“Deliverance Creek” feels like a Franken-western, stitched together from pieces of previous movies. That’s not all bad, necessarily, but it does make this two-hour Lifetime pilot, bearing the stamp of hankie-waving producer Nicholas Sparks, about as tidy as a stable in the early going, drunkenly flitting around among multiple plots. Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) is the anchor as a mother struggling to raise her kids during the Civil War, before her Confederate/outlaw brother, former lover and runaway slaves enter the picture. The Sparks connection might help the battle of launching the show, but greater coherence is needed to avoid losing the war.
Lifetime has done the project and potential viewers no favors, airing a series prototype as a “programming event.” The problem is that there’s no real ending, so the story doesn’t conclude so much as simply run out of time. It’s also a little disorienting to have Skeet Ulrich appear as a “special guest star,” then have virtually no significant role in the plot.
Ambrose’s Belle is overseeing a ranch in Deliverance Creek, Missouri, holding together her family without word from her husband in more than two years. Not that she’s been pining for him, instead taking up with the local deputy, while rebuffing the boorish advances of a married neighbor.
Soon, Belle’s brother (Christopher Backus) re-enters the picture, having put together a band of rovers, including one with whom Belle shares a history, who are intent on pulling off a robbery. On a separate track, Belle’s sister (Caitlin Custer) is assisting the Underground Railroad and a family of escaped slaves seeking safe haven in Deliverance Creek, led by a resourceful mother (Yaani King) who aims to reunite with her boys.
Written by Melissa Carter (“Jane by Design”), directed by Jon Amiel and produced under Sparks’ shingle (which Lifetime, naturally, is promoting), the premiere thus feels like at least four different stories — the Civil War, a robbery caper, a revenge plot, a long-deferred romance — all thrown together in an overheated jumble. To an extent, that’s helpful; it’s as if the entire show is produced using shorthand. But the tradeoff is that it’s difficult to keep track of the characters, much less care about them.
For fans of westerns, the production offers a reasonably gritty view of the period, and a few unforeseen twists. But it does little to whet one’s appetite for a series pickup. As presented, it simply feels like Lifetime saw Sparks’ name and decided to cast “Deliverance Creek” into the waters of primetime — with too many paddles rowing in different directions.