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Salem Rogers, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot” shows potential mainly due to cast

Salem Rogers, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot” shows potential mainly due to cast
Rachel Dratch, Leslie Bibb

Rachel Dratch, Leslie Bibb

Salem Rogers, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Lindsey Stoddart
Directed by Mark Waters
Released January 15, 2015 by Amazon

Throughout the various incarnations of the Amazon pilot releases, the streaming service has sought to strike a balance between comedic and dramatic fare. The streaming service’s latest round of pilots was no exception in this regard, and one of their forays into comedy comes in the form of Salem Rogers. Marking the writing debut of actress Lindsey Stoddart, the show focuses on the exploits of a former supermodel trying to re-enter the world after a decade in rehab, with her hapless former assistant turned attempted self-help guru in tow. Unfortunately, the pilot suffers from a degree of indecision about what direction it wants a potential series to go in, which is reflected in the writing and pulls down the episode, despite the best efforts of the talented cast.

Successfully mining comedy from a show with central characters like Salem and Agatha requires a level of awareness and deftness, and while the pilot episode of Salem Rogers displays some degree of both, it doesn’t show enough of either. While both Salem and Agatha’s lack of self-awareness is shown, the pilot seems unwilling to commit to the characters fully, neither showing them as human characters using exaggerated behaviour to mask insecurities, nor as outsized caricatures that fall into fortune by sheer luck. This is particularly noticeable in the case of Agatha, as the cause of her success is still unclear by the end of the pilot. The show appears to be unsure about whether or not the audience should be watching two unlikable characters like Agatha and Salem stumble through life with fascination, or sympathise with the duo and their plight. This lack of commitment to a specific tone really hampers the show, and unless it decides what it wants to be, and commits to it, the potential series promises to be nothing more than forgettable at best, which would be a loss of potential, as the core idea of the series is an intriguing one, if handled correctly.

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Despite the writers’ inability to decide how to portray the characters, the performances are a shining light on the show. Both Leslie Bibb and Rachel Dratch have done excellent work in supporting turns over the years, and both individuals elevate the material they’re given in their leading roles. The duo also play off each other really well, and the combination of performance and chemistry goes a long way towards making the show an interesting watch. The supporting cast of the show similarly works exceedingly well off each other and the two leads, including the likes of Jane Kaczmarek, Toks Olagundoye, and Harry Hamlin. They comprise the real strength of the show, and if the writers are unable to choose a specific tone to follow with regards to the characters of Salem and Agatha, letting these performers simply play off each other can also make for a hugely entertaining show. A decision to use the two characters to delve into the world of both fashion models and the self-help industry could also go a long way towards turning the potential series around, especially if it allows for memorable supporting turns from other talented performers.

The pilot does indicate some degree of promise for the show, hiccups notwithstanding. Having neither lead character truly possess the moral high ground over the other is a rich idea, and the reveal of Agatha not being any more put together than Salem, with the added bonus of insecurity plaguing her actions, is one that’s full of potential. However, the tasing joke is a poor one, and the repetition of the gag twice does give some trepidation. If nothing else, the opportunity to see both Dratch and Bibb in leading roles makes giving this potential series a chance worth it, and hopefully the writing on the series can match the talent of the performers if it gets picked up. However, if the series is going to continue to rely on the performers to save it, rather than providing them with strong material in some form or the other, then the possibility of bogging these performers down in material that doesn’t allow them to display the range of their talents is a dire one. The series has potential, but it will have to do some work to realise it, and whether or not it’s willing to put in that work will be the deciding factor on whether it will be worth picking up or not.

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– Deepayan Sengupta

Other Amazon Pilot reviews: The New Yorker Presents/Down Dog/The Man in the High Castle/Point of Honor/Mad Dogs/Cocked