CEOs Keep Bad Company On ABC's Randy 'Big Shots'

Dylan McDermott plays a divorced executive in the ABC series.
Dylan McDermott plays a divorced executive in the ABC series. (By Scott Garfield -- Abc)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007

Suppose we consider the new prime-time network season as one long show; what would we call it? "Darkness After Dark," maybe. Even the comedies, what few there are, tend toward gloominess, while the big mystery with the dramas is "Who the heck are the good guys?"

Take ABC's new "Big Shots" (premiering tonight), which is up to its beady little eyes in chicanery, adultery and malice aforethought. It's a regular Dance Macabre, a Mondo Rondo of Louses and Spouses, with its multiple story lines nudged into motion by the laughable death, early in the premiere, of someone who'd seemed to be a major character.

That's about how "Desperate Housewives" opened, and who could have guessed that it would become probably the most cloned show in ABC's history -- not that its characters and situations are copied so much as its stance, tone and dark-comic streak.

Such new series as "Dirty Sexy Money," the upcoming "Pushing Daisies" and certainly "Big Shots" (a kind of "Desperate Executives") all have the same smart-alecky attitude and tend to traffic in similar outrageous audacity. Even Charles McDougall, who directed the "Big Shots" pilot, is conveniently enough a "Desperate Housewives" alumnus.

The pivotal, laughable death in the first act of "Big Shots" is grisly-funny, the victim clobbered senseless and lifeless by a runaway golf cart full of shrimp. Later, in a posh restaurant where a distressed father meets with his troubled 19-year-old daughter, the decor is dominated by a gigantic painting of a man pointing an enormous gun right in the viewer's face. And one big shot's mistress throws a fit when she finds out that her boyfriend has been secretly going to couples therapy with the missus and growls, "What kind of man would be so disdainful as to lie to the woman he's cheating on his wife with?"

All the big shots are big chiefs at big companies. Dylan McDermott plays Duncan Collinsworth, CEO at Reveal Cosmetics; Michael Vartan is James Walker, about to become the chairman of AmeriMart Industries (and the least sleazy of the quartet); Joshua Malina is Karl Mixworthy, CEO of Fidelity Pharmaceuticals; and Christopher Titus plays Brody Johns, founder of something called Alpha Crisis Management, although he appears to have more crises than he can manage himself.

What's on all their minds -- more than power and money -- is sex, sex and, you guessed it, more sex. It's hard to believe that back in 1995, when the Walt Disney Co. announced it was buying ABC, some people worried that all the network's programming would henceforth be wholesome family mush. If only! "Big Shots" is mere seconds old when we come upon one of the executives and a young woman heating up a wine cellar while upstairs, the drug company executive worries about "spontaneous erections" caused when shipments of Viagra were mixed up with those of chewable vitamins.

While at a counseling session with wife Wendy (the appealing Amy Sloan), Karl gets a pithy, sexual text message from his mistress, Marla (the wildly blond Jessica Collins).

Whatever would Uncle Walt say? For that matter, what would Mickey and Minnie say? Or Donald and Daisy? What's the deal with all this Mouske-Smut?

As with other "Desperate" clones, "Big Shots" tries way too hard to be shocking and raunchy. The actors resemble kiddies at school trying to impress one another with the latest naughty word learned in gym class. And the more "adult" that writer and series creator Jon Harmon Feldman tries to be, the more juvenile the show seems to become.

Example: The premiere is bracketed with scenes set at the friends' favorite haunt, the "Firmwood" Country Club. Such wit, such subtlety!

We are never very far from tryst time. Karl and Marla test the sheets at the Pierre Hotel, she pouring champagne onto his bare chest and then slurping it off. Earlier, coming up for air, Karl tells her, "Something you just did, I want to get a patent on." If the stuff were funny, it might be less conspicuous. The cast works very hard, but they can't bring off the neat trick of making rats and tarantulas seem cute.

There's the pretense of making sly comments on the latest twists in the battle of the sexes and the redefinition of male and female in a changing world. "Men? We're the new women," McDermott says at one point, but the plot twists and cheeky remarks don't add up to anything particularly cogent or insightful. Not by a big shot's long shot.

Big Shots (one hour) premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 7.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company