Had Shakespeare lived today he’d probably be developing primetime soaps like this, just as Mozart would be scoring “Pirates of the Caribbean” — both under the aegis of that renowned patron of the arts, Jerry Bruckheimer. Granted, even the bard would be challenged to transform “Romeo & Juliet” into a Fox sudser set against the porn industry, but “Skin’s” producers have pulled it off about as well as can be done despite inherent limitations. Buoyed by Ron Silver’s presence, this watchable series should benefit from “Joe Millionaire’s” lead-in, the question being how its serialized format will fare against NBC’s own skin-drenched ode to style over substance, “Las Vegas.”
If “Romeo & Juliet: The Series” sounded like a swell pitch after the contemporized Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes film version in 1996, it’s worth remembering that those star-crossed kids die at the end, as opposed to extending their tortured romance over 22 weeks.
And while D.J. Cotrona and Olivia Wilde are extremely attractive, watching them coo at each other starts to grow tiresome by the end of the second hour screened.
As updated for Fox, the Montagues and Capulets take on a modern-day twist. She’s the doesn’t-look-Jewish daughter of Jewish adult-film mogul Larry Goldman (Silver), while he’s the Mexican/Irish Catholic son of hard-charging district attorney Thomas Roam (Kevin Anderson), looking to make his rep by bringing the pornmeister down.
The kids meet at a swank Hollywood party and are soon rolling around on the beach a la “From Here to Eternity” (that’s an old movie, for any of you in the target audience), about the same time Roam arrests Goldman in his posh manor, triggering the war between their feuding houses.
Most interestingly, Goldman is a family man with principles — a smut peddler with a heart of gold, loyal to his wife (Pamela Gidley), dedicated to his kids and outraged to learn that kiddie porn has found its way onto some of the company’s Web sites.
The part finds Silver at his seething, sleazy best, while Anderson doesn’t fare nearly as well as the harder-to-read D.A., whose crusade appears to be as much the product of ambition as legitimate outrage.
As for the kids, Adam (Cotrona) clearly feels neglected by his folks, while Wilde’s Jewel (get it?) suffers from both rich-kid angst and fact that dad produces porn. When the show begins, she’s a 16-year-old virgin, a disclosure treated as if that makes her the last chaste gal in her demo.
Filled with swooping aerial shots of the L.A. freeways, the series possesses a distinctive visual style courtesy of director Russell Mulcahy, who cut his teeth on musicvideos before segueing to films like “Highlander.”
Writer-producer Jim Leonard also concocts a fair amount of intrigue, including a money-laundering scheme involving a criminal (Clarence Williams III) that could be the DA’s entree into Goldman’s empire. He doesn’t help the show’s cause, however, with whiny teen dialogue like Adam saying, “The less my parents are home, the more rules they make.”
What’s still lacking two hours in, is a sense of whether the show can sustain its central tension — namely, the crazy-in-love kids caught between two hostile camps.
“Skin” also seeks to have it both ways by essentially glorifying porn while simultaneously questioning its adverse effects on society, as Roam does on more than one occasion.
Nevertheless, it at least represents an attempt at turning out a quality, character-driven drama — a welcome departure from the Bruckheimer factory’s steady output of crimeshows, which have left a trail of clothed but decapitated bodies all over primetime.
Already heavily promoted during the network’s sports coverage, “Skin” fills an hour where “Girls Club” struck out last fall and has the chance to feed off “Joe Millionaire’s” ratings largesse. If it doesn’t work, expect Fox execs to fall back on another reality show — maybe one inspired by “Hamlet,” set in the restaurant industry, assuming NBC doesn’t beat them to it.