Money changes everything — except, perhaps, the familiar whiff of stale ensemble drama. Erected around the potentially fertile premise of what happens when an extended group of friends and acquaintances wins a $386-million lottery payday, “Windfall” transforms that notion into an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink melodrama. In a way, the series blends “Dallas” (they had money from the start) with “The Millionaire,” an anthology that explored how an unexpected gift would affect different people’s lives. Unfortunately, the mostly uninvolving characters leave NBC holding an account that should yield only marginal interest.
At the heart of the show is a romantic quadrangle of sorts, as former lovers Cameron (Jason Gedrick) and Nina (Lana Parrilla) have moved on to marry Beth (Sarah Wynter) and Peter (Luke Perry), respectively. Still, as Cameron tells Nina near the outset, despite how great his wife is, “I never loved her the way I do you.”
Enter their regular lottery party, which includes everyone from a mysterious employee at the local flower shop, Sean (D.J. Cotrona), to the pizza delivery woman Kimberly (Malinda Williams), a struggling, soon-to-be-single mom. There’s even a next-generation element with teenage kids, drawing upon the formula that made NBC’s “Surface” so, um, canceled.
Series creators Laurie McCarthy and Gwendolyn Parker have a little fun with the exultation that accompanies news of the win (all set to overbearing music) before settling down to the question at hand: How will millions change these people, and, from a wish-fulfillment standpoint, what would any Average Joe do once presented a check with seven zeros on it?
The complications, alas, run a too-predictable gamut, from Beth and Nina’s second-episode impromptu shopping trip to Paris to Sean’s run-ins with his past, which requires using a surrogate to claim the money since he can’t under his real name. And yes, there’s even a teenager (Jon Foster) rescuing a Russian mail-order bride, almost “Risky Business” style, complete with a wild party at which she belts down Vodka like a pro.
There’s certainly talent strewn across the broad cast, from the well-traveled Gedrick to “24” alums Wynter and Parrilla. At least initially, though, most of the beats suffer from a been-there quality, and there’s a glut of interlocking storylines that might be less of an issue, admittedly, if two or three really merited attention.
NBC has little to lose by rolling the dice on “Windfall’s” summer run in “ER’s” slot, given that medical show’s historic run has clearly begun to ebb and that it has never repeated especially well. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to imagine this earnest reliever scratching out the kind of winning numbers the network could surely use.
Besides, there’s already a popular primetime series about winning the lottery. It’s called “American Idol.”