The Listener: “I Am An Adult”

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The Listener

“I Am An Adult”

Thursdays, 9/8 C, NBC

Written by Michael Amo

Directed by Clement Virgo

I’m not sure how the math on this show went: Third Watch plus Mediumplus some generic PI show equals a hit? The Listener mixes genres like fruit in a blender, seeking just the right mix. This can be a risky idea—just ask the creators of Firefly or Brisco County, Jr. There’s a chance, though, that audiences in America are ready to try something a little different during this summer of lowered expectations. After all, it has to be better than re-runs and reality programming, right?

This Canadian television series is set in Toronto, and stars Craig Olejnik (Thirt3en Ghosts) as Toby Logan, a 25-year-old paramedic who can read minds. I’ll admit this is a great device for getting into a story as late as possible—by the time a paramedic arrives on scene, most of the drama is over and from then on it’s all about the investigation. The show gets around this by giving Toby flashes of other people’s memories and thoughts, which function pretty much the way flashbacks or crime reconstructions used to work in shows like CSI. So we start out with a pretty decent premise for a show. Toby himself is a laid-back, humble kind of guy who is easy to like. Olejnik is personable enough, and his striking black hair and blue eyes resemble the young Anthony Perkins (Psycho) enough to be unnerving and appealing at the same time.

Every superhero needs a sidekick, of course, and Toby’s EMT partner Osman “Oz” Bey, played by Ennis Esmer (Unstable) provides the usual comic relief. And the hero needs a Conflicted Girlfriend, here personified as ER doctor Olivia Fawcett (Mylène Dinh-Robic, (Stargate: Atlantis) as a yuppie trauma doc with a huge chip on her shoulder about Toby and his supposed inattentiveness. The official investigations are carried out by Detective Charlie Marks (Lisa Marcos, Flashpoint), a ludicrously underdressed homicide investigator with an even bigger chip on her shoulder. The cast is rounded out by veteran character actor Colm Feore (Chronicles of Riddick), who plays a college professor and the only person who knows of Toby’s gift. None of these characters show any particular depth or richness, but this is a pilot episode where everyone is just getting introduced. One does not expect miracles.

Our first shot of Toby in action follows a voice-over intro, something I could have done without, but wasn’t too annoying. He is driving to work with buddy Oz when a sudden vision/flash startles him. When they pull over to talk about it, Oz spots the subject of Toby’s vision—an overturned car. The two race to pull the woman inside out of the car before it explodes; only after the credits roll do we learn that Toby and Oz, who were dressed as civilians, are actually EMTs.

The victim seems too traumatized to speak, but Toby has already caught a glimpse of what looks like a child abduction. The victim refuses to elaborate, and the investigating detective, Marks, finds Toby’s “interference” annoying. Nothing new in this relationship, which was old when Journeyman beat it to death last season. Marks’ credibility is constantly undermined throughout the episode, from her slutty wardrobe to her out-of-left-field hostility towards Toby. I was convinced there was a failed love affair in the background of these two, so intense was her dislike. Then I realized it was merely lazy writing.

Toby, who has spent most of his life squelching his gift, now uses it to pluck information from the minds of suspects and witnesses. Warrant? We don’t need no stinkin’ warrant, we have a telepath! He’s smart enough to conceal his talent, but not enough to come up with plausible explanations for his discoveries. For example, his “sight” leads him to a car, in whose trunk lies a shooting victim. He walks around the car for a couple minutes, holding his nose. Then he pops the trunk. Next scene, he’s explaining to Marks that some random kid told him to check out the car, about as transparent a lie as one can imagine. Why didn’t he just tell her he was walking by and smelled something familiar and ominous? Is there something taboo about plausible explanations? This sort of lame tease goes on throughout the show, as if the creators were unable to decide if they want Toby to out himself or not.

There is also a good bit of confusion about the extent of Toby’s ability. In one scene, he has (illegally) entered the apartment of a witness who is hiding on the fire escape. Toby wanders around the place but never clues in that his target is only a few feet away. Do ordinary drywall walls stymie his mind-reading ability? I hope the writers work out the rules here soon, because nothing is more annoying than a superhero whose abilities change from week to week as the plot demands (Heroes, are you listening?). Some of his flashes seem too prophetic—he sees the car accident before it happens. So is Toby telepathic? Psychic? Prescient? Is anyone writing this down?

Muddled in with the clichéd cop-gone-bad plot are bits of back-story to tell us that Toby was born with his gift, as well as present-day interludes delineating his failing relationships with snooty Olivia, his antagonistic boss, his airhead partner. Yawn. Not one of these relationships has any more depth than the paper it was written on. Worse, the victim of the car accident is such a numbskull that I found it hard to root for her. She lies to Toby, hides from the police, buys an illegal gun from a dealer and leaves it where the bad guy can see it, and then just whimpers and runs off into the woods rather than stay and help Toby fight the bad guy. Really, didn’t this sort of thing go out with The Perils of Pauline?

While there’s nothing really new here (Sookie Stackhouse in HBO’s True Blood series shows us a better portrait of an inadvertent mind reader), there’s nothing really wrong, either. Despite the mediocre writing, the show moved crisply and cleanly through its hour, gave us the information we wanted, and even threw in a few actually funny lines of banter between Toby and Oz. The good guys are stock characters (yes, in the wake ofGhost Whisperer, Medium, and Heroes, mind readers are now stock characters), we can spot the villains in the first ten minutes, the locations are as generic as Wal-Mart. On the good side, there is some pretty fine underplaying by Olejnik and Feore, and the potential for growth if someone learns (as I am sure they will) about Toby’s ability.

The Listener averaged a 1.4 share among adults 18-49 and came in last in its timeslot. The show is off to a slow start, a luxury none can afford these days, but I have hopes it can improve. If this show were debuting in the fall, I would not give it a chance. As it is, summertime may be the best time for this paint-by-numbers show, with little competition to draw viewers away.