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Series premiere: James Purefoy in The Philanthropist, Wednesday at 10 ET

In series debut, summer 2009, television, tv on 06/24/2009 at 10:38 am

Series name
The Philanthropist

Debuts
Wednesday, June 24, at 10 p.m. ET on Global and NBC

Regularly airs
Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET

Premise
Rich guy Teddy Rist saves Nigerian boy, which both deepens his grief for his dead son and sparks inspiration for how to assuage his grief over that loss: Use his millions to do good, in person and by his own hand. If he has some adventures and trysts, well so much the better.

Primary cast and crew
James Purefoy (Rome) is Teddy Rist, apparently inspired by a real guy, Bobby Sager.

Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order) is his partner and, going by the June 24 pilot, constant nag, Philip Maidstone

Neve Campbell (Party of Five, Scream) is Olivia Rist, Teddy’s wife but she and Rist had or still have something going on. Not clear from the pilot. She’s also quite naggy.

Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar from The Wire) is Rist’s driver and fixer and getter-out-of-troubler Dax

Lindy Booth (October Road, Relic Hunter) is Rist’s assistant AJ Butterfield. She totters quite gamely through Nigeria in, I couldn’t quite make out if they were Manohlos or Jimmy Choos but they were expensive and, given the terrain, remarkably durable.

Krista Allen (Head Cases) is Rist’s haunted, grieving ex-wife, Julia Carson Rist. The son’s death hangs over every one of the few words they exchange in the pilot.

Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz) is exec producer/writer and Gareth Neame (Hotel Babylon, Hustle) is exec-producer.

Buzz buzz
Fontana’s name carries some weight, but he left the show over creative differences last spring … and then returned in the fall. Odd, but then again Fontana is a brilliant guy, and although not all of his projects have been great, when he’s good, he’s very, very good. Here’s his essay for the Huff Post, describing his efforts to help Kratina victims and his new show, and here’s an interview by if magazine, whatever the hell that is, with Purefoy and Fontana, about the genesis of the show and the challenge of playing a real-life do-gooder.

But what do I know anyway? After having, indeed, seen the pilot I do declare:
I love Rist’s hedonist trying to also do some good. The character is introduced, to lovely effect, as he spins the yarn of his adventure and epiphany to a female bartender, which serves as the frame for the pilot episode. He self-consciously adopts the air of a barroom bullshitter, also hitting on her and writing her a $1,000 cheque if she will continue listening. But Fontana, who wrote and produced the opening episode, also reveals a heartbreaking character, too, one who chooses an stranger, a jaded bartender, as his confessor. The audience soon knows what she does not: about his son and his marriage and his grief. It’s a lovely setup. That Purefoy is gorgeously charismatic does not hurt. The excellent cinematography and action sequences (filmed in South Africa, Mozambique and Prague) also help, although careful TV watchers will remember that the production values of pilot episodes, on which the projects are sold, are usually much higher than the episodes that follow. HOWEVER, The Philanthropist’s premiere episode was also dotted with groaners and lost opportunities, among them Rist’s heavy-handed moment of ecstasy after he is pulled into a boy’s coming-of-age ceremony in Nigeria. That Martin, Campbell, Booth and expecially Williams are all barely involved in the action — well, that’s almost a crime but hopefully one that will soon be addressed. This has great potential.

Other reviews are mixed
Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald … well there’s no other word for it: he HATES The Philanthropist: “(It) recalls such epochal television bombs as Manimal (a scientist who could turn into a crime-fighting dolphin) or It’s About Time (astronauts break the time barrier and frolick happily with cavemen) in its conceptual imbecility.”

On the other hand, The Hollywood Reporter’s Randee Dawn calls it “a smart, earnest yet realistic series waiting to be told, and the pilot makes an intriguing beginning.”

And Variety’s Brian Lowry says that, while not perfect, The Philanthropist is good- and good-looking-enough to make time for.

Official website
Standard collection of cast and character bios, videos that shut out Canadian IP addresses, possibly the most boring quizzes every and “Extras” that are “Coming soon.” Meh!

Can’t wait for the next new-series preview?
Hung, which debuts on HBO Canada Sunday night, is about exactly what you think it is. But is it more than a one-line joke? I’ll get back to you before the weekend.

Wondering when the other new series and returning series are kicking off?
Click here for my select list of summer premieres and other important dates. Who am I to tell you what to do, but you could consider bookmarking it…

— Denise Duguay

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