While ABC is trying its hand at another nighttime soap in Mistresses, the network's two other prime-time dramas are much more serialized and mythology-driven in nature. Red Widow, based on the Dutch series Penoza, stars Radha Mitchell as a woman who becomes a Russian crime boss after her husband is murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Zero Hour is much more ambitious in nature, and revolves around a conspiracy theory somehow involving clocks, Nazis, and kidnapping.
Stars and producers from both series gathered to discuss their shows at ABC's presentations during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Here's what they had to say about Red Widow, which premieres Sunday, March 3 at 9 p.m. before moving to the 10 p.m. time slot, and Zero Hour, which debuts Thursday, Feb. 14 in the 8 p.m. hour.
Twilight screenwriter and former Dexter executive producer Melissa Rosenberg adapted Red Widow from Penoza, a Dutch series. "What drew me to the project in the first place was this character," she explains of her desire to do the show. "This is a flawed female character, as all human beings are. It's a very human character. And I think that's something that has been really exciting to bring to network television."
Flaws are usually reserved for males, Rosenberg says, while women are supposed to have it together. "We've had on cable and then on network these male characters that are very flawed and complex, like Tony Soprano [The Sopranos] and Dexter [Dexter]and Vic Mackey [The Shield]. And then we've just begun to have that on cable for women in the form of Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie and [Mary Louise Parker on] Weeds. And now I think this show is bringing that kind of a character to network. It's a very tricky character to sell to an audience, because women are held to a higher standard. But as played by Radha, you have compassion for her. You are with her. Her experience is universal."
ABC ordered eight episodes of the series, something Rosenberg, whose past TV credits are in cable, appreciates. The original Dutch show is "very cablesque in its tone and its edge in terms of the characters and the moves that they make. When I went to meet with Paul [Lee, ABC Entertainment president] and everybody, I was wary because I said, 'I don't want to pull back on the edge for this or the storytelling for network.' I also felt that because this is a very character-driven show that it's not something that lends itself as well to 22 episodes. The one advantage that cable has over network [has] nothing to do with censors or violence or sex or any of that. It is time. If you have time to write a good show and you have time to develop it, you get good storytelling."
While Red Widow deals with more of an overarching story, Zero Hour is a multilayered mystery series with former ER star Anthony Edwards at its head. Edwards plays a magazine editor who must debunk a worldwide conspiracy when his wife (Jacinda Barrett) is abducted from her antique clock shop. But although it is packed with different elements, creator Paul Scheuring says he doesn't think it's too complicated to follow.
"I have a great amount of respect for the audience. Especially the new generations that are coming up beneath us — they're steeped in such narrative. They know narrative construct. They know all the tropes," Scheuring says. "So if you deliver them the cop show where the cop seems to smell odors better than other cops, it's like, nobody cares. If you give them something where they're like, 'Wow, this is different and new and they're treating me with a certain amount of sophistication,' then they're more liable to watch. And I may be wrong about that, but that's my philosophy. I'd rather go down swinging like that as opposed to go to the lowest common denominator and go 'Hey, man.'"
Because of that respect, Scheuring and his team don't plan to leave viewers hanging on for too long. Scheuring explains, "One of the things I've learned from Prison Break and making a serialized show was that if you're a single conceit show — like Prison Break or Lost or such — sooner or alter you star flapping your wings because a story needs to end. ... I kind of applied that wisdom to the construct of this show, which is it's like the 24 model where you reset every year. This entire Nazi conspiracy thing will be done in Episode 13 this year, but we have a group of investigators headed by Anthony at the magazine who can then apply those skills to the next investigation next year."
Adds executive producer Zack Estrin, "We're not going to make you wait until the end of the year to find out your answers. Specifically, Episode Four you know what that thing is that we're saying was hidden beneath the church. That's not the big mystery. That's just one of many mysteries. In each episode you will find out a piece, we will turn a card, there will be a cliffhanger."
