Saturday, May 08, 2010

Review of a new TV pilot: True Blue

I had the opportunity to view the pilot for a new ABC TV show, True Blue. This might actually be the first review of the show. Warning: I give a way a lot of spoilers. If you plan to watch the show, you might want to stop reading now. But don't say I didn't try to warn you, both about the show and the spoilers (you can probably guess where I come down on the thumbs up or thumbs down scale).

I got to see the episode through eRewards, the online opinion survey site. You are sent a survey, for which you get eRewards dollars that you can spend on a list of rewards (the best is $15 from Borders book store, but you can only get that once a year; mostly it's free game or movie rentals, or a bunch of magazine subscriptions). If you qualify for the full survey you get the full reward amount. If you don't qualify — you don't fit the survey's demographics — you get a fraction of the points as a "sorry but no thank you" gift.

eRewards sent me a survey dealing with a new TV pilot, a cop show called True Blue. The rewards were $20 in reward "bucks" if you filled in the survey, $2.50 if you didn't qualify. Given that you have to watch a 44 minute pilot, it's a fair amount of time expenditure. I filled in the demographic information and they said I qualified. Then, I had to download a plug-in. I watched the pilot, and clicked the "Next" button, expecting to get to the actual survey. No dice: I got the message that said, "We already received enough responses" message. Normally this happens after the demographics part. I didn't expect it after wasting an hour of my life watching the show. So now they'll presumably pay me the small reward amount and not the $20. I wrote to complain to eRewards, but I doubt I'll get a response.

So that it's not a total waste, I thought I'd post a review in case the show makes it to air.

The premise: a group of seven close friends, who rose through the ranks of the San Francisco Police Department, drifted apart over the years, but are brought together when one of them is killed.

It could have been an interesting basis for a show, if it didn't try so hard to be "Grey's Police Academy". It's obvious from the get go that we're supposed to care more about the relationships of the friends than the actual cases they solve. This might have worked, if it hadn't been for the rotten writing and the inept casting.

The pilot begins with Kevin shot to death with that favorite of TV cliches, a single gunshot. Apparently if you are going to knock on someone's door late at night and shoot him in the chest, you only want to use one bullet. Kev dies in a pool of blood. TV pistols never miss in cases like this.

Next we meet JD, played by Marc Blucas (Riley Finn from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He's having an erotic dream about his ex-wife when we meet him. There's a knock on the door, spoiling the good part. Irony of ironies, it's his ex-wife! Of course we already know she's there to tell him about dearly departed Kevin. Oh, but there's more: the ex-wife, Katherine, is now a police captain. They broke up because JD couldn't handle her promotions, and he was incapable of sharing his feelings. They'd been divorced for two years.

She wants JD to head up the case to find Kevin's killer. JD agrees, but only if he gets his friend Walker to join in the investigation. Walker is a member of this group, but he was recently suspended due to a drinking problem. JD also wants Peter, who used to be a cop but is now an Assistant District Attorney, to prosecute the case. TV cop departments have never heard of the term "conflict of interest". Sure, the dead guy happens to die in the jurisdiction where a friend was the captain, and she calls in her ex-husband and friend of the deceased to investigate, and he calls in a friend of the deceased to help, and a friend of the deceased to prosecute. Any ambulance chaser could get any suspect off on the technicalities this would present, alone.

We meet two other characters, Malcolm and Maureen. Malcolm makes a dark joke about the deceased, showing that he's unconventional and crusty. He used to be Kevin's partner. I think Maureen is now an administrative clerk or something. I don't think she is a detective. She's there because she's one of the friends, she works at the department, and she used to sleep with Kevin. Later we find out that Malcolm "settled" for his wife, while he really loved Maureen. Maureen, on the other hand, never settled down and doesn't have a regular boyfriend or anything. It's during this reunion phase (even though they see each other daily) that Malcolm expresses his love for Maureen, just before he heads home for the woman he settled on (who would do well to kick his sorry butt to the curb).

Now, JD and Katherine have been divorced for 2 years. JD regrets their breakup, and Katherine even admits that part of her still loves him. So, of course it's at the funeral that we, and JD, learn that Katherine has been going out with Peter for several months. Neither of them had found the right time to tell JD. Instead, it comes out at the funeral in an incredibly cliched scene that has JD asking who the boyfriend is while Peter stands in the background, followed by JD slowly turning around and staring at Peter in realization.

Cliche. That's the best description for the entire episode. It's just one cliche after another. When JD and Walker interview a suspect, the suspect makes a passing remark about the deceased Kevin, and JD throws the guy up against a wall. Saw that one coming a mile away. When Peter and JD meet at the pub where the wake was held, you knew one of them was going to slug the other.

