In 'Windfall,' Money Buys Complications Galore
"Windfall," NBC's new drama series about a pack of lottery winners, is not likely to be a long-term winning ticket for the struggling network. Fortunately, this soap opera disguised as a prime-time show is an addictive frolic for summertime, when reality TV takes over the airwaves.
"Windfall's" plot does sound like a reality show: Twenty people from differing backgrounds split a $386 million jackpot after winning with a group lottery ticket. Who will be betrayed? What will they do next? Who will blow the money? But instead of being over-the-top reality programming, "Windfall" is pure over-the-top fiction.
We meet most of the characters in a dizzying opening sequence that might scare you off. But stay tuned: The cast is eventually sorted out during the 13-episode series.
Quickly coming to the fore are two middle-class, thirtyish married couples. Jason Gedrick — a show killer whose credits include short-timers "Boomtown," "The Beast" and "Falcone" — stars as one of the husbands, Cameron Walsh, a professor who has the hots for his longtime friend's wife. And far from those y days of "Beverly Hills, 90210," Luke Perry plays Peter Schaefer, often sporting a wounded look as he suspects hanky-panky between his wife and best buddy.
Get used to that look — it's a constant on many of the show's featured faces. You'd think that a $386 million payday would put a bounce in their step.
Exuberance does abound when they win. Most enjoyable is watching an overworked nurse (Jaclyn DeSantis) who soon turns in her jalopy for a sporty Mercedes-Benz and calls her jerk-of-a-boss a very bad word in front of her appreciative co-workers. It's also satisfying when a pizza-delivery gal working two jobs is whisked away from her trailer park in a hired helicopter.
But ecstasy soon turns to edginess. Cameron suddenly smells an opportunity to steal away his best friend's wife (Lana Parrilla), whom he used to date. "Maybe this insanely good luck could change our lives," he tells her. "Money's freedom."
But just when he's contemplating a major life change with his old flame, a former student smells the money and barges into his life, claiming he owes her support for the child she claims he fathered.
The show bounces from one story line to the next so quickly that an untimely bathroom break might just keep you from picking a plot line back up again.
The one plot that promises the most twists and turns, as ridiculous as they might be, involves Sean Mathers (D.J. Cotrona), a handsome flower-shop employee. Turns out he's not thrilled about winning part of the pot — he may or may not be a convicted murderer who doesn't want his name publicized. The enterprising fugitive, however, seduces a female lawyer and persuades her to claim the money so they can run off together.
Ridiculous? Yes, but fun to see what happens next.
Some of the melodrama that threatens to overwhelm the show is thwarted by the youngest winner, Damien (Jon Foster). Although he's a minor, he finds a loophole to claim the money that legally belongs to his controlling dad. He marries a mail-order Russian bride — who was set to marry his dad's friend — thereby becoming an "emancipated minor."
But, wait, we haven't even gotten to the 16-year-old girl whose life goes in a tailspin as her separated parents battle over the cash that was rightly won by the mother.
Let's hope we have all summer to watch "Windfall." It beats enduring those many airings of "Deal or No Deal," a "Law & Order" repeat or yet another "Dateline" special.
'Windfall' falls flat on its face
It's an ill Windfall that blows its last gasp in summer.
NBC, of course, would prefer you think of Windfall as a warm-weather treat — an in-need-of-nurturing experiment along the lines of that most successful of summer scripted debuts, Northern Exposure.
Sorry, but this series — developed by Fox and announced by NBC as a midseason replacement as far back as last July — clearly falls within a sadder and more familiar dead category: the summer dump. Clearly, NBC saw what it had and realized it didn't have much.
The show attempts to operate as sort of a mass fantasy fulfillment: What would you do if you won the lottery? According to Windfall, the answer is that you'd either whine a lot about your current marriage, enter into a unwise new marriage, or make an equally unwise hookup with a mysterious stranger with an even more mysterious past.
Alas, the question the show forgot to answer is why we should care. When they complain, we hate them for not appreciating their luck. When they celebrate, we hate them for being lucky.
As with any ensemble drama, the lottery is merely a frame on which are hung the stories and the characters. It just happens to be a particularly rickety frame, which is only fitting, because the characters are correspondingly ill-built.
Windfall centers on four old friends in two troubled marriages. Nina (Boomtown's Lana Parrilla) married Peter (Luke Perry) on the rebound from Cameron (Jason Gedrick, of Boomtown and countless other worthy failures). He dumped Nina for Beth (Sarah Wynter) but has decided that was a mistake.
The two couples manage a lottery pool that expands to include the mysterious Sean (D.J. Cotrona), teenage Damien (Jon Foster) and nurse Maggie (Jaclyn DeSantis), among others. As soon as you've sorted them out, they're rich — and soon after they're rich, they're tiresome.
Seldom has a set of characters worn out their welcome more quickly. It's hard to say which plot strand is more familiar or more unappealing: the marriages threatened by old loves; the rebellious teen who uses his wealth against his father; or the brooding quiet guy with the dark past. It takes roughly 10 minutes to know who they are and what they'll do, and to decide you never want to see them again.
The shame is that there are some fine actors being stranded here — chief among them Gedrick, who just can't seem to find a role that both suits him and the needs of a television audience. He may someday win the TV lottery, but this time, he has once again chosen badly.
Do not make the same mistake.