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; Rick Rowell/ABC]
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For the past 11 years--his whole life--Evan (Freddie Highmore) has been an orphan but that’s about to change along with his name. Evan has "always heard the music " even when it’s not playing and one day he decides to follow it in hopes of finding the parents he’s never met and whose musical genes he has inherited. It takes him out of the orphanage he has always despised and into Manhattan where 11 years prior he was conceived. As we learn via flashback his parents both young musicians at the time were an unlikely match: Lyla (Keri Russell) was a shy dainty cellist while Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was a brash Irish rocker. Their mutual love for music ultimately brought them together on a rooftop for just one night of which Evan turned out to be the product. But when Evan is born prematurely Lyla’s father (William Sadler) does what he thinks is right for her career and gives the newborn up for adoption without her knowledge. Lyla and Louis have since reluctantly given up music but Evan is about to pick up where they left off in New York City. While there he is discovered by a seemingly well-intentioned "manager" named Wizard (Robin Williams) who renames the prodigy August Rush. Before long Wizard is booking gigs in hopes of capitalizing financially while August hopes to use his music for a slightly nobler purpose: tracking down and reuniting his parents. Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate) is as much a child-actor prodigy as August Rush is a musician; he’s truly in a class of his own. It’s not just that the British youngster seamlessly ditches his accent to play an American—better and more undetectably than many of his elders are able to do might I add—or that he’s able to pull off the musical aspect (he reportedly mastered the guitar and conducting for further authenticity) but rather that he advances the never-dormant story every step of the way. And it’s not every day that a teenager can handle being the centerpiece of a big Hollywood movie (see The Seeker et al.) but Highmore makes it a non-issue. Russell and Rhys Meyers meanwhile add a classy touch of adult to the story with their opposites-attract arc. Russell borders on too pristine and precious at times and Rhys Meyers is written as the stereotype of Irishmen but they make you believe in the commonality of music as a matchmaker. Williams however misfires with his portrayal of the somewhat ambiguous Wizard. It is unclear whether he is a reincarnated pirate or just a well-traveled New Yorker and Williams plays him with that lack of clarity but kids will laugh nonetheless when the actor gets loud and hyper. Terrence Howard as a concerned social worker and Mykelti Williamson as a pastor turn in solid supporting performances while young Jamia Simone Nash may incite standing ovations with her singing. The concept of August Rush is most certainly aimed towards those too young to discern between realism and fantasy but at least director Kirsten Sheridan (Jim’s daughter) doesn’t patronize kid viewers the way most preteen movies do. While the young director doesn’t exactly steer clear of clichés and sap she makes a concerted effort to place the film’s music and sheer energy at the forefront. Sheridan also does the best with what she’s given which is a highly predictable occasionally preachy script—with a tendency to give Highmore cringe-worthy voiceovers (i.e. “Open yourself up to the music around you”)—written by Nick Castle (Hook which August Rush often resembles) James V. Hart (The Last Mimzy) and Paul Castro. Just as impressive as the film’s omnipresent music—both “found” (basketball dribbles etc.) and orchestrated—is the look of a somewhat magical Manhattan that is as fun for kids as it is mildly scary. All in all Sheridan’s first big movie is a different if slightly uneven kind of kids flick but not so different that the target audience won’t dance along.
In other words The Holiday probably falls under the “guilty pleasure” category. Its not a classic romantic comedy by any standards but darn it it still makes you smile more often than you want to admit. The story centers on two women: Iris (Kate Winslet) a British newspaper columnist hopelessly in love with a man about to marry someone else and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) a highly successful L.A. career woman who just broke up with her latest cheating boyfriend. Being at the right place at the right time these two gals meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Shortly after arriving at their destinations both women find the last thing either wants or expects: A new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris' handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) and Iris with inspiration provided by legendary screenwriter Arthur (Eli Wallach) mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles (Jack Black). Oh just go ahead and take a big gooey bite. It’s good for the soul. The biggest problem in The Holiday is unfortunately the casting—which is real shame because you really want the chemistry to zing. They get it right with Winslet and Law who are both trying something a little different as romantic leads. Winslet in fact admitted to Reuters this was one of the more nerve-wracking parts she’s ever played because she couldn’t hide behind an American accent or a costume playing someone closer to well herself. But you would think these two Oscar-nominees had been making these type movies all along especially the insanely gorgeous Law who should have every woman swooning with his sensitivity. Where they get it wrong is with the Americans as the Brits just act giant circles around them. Black is clearly out of place. Although being very charming and funny looking like he made Winslet laugh a LOT (and who wouldn’t with that guy around?) their connection on screen is somewhat amiss. Diaz comes off looking even worse. Even though she’s the veteran of the romantic comedy (There's Something About Mary My Best Friend's Wedding) her screechy neurotic klutzy Amanda is in no way appealing. You have to scratch your head wondering why Law’s Graham would fall so hard for her. What does make The Holiday work however is writer/director Nancy Meyers. She’s proven herself quite adept at the genre with films such as What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give under her belt. With The Holiday Meyers skillfully crafts individual moments of refreshing comedy as well as heartening scenes of blossoming romance. The initial seduction scene between Amanda and Graham is particularly sweet and quirky with the crisp dialogue flying at a nice clip. And isn’t it comforting to see a holiday movie minus feuding neighbors commerciality or any sort of mean-spiritedness? But Meyers has the tendency to go more for the superficial rather than dig deep with her characters. The Holiday has a one of those glossy rosy glows whose only aim is to make you feel good. True the film will mostly speak volumes to the women in the audience (that’s a polite way of saying its a “chick flick”) but oh well. It’s fluff may be a nice reprieve during the hustle and bustle of the season.