‘The Event’ (NBC – Monday, 9:00 p.m.)

The Event is an emotional, high-octane conspiracy thriller that follows Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, “The Class”), an everyman who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his would-be fiancée Leila (Sarah Roemer, “Disturbia”), and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history.

Sean’s quest will send ripples through the lives of an eclectic band of strangers, including newly elected U.S. President Elias Martinez (Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood, “In Treatment”); Sophia Maguire (Emmy Award nominee Laura Innes, “ER”), who is the leader of a mysterious group of detainees; and Leila’s shadowy father (Scott Patterson, “Gilmore Girls”). Their futures are on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could ultimately change the fate of mankind. – NBC

The Preview (Posted on 9/15/2010):

Shawn:     This is by far the most anticipated show of the new year and for good reason. It’s a spy/action/political thriller à la 24 shown from multiple perspectives with a Lost-type/FlashForward-type mystery to it. The cast is amazing and the effects look killer. This is one of those moral imperative shows. You must watch this. I’d comment more on it but the trailer confused the crap out of me and I still haven’t processed all of it.

The Review:

9 out of 10

Shawn:     First things first: my assumptions about The Event couldn’t have been more prophetic and it doesn’t mean that I’m that great of a judge of a show’s character, it just means that NBC marketed it perfectly. As noted above, I said it looked like Lost and 24 had a baby and considering an hour before it premiered, NBC was quoting Us Magazine (who had seen it) as saying the EXACT SAME THING, I’d say that’s precisely what NBC is going for and it wasn’t a plan that they just dreamt up over the summer.  This has been in the works for almost year, now.

Fans of 24 may not know this, but the last season of 24 (last year’s season 8 ) was not necessarily going to be the end of 24 as of mid-season ’09 – ’10, and in fact, 24‘s ratings weren’t even particularly bad (9.31 million viewers but they were dropping and had been for some time).  Despite the obvious repetitiveness of each season and the notion that the tank was clearly empty (the writers themselves admitted this), 24‘s main problem production-wise was that it was a very expensive show to produce every week and the ratings weren’t high enough for FOX to be able to ask for the advertising dollars they needed to produce it AND keep it profitable. Around the same time, NBC realized that they had made perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of all time in television programming history by completely eliminating their 10:00 p.m. drama slot, Monday through Friday (to save money), in favor of demoting Jay Leno (and, yes, it was a demotion) and putting him in there all week. If you don’t understand how colossal of a mistake this was, consider this: there was serious talk about NBC shutting down completely as a network.

So, in order to save itself from itself, NBC got some new people in and re-evaluated their situation and realized they needed a strong shot in the arm and actually inquired seriously about bringing 24 over to the Peacock Network. Well, then they got a look at the books and found out how much 24 was actually costing and of course 20th Century slapped a ridiculous price tag on it to boot, and NBC said, “Thanks, but no, thanks.”

So, although the idea of 24 never came to fruition on NBC, the concept of reviving the network with a bang was still alive and well and it’s pretty clear NBC REALLY wanted their own 24. They wanted their own 24 so bad that they hired the Executive Producer of 24, Evan Katz to a seven-figure, two-year deal to run The Event.  Truly, though, it’s not just about having their own 24, it’s about having their own Genre show with the built-in audience from the day the pilot airs.  Genre fans are the most dedicated of all television fans and NBC knew this most recently because they had a genre hit with Heroes until it started to suck (and don’t ask me when it started to suck because it’s all a blur to me.  I stuck with it until the December break last year before I was bored to tears with it.  Apparently it started to suck a long time before that.).  So, this is why you see the comparisons to 24, Lost, FlashForward and Heroes and even though Katz  claims that The Event is none of these shows, it really is certainly in the same vein because if it wasn’t, NBC would never have picked it up, nor would they have signed Katz immediately at the end of 24 for a ridiculous amount of money for 2 years.

Which brings up yet another good point about this series:  the confidence NBC has in it.  NBC had the opportunity to get 24 and with it one of the most popular characters in prime-time television history and an automatic large built-in audience carried over from eight previous seasons.  Now yes, there were the cost issues involved with acquiring and producing the series and of course it’s far cheaper to not pay Kiefer Sutherland the $13.2 million per season that he was making on 24, but having the kind of gravitas that 24 brings to your network right out of the gate might even be worth risking the scratch on… that is of course, unless you’ve got a show in the chute that you really believe will take Genre audiences to a whole new level and that is precisely what The Event does.

The Event redefines Genre television for a new generation of fans.  You undoubtedly see elements of 24, Lost, Fringe and FlashForward but the story is very unique, the mysteries are compelling and the style of the series with the repeated time-shifting (i.e., the show goes back and forth in time repeatedly and it’s not consistent), albeit a little difficult to keep up with at times, makes the drama that unfolds that much more intense.

The casting for The Event is very impressive.  Jason Ritter (son of the late John Ritter) is a bit of a newcomer but he seems perfectly cast as the average guy trying to find answers.  The rest of the cast is excellent as well with a lot of well-known television faces and character actors (Blair Underwood, Tony Todd, Laura Innes, Zeljko Ivanek, Clifton Collins Jr., Scott Patterson, Bill Smitrovich, to name a few. ) and no real superstars was very smart for a few reasons.  First, you have seasoned pros on this show who ALL can act (and if I’ve never mentioned this before please understand that all of my favorite actors are character actors).  Second, they come at a much cheaper price than, say, a Kiefer Sutherland would so think of it like a professional sports salary cap: you have the option of having one superstar and a team of mediocre players or a team full of really good players.  The latter is the preferred and it’s a necessity with a new series.  It’s also a necessity because unlike 24, The Event is… well… event-driven and not single-character driven like 24 was.  A show like this requires a diverse ensemble cast as to not distract the audience from the complex and engaging drama that is unfolding.

