Friday, July 3, 2009

The Philanthropist: Dull, Preachy, Trite

All Photos from NBC
I decided to watch ”The Philanthropist”because Jesse L. Martin, probably most well known to TV viewers from his work on Law & Order, had a starring role. The premise of the show – about a wealthy businessman turned philanthropist – sounded hopeful.

After watching two episodes, I have decided to take the show off my watch list. The first episode was somewhat flat and uninspiring, with the cast having zero chemistry. Martin, who plays the business partner and good friend of the show’s main character, Teddy Rist (James Purefoy), seemed stiff and his character one dimensional. (My husband even commented, “I think Martin made a poor move joining this show.”) Purefoy isn't much better, although he was given more chances with more action scenes, seemingly attempting to be a philanthropist’s version of James Bond. Sadly, his efforts are wasted as the episode became mired in peachiness. I decided to give the first episode a pass, and wait to review the show until the second episode.

The second episode, titled “Myanmar” was even worse. In this episode, the Maidstone-Rist firm is exposed in a press conference as having ties, through business interests in China, to businesses in Myanmar, (formerly known as Burma) where forced labor is used in many places. Teddy decides to help the company clear their name, and for some reason which I didn’t quite understand, Teddy has to get advice from Daw May Lin Wai, a Burmese democratic leader who has been under house arrest in the country almost 20 years. He has to break through security to get through to her, using his “bodyguard” to help create distractions, which of course pulls away all the guards. (As you know, all security guards in television are idiots and easily pulled away from their posts.) Teddy sprints inside, Daw May gives him a “do the right thing” speech, and he manages to escape by running through the back streets, which oddly seemed to be unguarded and what may have been a much easier way in. Of course, Teddy likely thinks he won’t stand out, being the only man in town wearing a suit – a white suit at that.

During his stay, he also meets up with a young girl who needs a kidney transplant, and who happens to have an attractive female doctor. Teddy decides to help get the girl’s father who is supposed to be a donor, but he is being held as a laborer in a ruby mine. Teddy uses his money - and other people - in order to get the girl’s father out, and the transplant is performed in what looks like a hospital that to me doesn’t look to even remotely have the skills and equipment to perform such a surgery.

While all this is going on, Philip Maidstone (Jesse L. Martin) is chairing a board meeting, and one member wants to oust Rist. The whole episode covers Philip telling Teddy’s Myanmar story - with repeated voice over scenes – to try to convince the board to keep Teddy. I always say that if a show needs voice over scene to help the viewers understand things, the show is either too complicated or too boring. In this case, I think boring fits better.

Let’s not forget that Teddy’s efforts to clear the company name gets put by the wayside when he agrees to give the Chinese company even MORE business in order to curry favor with the Myanmar people to help get the girl’s father and his bodyguard and the girl’s father out of jail. So, in order to save one person, Teddy compromised his entire company and possibly enabled even more oppression for the people of Myanmar. Yeah, that was a really bright move. Personally, after Philip told Teddy's story, I heard nothing in it that would make me want to keep Teddy, yet the board allows him to stay on. Go figure.

The show is heavy in the preachiness, trying too hard to prove a point about how bad things are in other countries. Of course Teddy is the only one who seems to “get it”, and it’s all because his son is dead. I am not quite sure how his son died – maybe I dozed off during that part – but I suppose that the show needed some excuse for Teddy to have this sudden desire to save the world. It’s a trite plot device.

So, in my desperation to find new shows to watch in the summer, I am not that desperate that I will continue to watch “The Philanthropist.”

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