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Pilot Inspektor: CBS' "Smith"

I may just have to change my original "What I'll Be Watching This Fall" post, as I sat down and finally watched CBS' new crime drama Smith this weekend. (What? It's taken me a long time to make my way through the stack of pilot DVDs.) While it's on following Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars on Tuesday nights (10 pm ET/PT, to be exact), I'm going to be sure to leave enough room on my TiVo to make sure that I catch this compelling, amoral drama.

While one can't help but be impressed by what might just be the most marquee-friendly cast in primetime--Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Jonny Lee Miller, Amy Smart, Simon Baker, and Franky G all star and Shohreh Aghdashloo has a recurring role--the pilot's premise alone earned major points in my book: it's a crime drama from the point of view of the criminals, who engage in high-stakes heists. But don't be alarmed; it's nothing like NBC's short-lived Heist. Instead, think of it as The Italian-American Job. Still co-starring Franky G, but without all of those adorable Mini Coopers everywhere.

Ray Liotta stars as Bobby, a married family man whose job for a plastic cup manufacturer is a disguise for his life as a crime mastermind. (The scene where Bobby kisses his wife goodbye, drives his sensible car to a secret apartment and opens up a treasure chest of gadgets before zooming off in a sweet ride is priceless.) Bobby is your typical reluctant thief; three or four more big jobs and he's out. He swears. Bobby wants a normal life, but how can you go from plotting elaborate heists to picking the kids up from soccer practice? Fortunately, Bobby's wife Hope (Virginia Madsen) isn't one of those clueless wives unaware of her husband's illicit schemes. Instead, Hope has a number of secrets of her own, including a rather drug-fueled felonious past herself, and she's onto what Bobby's been up to by the end of the pilot.

What Bobby is up to is the theft of two priceless paintings from a museum in Pittsburgh; the payment is a cool $2 million. And so Bobby quickly assembles his loyal team, each of whom brings their own set of skills (and drama): surfer/marksman Jeff (Simon Baker in a virtuoso performance); straight-from-jail Brit Tom (Jonny Lee Miller); gambling addict/tech guy Sean (Mike Doyle); sultry Vegas showgirl Annie (an icy Amy Smart); and body shop-owner Joe (Franky G). Don't get too attached to all of them though, as one of the above doesn't make it out of the pilot alive. (One guess who.) Adding to the tension is the fact that Tom and Annie have a history together, one that landed him in the slammer. And while he's willing to fall for her seductions, I have a feeling that Tom is also out for revenge.

I won't recount the action of the heist, just that it typically doesn't go quite according to plan and when criminals are forced to improvise, the results are usually bloody. Smith is no different in this respect but, fortunately, the gang (most of them anyway) are able to make a getaway in order to plan another caper for another day.

All of Smith's actors are operating at the top of their game. Liotta is a joy to watch in a nuanced double role; part gun-wielding felon, part piano-playing husband and father. He appears calm and controlled sitting at the piano, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, but in the next scene, his predatory drive emanates from him palpably. Likewise, Madsen is far from underused in her role of Hope, also playing two distinct personalities inhabiting the same body. The transformation that overtakes her when she realizes that Bobby is back in the game is so subtle yet powerful, as she becomes increasingly aware of being kept in the dark. (I don't know how Smith's producers managed to snag Madsen, but I hope they realize what a gem they have on their hands.)

Jonny Lee Miller is perfect as a morose and crushed felon who wanders right back into the thieving business less than a minute after walking out of prison. Amy Smart's Annie is a cold-blooded mercenary; she's as slick as silk and never misses a trick. That said, she's as brutal and deadly as a black widow. Shohreh Aghdashloo is brilliant as the gang's elegant, high-end fence; attending a wedding reception, she purrs and smiles as she and Bobby casually discuss a heist in the same way two others might a cocktail party. Even Franky G doesn't bother me as he usually does; here he plays an upstanding body shop owner with his eye on his best friend's wife.

