Sunday, June 20, 2010

scoundrels abc

Review: “Scoundrels” and “The Gates” offer passing summer distraction on ABC

scoundrels abc

ABC's "Scoundrels" stars Virginia Madsen as Cheryl West, David James Elliott as Wolfgang "Wolf" West, Patrick Flueger as Logan West/Calvin "Cal" West, Leven Rambin as Heather West, Vanessa Marano as Hope West and Carlos Bernard as Sergeant Mack. 

As summer network offerings go, ABC’s double helping of suburban hijinks — “Scoundrels” and “The Gates” — are better than most.  But I only recommend checking them out if you aren’t already committed to some Sunday night cable shows, like “True Blood,” “Drop Dead Diva” or “Leverage,” which also premieres tonight (on TNT).
ABC gets credit for filling the void left by “Desperate Housewives” and “Brothers & Sisters” with replacements that could be those shows’ distant cousins.
First up tonight is “Scoundrels,” which, like “Brothers & Sisters,” mines drama from the a bunch of feuding siblings and parents trying to escape the burdens of the family business. But in this case, the “business” is crime.
Virginia Madsen offers the best reason to watch as West family matriarch Cheryl, who thinks it might be time for her family to get out of the crime game. After all, her husband, Wolf (“JAG” star David James Elliott letting his hair down) is on his way to prison, and her ne’er-do-well son Cal (Patrick John Flueger) doesn’t quite have the brains to be a criminal kingpin. Cheryl thinks maybe the family should follow the example of Cal’s twin brother, Logan (also played by Flueger), who has gone straight and just passed the bar.
It’s hard to get past the gimmickry of Flueger’s dual roles in the pilot, and the criminal capers
When Wolf West (David James Elliott) is sentenced to a four-year prison term instead of the expected four months, Cheryl West (Virginia Madsen) realizes she’s going to be a single mom for the next few years. With the family coming apart at the seams, Cheryl decides that it’s time for them to get out of the family business altogether. However it’ll prove a challenging task for every member of the family, since a life of crime is all they’ve known.
Madsen is winning as always, and this put-upon mother hen plays to her strengths. It’s also nice to see Vanessa Marano (aka April, Luke’s daughter on “Gilmore Girls”) add a juvenile delinquent spin to her trademark brainiac routine as Cheryl’s youngest daughter, Hope.
But “Scoundrels,” which is based on the New Zealand series “Outrageous Fortune, lacks bite. These guys and gals aren’t as rakishly charming as the criminally cool gang on “Leverage.” And that includes Elliott, who plays Wolf a bit tame. And while the family can be a bit zany, they aren’t as funny as ABC thinks they are. When Cal runs afoul of an Asian crime family with a misguided scheme involving a dragon tchotchke, it’s neither really threatening or really funny.
The term “dramedy” was invented for shows that are both dramatic and comedic. But unless Madsen is on screen, “Scoundrels” is often neither.
More intriguing, if no more engaging, is “The Gates,” which crosses “Desperate Housewives” with “American Gothic” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
Frank Grillo stars as Nick Monohan, the new police chief of The Gates, a private gated community holding as many secrets as manicured lawns. Nick quickly learns that he’s just a glorified security guard in a town that wants its law-enforcement to not be very enforcing. That’s because the residents of The Gates like to occasional drink their neighbors blood or claw their eyes out. Yes, it’s another show with vampires, witches and werewolves.
But it’s also a show with Rhona Mitra, who plays feisty bloodsucking housewife Claire Rattcliff. Mitra, who most recently brought her sultry accent to “Stargate Universe” plays quite the vamp (in all meanings of the word), and, like, Madsen, elevates this show when she’s on screen.
But “The Gates” isn’t just about Claire. It’s also about Frank’s kids, who must deal with life in a new high school and the “Twilight”-ish saga that goes with having shapeshifting classmates. And there’s Frank’s wife, who runs afoul of the town’s feuding witches.
“The Gates” is an exclusive community, but the show is trying to be a bit too inclusive. It’s a melting pot of supernatural cliches, which can be tasty only if it focuses on the right flavors.
More screen time for Mitra would be a good place to start.
Watch “Scoundrels” and “The Gates” beginning at 9 tonight on ABC.

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