Send your audience home. The Tin Man is dead.
In this series, David E. Kelley brought in a brigade of wonderful character actors and let them loose in the fictional town of Rome, Wisconsin, where everything is bright and sunny, but dark things lurk beneath the surface. In this episode’s opening scene, a community theater production of The Wizard of Oz is cut short when the Tin Man drops dead, poisoned. The show centers on Tom Skerritt, the cranky sheriff of Rome, and Kathy Baker, his wife/the town doctor. This episode, being the pilot, is a double episode, clocking in at an hour and twenty instead of the more usual running time of forty-five minutes or so. When the show works, it’s really wonderful. Lauren Holly is endearingly wide-eyed as Skerritt’s deputy. Kelly Connell really steals the show as a medical examiner who enjoys his job a little too much. A cameo by Ray Walston as hard-nosed Judge Bone is welcome. And Fyvush Finkel really just walks off with the show as the show-boating Douglas Wambaugh, Esq., the town lawyer. The courtroom scenes are brilliant. Subplots involving Skerritt’s young sons dealing with bullies and Costas Mandylor (“I want to play a game, Detective Hoffman.”) as Kenny, a deputy transitioning from the big city to small town life, falling in love with a traveling musician are substantially less successful. The show certainly has a lot on its mind. It wants to be a family drama, a cop show, a quirky comedy and even more. It’s aiming to give you pathos, surreal comedy and a shocking plot twist or two. It’s aiming, actually, to give you all of those things in between every commercial break. The show is apt to give you whiplash if you go in with rigid expectations. This isn’t a great episode of television or anything; the quality is inconsistent and the show isn’t sure if it can justify the abrupt tonal shifts or if they’re self-justifying (spoiler: they’re not). But when the show is funny, it’s hilariously so and the pleasures of watching a cast of veteran character actors sharing the screen can’t be denied. I’m interested in seeing where this goes. 3 stars.
tl;dr – pilot episode goes for quirky comedy, baffling mystery and sincere family drama; script is very inconsistent, but cast is first rate, scope is intriguing & it’s certainly promising. 3 stars.