But the real find here has got to be Simon Baker. It's simply impossible to take your eyes off his character Jeff, whether he's surfing in Hawaii or kicking a cat across the room (don't ask). There's a leonine grace about him and just as much presence. Previously known for his work on CBS' The Guardian and feature films like The Ring 2 and Land of the Dead, Baker's performance in Smith has redefined him as a star and I expect him to be one of the breakout actors of this fall.

One of the interesting elements of Smith is the show's skewed perspective. By coming at a crime drama from the POV of the criminals, I was expecting to find them somewhat neutered and completely sympathetic individuals (see Ocean's Eleven if you're looking for that). Instead, while we get to see Bobby and Company go about their daily lives and interact with family and friends, they are portrayed as genuinely bad guys. They're not above murder to achieve their ends; in fact, Jeff casually takes out two men with a sniper rifle in his very first scene after they shoo him off a "private" beach. Jeff and Annie might very well be sociopaths (see how Annie greets an "old friend" en route to the heist for an example). In the end, these are not cuddly criminals; rather, they're people you do not want to mess around with.

With Smith, John Wells (ER) has delivered a taut, gripping crime drama with genuine thrills and complex characters usually found in feature films than in television dramas. Every aspect of the pilot was magnificent, from the dazzling cast to the sparse script and tight direction. Clocking in at well over an hour, I'm not sure how much of this amazing pilot will make it on the air (unless CBS stuns us all by airing the entire pilot in a 1 1/2 hour slot), but the effect is breathtaking. Every line of dialogue, every glance, every moment of silence, is loaded with meaning and intent, yet the pilot never feels slow or overstuffed, despite its long runtime.

In fact, my only complaint is that Smith's title is so lackluster that it doesn't convey the energy and crackle of the show at all. (It refers to the nom du guerre given to Bobby by the FBI agents assigned to the museum case.) But that's a small issue for such a mightily entertaining show to overcome. So, while Liotta's Bobby might not be an Everyman, this is one Smith that definitely will stand apart from the pack.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The King of Queens/How I Met Your Mother (CBS); Treasure Hunters (NBC); 7th Heaven (WB); Wife Swap (ABC); Hell's Kitchen (FOX); Major League Baseball (UPN)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); Treasure Hunters (NBC); 7th Heaven (WB); Supernanny (ABC); Hell's Kitchen (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Medium (NBC); How to Get the Guy (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8-9 pm: Spaced on BBC America.

If you missed Friday's Stateside premiere of the 1999 sitcom Spaced (starring Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg), here's your chance to catch the first two episodes before another episode airs Friday. In the first episode ("Beginnings"), Tim (that would be Pegg) and Daisy are forced to pose as a couple in order to rent an apartment. On the second episode ("Gatherings"), Daisy and Tim decide to host a party a their new flat.

9 pm: Hell's Kitchen.

On tonight's installment ("8 Chefs"), Gordon switches the seriously uneven teams up a bit. And, it's a Hell's Kitchen first: the restaurant is open for lunch service and they're serving... children. If you thought that Top Chef's cafeteria challenge was a disaster, wait until the Hell's Kitchen crew fail to get their entrees out. There's no way I would miss this. And the idea of seeing Gordon Ramsay interacting with small children? Well, that just makes me shriek with glee.

9 pm: Treasure Hunters.

On tonight's episode--no, sorry, I just cannot watch it. After seeing the premiere, this is definitely one summertime offering that I'll be skipping out on.

11 pm: Lovespring International on Lifetime.

On tonight's episode, Lydia (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Victoria (Jane Lynch) go on a stakeout together in order to receive a bonus check from a client. Until you've seen McLendon-Covey attempting to scale a chain-link fence in heeled boots, you haven't lived. Trust me.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I really liked Smith. It's strange, though - I felt like it was one of the best pilots I saw, yet I am on the fence about watching it again. Who knows.

I have never been an Amy Smart fan (still having Felicity flashbacks), but I thought she was good in this. Similarly, I never really got Simon Baker, but he was GREAT in this. Ray and Virginia - always solid. And as far as I am concerned - anything w/Shoreh is worth watching.

Still, I don't know why I am not enthusiastic about watching ep 2. I love heist/con movies. I love the cast. I don't know - maybe I don't want to have to admit I am watching a CBS drama?

