Failed Experiments

Here are three shows I bounced off of — earnest efforts with redeeming qualities, that ultimately just didn’t connect.

First up, Shawn Ryan’s interesting but awkward Last Resort, a low-rated thirteen-episode drama that was recently canceled. I was lured to this project based on Ryan’s track record and the participation of the great Andre Braugher (Frank Pembleton on Homicide).  Plus, it had an interesting premise: a US Navy submarine receives sketchy orders to launch nuclear missiles against Pakistan. The sub’s captain, Marcus Chaplin (Braugher), distrusts the order and refuses it, ultimately taking an entire island hostage and using the sub’s nuclear arsenal as leverage.

Last Resort had a robust central premise and it was sharply produced, with Braugher providing a terrific backbone performance as Chaplin. But in the end I gave up several episodes before its forced wrap-up. This was a show that never quite knew what it was; in fact, its most intriguing aspect to me was the fact that it was, in a way, an alternate universe with the US as a nuke-deploying international pariah. But it never seemed quite aware of this, instead feeling like an unsustainable, Lost-inspired island drama full of intrigue and conflict. A disappointment, but one that left me hoping that Braugher will find another vehicle soon. He’s too good not to have a show.

I didn’t get nearly as far into Lilyhammer, the quirky little Netflix dark comedy set in Norway and starring Steven Van Zandt of Sopranos fame. The set-up is amusing: Van Zandt plays a New Jersey mafia heavy who goes into witness protection. In exchange for his testimony, he rather arbitarily demands relocation to Lilyhammer, Norway, where he uses his entitled American badassery to making a mark on his quiet little community. Lilyhammer’s uneven scripts are mildly amusing, at their best when Van Zandt’s fish-out-of-water protagonist makes his way clumsily through the Norwegian immigrant community. But Van Zandt, a great comedic side character on The Sopranos, struggles to carry the show, feeling one step removed from his Norwegian-speaking costars. And it just isn’t funny enough.

Finally, there’s a show I had high hopes for: The Americans, a new FX period spy drama about Russian sleeper agents living in the US in the early eighties. The pilot is moderately good, and both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are quite credible as the mock-American couple struggling to balance their duty to Mother Russia with their highly American family life and the seductions of the western world. Particularly impressive are the disguises; Rhys in particular is chameleonic, changing identities effortlessly. But after a modestly successful start, The Americans drops off steeply in its next few episodes, growing increasingly stiff and humorless. There’s not much suspense for anyone with a modest knowledge of the history; we all know where this is going. On paper, this show had my name written all over it, but I grew impatient with it surprisingly quickly. It’s already been renewed for a second year, and I haven’t quite brought myself to remove it from my DVR list yet, but it may be just a matter of time.

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