Now, this? This is, by all rights, what should be my favorite show of the season, not that damned Joan of Arcadia. It's based on a book and short story by Elmore Leonard, who is one of my favorite writers ever. The book on which it is based was previously adapted as a movie, Out of Sight, which, even with the massive retroactive transtextual baggage Jennifer Lopez bring to the film, is probably on my all-time Top 10 List, maybe even up in the Top 5. The show stars Carla Gugino, towards whom I am favorably inclined for both her recent Robert Rodriguez association as well as her general similarities to Lynda Carter, as the title character, a U.S. Marshall who has remarkably bad luck with men (3 bank robbers to date). As if that wasn't enough, it's got Robert Forrester, who kicks as much ass as ten mortal men, as Karen's dad (taking over from Dennis Farina in the film version). (It's probably worth mentioning that the wife and I spent about a week over the summer talking like Robert Forrester after listening to him narrate a book on tape. We love Robert Forrester.) And I guess the producers must have decided to swipe as much of the cast of Fastlane as they could, since Bill Duke plays basically the same character on this show as he did on Fastlane, which is fine with me, since I miss Fastlane quite a bit.
So, in short, this show is made for me (and, judging by the ratings, me alone).
It's not quite there. The show is produced by the usual Elmore Leonard-loving crew of Sonnenfeld and DeVito, who, while they should be praised for their insistence in bring the Florida crime genre to both the big screen (Get Shorty, Big Trouble) and small (Maximum Bob), don't really seem to get the Leonard feel. They're clearly better suited to the more comedic style of Carl Hiaasen or recent James W. Hall. While Leonard's later Floridian novels are a little lighter than his grittier Detroit-set novels, they rarely dip into the near-toxic levels of quirkiness that seem to amuse the Jersey Films crew so much.
So the first few episodes (two of which were directed by Michael Dinner, who presented the most woefully off-base attempt at the Floridian crime genre, The Crew) aren't really right - a little too jokey, a little too precious, a little too overstylized. Subsequent episodes (particularly "Justice") swung too far in the other direction, and lost the humor altogether. I'll admit that Leonard's hard to adapt. As far as I'm concerned, there have been precisely two films that got it right (Out of Sight and Jackie Brown if you're keeping score), which compared to the 15 or so that were failures to one degree or another, indicates a fair degree of difficulty in capturing his mix of humor, grittiness, and, above all, the sense of pre-determination that pervades his stories.
That having been said, the show is certainly picking up steam. The fifth episode, in which a forgotten classmate of Karen's, gets busted for counterfeiting was pretty enjoyable, and the sixth was flat-out great. Karen becomes more of a minor character, and the people's she's chasing (a prisoner who keeps breaking out to be with his true love -- sounds cheesy, but it was really good) get to take over the story. Really, all it needed was maybe two more scenes with Robert Forrester and we would have had a perfect episode of television. Make more like that, and I'll be a very contented viewer.
At least until ABC cancels it.
Rating: A- (Getting better every week!)Reviewed by Padgett Arango