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Pilot Inspekor: ABC's "Six Degrees"

I know, I know. I said I'd be reviewing the pilot for ABC's new drama Six Degrees last week, but I was so completely distracted by the CW's botched pilot of Aquaman that it's taken me this long to get back to this drama pilot.

And unlike Aquaman/Mercy Reef, I really enjoyed Six Degrees, a far worthier addition to the J.J. Abrams/Bad Robot oeuvre than the ABC mid-season replacement What About Brian. Keeping with a rather familiar theme this season--fate bringing together strangers (it pops up here in Six Degrees, Heroes, and The Nine)--the pilot charts the interconnected stories of six Manhattanites who are separated until a quirk of fate slowly begins to bring them together. Before saying anything else, I have to immediately begin by saying that any show that has both the luminous Hope Davis and Campbell Scott as series regulars is already a hit in my book. But add to that Jay Hernandez, Erika Christensen, Doran Missick, and Bridget Moynahan, and you've got yourself a stew going. (Or a top flight cast, if you're not Carl Weathers.)

Christensen plays Mae, a free-spirited Manhattan transplantee with a dangerous secret... and a mysterious box. She's apparently on the run from someone (husband? ex-boyfriend? espionage agency?) and hiding out in NYC. But her cover is blown when she's arrested for indecent exposure and resisting arrest after stripping off her top and climbing onto the front of a garbage truck, after a night out on the town. Her court-appointed lawyer Carlos (Hernandez) manages to get the charges dropped by calling in a few favors, but really he's fallen for her in a major way. But Mae's no dummy and she gives him a fake telephone number and moves out of her apartment in order to evade whomever she's running from... but Carlos is smitten and is determined to track her down.

He eventually tracks Mae to her place of employment: a rather happening nightclub... one he can't get into. Which is where he runs into Damian (Doran Missick), a limousine driver he pays $50 to drive him up to the club in his car. Damian even throws in his suit jacket, sunglasses, and chain to even the odds (Carlos gives him his watch as collateral). Carlos manages to get in but, amidst the gyrating crowd, walks right by Mae without noticing. Mae's given her notice at the club but comes by to retrieve a mysterious box she's stored in the club's safe. What's in the box? We're not sure, but it might just be the reason why Mr. Dangerous is after her. Meanwhile, outside the club, Damian is confronted by two thugs who have come to collect some cash from Damian, who has a little bit of a gambling problem. (It doesn't help that his mobster brother has offered to pay off the debt if he'll come work for him, an offer that's a little too tempting.) Damian's getting beat up when Carlos comes to his rescue and the two speed off. Altruistic as ever, Carlos offers to help Damian with any legal, er, issues he might be facing, but Damian says that he'll take care of it.

Mae ends up dyeing her hair a mousy brown and begins going by the name of Claire. She doesn't want to leave NYC, despite the advice of her friend Eric. Instead, she decides to take an off-the-books job as a nanny for Laura(Davis). Laura is a widow whose broadcast journalist husband was killed while covering the war in Iraq six months earlier and she is finding it impossible to let go of her husband, watching his on-air death over and over again and still holding onto all of his possessions (and her engagement ring). She yearns for a major change in her life and tells her friend that she intends to start a new career as an interior designer. But before that can happen, she ends up meeting Whitney (Moynahan) at a local Korean nail joint. Seated next to each other, they first meet cute over choice of nail polish (ballet slippers layered over marshmallow) and then over the Sonic Youth t-shirt that Laura is wearing. Turns out that they were both at the same concert; what a coincidence! So much so that the two become fast friends and Whitney can tells Laura that she suspects that her lovely boyfriend is cheating on her.

Whitney recently received a promotion to partner at her ad adgency and she wears her businesswoman cred like a badge of honor. Her boyfriend is overjoyed by her promotion, but a little taken aback when she proposes to him. He says that it will happen, but he's a traditionalist and believes that it's the man's god-given right to propose. But later, when she discovers a profile of her boyfriend on an online dating site (Paul175), she's furious, but he claims that it was all a joke set up by one of the interns at work. She's suspicious and mentions all of this to Laura.

Whitney's first piece of business is to recruit a photographer whose work she saw on a postcard while jogging: Steven Caseman (Campbell Scott), a well-respected photog who seemed to disappear a few years earlier. Whitney wants Steven to shoot a campaign for a perfume client, but Steven's not interested in the least. His work captures real, genuine moments in the making; they can't be invented or scheduled. He rudely turns her down and storms out of her office.

But Steven has his own issues to worry about. Recently released from a rehab facility, Steven is clean for the first time in years and he sets out to rebuilt the many bridges he had burnt down while high. First stop: his estranged son, whom he goes to see outside his school. While his son is wary, he does want to know if Steven will be moving back in with him and his mom, but Steven sadly says no. Next up: a gallery owner whom Steven really messed up with. He begs for the opportunity to launch a show, a retrospective, anything... but Steven hasn't produced any new work. He can't find the inspiration...

Laura finally packs up her late husband's stuff and sends them off to Goodwill, but she has a breakdown in the street as she watches the truck drive off. There's a sense of real loss and finality as she finally lets go. As she sinks to the steps of her brownstone, who else spies her but Steven? As he looks through the lens of his camera, he's finally found inspiration and he takes the picture. Developing it in his apartment, we see that the muses have smiled upon Steven. He's back. And he apologizes to a rather displeased Whitney and is hired on an assignment for the agency.

