What a Difference a Day Makes
The Fox TV
Network has buried Tru Calling - one of the most unique new programs
of the 2003-2004 season, on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm. This is the kill-or-be-killed
slot where CBS airs the umpteenth edition of Survivor and NBC tries
desperately to squeeze one more season of comic-gold out of the dry-well called
Friends. Because of the schedule, large audiences haven't yet discovered
this strange genre series, and thus far Tru Calling scores only about
3.8 million viewers a week. That's a shame, because the first four episodes
reveal hints of a concept that might evolve into something special given a
little time and imagination. Of course, such a glorious future assumes that
producer John Harmon Feldman and his stable of writers can aggressively move
beyond the show's heretofore rigidly formulaic plots and begin to explore
the vagaries of time, free will, pre-destination and other unique philosophical
thesis of Tru Calling is actually pretty good, though critics have
been quick to compare it with Early Edition and last year's dead-on-arrival
UPN flop, Haunted. The series concerns a young woman named Tru, portrayed
by the intense and compelling Eliza Dushku. Tru's mother was murdered ten
years ago under mysterious circumstances and now her surviving family, consisting
of a coke-addled sister (Jessica Collins) and a loser of a brother (Shawn
Reeves), seems woefully rudderless and dysfunctional. And Tru has some issues
of her own. In particular, when corpses are wheeled into the morgue where
she interns, they tend to open their dead eyes and request help. And how does
that help manifest itself? Oddly, Tru finds herself reliving the twenty-four
hours leading up to their deaths. Though she was unable to rescue her mother
a decade earlier, Tru now makes amends by saving others.
Some in the media have aptly tagged Tru Calling's format as a variation
on the Bill Murray comedy, Ground Hog's Day, but the series only wishes
it were that inspired. Instead, the show teeters precipitously on the edge
of becoming as repetitive and absurd as Murder, She Wrote or, to call
up a genre example, Friday the 13th: The Series. In both cases, every
nuance and plot point repeated themselves in every episode - ad nauseum. In
Murder, She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher always saw a friend or family member
accused of murder and solved the crime. In Friday the 13th: The Series,
a trio of antique dealers recovered cursed items from their haunted shop,
week-in and week-out for three years.
In Tru Calling, the rigidly repetitive format is irksome. Tru awakens,
leads a normal day, learns something useful to her brother or sister, then
heads to the morgue for the late shift. At the morgue, a corpse asks for help,
and the clock rolls back twenty-four hours. Knowing the future, Tru puzzles
through a mystery, always involving a last-minute twist. At the same time,
she provides the necessary data that helps her siblings evade crises, like
a random drug test.. After four weeks of the same story, intrepid viewers
can anticipate the plot-twists down to the minute, despite a rambunctious
energy-level and go-for-broke pace that outshines ABC's fading Alias.
The result of this repetition is inevitably boredom.
However, Tru Calling is still young. At this point, it is necessary
to reinforce the bizarre, highly-stylized and repetitive format until viewers
become familiar with it. Because then and only then can the show achieve its
true (or Tru) potential. How? By breaking the rules it has so rigorously established
in these early episodes. In doing so, if the show lasts that long, this series
could become something brilliant. Consider the following questions. What if
Tru were to relive a day and save one person, but her actions cause the deaths
of ten other people? What if Tru were to save the life of a fellow who then
goes on to harm innocent people, a rapist or a serial killer? What if on the
way to rescue some poor soul she ends up trapped in an elevator during a black-out
and her opportunity is wasted?
More to the point, as Tru continues her temporal odyssey, the character must
start questioning the very order of things; of fate, nature and God. What
power permits her to relive time? Does it have a purpose? What is that purpose
and why has it selected her as its instrument? By interfering in the fate
of others, is Tru serving destiny or obstructing it?
And, here's another cool notion. What if somebody else boasts the same powers
as Tru, but his or her temporal "rescues" interfere with hers? And,
must not the cosmic scales be balanced? If one person is saved by Tru, does
another person have to die?
When clever writers stretch the format and begin asking - and answering, this
multitude of questions, Tru Calling will really become a lot of fun.
The "relive a day/safe a life" formula is already stale, but if
the scribes examine the notions and conceits underlying their strange formula
and stop taking it at face value, they may find room for surprisingly imaginative
stories and plots that deal with the very nature of human existence.
But they better hurry! The Thanksgiving issue of TV Guide placed Tru Calling
on the "Endangered Species List" despite the fact Fox ordered a
full season of episodes. Let's hope that in the last half of the season, Tru
questions her gift a little more and delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding
it. Because as formulaic as it is, Tru Calling remains the only new
genre program in the post-Buffy, post-Firefly, post-Farscape
age with even a sliver of potential.
And network executives, unlike the power fueling Tru's temporal adventures,
are notorious for not permitting second chances...