This article was corrected on Sept. 20, 2002.
Forget trying to pick out what may or may not be a clue in the “Push, Nevada” puzzle — this is one mind-boggling pilot, full of red herrings and oddball characters that weave in and out of what seems to be a linear plot. The art direction — deep, intense hues color every scene — is stunning; a more vibrant example of form over function won’t be found on the fall season. Show isn’t riding on the pictures, though — ABC is offering a million bucks to a viewer able to solve the case involving stolen money, but the overly arty presentation could dent its ability to draw a substantial audience for its 13 episodes.
“Push” has “Twin Peaks” written all over it, from the naked man who breaks into a bank vault at the opening of the show to the quirky main character to Push’s hot spot, Sloman’s slow dance bar. Viewers intent on solving the crime should make two lists after each episode — things that made sense and a much longer list of things that didn’t.
Derek Cecil plays Jim Prufrock, a 29-year-old, divorced accountant with the Internal Revenue Service. He’s a man on a mission who speaks directly yet curtly; it’s assumed that one of the bar dancers, Mary, played captivatingly by Scarlett Chorvat, is “Push’s” other lead character.
A fax arrives (inadvertently?) in Prufrock’s office that indicates there’s a significant embezzlement scheme taking place at the Versailles Casino in Push. Prufrock makes the trek across the desert to the tiny town and finds couples embracing at 9:15 p.m., the town’s lights going off at 11 and, of course, Sloman’s.
He works his way into the office of casino honcho Silas Bodnick (Jon Polito) and, naturally, Prufrock’s threats of prosecution are pooh-poohed. Eventually the two will face each other in a life-or-death confrontation and as is this series’ wont, Prufrock gets out of it in a bizarre way thanks to a masked man who doesn’t wait around to be thanked.
Through all of this, Prufrock is being monitored by a couple of figures in the dark. They are as mysterious as the naked man in the tub who shows up later at a gas station, this time in the heat of the day, still shivering.
There are all sorts of oddities that may be clues. Is it that the garage owner is named Job? That Watermark LLC turned around the city of Push in 1985? Are they in the Polaroids taped on and around the ceiling of the big rig that Prufrock rides in after his car breaks down? Maybe it’s as simple as the line Mary delivers in the bar: “It’s a secret and like all the best secrets, it’s not quickly told.”
Cecil reminds of Kyle MacLachlan’s Detective Cooper in “Twin Peaks” — a committed crime fighter with personality pockmarks. He’s lonely, an unintentional loner thrust into the company of strangers he treats with an emotional flatness. It takes the beguiling Mary to get him to signal a true response, one that’s partially hormonal and partially curiosity. Chorvat, a Slovak whose TV appearances have been exclusively on “The District,” is an intriguing addition to the primetime landscape, much as — here comes “Twin Peaks” again — Laura Flynn Boyle was a decade ago. Beyond Polito, the characters are there to add to Prufrock’s confusion.
The star of this show, though, is its design and the photography of Jim Denault (“Boys Don’t Cry”), who brings to the small screen an adventurous sense of color and perspective. It’s so wonderful to look at, one could turn down the sound, pull out a Chris Isaak CD and just groove to the visuals.
Show opens on a Tuesday then airs in its regular spot Thursdays with the debut repeating at 8 p.m. “CSI” could be a tough battle for “Push,” but if the rookie pulls in an audience, it will likely be the desirable under 34 crowd.