Lucky 7 Series Premiere Review: Small Jackpot
It's a little weird to start a review of the pilot of a brand-new show by mentioning other shows that are about to finish their first seasons, but bear with me for a minute. Last week, after watching the penultimate episode of Broadchurch, I took to Twitter to express my lukewarm feelings about the series, and I've been making mention of my lukewarm-is-an-understatement feelings about The Bridge for a while now (though I'm also three episodes behind on that one, so maybe I'll finally/eventually warm up to it?). Part of the reason I'm not particularly thrilled with either show is that I'm tired of murder dramas. I've consumed quite a smorgasbord of murder dramas recently—the two aforementioned ones, plus The Killing, The Fall, The Following, Bates Motel, and Hannibal (though those last two are a bit different from the others)—and while the new fall drama offerings are thankfully taking a step back from this trend, most of them aren't all that great, as you might've already gathered from our quick staff previews of each pilot.
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that, between the lackluster alternatives and my exhaustion with death and sorrow, I may be giving Lucky 7 too much credit as one of the season's better new dramas—but that's a very low bar for the show to clear. And even without the context of what else is currently on TV, I think there's a chance for Lucky 7 to grow into a decent series.
Based on the BBC One series The Syndicate (which I have not seen; if Lucky 7 should get the axe, I might circle back to The Syndicate's first season, which is available here in the U.S.), Lucky 7 is about a group of gas station/garage employees who strike it big and win a $145 million jackpot. All of them have problems that the winnings might finally be able to solve, though I doubt things will be so easy, if the pilot's opening sequence is any indication of what's in store for these characters.
So who are the lucky winners? There's Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), the boss of the gas station; Denise (Lorraine Bruce) who is trying to lose weight to win back her husband's attention; Leanne (Anastasia Phillips), a struggling but optimistic single mom; Samira (Summer Bishil), who wants to go Julliard to study violin but whose parents just want her to marry a nice doctor; and then there are the Korzak brothers, Nicky (Stephen Louis Grush), a "reformed ex-con" and Matt (Matt Long) who is married with two kids and the whole family is living with his parents. Finally, there's one unlucky employee who doesn't have a claim to the winnings: Antonio (Luis Antonio Ramos), who's been putting his lottery pool buy-in into a coffee can for two years in an attempt to save some cash instead of participating in the office pool.
That's a lot of characters to introduce while still providing enough backstory to give us a sense of both their problems and how the money might resolve them. The pilot script, from series helmers David Zabel and Jason Richman, certainly did an effective job, structurally, of making sure we learned the important details about of all of these folks, though Bob and Leanne still seem a touch fuzzy compared to everyone else. The blend of low-stakes drama and comedy landed well enough, from a not-quite-happy ending of a handjob for Matt to Denise's rather loud declaration that she hadn't had sex in five years to Matt and Nicky arguing during their ill-planned robbery.
Helping things along was Paul McGuigan's direction. McGuigan's directed four Sherlock episodes, the Scandal pilot, and, amusingly enough, the feature film Lucky Number Slevin, and his affinity for visual flair came through. Lucky 7's series premiere still felt like a network pilot, but small touches—like the hand-offs as we met each of the characters and the varying speeds of action, from slow-motion shots to freeze frames to a fast forward—gave the pilot a bit more visual personality than you'd expect from a show like this.
If Lucky 7 can keep that sort of visual style going, I'll be content, but a series like this is going to live or die based on its characters. There's no mythology or puzzle box to solve, and the format—unless it follows The Syndicate's style of centering episodes on individual characters, which I don't see happening—doesn't lend itself to the case-of-the-week style. Conceptually, I love the cast. Apart from Long, who felt like Generic Non-Threatening White Male Lead, it's a group of actors who don't feel like a network suit's idea of who would work at a New York City gas station, which would be pretty white people and one token non-white character to avoid eye-rolling and sighing about the state of ethnic diversity on television. Factor in the blue-collar trappings, and it's a decidedly different set of characters from most anything else on TV right now.
