‘Scoundrels’ Pilot Recap: Not Dirty or Rotten Enough

Among the new shows that networks have been testing out on summer audiences, ‘Scoundrels’ on ABC caught my eye as promising. In the series, Virginia Madsen stars as Cheryl West, the matriarch of a family of small-time con artists living in Palm Springs. The pilot episode, ‘And Jill Came Tumbling After’, premiered this past Sunday. Unfortunately, the show airs opposite ‘True Blood’, which will prevent it from being Day One viewing for me. But that’s what DVRs are for, right? I recorded the pilot and caught up with it this week. I have to admit that, based on the concept and the promos, I was expecting something a little more fun. The first episode didn’t quite live up to my expectations for it. Nevertheless, it still seems to have some potential.

After Madsen, the rest of the cast is populated with familiar TV faces. Her husband Wolf is played by David James Elliott from ‘JAG’. Reportedly, Neal McDonough from ‘Boomtown’ (and, sadly, ‘Desperate Housewives’) was originally cast in the role, but walked away due to moral objections. Huh.

Their smart-aleck daughter Hope is Vanessa Marano, who played Luke’s precocious daughter April in ‘Gilmore Girls’. (Yeah, I know some ‘Gilmore Girls’ trivia. What of it?). There’s also an older ditzy daughter named Heather. She’s played by Leven Rambin. Fans of ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles‘ will remember her as John’s annoying – and, ahem, kind of dumpy-looking – girlfriend Riley. She’s apparently lost a few pounds and put on some makeup in the meantime. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the episode is that I could almost believe Rambin as a bimbo sexpot. I wouldn’t have bought into that a year ago.

Patrick Flueger from ‘The 4400’ has a dual role as twin brothers with very different personalities. Clean-cut and straight-laced Logan has just graduated from law school and is trying to live on the up-and-up. He’s mom’s favorite, but pretty much the black sheep of the rest of the family. Meanwhile, dim-bulb slacker Cal seems to be channeling Bad Pitt’s performance in ‘True Romance‘. He doesn’t have a lot going on upstairs, but is more than eager to jump into the family business. Consequently, he’s dad’s favorite.

The episode opens with a police raid on the family home. It appears that this happens a lot. They know the detective in charge (Carlos Bernard from ’24’) on a first-name basis and have a cordial relationship. It seems that someone matching Cal’s description broke into the home of a wealthy Chinese family, stole a few items, and beat up the grandmother. The cops can’t find any hard evidence, and let it go for now.

This also happens to be the day that Wolf has a court appointment. He’s been convicted of something-or-other and is due for sentencing. Their idiot lawyer is sure he’ll get five months. He actually gets five years, much to the consternation of Cheryl, who’s now left to take care of the family and clean up their messes.

Side-plots involve the Chinese family, who seem pretty shady themselves, threatening Cheryl to make Cal return a family heirloom. He gets the dumbass idea that it must be stuffed with drugs, so he smashes it. Of course, there’s nothing inside. It was just an heirloom. Mom eventually makes amends with the Hongs by arranging for Cal to work for them as an errand boy. He isn’t pleased.

Heather wants to be a model, and has had some lingerie photos taken by a skeezy photographer who’s holding onto them for either an absurd amount of money or sexual favors. The storyline looks to be heading in a predictable direction, until Heather proves smarter than expected and turns the tables on him before Cheryl can save the day for her.

Young Hope has been blackmailing her principal into allowing her to skip school so that she can work on a screenplay for her intended breakthrough as a filmmaker. When Cheryl finds out about that, she’s having none of it and forces the girl to go back to school.

There’s also a small subplot about an oblivious grandfather with Alzheimer’s moving into the house, but it doesn’t amount to much or go anywhere in this episode.

By episode’s end, Cheryl has decided that the family needs to give up their old ways and start living on the straight-and-narrow path. No one is happy about this, least of all husband Wolf when he finds out about it.

All in all, ‘Scoundrels’ feels something like a watered down, major network version of ‘The Riches’. It’s not a terrible show by any means, but it plays things a little too straight and a little too safe. It has neither the dark edge that infused ‘The Riches’, nor enough freewheeling craziness to qualify as the light, frothy comedy that it’s been promoted as. Still, the acting is pretty good and there seems to be potential here. I’m willing to give it some time to find its feet, and see if it goes anywhere interesting.

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