Tuned In

Test Pilot: Viva Laughlin

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This is the first installment of Test Pilot, a semiregular feature this summer sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But, premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: Viva Laughlin, CBS

The Premise: Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen), a prospective casino owner in Laughlin, Nevada, runs into financial troubles, complicated by a rival mogul (Hugh Jackman, who also produces). Somebody ends up dead, and soon there’s a police investigation. Oh, yeah–and people sing: they bust out into song, Broadway-style, except that they’re actually singing along to the audio tracks of familiar pop songs. Will it be Moulin Rouge or Cop Rock?

First Impressions: The musical numbers–not quite singing, not quite lip-synching–divided the Tuned In household. Mrs. Tuned In, the musical buff of the family, couldn’t stand them. I thought some worked better than others (Jackman doing a lustily evil Sympathy for the Devil), but that they could potentially give the show a nice trashy-pop aesthetic. My problem was the disconnect between this risky device and the non-musical scenes, shot in that familiar, flattened-out CBS drama style. I’m not sure if Owen can carry the show (Jackman, who will appear semiregularly at best, obliterates him in every scene they share) and the dialogue walks a fine line between musical-stagey and just corny. I liked the British original (Viva Blackpool). But to succeed, this show needs to avoid becoming a poor compromise, too weird for the CBS audience, yet not raw or original enough to draw the cable-type audience.

Do I Want to Watch Another One?: Probably. But I’m not sure if it’s out of good curiosity or bad curiosity.

This concludes today’s Pilot Test. I now have screeners of every network’s fall shows except ABC, so if there’s one you’re dying to have screened next, let me know in the comments.