I am going to give Treasure hunters one more. I had a million problems w/ep 1, but it may be worth it to see the mullets stop at every rock thinking it's a clue.
Anonymous said…
I can't wait to watch "Smith." It sounds fantastic. And what a great cast.

And I definitely can't wait to watch this episode of "Hell's Kitchen." Do you think Gordon will put the bad children in a pot and boil them up? I wouldn't be surprised.
Anonymous said…
hi i was wondering if any of you who saw smith could remember what time brad bowen arrived in pittsburgh? i need it for a game i am playing. thanks!
Anonymous said…
anonymous! great minds think alike. sadly, no answer yet. sigh. but to clarify, its "what time does he expect to touch down"...might make a difference. good luck!!!
Anonymous said…
Hi, I am platying the same game and need to find out the time Ray Liotta's character "expects to touchdown" in Pittsburgh. Anyone have this info that has already seen the pilot? Looks like a great show!
Jace Lacob said…
Well, that depends on what the game is...
Anonymous said…
Congrats to the Smith writer that thought kicking a gorgeous orange cat off the bed would be funny. You piece of shit, you just cost yourself two, possibly thousands of viewers and I hope your job.
Anonymous said…
Anyone know the group that sang the song as they were riding home on the plane? I'd be interested as it was a very interesting melody.............
Anonymous said…
Oh my damn. I just saw the pilot and it was fantastic. What did CBS do to get all of these big names on a Tuesday night primetime show? This is the only show I'll watch this tv season.
Anonymous said…
can someone tell me what time smith landed in pittsburgh it will be a great help thanks just email me at nikkihlbrk@yahoo.com
Anonymous said…
Wow - what a waste of an opportunity. Proof from a writing standpoint that characters need SOME sort of redeeming quality. I love the edginess, the cars, the story structure... but what are we doing, glorifying crime? Am I suppose to root for Smith? He's nothing but a humorless thief, a liar, and a his crew murderers - and that's it. Staring at his kids with love doesn't cause me to root for him. Take a real close look at the Tony Soprano - a perfect example how an edgy deadly character can be written as to create at least SOME empathy...
Anonymous said…
hey what time did he land in pittsburgh?
Anonymous said…
Any idea what song was playing toward the end when they were on the plane after the heist?
Jace Lacob said…
Man, I am sick of anonymous comments. At least pick a pseudonym, people. ;)

As for the song at the end of "Smith," it's "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap.
Anonymous said…
Great pilot. My favorite so far. It sort of takes the crime thing in a different direction than the Sopranos. "Hide and Seek," by the way, has already been used at the end of a TV show, the O.C.
Anonymous said…
Thought the Smith pilot was awesome ... The pace was fast & engaging ... The character's balance of life, love, loss & the pursuit of a job well done (albeit of a criminal nature) was stunning ... The Imogen Heap "Hide and Seek" interlude was awesome ... Best adaption of screen play to popular music I've seen this season ...
Anonymous said…
I can't BELIEVE CBS just yanked this wonderful show after only 3 episodes. I am appalled! There was so much going on behind Hope's eyes that I wanted to discover. Virginia Madsen and Ray Liotta's chemistry leapt off the screen. Such a good show to bury opposite two proven winners, why not move it to a better time?
Anonymous said…
Kicking the cat was the best part. Good work guys. I hate cats.
Anonymous said…
This is the first time I've ever written to a about a show...I can't believe SMITH is cancelled ...Simon Baker!, Virgina Madsen, Ray Liotta?!?! Move it to Saturday if you must, but surely there is an audience for this HEAT-like drama for especially boys but the girls like Simon and Ray too. Show a little guts and let this series find its audience. It's ridculous to show only two episodes and then kill it (Other networks show their series once and then on a sister network) Networks don't need another procedural like CSI. Give this a chance, it'll find an audience.

