Thursday, June 09, 2005

It's Dark On The Inside

There are some things that are rarer than hens' teeth. One of them is a dramatic series that debuts in June for the summer season. The Inside is a dramatic series that has debuted in the summer season. And for the life of me I can't understand why since the popularity of the veritable flood of reality shows indicates that audiences want light "fluffy" material in the summer season. Believe me The Inside is anything but fluff.

In structure The Inside bears a vague resemblance to the Ally Walker series The Profiler seemingly crossed with Silence Of The Lambs. In the first episode we're introduced to the Violent Cries Unit of the Los Angeles office of the FBI, headed by Supervisory Special Agent Virgil "Web" Webster. They are currently tracking a serial killer who removes the faces and hands of his victims. The team is called to a crime scene where an apparent victim of the serial killer has been found. The only person missing is their profiler and it doesn't take long for us to learn why. She's the victim. This allows for the introduction of the team's new profiler a recent graduate from the FBI training academy at Quantico. She's Special Agent Rebecca Locke and there are a lot of mysteries about her, like why her personal history only seems to start when she arrived at Quantico. The rest of the team are Paul Ryan, who describes himself as the conscience of the team, Danny Love, a brusque ex-marine who handles back-up, and Melody Sim whose purpose I still haven't quite figured out.

It doesn't really matter. The focus, at least in the first episode is on the relationship between Webster, Locke, and Ryan. Locke, we discover, was kidnapped as a 10 year-old and kept by her abductor for 18 months until she made her own way home. The event has traumatised her enough to change her name and essentially create a new identity, but it has also allowed her a special insight into the criminal mind. Her training is as a statistical analyst despite having applied twice for training in the behavioral Sciences unit. Still Webster has brought here in as a profiler. Indeed it's Webster who is responsible for her FBI career - he signed the approval for her application despite the fact that her personal history should have disqualified her from working with the FBI, as Paul explains. It becomes very clear very quickly that Paul doesn't like his boss very much. Paul sees Web as someone who uses people, and the personal baggage they carry with them, to further his own aims. They are all chess pieces on his personal board and he'll use their strengths and weaknesses as he sees fit. In this struggle Paul is determined to at least try to protect Rebecca as much as he can from being endangered by Web. For his part Webster does see that he's using people for his own purposes although he'd probably cast himself as a spider, which makes his nickname - Web - ominously appropriate. He seems to have some as yet undiscovered connection with Locke. He says that her original kidnapping was ineptly handled by the FBI, without mentioning who the lead agent was on the case. He clearly has been monitoring her for years after the kidnapping.

The absolute best thing in The Inside is Peter Coyote as Webster. He's probably one of the most interesting actors around with a distinctive voice that is rarely raised above a conversational tone but still manages to show anger and scorn. He's perfect as the manipulative Webster. In the role of Rebecca Locke is relative newcomer Rachel Nichols, probably best known for the remake of The Amityville Horror. She's a bit more of a problem. Locke is less like Ally Reynolds's character in The Profiler and more like Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling in Silence Of The Lambs. The problem is that as an actress she's no Jodie Foster. At the worst of times she's rather unconvincing in the part. At her best she's usually in scenes with Peter Coyote. There's one scene where she and Webster are in the apartment of the most recent victim and he draws out of her how the killer chooses his victims and why he mutilates them in the way he does. The scene draws qualities out of Locke that aren't seen in other scenes. Still perhaps her best scene in the first episode is with the actual killer. He tries to terrorize her and make her feel as if she's nothing. Nichols is quite convincing in her disdain for him; she's seen real terror and he doesn't even come close. You really do feel as if her character is cut off from everyone else - emotionally as well as physically - but in absolute control even if he kills her. As for the rest of the cast, Jay Harrington is competent as Paul, while Adam Baldwin as Danny is basically channelling the sort of semi-comedic tough guy roles he's been getting since his debut in My Bodyguard. As for Kate Finnernan, who plays Agent Melody Sim, the fact is that there's simply not enough involvement of her character in the initial episode for me to make a judgement about how well she's doing.

The story behind The Inside is an interesting one. In the original concept Rachel Nichols was supposed to be playing a cop working undercover in a high school. Despite everything that the network was trying the show concept wasn't working. Executives at Fox Television called in Tim Minear and gave him a free hand with the series. The only thing that absolutely had to be retained from the original concept was Rachel Nichols. Minear took a look at the original concept and decided that it might hold up for an episode but was totally unsuited for an ongoing series. Minear, best known as a writer and producer on Angel and the ill-fated Fox series Firefly and Wonderfalls decided to entirely retool the show to make it, as Minear's comment on the show's website puts it, a show " about damaged people - the only interesting kind there is - and about how their damage sometimes makes them particularly suited to the work they do." Tim Minear gave Fox what they wanted, a series starring Rachel Nichols, but the addition of Peter Coyote and the serviceable supporting cast means that she isn't carrying the weight of the show alone, and indeed she is reduced to almost co-starrng status.

I'm rather impressed with The Inside, to the point where I wonder why Fox has decided to run it in summer which is traditionally used by networks to burn off episodes of series that don't quite make it. Certainly I think it's better than most of the new shows that have debuted this summer and indeed better than some series that have been running on Fox this past fall and winter. The only real explanation that I can see is that Fox is so confident of their Fall 2005 lineup that they don't have a place for The Inside. We'll have to see if the shows they deploy this Fall justify their confidence. Sadly, based on the ratings that the first episode got (up against the major hit of this summer Dancing With The Stars) it's unlikely that the show will be considered for revival if they were wrong.

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