However, individually, some characters work better than others. Acting-wise, there's no one really weighing down the show, as everyone generally does a nice job with the material they're given. Matt may currently be the least interesting of the bunch, but the pilot would've needed to devote more time to his sense of guilt over the robbery and subsequent attack on Bob for any of it to really land. As this arc may be the show's big moral and legal quandary going forward, the show will need to step up its development of the Brothers Korzak in order to give the plot a heavier sense of weight.
Nicky's story about the thugs from his convict days does not interest me at all, and I would like to hope that he just gives them the $60,000 they're looking for and that they go away. However, I don't think things will be that easy, and I suspect this plot is just going to drag itself out as Nicky gets roped back into his criminal ways. Yawn. Samira's arranged marriage situation isn't exactly new ground, either, but Bishil is just plain charming enough to keep me at least temporarily invested in it.
Leanne and Bob are, as I hinted at above, the two sort of floating question marks. Bob and his wife both seem happy with one another, and while I'm half-convinced that Bob is sicker than a cold and the knock on his head, I'm not sure where he goes while we wait for the police to hone in on Nicky and Matt. Leanne seems completely defined by her kid and the fact that she's crushing on Matt. I can only assume that her kid's father resurfaces soon, looking to cash in on his baby mamma's winnings.
For me, Ramos and Bruce gave the standout performances of the episode, and their characters are also the strongest so far. Ramos instills Antonio with a real sense of humor, warmth, and dignity that I just adore. His explanation to his wife (Alexandra Castillo) of why they had not, in fact, won the lottery because he was "prudently" saving money—"The good news is I've managed to save about $400, some of which you used to buy that beautiful toaster."—just tugged at my heartstrings a bit. Here is a man who thought he was doing the right thing—and let's be honest, he was—and luck just slapped him in the face. Ramos just sold this confession, both in his guilt and in his sense of doing what was right for his family.
Denise, like Samira, was straddled with a stereotypical plot, but of wayward husband and struggles to lose weight. I think Bruce makes it work, though. She's funny, but not in a "Oh, laugh at the overweight lady" way, power-walking up the street, or exuding that sense of hopelessness sitting at an empty table set for a romantic dinner. More than the other supposedly pathos-inducing concerns (like Matt's guilt), it hit home.
I have concerns about longevity, and how these characters' lives will keep intersecting after they start to receive their winnings. Matt and Nicky are obviously linked to each other and to Bob, and Nicky and Samira have a little workplace romance going on that's threatened by the handsome doctor. Beyond that, though, I'm not sure how Leanne and Denise will stay attached to everyone else, or how the show will keep Antonio in the loop. I'm sure it'll work out that they just turn to each other for conversation, seeing as they don't seem to have connections outside of work and family, but I'm curious as to how forced their continued interactions will seem.
Even if they don't always cross paths with one another, I'm still engaged by Lucky 7. It is very much a reprieve from high-concept genre fare and procedurals, both of which I do enjoy, but also need a break from every now and then. I like that Lucky 7's stakes aren't tied to issues of life and death; instead, they're about having to deal with the ramifications of this seemingly "lucky" turn of events. After all, historically there are plenty of instances in which lottery winners have blown it all or made bad life choices upon receiving the big check, and Lucky 7 could show us how those decisions are made.
– "Pick a lane, you hybrid bastard!"
– "Arranged marriage, really, dad? What are you going to do next? Throw me into a volcano?"
– Not sure who voted against Matt to get the money, though I'm thinking Nicky and Leanne. I only lean toward Leanne because I think she thinks if he's broke, then his marriage would end and she'd be there to swoop in and get together with him.
– David Zabel has another ABC drama starting this year—Betrayal—and it's probably one of the dullest things I have ever watched. The differences between that script and Lucky 7's are just startling. (Betrayal has other a number of other problems beyond the script, but still. Yikes.)
– Lucky 7 isn't likely to receive weekly reviews, but if there's interest, I'll drop into the show community here on TV.com and leave brief thoughts as a discussion starter each week.
What'd you think of the series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?
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