“Full Circle” — Neil Labute’s first series for DirecTV — was an interesting experiment: Ten 30-minute stories, each of which featured two characters, with one from the previous week carrying over into the next. Yet while the satcaster has continued the title, it returns without Labute and with the format bastardized, primarily focusing on a pair of players in each installment while incorporating other subplots, with Chicago cops and corruption as a backdrop. Now overseen by Keith Huff, the show has again assembled an impressive roster of actors, but mostly squanders them as the too-familiar plot advances too ploddingly and preciously.
Part one, actually, contains considerable promise, with Terry O’Quinn as Jimmy Parerra, a former cop who was forced into hiding, essentially, after pulling a Serpico by becoming a whistleblower and putting his father-in-law Bud (Stacy Keach), a former chief of detectives, in jail. Eighteen years later, the old man, thirsty for revenge, is about to receive a compassionate release, when a one-time partner (Chris Bauer) comes to Jimmy with a proposition of sorts, which might involve orders to do him in.
The two meet in an empty bar early in the morning, a venue that becomes the primary setting, in the same way a restaurant was in the original. Yet the plot also expands to include an investigation being conducted by FBI agents (Eric McCormack, Kate Burton) and proceeds to introduce one-on-one sessions involving Jimmy’s ex-wife Shelly (Rita Wilson) and the estranged couple’s not-particularly-interesting children (Brittany Snow, Patrick Fugit).
The series remains a theatrical-style experience and a showcase for the performers, who get to rattle off terse, profane dialogue that owes a spiritual debt to David Mamet.
Yet while there are a few good lines (Jimmy notes that their meeting place “has a definite ‘Godfather’ vibe”), more often the dialogue sounds stilted and even distracting, such as Jimmy’s twentysomething daughter comparing her fiance to Barney Fife — “The Andy Griffith Show” hardly feeling like an organic reference coming from a millennial.
While the format dictated the smallish scale the first time around, opening up the conceit slightly just leaves the show feeling a tad claustrophobic. Even the underlying story about corrupt cops has a stale ring to it, while rolling “Full Circle” farther away from its inspiration.
Labute has stayed within the DirecTV fold by producing the current half-hour “Billy & Billie,” and it’s perhaps understandable why the distributor would be interested in exploiting whatever equity it had in the show’s name, especially if it can attract this many recognizable actors to add credibility to its nascent programming efforts.
That said, rather than trying to draw another “Circle,” maybe the distributor would have been better advised to close that chapter and take a chance on sketching a whole new line.