I wish I could say that I was talking about ABC's new drama The Nine, but I'm not. Rather the above description, eerily similar to that of The Nine's pilot episode, belong's to Spike Lee's taut thriller from a few months back, Inside Man. During the screening of Inside Man that I attended several months ago, I was on the edge of my seat, my heart racing as I waited to discover the truth behind the bank heist plot, the fate of the hostages, and the motive of the mastermind behind the heist.
No such tension here in The Nine (formerly known as Nine Lives), a paint-by-numbers drama about strangers thrown together that feels a little like Lost in a bank. The setup is similar to Inside Man, a group of people arrive at a bank--this time it's about to close--and find themselves unwitting hostages in a heist. We've got our characters straight from Central Casting: tarnished cop Nick(Tim Daly) recovering from a gambling addiction scandal; steely assistant district attorney Kathryn (Kim Raver)--who just happens to be sleeping with her boss; sad sack Egan (John Billingsley), who's turned down for a boat loan and brings a gun into the bank; gruff bank manager Malcolm (Chi McBride) and his teenage daughter Felicia (Dana Davis); holier-than-thou doctor Jeremy (Scott Wolf) and his pregnant girlfriend Lizzie (Jessica Collins) who hasn't yet told Jeremy about their unborn child; and fiery Latina bank teller Franny (Camille Guaty), whose sister Eva (Lourdes Benedicto), a fellow teller at the bank, doesn't make it through the standoff alive. (Don't worry though, Benedicto's character will still appear in flashbacks.)
It's a little confusing who actually comprises the Nine in the series' title... as I could only count eight hostages, who all come together after the hostage crisis to meet. So who is the ninth member? Is it Kathryn's Emily Gilmore-esque mother who is released early on? It is the poor dead Eva? Or is it failed robber Lucas (Kitchen Confidential's Owain Yeoman), whom--SPOILER ALERT!-- Felicia visits in prison at the end of the episode?
After we see the robbers take control of the bank, we quickly flash forward 52 hours later as the hostages are released and--in another echo of Inside Man--questioned by the police about their involvement in the botched robbery. Several questions linger: who chopped off Kathryn's hair and why? Did Egan really play the part of the hero and save the day? Why exactly did he hide that gun in the bank? Was he planning to rob the bank or kill himself as he claims? What happened between Jeremy and Franny in the bank to rip apart his relatonship with the pregnant Lizzie? And did robber Lucas and Felicia know one another before the hostage crisis... or if not, what happened to draw them together?
The problem is that I wasn't connected enough to any of these characters to care about learning the answers to any of these questions. While the audience will get to see what happened during the hostage situation--each episode will begin by showing a ten minute segment from the 52-hour crisis which will reveal glimpses of the true events--I couldn't help but feel that this was lazy storytelling. On Lost, the flashbacks function to reveal each of the characters' backstories while also informing the present day action, adding layer upon layer to already complex and deeply flawed characters.
However, on The Nine, the device is nothing more than a gimmick, a hook, to detract from a standard conceit (strangers thrown into a common incident) and to attempt to give the series more weight. If you're pinning everything on a narrative device--rather than the plot and characters themselves--to tell your story, then there's something wrong. A device like this should add to the story and not comprise the story. A series' characters should be three-dimensional and interesting enough on their own, the plot gripping and engaging, and the connections genuine and not forced. There shouldn't be a need to withhold the hostage scenes and parcel them out, just for the sake of making the series more "interesting."
The comparison between The Nine and Lost is particularly apt as ABC has scheduled the new drama directly after Lost this fall. However, given the awkward setup, dull characters, and overall lack of spark in the series, I'll be switching over after Lost to NBC's new serialized drama Kidnapped, which offers a level of craftsmanship and action wholly missing from The Nine. And as for getting my quota of televised flashbacks, I'm sure get my fill from Jack and Kate next season on Lost.
What's On Tonight
8 pm: Gameshow Marathon (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Blue Collar TV/Blue Collar TV (WB); George Lopez/Freddie (ABC); Bones (FOX); My Baby's Daddy (UPN; 8-10 pm)
9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); The Italian Job (NBC; 9-11pm); Lost (ABC); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX)
10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Commander in Chief (ABC)
What I'll Be Watching
10 pm: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America (9 pm EST).
The Ramsay in question here in the world-famous (or infamous) chef and author Gordon Ramsey, who might be better known over here in the States for his head-turning role on FOX's reality series Hell's Kitchen (which returns to the airwaves next month). Here in this British series, Ramsey is less about chucking food at people and more about helping restaurateurs fix the problems with their restaurants and get back on their feet. Though, to be fair, there's still a bit of food thrown about by the easily angered Ramsay. In tonight's episode ("Momma Cherri's), Ramsay is contacted by the owner of a soul food restaurant who needs his help.