TV Talk: The Nine

Nine out of the ten actors in this photo are titular characters, just not sure who the tenth is.

TV Talk: The Nine

Starring: Lourdes Benedicto, John Billingsley, Jessica Collins, Tim Daly, Dana Davis, Camille Guaty, Chi McBride, Kim Raver, Scott Wolf, Owain Yeoman

Series Creators: Hank and K.J. Steinberg

I’ll admit, I haven’t watched every episode of this show, stopping at the fourth episode. Which is good thing this isn’t a review, but rather a discussion, cause reviewing it having missed a couple episodes would be kinda irresponsible.

I intended to watch more of the show, but then the movers broke my TV, leaving me without for a couple weeks. In this time, unbeknownst to me, CTV pulled the show from its schedule, so my PVR wasn’t recording it (as I had it set to record from the CTV feed, which came a day earlier). Just as well, since we more than filled our PVR with shows we missed. Until that point, we had enjoyed the first three episodes of the series, especially the pilot, which was electric (and possibly the best pilot of the season). So I downloaded the fourth episode to catch up.

My feelings for the show were mixed from the start. The premise sounded interesting, and the cast pedigreed enough to make me check it out. But, I’m incredibly weary of the new TV trend of serial dramas built around untenable ideas that will lead to tedious, Lost-style time wasting. The show was already built around the idea of flashbacks, which has become more than tedious on other series, but as long as the flashbacks were relevant and of the day in question, things would be okay.

My decision on the show was that I’d keep watching it while it was good, but would be quick to give it up if it became obvious that it was merely spinning its wheels. But then while I was watching the fourth episode on my computer, I was struck with the realisation: this shit is kinda dull.

For those who don’t know, The Nine is (was?) a show about a group of individuals (guess how many?) who became hostages in a failed bank robbery and the proceeding 52-hour standoff. As a result of this intense situation, the survivors bond together and reflect upon their experience while attempting to continue with their lives. The pilot featured the immediate aftermath of the hostage situation, with constant flashbacks to the tragic event, setting into motion the question that was the tagline for the show: what happened in there?

With this, the show set up some interesting questions, such as: what happened to break up Lizzie (Jessica Collins) and Jeremy (Scott Wolfe), who entered the bank in love, and left… notsomuch? What did Nick (Timothy Daly), a police officer in the bank by happenstance, do to control the situation, and how did the negotiators and S.W.A.T. team mess it up? What happened to Felicia (Dana Davis) while she was alone in the bank, and why can’t she remember? What did Egan (John Billingsley) do to make him such a hero, when he went into the bank that day planning on killing himself sometime later in the day? Why do Nick and Kathryn (Kim Raver) have such a connection? Did the bank robbers Lucas (Owain Yeoman) and Randall (Jeffrey Pierce) have inside help planning the job? Did it come from Eva (Lourdes Benedicto) or Franny (Camille Guaty)? Does Camille Guaty’s role in this show mean that we won’t have to do with the boring-as-hell Maricruz storyline much longer on Prison Break?

Okay, I didn’t expect that last one to be answered by the series, but the rest were up for the picking. But after snoozing my way through “Brothers Keepers”, I realised that I was now only interested in the first question: what happened between Jeremy and Lizzie? I’d seen a preview that suggested that they would reveal it in an upcoming episode (apparently it was in episode 6 “Take Me Instead”, and it sounds like something I thought it could be).

Then, ABC went ahead and pulled The Nine from its primetime line-up this week, making vague promises about returning it later. I’m guessing it’ll shove the remaining episodes that are in the can into some downtime scheduling in the new year, maybe after they cancel Big Day or Daybreak or something. But, I’m reasonably confident that this show is dead, so I won’t be catching up on episodes 5 and 6, or any they show later (if they do at all).

I have a few ideas as to why this failed to grab a big enough audience to avoid cancellation, some are show-specific, which I’ll get into a bit later. But my bigger concern, and the reason I’m writing about a show that’s all-but-cancelled and I only watched four times, is what its failure, and the failure of similar shows, says about the fate of serial dramas in today’s TV landscape.

After Lost became the huge sensation it has become, every network just HAD to have its own serial drama with a narrow story concept. From what I’ve been able to tell, only one (Prison Break) has managed to be successful (although Jericho might be the second). Be it The Nine, Kidnapped, Invasion, or Reunion, the shows have proven too unsustainable to meet the demands of weekly storytelling, especially in an ongoing format for 22 week segments. Too many shows are getting greenlit with ideas that can be resolved in a two-hour movie, not a 22 episode season (and then some, as networks prefer to air shows that will continue on to more seasons), and it’s only getting worse (Big Day? Come on! Daybreak? That WAS a movie).

Even if these shows do have concepts that can grow beyond their initial premise, networks have proven so fickle with TV shows of late that viewers are wary to try out new serials, lest they be left in the cold about the big mysteries of the show because the network cancelled it too soon. When a show then does catch on with a good-sized audience, viewers don’t want to pick up the story midway through, and thus it fails to pick up momentum, and possibly gets cancelled.

I know that when I consider checking out a new show, I now not only consider whether or not it sounds interesting, but also whether or not I think it’ll last long enough to make it worth my while. One of the reasons I didn’t watch the first season of Veronica Mars when it aired is that I didn’t think it would last (although, since it was on UPN, I should’ve pegged it for at least 13 episodes). So not only are networks airing too many shows that don’t have enough ideas to sustain themselves, they’ve also poisoned the TV atmosphere for those shows, creating a viewership too nervous to invest in series that demand an invested viewership to succeed.

Now, as for The Nine specifically, I already mentioned that I found the fourth episode to be fairly boring, and I think that was portent of things to come. The problem is that the pilot episode set the series up as an exciting suspense thriller, switching between the breathless scenes of the robbery/standoff to the immediate after-effects and the questions it poses. But, with each passing episode, it seems as though the show is really a quiet character study about nine people going about their lives. It’s possible that the quiet character study is actually quiet good, but it can’t help but come off as lifeless and dull in comparison to the action of the pilot, especially since it keeps flashing back to the exciting parts for its segment breaks. They seem to scream “remember when this show was fun?” (which, sadly, was only three episodes prior).

The problem would’ve only gotten worse as the series went on, when the robbery was no longer fresh in viewer’s minds. The show failed to hook me into the ongoing lives of the hostages, to the point where I didn’t care about anything the show gave me that wasn’t robbery-related.

All in all, it’s for the best that ABC pulled the plug on this show, saving me the trouble of doing it for myself. However, networks are going to have to A) stop developing shows with narrow focuses that depend on runs long enough to complete their narrative but short enough to not drag out their unsustainable ideas, and B) give the shows they do develop long enough to complete their narrative to renew the faith of viewers, ratings be damned.

Questions? Comments? Disagreement? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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