Malcolm, the crusty detective, is given a new female partner. The show breaks for a commercial after he learns his partner is, "A woman?!?" You know, that sort of thing would have worked in, oh, 1983. It's the 21st century. We're supposed to believe this guy is going to freak out about a female partner when his own captain is a friend and a woman? The new partner has to prove herself to him, when she should have said, "I earned this detective badge, jerk. Deal with it!" Malcolm makes a couple of snide, unprofessional remarks. Instead of telling him to stop being a jerk then, she waits until near the end of the episode to tell him off and call him a "douche". The use of this word is to show how "edgy" and contemporary the show is, and not saddled with writing that was worn when Hill Street Blues was airing. Anyway, upon hearing this Malcolm smirks with a new found respect for his new partner. "It normally takes them weeks to figure that out," he says. Yep, it's the old, "Ah, she realizes I'm a jerk. Now I'm beginning to like her," ploy. It was old when Star Wars used it in 1979.

The dialog was awful. The story was no better. The cops focused on two murders, Kevin's and the death of a woman found by her "dog walker". The woman ran a "sex and the city" type blog. She had a pillow underneath her head, proving the killer knew and cared for her. This kind of profiling plot was a big deal in the early 90s, so it must have seemed revolutionary to the 80s throwbacks who wrote this drivel.

Both plots are wrapped up in the episode, not with CSI's Scooby Doo ending ("I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you meddling crime scene investigators!") but with something pretty close. And neither case was solved with much brain power, or much evidence. The dead woman's killer would have been found in 10 minutes if the woman's gay friend (inserted, I'm sure, simply because the show is set in San Francisco) had bothered to let them know one crucial piece of information. I mean, really, you don't think if someone is found dead you might say, "Did you talk to her neighbor, who was also her lesbian lover?" Oh, God, lesbian lovers! That's real edgy... again, in the early 90s. Nah, probably the 80s. When was The Crying Game, again? Don't expect any GLBT respect here (it's ABC, after all).

At least the gay killer lawyered up before she could give the Scooby Doo confession. Kevin's killer is found in just as stupid a way, and with no physical evidence other than the fact he smoked a cigar. He was obviously guilty, though, because he pulled out a gun and shot at JD. This guy killed Kevin with a single shot at night but couldn't even wing JD in a brightly lit room. Chase ensues, bad guy gets caught. This ended the last interesting tendril of a plot. They could have done something with the show if the first season was about tracking down Kevin's killer. Now, it's just about the relationships.

The relationships might be worth sticking around for if the casting wasn't so horrible. None of the actors is all that interesting. Worse, there is no chemistry among any of them. No wonder these losers drifted apart, they had nothing to keep them together in the first place. JD seems more like a creepy stalker ex-husband than a potential suitor. It would be a better show if he was supposed to be a creepy stalker, though that wouldn't explain why he stays at the precinct after Kevin's death is solved. Apparently JD's actual superior has no time for him, as you don't get even a whiff of there being a problem with the transfer. There's no clue what any of these losers saw in each other. Maureen slept with Kevin and Peter. Peter had the hots for Katherine, who was married to JD. Malcolm pined for Maureen. The only one who comes out looking the least bit like an adult is Walker, which is odd since it is painfully obvious that he's the token African-American in the series.

The only thing the show had going for it was that it was set in San Francisco, a seriously pretty city for a TV show, what with all the hills and the old street cars and stuff. Even then, the city looked listful, as the episode was filmed when the sky was overcast.

I hope that those people who managed to make it to the actual survey savage the hell out of the show. With luck, no one else will have to see this drek.

Longhorn Steakhouse overrated, underwhelms

Monroe/West Monroe is in need of a good steak place. The Hobnob used to be good, but it sucks now (see my earlier review, and I've since heard others complain about it). The Lone Star — the first place I ate steak in the area — has been going downhill for years. Most folks round here go to Outback, which I've always thought overrated and overpriced.

A few months ago we noticed a Longhorn Steakhouse open near the Best Buy. Sure, it's another chain, but I've been to chain steak places that are good. Maybe this one will be worth while? It's certainly busy enough.

I got there about 5:15, Alana got us on the list about 10 minutes before that. Even still, we had about another 15 minute wait to be seated. As I said, it's really busy, which is usually a good sign (the Outback is busy, too, so there goes your proof).

We actually brought the average age of the patrons down when we entered. They were obviously seniors with a little bit of income, as the prices while not shocking ($18.99 for Alana's entree, which was the more expensive of the two) weren't exactly a bargain. We saw very few families, let alone young families.