Lisa
FeWipS® said…
so with you there anonymous, I'm so mad at CBS, I'm thinking about never watching their channel again. How can such a great show be dropped after 3 !!@*(#&*^$#*&^$$ episodes!!!
It was getting better every week!!!
Man. So disappointed.
By the way, all go to CBS.com and click feedback in the lower left corner, send them a complaint about the cancellation, who knows if we get enough people there :)
ChrisLaFave said…
I read Lisa's comment and felt compelled to add mine. The movie Heat, my all-time favorite, had come to my mind too when I watched it because of the premise and the high quality. And, of course, the third episode involving the armored truck. I was heartbroken to hear of the cancellation and I just emailed CBS about it. I really, really hope that Smith can find a home on cable. Maybe TNT? I would appreciate any ideas on how to keep this show on the air, whether on CBS or cable.
Anonymous said…
I cannot believe Smith is cancelled after just three shows!!! TV executives should live in the real world. This is one of the best written and action packed shows that have real charactes to come along in quite a while and now it get's cancelled.
Anonymous said…
I too cannot believe that they cancelled Smith. I voiced my complaint from my husband and myself. I have never done that before. This was the ONE new show we were going to watch and it was fantastic. I hope CBS changes their mind. Move it to a different night if you have to and at least play the episodes you paid for!! Thanks.
Anonymous said…
WHAT IS CBS THINKING? Smith is one of the best new serial dramas... a big mistake. we're watching.
Anonymous said…
Smith is (was) the best new show this year.. and CBS kills it.
Looks like they're taking a leaf out of Fox's book.
idiots
Anonymous said…
I am furious that Smith is cancelled. CBS finally made an attempt to put together a cast that draws the 20-30 age crowd, and they were successful in my opinion. The advertisement of the show lacked and the title of the show left a lot to be desired, but the content and acting were second to none in the CBS fall line-up. CBS is telling me that they do not have any interest in courting me and the 20-30 age category. Ray...please find a new project, I will follow you and Amy anywhere.
Anonymous said…
What the hell?!?!

Cancelled?!?!

Where can I get a DVD for the remaining episodes? Where dammit?!
Anonymous said…
I am very discusted with the cancellation of Smith, I too have been captivated enough to tune in every week. I am tired of the CSI shows every other night (although I enjoy those as well). This was the one GOOD show that was different. Please bring it back...I will continue to watch no matter what time slot they put it in!
Anonymous said…
For those of you upset that CBS cancelled Smith, consider filing a complaint.

With enough viewer complaints, CBS may reconsider its cancelling of the marvelous fast-paced Smith with its excellent cast including Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker and Amy Smart and the show's superb writing.

Blame it on CBS's bad marketing, its only giving the show three episodes of airtime, and CBS's lack of promoting online viewing of earlier episodes of Smith for those who needed to catch up.

CBS could have given a better re-cap at the beginning of episodes for new viewers just tuning in. It could have re-run the episodes during off-hours, much like Bravo does, to allow viewers to catch up.

To complain, call CBS viewer relations at any time day or night to leave a message, or, to reach a live person, call during the hours of 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. EST - telephone CBS viewer relations at 212-975-3247.

You may also email audsvcs@cbs.com (short for audience services).

You may also go to CBS's feedback form online to submit your complaint at http://www.cbs.com/info/user_services/fb_global_form.shtml Smith is still listed in the shows on that feedback form.

You may also sign this online petition to CBS to bring back Smith. http://www.petitiononline.com/cbssmith/petition.html
Anonymous said…
You can also vote that you thought Smith was a great show by going to the first official Smith fansite http://www.smith-on-cbs.com/ and voting on the question "What's Your Opinion Regarding Smith's Cancellation?"
Trouble with writing to CBS is that everyone that would write in was already watching and enjoying the show. So the best CBS would gain would be those people continue watching. What they needed was more than the 8.5 million people watching it. I'm afraid it's probably dead. I'm no expert, but I presume, low viewing numbers means advertisers pulling their adds in favor of higher watched shows, which means Smith can't pay for the time-slot it was in and CBS can't afford to show it without making the money back that it cost to make. I'm guessing though, that like Firefly, it'll go to DVD and become a cult.

