Friday, September 15, 2006

TV: Men in Trees

I caught the early showing of ABC's Men in Trees on Wednesday; the pilot episode is airing again tonight (its regular night), along with a new episode. I am going to TiVo the new episode, so that's an early indication of how I felt about the show.

It's a reverse-gender Northern Exposure, to break it down to its high concept basics. Anne Heche (a big sack full of crazy in real life, yes, but I always seem to like her as an actress) plays Marin Frist, a renowned relationship expert and author on a promotional tour. On her way to a gig in the tiny, remote town of Elmo, Alaska -- tiny and remote enough, by the way, that it is completely unbelievable that she would get booked there, or would actually go there, whether she was booked or not -- she discovers her fiance is cheating on her. Suddenly she finds herself reevaluating everything she believed about relationships, men, and herself, and she decides to break off her engagement and stay in Elmo, surrounded by its quirky cast of characters, to write a new book.

There are many nods to (or thefts from, if you're feeling ungenerous) Northern Exposure to be found here, from the setting to the fish-out-of-water main character -- there's even a storefront radio station, a la "Chris in the Morning," at which Marin gets a job. I was keenly aware of this homage/theft, and the brazen way this new show went about it, but I found myself liking the show because of it. It helped the show feel familiar and comfortable, while still being fairly different from most anything else currently on the air. Normally, I think I'd resent this kind of thing; I'm not really sure why it worked for me here, but it did.

It helps that there are a couple of great supporting characters keeping my interest. John Amos plays Buzz, the only pilot out of town, and Abraham Benrubi (who will always and forever make me think "Kubiac eat now?" whenever I see him) is Ben, bartender and sympathetic ear. James Tupper plays Jack, Marin's Maggie O'Connell-type love/hate interest. I've never seen him before, but I liked him; he reminds me of Paul Gross, from Due South and Slings and Arrows. I found it kind of funny that in romantic tradition, he's a damaged man that Marin will of course have to heal -- but not just damaged emotionally, oh no; he's actually got a giant scar across his shoulder and he has trouble working his right hand. For some reason, that cracked me up. He should just wear a sign around his neck: I'M DAMAGED.

The writing and plot of the show were less than brilliant, filled with plenty of obvious and/or phony revelations about the nature of relationships, at least one too many quirky characters, and a few too many "city girl confronted by nature" moments, such as a raccoon hiding in Marin's closet, or Marin cracking through the ice over a frozen pond. But at the same time there was a low-key charm and earnestness to it that I found appealing. I liked most of the characters, and I loved being back in Cicely, Alaska (even if they're calling it Elmo here). I'll watch the show again, as long as it's not up against something better. Which means, according to the ratings system I established last year, I'll give it:

Rating: 6 out of 10

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