About as tired as a premise gets, "October Road" starts down what appears to be a dead end -- the prodigal son returning to the small town he wronged and friends he abandoned -- before gradually finding a few interesting alleys to explore in the third and fourth episodes.
About as tired as a premise gets, “October Road” starts down what appears to be a dead end — the prodigal son returning to the small town he wronged and friends he abandoned — before gradually finding a few interesting alleys to explore in the third and fourth episodes. It remains to be seen whether those sparks are too little, too late to save this soft-focused drama, which feels like a Hallmark movie stretched into series form. A foreword from “Grey’s Anatomy,” as it were, should at least provide a large initial audience for the show to fumble away.Some of the hurdles faced by this new drama are no fault of its own, coming on the heels of ABC’s forgettable string of programs cut from the same interchangeable swatch of yuppie cloth, from “What About Brian” to “Brothers & Sisters” to “Six Degrees.” What separates “October Road,” albeit to a modest extent, is an unusually appealing cast, though that’s relatively small compensation for the banality of the central character’s situation. Nick (Bryan Greenberg) is introduced via a 10-year-old flashback, right before he embarks on a six-week trip to Europe, leaving girlfriend Hannah (Laura Prepon) and best pal Eddie (Geoff Stults), as well as the small New England college town where he’s grown up with his widowed dad (Tom Berenger). Like Gilligan, however, that tour lasted longer than anticipated. A decade later, Nick is a successful novelist, having written a book obviously drawing liberally from his real-life experience. So in the throes of a creative and existential crisis, he agrees to teach a one-day seminar back home that, duh, will inspire him to hang around, facing the fallout from his book and a shifting set of relationships. Before the “yawn” muscles kick in entirely, though, there are some pleasant surprises here, not counting Hannah’s too-precocious 10-year-old Sam (Slade Pearce), who Nick fears/hopes might be his. At the local college, there’s the pretty coed (Odette Yustman) who catches Nick’s eye, and vice versa; ladies man Eddie’s flirtation with an overweight local barmaid, who he’s embarrassed to be seen squiring around; and committed shut-in Phil (Jay Paulson), who starts a sweetly awkward courtship with the local pizza delivery gal. The main problem is that too much of the writing is bluntly on the nose, with characters launching into speeches about their feelings and unleashing such wince-inducing lines as, “The past is like a pimple on prom night.” This touchy-feely demeanor proves especially hard on Hannah — who obviously still harbors a lingering attraction toward Nick — as well as Nick himself, whose Yoda-like utterances include, “Once I stayed away, staying away became the way.” Much of the action is also augmented by an ever-present song score — a manipulative approach that harks back to “Dawson’s Creek” days. The pavers of “October Road” include Group M Entertainment, part of a media-buying firm, for whom this sort of innocuous fare provides a safe soap-selling backdrop. That isn’t to say the program doesn’t provide some simple pleasures; it’s just that with the jury still out on “What About Brian,” does ABC or anybody else really need “What About Nick,” too?