakens forty years younger (as Robert Kazinsky, a former EastEnders regular and super-vampire Warlow on True Blood) with superhuman strength.

Apparently the twins needed someone with Jimmy's rare genetics to produce possibly anti-cancer cells for Mary, who is dying prematurely of the disease. As a result of the experimental process, he must return to his tank in order to maintain his vitality. But when he's not growing the cancer cure inside his body, Jimmy wanders off to solve crimes, beginning with those who murdered him while trying to get information on Duval.

The premise is convoluted, so silly and full of contrivances, that it's almost not worth trying to follow along. A modern update of Mary Shelley where the "monster" is really just a man who did awful things and has been vilified by the media sounds interesting to me. But that's not what creator Rand Ravich has given us. He's written a weird sci-fi story without any of the humanity of Shelley's novel, but with plenty more plot holes. Why does the twins' experiment to cure cancer require their subject to live? If it's Jimmy's DNA which marks him for potentially posing a cure for Mary's illness, why not just replicate it? And since he is a living creation, why let him out of his tank to crack mysteries, pick up hookers, and attempt to reconnect with his family? The answer to all of these questions seems to be nothing more than simply "because that's the show,"and that's truly frustrating. Second Chance marks Ravich's second miss in a row on network TV, following 2014's interesting but convoluted Crisis, and it's an enormous one at that. Not only does Second Chance fail at telling a coherent story, the script doesn't even do it in a fun way. There are plenty of shows out there that are terribly plotted and conceived (American Horror Story immediately comes to mind) but are still fun to watch because the dialogue is snappy or because the outlandishness is embraced in a campy way. Ravich does not, however, write good dialogue here (Just in case the audience didn't understand, there's an exchange to make sure you know Kazinsky is now Jimmy; upon waking, Mary asks Jimmy his name, to which he responds, "Well, let's see, I've only had it for 75 years.") or embrace how ludicrous his conceit his; he takes his concept far too seriously, nary a wink or joke in sight.

Matters aren't helped much by the lack of a strong central performance. Kazinsky is an attractive void as Jimmy. There's no darkness, no torture, no redemption to his character. And to make it all worse, his British accent emerges quite often. Vadsaria is similarly underwhelming in her lack of personality and expression (which could be a character choice, but it's still a boring one), and Kalyan isn't given much to do in the pilot besides be anxious. DeKay is a reliable presence, but he's sidelined for most of the first episode, and he's left with the unenviable task of being the "straight man," so to speak, in a fantasy world. But he's still the best part of the pilot, and if Duval were the leading man, Second Chance might have turned out a bit better.

One of three attempts by Fox this season at a high-concept procedural (the others being Minority Report and the revival of The X-Files), Second Chance feels slapdash and uninspired. It's the kind of show that happens when you have an interesting logline but not enough good ideas or the right creative team to back it up.

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