ABC has been riding the horse really hard on this show, boasting about the huge amount of advance praise it got before its premiere. I finally got around to watching last Wednesday’s premiere, which I taped because I figured that there must be something to all that praise. Honestly, having seen the pilot episode, I now find myself saying “….what??”
The premise is simple: ten people are trapped in a bank when a robbery attempt goes down, and held hostage; only nine of them get out with their lives. One of the robbers comes out in a coma, and the other comes out saying it wasn’t his idea. And yet no one on the outside, even after intense interrogation of all of the survivors, can really seem to get a clear picture of what happened, how the one robber would up being so badly injured, and what exactly led to the killing of the bank teller. These nine survivors find themselves clinging to each other, feeling like no one else can understand what they’ve been through, and so on. The pilot starts to set up that they’re feeling distant from their everyday, pre-robbery, pre-hostage-situation relationships, some of them are probably going to have affairs with each other (this already happens with at least one couple in the pilot, with some fairly straightforward hints about at least a couple of other couplings forming in the future, and so on.
There are some problems with this basic setup that I’m seeing already. I’ll probably give The Nine two or three more episodes to see how things play out, but at the moment, I’m just finding myself ambivalent about the whole thing. One thing that the advance reviews nail on the head is that John Billingsley (formerly Dr. Phlox of Star Trek: Enterprise) is the breakout member of the cast. (Though I will say that, in the hour following Lost, in which former Party Of Five cast member Matthew Fox plays a doctor, it’s funny to see a show in which former Party Of Five cast member Scott Wolf plays a doctor.) Billingsley’s character, Egan Foote, isn’t the only sympathetic character in the group, but by the end of the hour he and Chi McBride (whose performance I always enjoy in just about any non-Secret-Life-Of-Desmond-Pfeiffer vehicle he shows up in) are just about the only two characters who haven’t displayed some serious flaws bordering on the unlikeable. Foote is a henpecked husband who has begun to feel as though he can’t get anything right, and in the opening act of the pilot is clearly making serious plans to commit suicide. (Granted, this too could be seen as a character flaw, but I feel for the guy.) During the hostage crisis, Foote shows a heroic side that he didn’t even know he had, and once the crisis is over, he lightens up considerably, clearly realizing that he’s been given a second chance. He’s still overly critical of himself, having grown accustomed to others being overly critical of him, but he seems ready to seize the day – he’s almost the only joyful character in the bunch by the end of the thing, to be truthful.
Why no joy for everyone else? Clearly The Nine is going to be a show about trauma. The American viewing public is well acquainted with this over the past five or so years, thanks very much. Now, the thought occurs that The Nine could deliver some interesting, character-led perspectives on dealing with trauma, where that coping can take you for good or ill, and possibly even on the uniquely western phemomenon that is declaring oneself to be a victim of something. That would be interesting. The trailer for the second episode, however, seems to show standard cop/lawyer show stuff. I could watch Law & Odor: Criminal Stench if I wanted to see that. (Note: I don’t dislike the L&O franchise, that’s just an amusing little title I came up with the last time I cleaned a litterbox.) I’m much more interested in the trailer’s scenes showing Egan stepping forward to claim his fifteen minutes of fame.
About the mysterious 52-hour standoff that will slowly unravel in flashback, that comes across as an extremely forced mystery. Sure, a lot can happen in that time, but the thought that we’re going to spend a whole season, maybe even more, slowly uncovering 52 hours just isn’t really anything that’s hitting my buttons. With Lost, at least, you have backstory to unravel – who are the Others, what happened to the Dharma Initiative, and so on; The Nine tries to twist Lost inside out, putting the mystery in the flashbacks and putting the character development in the present – which means that, eventually, you’re going to run out of mystery. Even Invasion didn’t limit its mystery element to the past.
Which brings me to ABC’s brag about the overnight ratings for The Nine:
Excluding only last season’s finale of “Lost,” which ran into the hour, “The Nine” produced ABC’s largest audience with regular programming in the time period since last September and its top Adult 18-49 rating since November – since 9/28/05 and 11/30/05, respectively.
So, in other words, the last show that did as well as The Nine was…Invasion.
When I’m seriously thinking that I’m going to wind up fast-forwarding through the next 2-3 episodes of The Nine just to get the scenes where I can see what happens to Egan and what happens to McBride’s bank manager character, I wonder why we couldn’t just be getting a second season of Invasion at this rate. (Before anyone accuses me of losing perspective here, re: Invasion, bear in mind that I do understand the cold, hard math that explains why that show is off the air – I’m just saying that the same numbers may soon apply here.)