HOUSE RULES (script review: House Rules)
Since I started with The Body Politic I figured I'd keep going on the political pilots (though I'm still lacking Inside the Box... which should be corrected shortly).
Storywise, I still like this from the script. I'm very interested in seeing what's going to happen next to Julia and her freshman Congressmen cohorts. But that's a residual feeling from the script. The story still works. The politics work and are interesting (and, since it's a full pilot, we actually get to see the politics play out, unlike in The Body Politic's presentation).
Unfortunately, the pilot is woefully (and at points distractingly) miscast.
Whereas in The Body Politic every one of those actors totally embodied their roles, painfully few of the many characters felt fully fleshed out in an organic way. Anna Chlumsky is the notable exception as the Speaker of the House's Chief of Staff's assistant (who by episode's end becomes Zoe McLellan's character's Chief of Staff). There was something massively charming about her in the role (unlike her brief appearances as Claire's assistant in the Cupid revamp). Tawny Cypress, who just three years ago played a sexy 20-something on Heroes, appeared ragged and far older than she is... though her character is supposed to be something of a young upstart. As much as I enjoy Debra Monk, her Speaker of the House was little more than a mustache twirler with great wardrobe and hair. While Ray Wise was immensely enjoyable in his few scenes, I couldn't help but think (um, and shout) "Ray Wise!" when he was on screen. His character, a Republican Representative who Zoe McLellan's Julia teams up with to get an immigration bill shoved through the House to save a family from being torn apart, was spot on... but too soon after his, um, devilish role on Reaper for another TV stint? The two guys seemingly fighting for Julia's attention (one is the Speaker's Chief of Staff, the other an ex-Wall Street trust fund Republican freshman Congressman who gets on Julia's bad side in the opening of the pilot) did nothing for me, though I can see a certain Paul Rudd-ish appeal to Eion Bailey's Alan Levi.
Let's talk about the major casting failure in the pilot, though... Zoe McLellan. Just as she did as Peter Krause's wife on Dirty Sexy Money, she left me lukewarm (not cold... just not hot). Which is a shame, because she is an attractive woman and she can act (I've seen it!) You need buy the character as a rising star in Washington... and you do. But I wasn't convinced I was watching a new TV star. And I really wanted to love her in this role because, again, really loved the character in the script. Because it was so different for CBS (as a character and as a show).
And, ultimately, that difference is why the show wasn't picked up. You can always recast pilots (CBS is doing that with just about everyone in Three Rivers). But the fact of the matter is the show is about this woman, about romantic possibilities, and doesn't have a murder to solve every week as it's about politics (and really edges too close to the "Republicans are evil!" that The Body Politic was wise to avoid... even if the solution Julia comes up with involves getting Ray Wise's Republican Congressman to co-sponsor a bill with her because she is able to convince him it's not about immigration but about family, and Republicans are supposed to be the "Family Values" party... though I guess no one told John Ensign or Mark Sanford that?)
If ABC had this show... I think it would be on the air. But not on CBS.