ABC found a Thursday night winner with its political thriller Scandal, which has run for five successful seasons. Unfortunately for Scandal fans, star Kerry Washington's pregnancy has meant that Season 6 has been delayed until early 2017. The network is filling the time slot with freshman drama Notorious, and the new series will undoubtedly face comparison to the show it's replacing in the fall lineup. Unfortunately, Notorious falls short of the Scandal standard. The plot has been done before and done better, although there is always potential for the series to improve.
Creators Josh Berman and Allie Hagan actually landed on a pretty interesting premise that could have become something unlike anything else on television. Notorious is based on the real-life friendship between legendary Larry King Live producer Wendy Walker and successful criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos. The two formed an unconventional partnership to shape the news in a way that benefits them both.
Notorious opens on TV producer Julia George (Piper Perabo) trying to juggle love and work as she bustles around behind the scenes of her news show Louise Herrick Live. Despite some distraction courtesy star Louise Herrick (Kate Jennings Grant), Julie discovers a huge story just in time to throw a curveball at the latest guest on LHL. The guest is none other than criminal defense lawyer Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata), whose client gets himself into hot water just as he hits the airwaves on LHL.
All is not as it seems, however; Julia and Jake are actually pals who work together to present the news as they see fit. Julia's life becomes infinitely more annoying with the selection of her new assistant (Ryan Guzman), and things only get worse when LHL junior producer Megan Byrd (Sepideh Moafi) has some bad news for her. Jake works with his brother Bradley (J. August Richards) to deal with a high profile case just as an investigation into billionaire Oscar Keaton (Kevin Zegers) and his wife Sarah quickly gets dangerously personal for Jake. Julia's and Jake's worlds collide when a major news story hits close to home for them both.
The Notorious pilot isn't terrible, all things considered. Pilots are generally not the greatest episodes of television, since they try to introduce characters and explain entire plots in 42 minutes of screen time, and it can be best to cut them some slack. Notorious does a good enough job of explaining the premise without preaching at the audience, the people are pretty, and the pace is fast enough to keep things moving. Unfortunately, it's not fast enough that we can't catch the shortcomings of the episode.
The biggest problem with the Notorious series premiere is undoubtedly the way the episode pulls a few too many "Gotcha!" twists within its first 42 minutes. The first reveal that Julia and Jake are actually friends and not saboteurs was effective and packed a solid punch to introduce their dynamic, but the twists became much less twisty as they added up.
Another problem is that the show falls short on delivering on its own unique premise and rather produces something that most of us who have ever tuned into a legal drama, media thriller, or Lifetime original have seen before. Instead of really entwining Julia's story and Jake's story into a symbiotic narrative, the pilot more or less felt like a crossover between a legal procedural and a TV show about TV. Half of Julia's arc felt like the first act of a made-for-TV movie about a woman who discovers that she deserves love outside of her work and good-for-nothin' boyfriend. A couple of sex scenes and a cameo from Katie Couric aren't enough to distract from the shortcomings.
That said, the performances aren't bad. Although the emotional material doesn't entirely play to Daniel Sunjata's strengths as an actor, he improved in his scenes as a lawyer. Piper Perabo is good enough as Julia, and most of the emotional punch comes from her half of the episode. A surprise highlight is Sepideh Moafi as junior producer Megan. Moafi adds dimension to a character that could have been distinctly unsympathetic. If Notorious has a future ahead of it, Moafi deserves more time in the spotlight.
At the end of the day, Notorious is a show that will likely succeed or fail based on the chemistry between the lead actors, and they just didn't have it in the pilot. There's not much spark between Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata, whether adversarial or friendly or romantic. The chemistry may not be enough to really raise the stakes of their dynamic, and the inevitable conflict between the unlikely partners may not be particularly compelling. It's possible that they only had pilot yips and will work better together in future episodes, but not everybody may be willing to stick around and find out.
Notorious could be a winner of a series for anybody looking for an inoffensive and pretty show that doesn't require a whole lot of thought. The show has more or less been done before, and it may not be worth the time for anybody looking for something new and fresh in the 2016 - 2017 TV season. It has the potential to be better if it overcomes the pilot issues. Only time will tell.