Viva Laughlin -- An early look
In the world of TV, one of the riskiest things a creative team can do is shoot for the "quirky" factor. It's an all-or-nothing deal: either it works, where everything clicks and the audience embraces the show, or nothing works, and the show explodes in a big awful mess over the poor suckers who decided to tune in and watch. At the beginning of the 2007-08 season, we have two shows who went for the quirk: Pushing Daisies and Viva Laughlin. And as it turns out, one show works and the other show is a disaster. Considering Daisies is one of the most praised new shows of the season, we all know where we're going with this.
Based on the BBC musical mystery drama Viva Blackpool, Laughlin (premiering Thursday at 10 PM ET; it settles into its regular Sunday at 8 PM ET time slot on October 21) stars Lloyd Owen as Ripley Holden, a minor convenience store magnate who sells his business to open a new casino in the city of Laughlin, Nevada. But things aren't easy: a big investor -- Buddy Baxter (Wings Hauser) -- is pulling out, and Ripley's main rival, Nicky Fontana (Hugh Jackman), is ready to pick up the pieces. But, as you'd expect, Fontana isn't exactly taking a passive role in this drama, as he and his henchman Marcus (DB Woodside) are "involved" with Baxter's wife Bunny (Melanie Griffith). But Bunny and Ripley also have a history, which Ripley tries to take advantage of to help save the casino.
Meanwhile, someone turns up dead at Ripley's half-done resort. So, not only does Ripley have to deal with getting his dream business off the ground and keep his dream from overwhelming his wife (Madchen Amick) and kids (Ellen Woglom, Carter Jenkins), he's got to deal with Laughlin police detective Peter Carlyle (Eric Winter) probing more and more into his life.
There aren't many pilots that I've hated within the first ten minutes, but Viva Laughlin managed to accomplish that feat. Just everything about the show, from the awful acting to the unfunny comedic banter to the freakishly pulled-back face of Griffith, made me want to shut the show off and do something more interesting, like fold my socks.
Actually, out of the entire show, the least annoying part was the singing. Most of the musical numbers were relatively unobtrusive, with the actors singing and dancing along with a song that plays on the show's soundtrack. In fact, it sort of looks like the characters are taking the concept of bopping to what's playing in their brains to a slightly elevated degree, jumping on top of blackjack tables and tossing pens around. The only musical number that looks ridiculous is the one where Griffith sings Blondie's "One Way or Another" as a way to tell Ripley that he'll always be under her spell. Even there, it feels more like a fantasy sequence than a character breaking reality to sing.
Of course, "reality" is a relative term. In real life, for instance, Griffith wouldn't be the object of affection of all these powerful people. In fact, Amick would be in the Griffith role, as she's played sexy vixen roles very well in the past (see Kidnapped last season). The writers and producers have drained all the sexy out of her by putting her in the role of Ripley's suffering wife Natalie. In general, the acting in the pilot is very affected and over-the-top, maybe to push the quirkiness of the show. Even the little touches -- Carlyle gnaws on red licorice and has a partner that seems to be almost developmentally disabled, for instance -- just seem strained to me.
Can Laughlin improve? Sure. Jackman, who is one of the executive producers and will pop up as Fontana from time to time, generally doesn't get involved in disaster productions (well... maybe except Swordfish). And the musical numbers actually bring some life to the show. But something tells me that viewers are going to be as turned off as I was by the stiff acting and silly dialogue. Also, one has to wonder why a production that was so touted by CBS at the upfronts ends up being one of the last to premiere, with relatively little promotion. I'd imagine that they've taken a look at the subsequent episodes and are just praying that people will be patient with the show, but not too hopeful.
|Yes, I'll give it a shot.||168 (48.3%)|
|No, this looks like a disaster.||131 (37.6%)|
|Maybe. Still deciding.||49 (14.1%)|