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Tuning Out (the Voices): An Advance Review of NBC's "The Listener"

It seems that most broadcasters these days are investigating how to make international co-productions work for them. CBS has scored with Flashpoint, FOX is attempting to make Mental work as a summer series, and NBC is about to debut the latest international co-production, The Listener, tonight.

The Listener, which kicks off with two back-to-back episodes tonight, is co-produced with Canada's CTV and Shaftesbury Films. It stars Craig Olejnik (The Timekeeper) as Toby Logan, a generically handsome twenty-something paramedic who is concealing a deep secret: he's actually a gifted telepath able to read people's minds.

Toby has had to keep this ability a secret for quite some time. In fact, the only person who is aware of his gift is his mentor Dr. Ray Mercer (24's Colm Feore), who found Toby when he was a boy and urges him to keep his telepathic abilities a secret from everyone, including those closest to him, like his partner Oz (Billable Hours' Ennis Esmer), ex-girlfriend Dr. Olivia Fawcett (Da Vinci's City Hall's Mylène Dinh-Robic), and potential love interest Detective Charlie Marks (Diary of a Mad Black Woman's Lisa Marcos).

But Toby can't help himself from using his powers to help people, given his particular line of work, and he's seen either voluntarily scanning people's minds to gain information about their condition or situation (as in the pilot episode when he realizes that a car accident victim has had her son kidnapped) or is overwhelmed by their raw emotion and pain and is summoned to the scene.

All of which could potentially give the staid medical drama a jolt of adrenaline, except for the fact that The Listener is perhaps one of the cheesiest and most predictable dramas that NBC has aired in a very long time. It's the type of series where everything is so spelled out that within the opening minute of the series, Toby "overhears" an attractive woman look him over and think "If only he could read my mind." Yes, it's exactly that type of series.

There's not a minute in the opening episode of The Listener that isn't bogged down in medical or supernatural drama cliche and further adding insult to injury is the fact that Olejnik's affable Toby is surrounded by a bunch of bland, one-dimensional characters right out of central casting. There's the female detective with a chip on her shoulder, the paramedic partner who says everything that's on his mind, an ex-girlfriend who bemoans Toby's intimacy issues and wishes he would tell her what he's thinking.

What follows is a rather dour and formulaic medical procedural where Toby attempts to save lives, solve crimes, and fix problems for strangers using his mental abilities while also attempting to blend into the background for fear of being discovered for what he really is. And rather than have his inexplicable abilities open the door for intriguing subplots or quirky plot twists, it seems to only further oppress the action; Toby's abilities are never used for anything other than crime-solving/life-saving and he comes off as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.

Production values are exactly what you might expect from a series such as this and the entire thing just feels tired and dated. There's absolutely nothing innovative or exciting about The Listener, which is a shame as it's one of the few scripted series being launched this summer on the broadcast networks. Instead, The Listener reeks of being a cheap co-production that can fill the timeslot for a few weeks before NBC does away with the 10 pm hour altogether.

Ultimately, The Listener is a bit of a throwback to late 80s/early 90s Saturday early evening syndicated programs. There are no real stakes here, no emotional connection to the characters or their situations, and nothing that will get me to tune in again to find out what happens next. You don't need a mind-reader to gather that.

The Listener launches tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on NBC with two back-to-back episodes before settling in at 10 pm ET/PT next week.


Samantha Hunter said…
Dammit. I thought I would TiVo this at the last minute, but I guess not. Sounds horrible. Had been hoping it would be good, but kind of suspected -- why can't network TV writers ever get paranormal right?

susie que said…
Ugh. If only NBC could read minds...they'd know that audiences don't want this kind of generic drek.
Page48 said…
Baby, if it's Canadian, it's crap. Crap TV drama is our specialty. We're the guys who gave you "Little Mosque on the Prairie" and "Trailer Park Boys". Crap is what makes us tick. And if it's taxpayer funded crap, then all the better.

As Canadians, we are born and bred on taxpayer funded TV drama straight from the crapper. And, we wouldn't have it any other way. Or would we? Come to think of it, no one ever asks us.
Anonymous said…
I didn't think it was as bad as you guys said. It gets better. I managed to see the first season and it gets better. I admit, pilot needed work, but the rest of the season got better.

All I'm saying is don't judge it from the first episode. It's actually not bad. And the Canadian part about it... we have our moments.
Anonymous said…
I like the series, I'm up to episode 9 and I'm hoping it gets renewed for a second season.
a real EMT said…
NBC has only aired a couple of episodes so far, but I like this show so far! Pilot episodes are designed to lay the groundwork, and many great shows have had cheesy, generic pilots. Hints at a darker backstory only add depth to the title character and potential for future story lines. Reviews from countries where this has already aired say that the show only gets better with age, and I am so compelled by these first impressions that I am tempted to seek out the rest of the season online rather than wait for NBC to air them.
TVLord said…
Listener was good out of the gate, but it seems to run out of steam after the 5th episode. Does anyone know if it will be back next season?
FreakTelevision said…
The first episodes were a little bit slow, but it began to gain a little more speed and dept and the caracters began to form after that.. so dont judge a show on it's first episodes.. i hope it will be renewed for a 2nd season..
Louis Del Grande said…
This show was much better when it ran in the 80's on CBC and was called Seeing things! I have been on the inside of 2 Shaftesbury productions and both were poorly run, poorly funded and poorly written. In fact, the Listener at one point, less than a week before the first shooting day, still had no approved script and it shows. On the bright side, it is a green show. Recycled sets. Recycled ideas. Recycled plots. Compost is the polite word!
Anonymous said…
The show is great when there is less Oz/Osman (whatever) and more Tobey that freakin' fat dude is annoying as heck. I watched the whole season thinking okay they'll make it more about the detective Charlie and Tobey (more episodes with them together) and less annoying wanna be comedy antics from fatty, but you can tell these people who produced the show don't seem to relate much to the rest of the world since millions would want to see a hell of a lot more interaction with Tobey and Charlie, rather than, Tobey and annoying Fat Dude, yeah yeah their friends, but you can tell when actors are trying to make it more about themselves then helping out the whole production of a show like fatty (greedy for attention) It's Tobey's show not the fatty show, so writers producers and everyone involved if you guys get a chance to make another season (which will help you guys redeem yourselves to the actual fans) please make it more about Toby and Charlie the rest are just blah! (attention hogs). Please make his powers evolve already for second season. Supernatural drama so make it so. It's not a supernatural wannabe comedy. So get to it, please. Or lose your fan base. If you don't think the same as me then you need to watch the whole show from beginning to end so you can see how annoying/attention hog fat dude is. MORE TOBEY/Charlie less fatty.

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