Fall TV season is here, and with it comes the return of series with vague, dramatic, one-word titles. Turn on “Scandal” or “Revenge,” and the next 40-some minutes will, without doubt, be filled with blackmail, not-so-secret affairs and, if we’re lucky, a mysterious disappearance. While these high-drama shows border on ridiculous, they do promise to be entertaining. At the very least, they should deliver on some good, old-fashioned, heart-wrenching angst, however ABC’s new drama series “Notorious” falls short of even the bare minimum.
“Notorious” centers around the (corrupt) relationship between a news producer and criminal justice lawyer, working together to influence the media. The lawyer Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata, “Graceland”) is able to control his clients’ public perceptions, while producer Julia George (Piper Perabo, “Covert Affairs”) gets insider tips on breaking stories. Jake and Julia, characters that creator Josh Burman (“Drop Dead Diva”) based on celebrity attorney Mark Geragos and “Larry King Live” producer Wendy Walker, write a narrative absent of ethics, morals and integrity. Sexy, right?
Wrong. The series kicks off with a pilot that stuffs in one predictable twist after another, throwing originality out the window and settling for less than mediocre. All the boxes for “just another network drama” are neatly checked off: the high-profile murder, the unprofessional affair, the threatening blackmail. The “surprising” developments come and go so fast that any semblance of anticipation or heat simmers down to nothing. As the series attempts to move at a fast and exciting pace, the “Notorious” pilot becomes a textbook case of quantity over quality, confusing lies for drama and power for sex appeal.
While the drama attempts (and fails) to hit the audience with punchy plot lines, character development is completely neglected. By the end of the pilot, Jake and Julia still read completely flat as Perabo and Sanjata deliver lines that are painfully overdramatized. Without any insight into their backstory or the foundation of their relationship, the audience is unable to connect with the two main characters, who are seemingly driven only by power and success. The pilot does not create a deeper understanding of their motivations, nor does it allow viewers to empathize with the backhanded way Jake and Julia go about reaching their goals. There’s no chemistry on a personal or professional level, making their super-secret relationship hard to buy. Unfortunately, they’re just boring.
“Notorious” has some big shoes to fill as it stands in for “Scandal” on ABC’s coveted TGIT lineup of Shondaland shows. But despite the beautiful people and high-drama plotline that fall suspiciously close to the Shondaland structure, “Notorious” is not even in the same ballpark as Shonda Rhimes’s series. The characters are weak, the story directionless and the drama convoluted. After only one episode, “Notorious” already tastes stale.