Filmed in Bayonne, N.J., by Christmas Tree Entertainment and James D. Parriott Prods. in association with TriStar Television. Executive producer, James D. Parriott; co-executive producers, Montel Williams, Thomas Tannenbaum, Dolores Robinson; producers, Boris Malden, Pam Veasey, Gary Hardwick; director, Rick Wallace; writer, Parriott; camera, Anthony Jannelli; editor, Fred Peterson. TX:Cast: Montel Williams, Kristen Wilson, Richard Chevolleau, Felix A. Pire, Nathaniel Marston, Amy Hargreaves, Sam McMurray. Talkshow host Montel Williams — apparently using his own military and motivational speaking background to flesh out the character — makes his dramatic breakthrough in the much-mined role of high-school teacher as crusader. The situations that the character faces are predictable (illiteracy , gangs, child abuse), yet handled with an unusually quiet tone. Debut episode keeps the preaching subtle, and those soft touches may eventually get the better of this series, despite strong performances all around. Uninterested students jolt his naivete on the first day of school and he quickly leans on his military background to shape up the teenagers. Crux of show is how they respond, one-on-one, to Waters and his “take a look at your future” spiel.
Waters’ background is confusingly retold in separate scenes. A slo-mo black-and-white snippet is apparently his 35-year-old brother being gunned down by a gang (the apparent motive for Waters’ move into teaching); teacher Nicole Moore (Kristen Wilson) is the younger sister of his high school sweetheart, whom he still seems to pine for. Subplot involves Waters renovating the house he was reared in.
Bayview High — yes, there is a bay behind the school — is a stereotypical ethnic mix of lower-middle-class youths. Waters interacts with the ones he deems bright: Flea (Richard Chevolleau), the black star athlete who’s running with a gang; Angela Perez (Cyndi Cartagena), the Hispanic girl who works in a pizza parlor with her supportive best friend, Russ (Felix A. Pire), and drops out to support her family of seven; and Jack (Nathaniel Marston), the white football player physically abused at home.
Series premiere presents problems with few solutions. The ones Waters comes up with involve paying the students to study, which would get old in a hurry. Interaction between the teens and Waters stays convincingly low-key; rapport among students is next to nil but trio of gossiping girls is used well to move along the action.
Among the young actors, the best of the lot is Cartagena as the overwrought and nervous Angela. Williams appears to have studied actors who have the tough-guy act down pat (Louis Gossett Jr. in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” for example). Script gives him plenty to work with and he looks good at the center of all the attention, yet he’s still several large steps away fromestablishing a unique identity.
In many ways an update and expanded version of “White Shadow,” the show’s protagonist believes he can be the great solution, even accepting the role of assistant football coach. Believability factor will be strained if show doesn’t touch on his failures as well as his affinity for pointing teens in the right direction.
The “at-risk” kids pictured here provide an astute level of suspicion and fear as Waters is seemingly the first adult to ever pay attention to them. Interaction among the youngsters needs to be developed to provide greater dynamics in the relationships.
Tech credits are OK, and hip-hop/rap soundtrack should score some points with younger viewers.
The series was originally skedded for a fall debut, but was deemed not ready and was shifted to midseason.