My feeling is that CBS bit more off than they can chew (Liotta and Madsen in a TV Drama). They may have had more success with less high profile stars.
Anonymous said…
I WANT "SMITH" BACK. AND NEXT WEEK PLEASE.
Anonymous said…
i'm sure they could put it on another time slot that pays less ADV $ instead of the crappy reruns or something, heck 4AM we can all just TIVO it!
Anonymous said…
Les Moonvez is an idiot. Sell the show to someone with a brain for f#@k sake!
What are the marketing "genius's" (and I use that term loosely), thinking at CBS? It's rare that a television show comes along that is so exciting to watch visually. "SMITH" was one of those shows. Why only let it air two or three times, then cancelling it. Especially when promoting the show as a critical success, but not allowing a fan base to collect. Then keep crap like "Jericho" on air. It's B.S.!!! If anything, CBS should think again about this decision, pull the show until baseball playoffs are over, then put it on as a mid-season replacement.

I loved JAG, when it was on, but that show was on for a few years too long, but "Smith" they cancel right away. "Murder She Wrote" & "Diagnosis: Murder" on tv TOO LONG, but "Smith" they cancel after two episodes. It's time CBS fired their grey-haired exec's, and replaced them with younger professional's who know what fans want to see.
Anonymous said…
UNBELIEVABLE !!! ...the BEST show in some time and they can it before it even gets off the ground. I don't agree with the 20-30 age demographic comments by 'anonymous'. My wife and I are in our fifty's and we loved it. It was still listed on TV programming guides, but GONE ! CBS management is delusional. I agree, "crap" stays on forever. BRING IT BACK !

DIS - APPOINTED & ILLUSIONED !!!
Anonymous said…
I have to agree with DIS - APPOINTED & ILLUSIONED. Hell, I'm in my sixties (early) and I loved the show! Like many of you I couldn't believe it when I saw who the cast was...incredible! And now after 3 episodes the bone-heads at CBS yank it? Crap, they left that moron Rather in his chair longer than that after it was proven that he fabricated a news story! I guess I'm now just one more recruit in the army of the Dis-appointed & Illusioned.
Anonymous said…
It seems like smithfan is/was part of the cast with all of the information that he/she provided. Then the follow-up comment about not being able to afford the time slot was by some exec.
I really did enjoy the show, it brought forth emotion when I got angry with Ms. Smart for her shadyness and my anger with Rays wife for her playing detective and trying to follow her husband. Then there was the drama of one brother covering for his other brothers death by financing his girlfriend while leading her to believe he was still alive. How does he do that while he is grieving with his brothers death?! And you can see that he was starting to fall for his brothers girlfriend too. That would have been something interesting. The two dopes who helped Ms. Smart steal peoples identities are heading for trouble and it was exciting to see that unfold. They were like the odd couple, which was spelled out for us when one crashed his stolen bike into the others ford escort.
So to echo what everyone else has been saying...
Bad move CBS, you did a poor job in bringing this show to the public. Due to your lack of forsight we the fans miss out. But hey what do you care right? Im sure you have CSI Idaho in the making right?
Anonymous said…
Hey! I called CBS (Thanks smithfan for the #) and they said that the remaining episodes would air on CBS.com's innertube. So keep looking for it.

Good to know that they had additional episodes. Hopefully that means that they'll package it on a DVD. My computer screen is 15". My TV is 40" HDTV.

When I think about it, I can't believe CBS picked this up. CBS is all about crime dramas and mysteries where the good guy goes after the bad. This show is contrary to CBS's modus operandi.
vtpotter said…
I echo everything said- I guess maybe the problem is many people are not ready for dramas that have gray -they want black and white. Someone said to me that they could not believe I was rooting for the bad guys- it is not that simple as life is not that simple. America is a simple minded country.
Anonymous said…
just when there was something to watch on cbs, since fox has 24, cbs does what its name stands for:
c= see
BS= need i say more !
Anonymous said…
Bring smith back...no that is entertainenment... it keeps you on edge...you never know what to expect, its realistic and they cut it...but we keep "how i met you mother", and all those crappy shows..my husband and i made sure we made it home on time just to watch that show... seriously i'll do anything to bring smith back...

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