All in all, The Event is excellent and has truly lived up to its hype so far and I don’t really have any doubt that with Evan Katz at the helm it’s going do anything but get better and better.  This is the best new network show of the season and the only thing even on cable that’s better is Boardwalk Empire.

Watch full episodes of The Event, here and here.

‘Boardwalk Empire’ (HBO – Sundays, 9:00 p.m.)

From Terence Winter, Emmy Award-winning writer of ‘The Sopranos,’ and Academy Award Winning Director Martin Scorsese, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ is set in Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol became illegal throughout the United States.

America in 1920. The Great War is over, Wall Street is about to boom and everything is for sale, even the World Series. It is a time of change when women are getting the vote, broadcast radio is introduced, and young people rule the world.

On the beach in southern New Jersey sits Atlantic City, a spectacular resort known as “The World’s Playground,” a place where rules don’t apply. Massive hotels line its famous Boardwalk, along with nightclubs, amusement piers and entertainment to rival Broadway. For a few dollars, a working man can get away and live like a king — legally or illegally.

The undisputed ruler of Atlantic City is the town’s Treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, (Steve Buscemi) a political fixer and backroom dealer who is equal parts politician and gangster and equally comfortable in either role. Because of its strategic location on the seaboard, the town is a hub of activity for rum-runners, minutes from Philadelphia, hours from New York City and less than a day’s drive from Chicago. And Nucky Thompson takes full advantage.

Along with his brother Elias (Shea Whigham), the town’s Sheriff, and a crew of Ward Bosses and local thugs, Nucky carves out a niche for himself as the man to see for any illegal alcohol. He is an equal opportunity gangster, doing business with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Big Jim Colosimo (Frank Crudele), Lucky Luciano, (Vincent Piazza) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

As the series begins, Nucky’s former protégé and driver Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) returns home from the Great War, eager to get ahead and reclaim his rightful place in Nucky’s organization. But when Jimmy feels things aren’t moving quickly enough, he takes matters into his own hands, forming a deadly alliance with some associates of Nucky’s that set the Feds, led by Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) on his mentor’s tail. Complicating matters further is Nucky’s burgeoning relationship with Margaret Schroeder, (Kelly Macdonald) a local woman in an abusive marriage whom he tries to help out. – HBO

10 out of 10

Apparently HBO has decided that they are sick of playing second fiddle to Showtime for having the best drama on premium cable. After watching the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire I feel rather ashamed. I feel like a crook, in fact. I feel like I robbed HBO of the $10.50 that I should have paid them to see this show in the theater. Because it’s not a TV show, it’s a Martin Scorcese Academy Award winning film that comes into your living room once every seven days for twelve weeks. There is only word to describe this monumental television excellence: Epic.

The grand scale and visually stunning aesthetics are like nothing that’s been on TV since 2001’s Band of Brothers. The pilot alone cost $50 million and it’s perhaps the best $50 million spent on a television series ever. The sets are absolutely amazing and the level of detail is like none I’ve ever seen for a period piece outside of Titanic. There really is no question that you are in Atlantic City circa 1920 and this show does what I’ve pointed out that other quality dramas do and that is make the city as integral of a character as the politicians and gangsters.

The story and depth of characters are rich and engaging and you’re hooked from the opening scene and the role of “Nucky” Thompson… well, let’s just say the Steve Buscemi was born to play him.

Thompson is the epitome of the corrupt community leader for the prohibition era. He’s an institutionalized pillar of the community and gangster rolled into one. He’s the city treasurer who has built his power through graft and payoffs and is the most powerful man in town, controlling the police department and mayor’s office who hang on his every order. Like most crooked politicians in bed with organized crime he views as himself as morally superior to the gangsters he regularly does business with and he does his best to keep them at arm’s length. This is very interesting to note about his personal character because unlike most corrupt politicians, he truly does care for the citizens of his community and goes out of his way to help those who need it the most with no ulterior motives and his magnanimous attitude and tenderness isn’t out of guilt. As crooked as his empire his, he truly is a man of the people and believes in the virtue of public service. This dichotomy presents itself often as there appears to be a perpetual internal conflict between the noble and the nefarious going on inside of Nucky.

One of the more notable exchanges is between Nucky and his protégé, Jimmy, where he tells Jimmy, “You’d be very foolish to underestimate me, James.  I could have you killed,” right after he lectures him as a father would about going back to school and making something of himself for his wife and son. But, it’s how he says it that’s interesting… it’s kind of like that he has to convince himself that he could have Jimmy killed and he isn’t really comfortable with the idea even though we all know it’s true, he could, but still, we don’t buy it. Jimmy doesn’t buy it either as his classic response indicates while at the same time serving to polarize Nucky’s internal conflict.  “Yeah, but you won’t. Look… you can’t be half a gangster Nucky… not anymore,” and THAT is what Boardwalk Empire is all about.

It’s about how Prohibition changed this country during an era of excess. It’s about our own good and dark sides squaring off.  We see the likes of Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and Al Capone as small time hoods, who we all know will become kings over the next ten years and rule their particular kingdoms through violence and terrorism but what’s often forgotten is that it was the average citizen that made that reign possible.  It’s a part of our collective history as Americans that hasn’t been told before and Boardwalk Empire shines a spotlight on it.

Boardwalk Empire is going to be one helluva journey. This is the best show on television… period, and yes, it only took one episode to figure it out.

Official Boardwalk Empire show site, here.