As the television world exists now, one of the main pushes we see from every network is an effort to sub-brand itself as having a “kind of show.” That’s a slightly convoluted way of saying that the networks think fans of one of their shows look for a similar “feel” from the next show. If a new show were thrown at you, they want you to be able to guess who is going to air it.
With that in mind, there’s an extent to which it’s hard to blame ABC for Notorious. It had to seem like a good Shondaland fit, and it looks decent on paper. You do you ABC.
If you throw in Josh Berman (Bones, Drop Dead Diva, The Blacklist) as creator, so much the better.
The trouble is that the world of laughable melodrama, and/or purposeful guilty pleasures that are overwrought with contrivance as a writing style, is a world that (oddly enough) requires an exact balance. Notorious is a show that sees that path as lazily leaving mountains on nonsense just laying around.
Julia George (Piper Perabo) runs a “news” show, the exact nature of which is left in the air, but it is apparently the number one show in the country. She has an anchor, Louise Herrick (Kate Jennings Grant), who we are told is fantastic at her job, but is mostly seen in lingerie in hotels and dressing rooms with her boy toy of the week. Julia’s show is also fueled by regular guest Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata), a high-profile lawyer who, one must assume, offers his legal view of timely events when he isn’t coordinating stunts with the show for the benefit of his clients.
It’s a frenetic newsroom scene, as you might imagine, with interns and producers crashing into each other, and not enough time in the hour, much less the day. Julia still has time for a relationship with a newly-appointed Supreme Court Judge, and Jake takes the time to ask about the valet’s son. They’re those people.
Meanwhile, everyone is looking for a chance to get ahead, and the city’s biggest name in legal defense doesn’t have to wait long for big names to have problems he needs to handle, which will hopefully involve manipulating the media. Jake also has a thing for his big name client’s wife, because of course, and Julia’s boss has just thrown his son at her so that she can “teach him the biz,” or have him work his way up, or generally get underfoot as the doorknob trying to screw everyone so he looks good, or whatever the hell. It’s a show that likes to say “big name” at you, and thinks Patrick Bateman’s obsession with business cards was ahead of its time. (Obscure reference explanation here)
The show itself is as much of a sham as the news show it’s about, throwing in sex and subterfuge for their own sake, and dictated as much by a “maximum time between shots of a bra” clock as anything else. It isn’t just disappointing because the world doesn’t need another show that thinks you’re pretty stupid, but also because there’s a show in here somewhere. Even with the unwatchable camp delivered with a straight face, like the five-year-old’s loophole to blackmail that a roomful of lawyers go along with, there’s something to the idea that makes you want to like it.
In the end, the show probably needed to go harder, or goofier. It might have taken on a theory like Devious Maids, or Unreal, and instantly been one of the best shows around. As hyperbolic mockery, the events and dialog in the show have purpose, and could easily get you interested. As something that’s even slightly serious, there’s just too much thrown against the wall, and none of it has a chance to stick.
That said, Piper Perabo can almost hold you, and she’s channeling some of the experience at pure charm she got from Covert Affairs, but Sunjata is forced to work too much smarm into a character we’re supposed to care about later. The show’s best chance would be to give J. August Richards (Jakes’s brother and law firm partner) and Kate Jennings Grant more to do. They’re both largely wasted at the outset, and serve merely as window dressing for the setting.
It’s still a small step up from the network’s other “shiny, sexy, oh no she didn’t!” efforts, which is probably both bad and bad for the show’s chances at sticking around, but it’s hard to call that a selling point.