Thursday, 29 May 2008

SIX DEGREES 1.1 – "Pilot"

Thursday, 29 May 2008
Writers: Raven Metzner & Stu Zicherman
Director: Rodrigo Garcia

Cast: Hope Davis (Laura), Erika Christensen (Mae Anderson), Dorian Missick (Damian), Campbell Scott (Steven Casemen), Jay Hernandez (Carlos), Bridget Moynahan (Whitney), Jonathan Cake (Roy), Miles Chandler (Max Caseman), Nick Sandow (Louie), Robert John Burke (David), Dennis Boutsikaris (Leonard Ralston), Michael Kenneth Williams (Michael), Ronald Guttman (Charles), Neal Huff (Harry), Robert Clohessy (Scott Faubel) & Ruby Jerins (Eliza)

Exec-produced by Lost co-creator J.J Abrams, this short-lived US drama essentially takes one aspect of that island-based show (the coincidences of supporting characters bumping into each other in flashbacks) and combines that idea with the theory that everyone on the planet is "six degrees of separation" away from anyone else. The show essentially tells 6 stories about 6 New Yorkers, whose lives sometimes intersect and have repercussions on each others...

It's a six-piece ensemble, but we're first introduced to defence attorney Carlos Green (Hostel's Jay Hernandez), whose bookend narration seems to indicate he's the audience's route into the drama. We meet him on a subway train, considering how total strangers might one day become your best friend, or the person sitting next to you right now could be your true love.

The other five are: Laura Morgan (Hope Davis), a grieving single mother whose husband was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq. In one emotive scene, we watch her reporter husband's last broadcast on TV before his video-link was lost – a recording she now cherishes; Damian Henry (Dorian Missick), a limo driver with gambling debts who's trying to escape being sucked into the criminal underworld of his big brother; Mae Anderson (Erika Christensen), a young woman with a dangerous past she's trying to hide from; Max Caseman (Campbell Scott), a cynical photographer who's lost passion for his work; and Whitney Crane (Bridget Moynahan), a successful PR businesswoman who suspects her boyfriend is cheating on her.

While very much a scene-setting episode, the script does a great job of guiding us through six separate plots. I was expecting the 6 characters to remain separate for most of the time, and then slowly interconnect as the show rolls on, but there were already several moments when coincidences presented themselves: Max finds a muse in the publicly grieving Laura, who in turn meets Whitney during a pedicure; while Carlos develops a crush on Mae, who meets Laura; and then Carlos becomes friends with Damian after helping him escape some thugs.

There's a lot going on, but it doesn't become bogged down and remains sprightly and engaging. Some of this is down to the cast, who are all likeable and instantly memorable. Bridget Moynahan, Erika Christensen and Hope Davies are familiar movie actresses, but lesser-known actors like Jay Hernandez and Dorian Missick also give satisfying performances. And Campbell Scott (superb in Roger Dodger) deserves wider recognition in a big TV drama, even if Six Degrees wasn't it.

Yes, you guessed it, Six Degrees was cancelled after 13 episodes. Incredibly, this first episode is almost 2 years old now, so it's been off-air for a long time in the States. Fortunately, these short-lived US shows work well to fill the UK summer schedules, and I was surprised to find myself more engaged by the characters than I thought I would be after one episode. The gimmick of the premise didn't overwhelm events, the acting was solid, the plots moved at a decent lick, and writers Raven Metzner and Stu Zicherman deserve kudos for introducing 6 characters and plots with such ease.

While there was nothing truly compelling here, I was sufficiently intrigued and enjoyed the show – which is half the battle of an effective Pilot. I'll certainly be tuning in for episode 2, which will be more indicative of the week-to-week lure of these characters and their various back-stories. And foreknowledge of its demise shouldn't be a barrier, just as long as the last episode doesn't leave too much hanging.

28 May 2008
ITV1, 10.45 pm