The Philanthropist - An early look
by Kona Gallagher, posted Jun 24th 2009 2:02PM
NBC has been promoting the crap out of their new summer adventure series, The Philanthropist, for weeks now. Starring James Purefoy as Teddy Rist, a billionaire playboy who decides to save the world, The previews held absolutely no interest for me. Now, after having seen the pilot, I realize that my first impression was the correct one.
Premiering tonight at 10 PM, The Philanthropist is basically an hour of an insufferable rich dude talking about how awesome he is. We watch the premise of the show unfold through the eyes of Rist himself, as he tells his tale of heroism (saving a Nigerian boy from drowning; surviving a shoot-out and a snake bite in order to deliver some Cholera vaccines to a village) to a bored bartender.
What makes his story so obnoxious isn't that he's bragging to a bartender about saving a village, I mean, who doesn't do that? It's that he tries to do the whole self-deprecation thing. "I'm no hero, but I totally risked my pampered billionaire ass for a little beggar child." It doesn't work. Rist doesn't become more likeable through his stories and actions, just more annoying.
Like any good billionaire, Rist has an army of minions. Jesse L. Martin left Law & Order only to end up playing Philip Maidstone, Rist's partner who, at least in the pilot, has very little to do. Well, unless you count possibly getting cuckolded by Rist. Maidstone's wife, Olivia (Neve Campbell), also works for the company and seems to be a little too close to her husband's business partner. In any case, both characters are severely under-utilized, as they spend their short amount of screen time giving Teddy concerned looks as he deals with his issues.
I always hate judging a show solely on the pilot because in many cases, things can drastically change between episodes one and two. For instance, the pilot spends a lot of time setting up the premise for the series and explaining in great detail what happened to Rist in his personal life to make him become a risk-taking Rambo-Philanthropist (Rambothropist?). In addition to his interactions with the little Nigerian boy, we find out that Rist has recently lost his own son, a fact that is used in several places in the episode to propel the story forward.
I would imagine since this has all been set up, that the subsequent episodes will take place in the present day, instead of Rist simply spinning yarns in a bar somewhere. The show succeeds in its action. It's beautifully shot and when it's actually in the moment, quite fast-paced and exciting. It's really Rist's smug retelling that not only makes the show drag, but really just makes The Philanthropist annoying instead of inspirational, as the marketers intend.
In fact, based on the pilot, The Philanthropist seems less an hour-long adventure, than an hour-long infomercial titled, Rich People: Hey, We're Not So Bad! It's as though Jack Donaghy, tired of being an oppressed rich white dude, green-lit this show himself in an effort to improve the image of his people.
The Philanthropist is by no means irretrievably broken, and isn't as bad as some of the other series that have premiered recently, like the mind-numbing Mental on FOX. However, unless there are some big changes made quickly, we won't still be talking about the adventures of Teddy Rist when the leaves start to change.