Saturday, September 10, 2016

If You're Looking for a Hot Mess, Notorious is the Show for You

(Photo credit: ABC)

I've watched the pilot for Notorious twice already and I cannot — for the life of me — tell you what it's actually about. On the surface, it's a show where everyone is double-crossing each other all of the time. It's trying to be scandalous (like another similarly named show on the ABC network) without actually laying the groundwork to explain why it is. And with so many characters flitting in and out of the pilot (in varying degrees of importance, mind you), it's hard to focus on just one or two. I get what the show is trying to do, though I would venture to say that The Newsroom did it much, much better. Notorious is trying to be a show all about how television news shows are the ones who control the news. While Julia is a producer on a hit news show, the argument that the series gives is that she's not producing it — she's controlling what America, and the world, cares and talks about.

That's certainly an intriguing concept to explore, right? How the media controls what we care about, and how when we think we're consuming the news, we're actually consuming what people behind-the-scenes producing shows on CNN or MSNBC or local news networks tell us we should care about. This whole dichotomy between news and media is cool.

... But honestly, that's what The Newsroom did during its run. It talked about the news, and it gave us really intense glimpses into the fictional production of real-world, real-time events. But, as I said above, that HBO series covered this topic much, much better.

Let's get the plot out of the way first, if we can: Notorious is the tale of a newsroom producer named Julia whose friendship with attorney Jake is mutually beneficial in both of their professional careers. Don't ask me how many times the two double-cross one another or pretend to double-cross one another, or how many times a member of one of their teams crosses someone from the other team. I literally cannot keep track of it for you. The positive here is that Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata actually have really great chemistry and banter. They're totally believable as best friends and partners-in-crime who are occasionally flirty.

The negative is that this is about all Notorious has going for it. The rest of the cast is pretty solid, but the premise of the pilot is just a complete mess. Julia's network and Jake's firm are involved in a hit-and-run case with a tech billionaire who is a recovering addict and just so happens to be married to Jake's old flame, Sarah. I won't completely spoil the plot of the episode for you, but the way it ends is supposed to be left open-ended, and as a cliffhanger. To me, the plot just seems like the same tried-and-true, formulaic stuff that has already happened. You'll be able to predict the "whodunnit" of it all — if you stick around long enough to watch the end of the episode.

Most series that suffer in their pilots do so for one simple reason: they cannot decide what story they want to tell. Notorious is that kind of show. It wants to be edgy, but also mysterious -- but not TOO mysterious. It wants to be interesting, but also dramatic — but relatable. It wants to be about five different kinds of shows all mixed together, and the end result is a pilot that never really seems to actually click. In fact, the character spend the majority of the episode running around, putting out fires. If that isn't a metaphor for the series' trajectory itself,  I don't know what is. Because when you have a premise as vague yet convoluted as this one, you're bound to spend half of the episode living in that deeply convoluted, fast-paced world, and the other half using a copious amount of exposition to explain to your audience exactly what is happening. I'm all for complex shows; I thrive on them. But I don't like when a series' premise is so vague that I spend most of the episode confused about what's happening or — most importantly — why I should care about what's happening.

ABC has plenty of good dramas, and plenty of shows that push the envelope. Unfortunately, I just don't think Notorious is on the same level as them. While there are certain elements of the series that could be really interesting to explore, the majority of the characters are pretty standard television tropes — the workaholic news producer who discovers a big secret about the man she loves; the eccentric, freewheeling boss; the young, new employee who wants to prove himself; the "good cop, bad cop" lawyer team, etc. And while some of these characters have the potential to be interesting, like Megan an escort-turned-assistant-producer, most of them are pretty standard for what I know to be true of ABC dramas, and television dramas in general.

And while Notorious is certainly not the worst pilot I've ever seen, nor the worst pilot I saw from ABC this year, it's just the run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-crop kind of forgettable drama that the network doesn't really need (that's exactly what Blood & Oil was for the network last year and look at how well that turned out for them). If an audience has to work this hard in the pilot to understand the purpose of the show, the drama, and the characters' motives throughout both, why would we possibly want to stick around for an entire season?



Post a Comment