As TV shows continue to try to move from the episodic to the cinematic, more and more shows are starting to look like The Philanthropist. The story arcs get stretched longer and the characters get something of a memory…but when push comes to shove most of these shows (I'm looking at you Lost) are just old school cliffhangers that are rolled out week after week. This show does have a perfectly modern premise; a rich Manhattanite feels a need to live life to the fullest after losing his son, so he begins moonlighting as a globe-trotting adventurer.
The show that it seems most likely to resemble is Alias, only instead of high-tech gadgetry our hero Teddy (James Purefoy) will rely on his wealth to get him out of tight spots. The first episode is slick and easy to digest but not at all challenging. The cinematography would have been beautiful if it wasn't brought down by its obvious fakery. The final shot even goes so far as to pull out from a close up of Teddy to a satellite shot looking down on the whole continent of Africa. Luckily there are a few surprises in store, and it could be seen as a fine way to blow off an hour.
The pilot is told in flashback and finds Teddy macking on the prettiest, whitest bartender you are ever likely to find in Nigeria, telling her about his attempt to save a sick child. Immediately we are hit with a jolt of action and Teddy is motorcycling through the jungle whilst being shot at. Then he's surviving a flood. It is all too much too soon. His main enemies seem to be the theocracies and warlords of Africa, both of whom he narcissistically throws money at, and usually it works.
There are also subplots that involve his life back in New York, but they seemingly only add up to showing him neglecting his wife and his job. There is an air of Great White Hope Syndrome that hangs around this show’s neck, what with this privileged guy strolling into town playing savior with his checks and blankets and medicine. Much work will have to be done to humanize him if the audience is ever going to connect. Wall Street types aren't exactly in right now.
The question isn't whether this opening episode was good (it was mediocre) but whether it could serve as an effective jumping off point for an entertaining series. Chances are low. The budget seems too big, the network seems too conservative, and the first script was all too familiar, but time will tell. The supporting cast includes Neve Campbell though her character hasn't had much to do so far. Also here is Michael K. Williams, formerly Omar on The Wire, which is great since he was so much fun to watch on that show but doesn't have a face that urges producers to run towards him (that scar isn’t make-up). Watching this show, the poor can pretend that they are rich and the rich can pretend that they are actually playing an important role within society. The viewer isn't asked to provide anything so everybody wins, except for fans of smart TV.
Starring: James Purefoy, Jesse L. Martin, Neve Campbell, Michael K. Williams, Lindy Booth
Executive Producers: Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson, Charlie Corwin
Showtime: Wednesday, 10:00pm