Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Big Shots" Recap & Review - "Pilot"

Big Shots

Original Air Date: September 27, 2007

Shawn P - TwoCents Staff Writer

I’ve decided that I’m going to make you smarter in this review, if for no other reason than if you sat all the way through Big Shots last night, you might be a few grey cells down in the debit column. You know a word that combines two words to generate a new word with the meaning of the combined origins? There’s a term for that: portmanteau, which was coined by Louis Carroll. Now that you’ve learned something, let’s dig into the “Big Shots,” which is by all pretenses a “dramedy,” and by my reckoning completely “craptastic.” And that’s not a total dig, because I like “craptastic” shows as much as the next guy.

Executive James Auster (Michael Vartan) kicks off the pilot by getting fired by his company’s CEO. I thought that’s how series end, not start. James lies to his wife that nothing’s wrong, and I start to wonder if the entire show is about guys pretending to have jobs, which might have been interesting. James regroups with his posse of fellow high-powered executives, Duncan Collinsworth (Dylan McDermott), Brody Johns (Christopher Titus), and Karl Mixworth (Josh Malina). Duncan’s divorced and an avowed lothario, Brody is browbeaten by a spouse he calls Lady MacBeth, and milquetoast Karl is cuckolding his wife. I’m disappointed in Josh Malina. I think the old gang at Sportsnight would have expected a little more fidelity. But we’re in an amoral world, since all men in big business either think with their pants or lie every time their lips move. And this is supposed to be a male Sex and the City, if you haven’t heard. If you haven’t heard, you don’t have your ear to the ground, because it’s in every review.

The CEO gets run over by a golf cart, which to be honest, is what you get for trying to fire Michael Vartan. He’s like Cher, he’s survive a nuclear holocaust and still be able to find work. Needless to say, the turn of events leads him into the CEO’s spot.

So I’ll digress. I like Michael Vartan. ABC apparently does not. Sure, they like him enough to continue to trot him out in slickly-produced series, lighting him like the Virgin Mother and sending his various characters down inner turmoil-free high roads of righteousness. But they hate him too. He’s a cipher. A good-looking, untroubled, fashion model. Give him a bad habit. Show him beating his kids. My fear is that Michael Vartan is playing Michael Vartan in all his roles. The kind of guy you want living next door, safe and sensible. Not appointment TV.

I’ve always thought of Vartan as the Hollywood Ho-Ho: all empty calories. I’m not a hard marker when it comes to the beautiful people – you aspire to their ranks, resent them, or view them with quiet detachment. Vartan and his ilk of finely-shined heartthrobs (now safe for tweens!) are generally as relatable to me as the pygmies of the Serengeti. Now I love Animal Planet as much as the next guy, but stiff male models rarely make compelling actors.

Back on the show, Karl’s wife suspects him of adultery. He denies it by pointing out he runs a billion dollar pharmaceutical company. Meanwhile, his girlfriend texts him something I can’t print here, but let’s just say he must be dating one of the PhDs working for his drug company, because she uses all the proper anatomical terms. Karl explains his obsession by saying she makes him feel like a porn star.

Duncan flirts during a softball interview with the reporter for the magazine “Entrepreneur.” The reporter asks if Duncan’s ever been to Yonkers. I’ve been to Yonkers, but no one ever interviews me, if that’s the criteria. Duncan darts his eyes around and says he hasn’t been there in 20 years. Foreshadowing, people. Yonker’s hasn’t been this excited since Neil Simon was relevant.

Back on the golf course, where apparently 90% of every day is spent, we learn Duncan’s Yonker’s secret: he had a tête-à-tête in a bathroom stall with a tranny hooker, and was arrested.

Having reviewed Dirty Sexy Money yesterday let me interrupt this review for a special public service announcement:


Good Samaritan ABC is apparently giving tranny hookers a ride in all of their premieres this season.

Back to the review.

At the CEO’s funeral, James manages to let the good widow know the dearly departed was a cheater. I just noticed that Nia Long is on this show. Like a fine wine, Nia is aging well. James makes a quick connection, and realizes the CEO’s cheat-ee is his wife. He hits the john for a talk with Duncan, who confesses his wife also cheated on him, and he on her. All these characters could take a lesson from the crane. They mate for life.

Karl offers to help his lover get a patent on her boudoir moves. She responds by suggesting couples therapy, because he gets that with his wife. I tell you men, you can’t live with them, you can’t take them to the same couples counselor because then you’re an idiot. But he does.

Part of the problem here is that the Karl character has no depth. There’s nothing compelling us to examine him and his life more closely. It’s common and understandable to imagine that secrets offer insight. The picture of a first love hidden in the sock drawer reveals the true state of a marriage. A bottle in the desk drawer paints a different portrait of a revered educator. Karl’s secret? I guess he’s just horny. He seems driven by nothing more than feelings of inadequacy over not being Michael Vartan.

I think that’s probably not fair. Malina looks like Timmy Gates, the younger brother of Bill who can’t program his VCR. Asymmetric looks play for nerdy and ugly on this show. But that’s understandable. Slot me between Vartan and McDermott, and the villagers would be chasing me with torches and pitchforks.

Brody sweet-talks his wife on the phone then wines about her as soon as he hangs up. We should all note that Carrie Bradshaw and her crew are all manlier than this group, so the Sex and the City analogy dies right here and now.

Searching for Duncan’s tranny hooker (who knew I’d be using that phrase so many times in a span of 24 hours?), Brody pulls out the line “when it comes to sex, she’s the man.” That’s the tagline of every Cinemax movie after 11PM, by the way.

James confronts his wife, who admits the affair. He dumps her. Don’t get weepy here. He’s Michael Vartan, he’ll bounce back.

Duncan’s driving golf balls off a helicopter pad on a skyscraper, giving a motivational speech to his management team. Way to set a good example. We find out quickly that Duncan’s estranged daughter is the smarter businessperson. None of the leads exactly screams economic competency, by the way, no matter what position their script says they hold.

James announces, in his job interview for CEO, that the company is in trouble and he’s just the man to fix it. His solution? Hiring kids from garages. Or something like that. He says they should hire someone who knows what it’s like to lose someone. The committee immediately scours retirement communities across the land. James, she’s not dead, you just wouldn’t forgive her.

Karl spends the half of his life he’s not on the golf course with his mistress, which explains health care in this country. Now his mistress is henpecking him and threatening to expose the affair. I see this dragging on for multiple episodes, to alleged comic effect.

Duncan, James, and Karl have a conversion where each of them talk to themselves, about themselves, at a pool. This was easily the best scene in the show, because it was genuinely amusing. The amusement abruptly ends when Duncan announces “men, we’re the new women.” Ugh.

Karl’s wife and mistress are waiting for him at home. Marla, the mistress, has revealed herself to be an interior decorator to Mrs. Mixworth. I’d say this all ends in tears, but the light and comic accompanying music tells us otherwise.

I’m already way over my word limit here, so the Reader’s Digest version of the rest: Duncan wants his ex-wife back, Karl drinks himself into next Tuesday, James and Nia Long exhibit enough wattage of sexual tension to almost light a refrigerator, and James gets the official word he’s CEO. Oh yes, and Duncan’s tranny hooker meets his daughter, who brings him/her to a fancy party in front of all the city’s movers and shakers. Awkward! The night ends with the boys toasting Dontrelle, who taped Duncan paying her off. Double awkward!

I have to tell you folks, you need watch this show immediately. Because supplies may not last. Next week promises more Marla, and Dontrelle returns. So if you haven’t seen the phrase tranny hooker enough already, you know where to come…

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