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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(written by Ayelet Waldman; directed by Chris Columbus; TRT: 43:21)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out? It's actually based on Waldman's "Mommy-Track Mysteries" books with the pilot being a loose adaptation of "Nursery Crimes," the first in the series.
The plot in a nutshell: Meet Juliet Applebaum (Rachelle Lefevre), a lawyer who left the Public Defender's Office to spend more time with her family. In some ways she's the typical suburbanite - happily married, to endlessly supportive comic book artist Peter (Rhys Coiro), and ever-busy raising their three precocious kids, Leo (Emjay Anthony), Sadie (Marlowe Peyton) and Isaac (August Maturo). Her new part-time gig as a hardscrabble private eye - alongside ex-cop Al Hockey (the always welcome Jay Mohr) - however is not. Said worlds nevertheless collide when Abigail Hathaway, the principal of a prestigious charter school, is killed after its annual lottery for new first grade students. The cops - led by Detective Garcia (Miguel Ferrer) - write it off as a random hit and run while Juliet believes it was premeditated.
The school agrees with her, offering special consideration for Sadie's admission - whose number wasn't called - in exchange for her services. Al reluctantly agrees to help ("I don't ever work pro-bono, but I will always work pro-Sadie," he quips) and the duo quickly suss out a variety of suspects: the disgruntled former employee, the overly angry parent of a student and her own troubled son, an ex-con. Said pursuits ultimately reveal there's much more to Abigail than meets the eye, as she was indeed murdered but not for the obvious reasons. Meanwhile on the home front, Sadie is being bullied by the mean girls at her current school, giving Juliet even more reason to close the case; Juliet's disapproving mother (Kathy Baker) wants her to return to the private sector as part of her corporate law firm; and Peter confronts Juliet about the increasing amounts of time she spends at her potentially dangerous job.
What works: Lefevre's Juliet and Mohr's Al have a nice back and forth ("We're good at this," Al deadpans after a suspect closes the door on them) as he routinely harangues her about her small bladder while she rolls her eyes at his rough and tumble tendencies. Coupled with Tze (James Hiroyuki Liao), a paroled hacker who works with them, the P.I. aspects are definitely the most appealing in the show.
What doesn't: Unfortunately, "Applebaum" frequently gets swept up by its more maudlin tendencies. A thread involving Sadie relentlessly being teased about her weight at school comes across as shamelessly manipulative, as Juliet agonizes about what to do while Peter conjures up 6 Volt, a superhero alter ego designed to help her cope with the bullying. Juliet likewise stresses over the charter school's "don't eat the marshmallow" philosophy, which teaches its students to delay their gratification for greater long term reward. She's after all one to talk: what's billed as a part-time job with Al is something of a full-time obsession. The gooeyness of said elements don't quite mesh with the world established on the procedural side.
That's not to say it's a home run in that area either as Juliet is frequently painted as every-mother-ever-on-TV, except she's solving crimes. Whether it's her kids giving her an embarrassing ring tone, being a disruption to the pick up/drop off line at school or being the mom whisperer when it comes to getting information, all the usual tropes are at work here. And of course, Juliet has the right thing to say no matter how outlandish the situation (surrounded by threatening gangbangers, of course she once represented their leader and has the photo in her phone to prove it!) as do her kids (Isaac, from his stroller, while Juliet and Al interview a suspect: "Is this the bad guy?"). It's cute at first but gets increasingly awkward and clumsy as it progresses. The same applies to the show as a whole:
The bottom line: It has its moments but doesn't quite come together.