As Orwellian as the name “Mindshare” sounds, the big advertising concern has underwritten a pretty good show in this wry if overly manipulative family drama that, alas, has about as much chance of succeeding as Halliburton’s public-image spots. With this summer tryout and the fall drama “Life as We Know It,” ABC has ordered a pair of teen-oriented series that should give the WB a run for its money ratings-wise– but that isn’t a good thing for what’s ostensibly a major network.
Narrated by the 14-year-old Cooper (Evan Peters), who sounds suspiciously like a juvenile Dennis Miller, “The Days” derives its title from the family’s surname as well as his personal countdown until he can leave home and cash in by writing a scathing novel about his peculiar clan. (Hence the “Day 1,412” designation for the premiere.)
Not quite like sand through the hourglass, each episode covers a day in their lives, and the first is certainly eventful. Little brother brainiac Nathan (Zach Maurer) has a panic attack during a test, All-Everything older sis Natalie (Laura Ramsey) turns out to be pregnant, and mom and dad (Marguerite MacIntyre and David Newsom) each struggle with the demands of career and family — she as creative director at an ad agency, he as an unhappy corporate lawyer.
The little brood is so disconnected initially that when dad proposes a family meeting, he quickly apologizes for “channeling Robert Young for a minute there.” Yet as frenetic as the show purposefully is, writer-producer John Scott Shepherd provides a sense of warmth as well as some genuinely clever dialogue, while keeping the crises coming in rapid succession.
“The only difference between us and the Osbournes is they get paid,” mom Abby mutters in exasperation before it’s all over.
In this carefully stitched quilt, there are some lapses in logic and the seams show a little too often. Perhaps most significantly, Cooper’s angry young man routine grows tiresome long before day 1,412 is over. When he eviscerates a guidance counselor who attempts to relate to him, the inclination is more toward smacking the kid than sympathizing.
Although producer Tollin/Robbins is well schooled in the genre, with the WB’s “One Tree Hill” and “Smallville,” the fuzzier Hallmark moments occasionally feel as forced as the ever-present pop songs that accompany every conversation.
The show represents the first under ABC’s relationship with Mindshare — an alliance that allows the media buyer to claim more input in programming by helping fund production costs for a share of the show’s ownership and ad time. In that context, it’s a more laudable exercise than something like USA’s recent “product integration” experiment “The Last Ride” — really just an extended Pontiac commercial. In fact, it’s noteworthy that in “Days,” the question of abortion arises, inasmuch as many advertisers flee from the controversy associated with that issue.
What’s harder to figure is where something like this fits into any broader strategy, other than ABC tossing programs against the wall and hoping something sticks. Based on the premiere, Cooper has roughly 3.9 years to go before he can fly the coop. And while “The Days” isn’t bad, it’s hard to imagine that day ever coming.