The decor is the sort of warm-toned HGTV decorating show look you come to expect in your modern restaurants, but accompanied by pictures of cowboys and the open range. Paintings of manly men on horseback doing manly things look down on you while country music blares away in the background (and, occasionally, the foreground). It's impossible to find a steak place in the South that doesn't believe the music has to be country. I guess us alt-rock fans aren't supposed to eat steak? Or somehow listening to wailing and twanging makes you more in the mood to devour a cow? But why does it have to be audible? Anyway, that's just a pet peeve.

We ordered the Firecracker Wrapped Chicken for an appetizer. Alana asked for the Outlaw Ribeye as her entree, I went with the prime rib (we came into a little bit of money recently, so we splurged). We both had the garden salad. We skipped the soft drinks; they were Coke products (yay!) but without a price on the menu (boo!). That's usually a good indicator that we'd be paying $2.50 to $3.00 for watered down bar Diet Coke, so we passed.

The Firecrackers were supposed to be a stuffed pastry with chicken in them. I thought they tasted remarkably like Melvin's "mini tacos" (something Logan loves, from a local sports bar/restaurant), which are deep fried tacos with refried beans in the middle. I thought this on my second Firecracker. The first one had some sort of seasoning salt on the outside, so my first impression was of a Tex-Mex spring roll that was dowsed in salt. Alana didn't have the same issue, and the too much salt thing was only evident on two of mine.

These "firecrackers" were little hollow tubes with some refried beans in the middle. Not as good as Melvin's mini tacos, too salty, and too pricey. They were "spicy" but while they had a mild kick when you first ate them, the kick went away quickly.

It was a little later that Alana pointed out that they were supposed to be stuffed! And with chicken! She found a slight string of chicken in one of hers. I don't recall seeing any chicken in mine. Seriously, I thought they were supposed to be little hollow tubes of fried pastry with a little refried bean paste, because there is no way you could adequately call these things "stuffed". We're talking false advertising here. Either that, or something happened and the insides melted out before they were served to us.

Next came the salad. "Garden salad" in this case meant "lettuce and crouton salad with a little diced tomato and a piece of what might have been cucumber covered in dressing". It was edible (the lettuce was nice and fresh), though Alana pointed out that there was more diced tomato on the Firecrackers as a garnish than were in her salad. Nothing to write home about. If you want a real salad, try Olive Garden.

The steaks arrived. I had mine with a sweet potato with butter and cinnamon. The chef forgot the cinnamon, but the waiter caught it right away and brought me some without me having to ask. I honestly didn't know sweet potatoes came that small, but, really, I didn't need a bigger one.

My prime rib was okay. It was perfectly cooked, it just didn't have a huge amount of flavor. The outside was heavily peppered, but the meat wasn't marinated. Now, it's hard to get a good prime rib with flavor all the way into the meat. Usually that's what the au jus is for. Properly flavored au jus adds to the prime rib. In this case, the au jus wasn't flavored, other than mildly with salt. This was a little disappointing. The beef was a good cut, and cooked to perfection (medium rare, if you were wondering). It just didn't have much flavor.

Alana's Outlaw Ribeye (18 ounces, with the bone) was more flavorful. That is, the parts that weren't gristle were more flavorful. A good third of her steak was too gristly to eat. We figure she got about 10 ounces of actual edible steak out of it. We should have known better than to order what the waiter suggested. He recommended the Outlaw. Waiter recommendations are usually indicators of what they'll make the most money on. In this case, it was a cheap cut of steak with delusions of adequacy.

Alana's steak was cooked properly, though, and it was flavorful in the middle bit that was edible. It had that going for it.

Still hungry, we ordered the cheesecake. I have never been greeted by such a huge piece of cheesecake! It must have been a good five inches tall. Our smiles turned to scowls when we bit into it. The cheesecake was frozen. The strawberries and whipped cream were canned (the strawberries had a subtle metallic taste). We should have brought the Firecrackers to the waiter's attention. We did inform him that the dessert was frozen and that we wanted to go boxes so we could eat it at home, when it had thawed. He went to the back, returned with the boxes, and apologized. He said the chiller was set too cold. He would have replaced the cheesecake for us, but they were all that cold. He thanked us for bringing this to his attention. He did not remove the cheesecake from the bill.

As positives, the service was good, the meals came out on time, and the staff was friendly.

For the price, the meal was decidedly sub par. Granted, Alana and I know a good steak when we bite into one, and we may be a little pickier than someone just looking for a slab of properly cooked cow. When you combine the price and the inexplicable popularity of the place, it's not worth it.

The Longhorn Steakhouse is in Monroe, Louisiana, near the Best Buy and Kohl's. Save yourself the horrendous wait and eat elsewhere.