Laura and Whitney stake out a bar where they're hoping to catch Whitney's boyfriend in a trap. Together, they answered Whit's boyfriend's personal ad and arranged a little meet between Paul175 and a would-be lover. As Whitney notices that Laura's not wearing her wedding ring, Whit's boyfriend shows up. Laura warns Whitney to be cool, but she angrily confronts him, and he quickly drags her outside. He knows that she was behind the ad... the profile was all too perfect. And besides, if he was planning to cheat, why would he have brought along a ring? He drops to one knee and proposes to her right there. Hmmm....

Damian ends up working a job for his mobster brother and winds up shooting a man, but saves the life of his brother. His brother agrees to pay off his debts if he completes one more job for him, a highly lucrative job in fact. Someone is looking for a young runaway and they'll pay well for her to be found. He hands Damian a packet of cash and a photograph of... Mae! (Ding, ding!)

Later, Carlos meets up with Damian at a bar and they talk about Carlos' "girl," unaware that she's the very same girl that Damian's been instructed to find. (Talk about awkward.) Sitting a little bit away from them? Why it's none other than Whitney's no-good fiance... and he's making out with a (rather mannish-looking) woman. What a cad!

Mae's paked her bags and isn't sure where she's heading next when she gets on the subway... and sits down right across from Carlos. The two smile at one another and Mae gets up and sits down next to Carlos. A match made in heaven? Or trouble with a capital T? I guess we'll have to wait until the second episode to find out, because that's all she wrote.

I thought that the pilot deftly handled those chance encounters--at a nail salon, on the subway--that make Manhattan tick. You never knows who you'll run into in the City on a given day, in a city of eight million people. And if every one on the planet is separated from one another by a trail of six people, it's a rather exhilarating and frightening thought. It was John Guare who first tackled the subject in his beautiful stage play Six Degrees of Separation (which was later adapted into a feature starring Will Smith, Donald Sutherland, and Stockard Channing), Six Degrees--the series--owes Guare a huge debt that goes beyond the similiar title. Guare's central premise infuses every moment of this series and gives each meeting and rendezvous an added weight of fate or destiny.

While some of those encounters may be a little far-fetched (Laura and Whitney bond over a Sonic Youth concert t-shirt and suddently become BFFs overnight; Carlos and Damian meet up at a bar after going their very separate ways), it's easy to accept them with a large grain of salt when you have as winning a cast as the one assembled here. Davis and Scott are, as always, at the top of their game... and it's great to see them as potential love interests, especially after their recent turn as a doomed married couple in Duma. Hernandez proves that he has leading-man sensibilities and can perform outside of horror genre pics like Hostel. Christensen reminds me of what I once glimpsed in her in Soderburgh's Traffic and she wears her contradictory vulnerability and toughness on her sleeve; her Mae is desperate to fit in while being invisible. Missick is likeablely garrulous while retaining some of Damian's dangerous identity buried just beneath the surface. And Moynahan's portrayal of Whitney goes beyond Armani suit-armored businesswoman; rather, she's a conflicted creature filled with ambition and desire and a whole dollop of mistrust.

In Guare's play, the central motif was embodied in a double-sided Kandinsky painting--Order on one side, Chaos on the other--and the same can be said about Six Degrees as well. Are these meetings and crossed paths the result of some cosmic destiny larger than the individuals? Or are they completely random and meaningless? Regardless of the answer, Six Degrees gave me enough fodder to make me a believer. And one who'll be tuning in this fall to find out the answer.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The King of Queens/How I Met Your Mother (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC; 8-9:30 pm); Everwood (WB; 8-10 pm); Wife Swap (ABC); Rush Hour 2 (FOX; 8-10 pm); One on One/All of Us (UPN)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); The Apprentice (NBC; 9:30-11 pm); George Lopez/The 2006 ALMA Awards (ABC; 9:30-11 pm); Girlfriends/Half & Half (UPN)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Channel.

Part Two of Tony's trip to India. After attending an elaborate 21st birthday party for the son of royalty, in this week's episode ("India: Kolkata; Bombay"), Tony heads out to Kolkata and Mumbai on his quest to discover the magic of the subcontinent. Well, hey, at least it's not Jeremy Piven's Journey of a Lifetime.

11 pm: Lovespring International on Lifetime.

I know! Lifetime? Believe me, I never watch the women's network (well, maybe to get a Golden Girls fix every now and then), but I had the opportunity to screen the first three episodes of this improvised comedy, set in a dating agency based in Tarzana, California, and they were hilarious. Tonight's the premiere episode and--honestly--what else are you watching at 11 pm? (Well, okay, lots of things, but check this out at 6:30 pm tomorrow then.)


Anonymous said…
Your site ate my commment the first time around, so trying again...

I am definitely looking forward to the 2nd episode. It's still one of my favorite pilots.
Anonymous said…
Two of my favorite indie stars (Hope Davis and Campbell Scott) on a television drama? I will definitely be tuning in.
Anonymous said…
Didn't Felicity's roommate have a mysterious box?

I love Bourdain's show, but I wish they had priced the DVDs a little better. $22 for 2 episodes seems a bit on the high end.

I admit, I was surprised to see a second season as I had heard that Bourdain and the Travel Channel were not on the best of terms.

As for Six Degrees, I haven't seen the pilot but it's definitely on my list of new shows to watch and that was BEFORE I knew that Hope Davis and Cameron Scott were in it.

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