I got a chance to watch the pilot for NBC’s new show The Philanthropist, which debuts tonight at 10PM/9C, and I have to say while I was quite entertained for most of it , I was also somewhat underwhelmed as well. Its not that the show is bad or anything, quite the contrary. It has great production value, lots of action, a mostly engaging cast and even a morale. I just prefer my morals slightly less “in your face.”
By way of backstory, The Philanthropist follows the adventures of Billionaire playboy Teddy Rist, the “99th-richest man in the world” and his search for the meaning of it all after his son dies tragically a year prior. Teddy is undergoing a “crisis of conscience” and realizes that just writing a check isn’t enough anymore, he needs to “do something” in order to make a difference in the world. While I applaud that sentiment, more people should really feel that way, I question what follows and how Teddy decides to satisfy this need.
During the course of the show, Teddy decideds that the only way he can help is by personally delivering a much needed vaccine to a village in Nigeria. The village, coincidentally, where a boy he thought he saved during an earlier flood but is now missing, lives. So, Teddy decides he will deliver the vaccine to the boy’s villiage and make sure the boy is alive and well in the process. You get it, right? He couldn’t save his own son and now he must save this child in order to be redeemed.
Putting aside the rather obvious problem with the “only the rich white man can save us” concept, the fact that this boy is the motivation for Teddy’s struggle for redemption felt a bit forced to me. I don’t mind coincidence, I just don’t like quite this much of it. I would have believed that Teddy needed redemtion without the boy being involved at all. Delivering the vaccine to the village would have been enough. His need to “do something” is still quite understandable given the tragic death of his son. No need to beat us over the head with it.
Regardless of its few flaws, and there are only a few, the show has one major thing going for it: James Purefoy (Formerly of HBO’s superb Rome). His performance as Teddy Rist elevates The Philanthropist higher than perhaps it has a right to be — at least at this stage. He infuses Rist with just the right mix of anger, sadness and humor making him immenitly watchable. The rest of the cast, including Jesse L. Martin as Rist’s friend and partner, is good enough — with the notable exception of Neve Campbell, who seems positively lost and particularly weak here.
One of the things I always try to keep in mind when watching pilots of shows is that they are just that, pilots. This is the first time these people have come together to make this show and for it to be as good as it is at this stage bodes well for future episodes. Is The Philanthropist a great show? Not yet, but it has potential. I’m going to give it a chance and watch a few more episodes. You should probably give it a chance also.