Saturday, March 28, 2009

Top TV Pilots of All-Time, #8

The countdown continues with a short-lived NBC drama that ran for two seasons and aired just 24 episodes between 2002 and 2003.

#8 Boomtown (2002)

Boomtown was a high-concept show set in Los Angeles that applied a Rashomon-style approach to a criminal investigation. The weekly incident would be dealt with from the perspectives of the police officers and detectives, the lawyers, paramedics, reporters, victims, witnesses and criminals. The Oscar-winning Crash (2004) owes a lot of its style and mood to this preceding show...though the pretentiousness that pervaded Crash is largely absent in Boomtown. There's even an episode of Boomtown called "Crash". If you love LA-based police dramas, this is one you should definitely pick up on DVD.

The pilot for Boomtown is somewhat of an anomaly in that it sticks to the intended formula far more so than any of the episodes which would follow. In watching the pilot for the first time I remembered saying to myself, "wow, how are they going to be able to write something this complex, this well-plotted, and with this much emotional depth week in and week out?" The answer was simple. They couldn't. The rest of the first season is quite good, but the use of multiple perspectives became less and less relevant to the plot as the weeks rolled by. It was always there, but it was the pilot which made the best use of this storytelling technique. By the second season, for which there were only six episodes made before it was cancelled, they had completely abandoned the Rashomon style in hopes of gaining higher ratings. It didn't work. Boomtown never found the audience it deserved.

For an ensemble drama with no fewer than six main perspectives, it's unusual that its actors still had enough room to carve out great performances. Donnie Wahlberg and Mykelti Williamson play partnered detectives and both are sensational. Donnie is a thousand times better an actor than his younger, more famous brother Mark. Neal McDonough is also outstanding as the city's lecherous, sharp-tongued District Attorney (both he and Wahlberg were in Band of Brothers as well). While the use of multiple perspectives was the "gimmick" which instantly set Boomtown apart from other police dramas, it was the consistently strong writing and acting which made the show what it was. Even the opening theme (below) was suggestive of something with a bit more substance than your run-of-the-mill crime procedural.


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