As the networks greenlight pilots in search of the next serial drama combining elements of "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" with a touch of "Crash" tossed in, ABC comes up with the smartly drawn "Six Degrees," a borderline soap that plays off the intersections of human lives.

As the networks greenlight pilots in search of the next serial drama combining elements of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” with a touch of “Crash” tossed in, ABC comes up with the smartly drawn “Six Degrees,” a borderline soap that plays off the intersections of human lives. Pilot is cleverly written giving the characters a heady, just-specific-enough mix of mystery, intrigue and charm — the key in each of producer J.J. Abrams’ hits.

The most straightforward character in “Six Degrees” is public defender Carlos (Jay Hernandez), who like any lawyer working for the government is harried and stressed, but not to the point that he can’t take a moment to notice the beauty of detainee Mae (Erika Christensen) and start to envision a romance. (She’s arrested for riding topless on a street sweeper, the show’s one awkward scene.)

But Mae has at least one huge secret, and she’s definitely on the run from an attacker who is getting close. Disguises and name changes are standard procedure for her — we see her switch to redhead from blond and become Claire the nanny.

Mae’s new employer, Laura (Hope Davis), lost her war-journalist husband during an attack that occurred while he was on air; she’s trying to jumpstart her life with her daughter Laura, shown sorting through her past and trying to find the right time to shed her late husband’s possessions, quickly befriends Whitney (Bridget Moynahan), a high-powered publicist, who’s looking for a fresh photographer — and who wonders if her b.f. is cheating via an Internet dating service. In the former effort, she stumbles upon some old work of washed-up photog Steven (Campbell Scott).

They have a discordant meeting; Steven needs to create a new portfolio, and as he wanders the streets of Manhattan, he finds a perfect subject — a distressed woman on the front steps of a building. It’s Laura.

Easy to see the degrees of separation at work here. Elsewhere there’s the driver with the gambling problem, Damian (Dorian Missick), whose life immediately intersects with Carlos, and the cheating boyfriend, who winds up in the same bar as Carlos and Damian.

Pilot closes on a note too cute for its own good, which could work if Carlos is indeed a bit of a savior. But the key here seems is to be keeping these people in states of uncertainty: To hold interest week to week, Carlos can’t find true love, Damian can’t be assured of his own safety and Whitney needs to remain unsure who she can trust.

Although “Six” ultimately boils down to a single philosophical point of view — that of Carlos — it does recall the single-season masterpiece “Boomtown.” That show, more than most, exposed the vulnerability of characters and the quirks of their decision-making abilities. Ensemble dramas have been dominated by masters of logical, linear thinking (“ER,” “House,” “Law & Order”), and “Six Degrees” steers in a completely different direction, demonstrating how good people can make bad decisions, a running theme through “Lost’s” backstories.

If there is one thing crystal-clear about this ensemble after an hour with the half-dozen leads, it is how each one makes life decisions. These aren’t characters to fall in love with or even admire all that much, and the actors bring a proper amount of restraint to their characterizations.

Direction is sharp. New York, used in a still rather than a frenetic manner, makes the perfect setting for the show, adding to the plausibility of each interaction.

Producers had not determined the credits, including director and writer, for the pilot in time for publication.

Six Degrees

ABC, Thurs., Sept. 21, 10 p.m.

Production

Filmed in New York by Bad Robot, Nosebleed Prods. and Touchstone Television. Executive producers, J.J. Abrams, Stuart Zicherman, Raven Metzner, Carol Flint, Bryan Burk.

Crew

Producer, Jace Alexander. Running time: 60 MIN.

Cast

Carlos - Jay Hernandez Whitney - Bridget Moynahan Mae - Erika Christensen Damian - Dorian Missick Steven - Campbell Scott Laura - Hope Davis
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