Tru Calling - Seasons 1 & 2 (2003-2005)
Tru Calling is one of those teen / early twenties oriented supernatural dramas. Like a lot of shows I've mentioned on this blog, it was unceremoniously cancelled. Unfortunately, unlike many of those shows, this never manages to elevate itself beyond the status of 'OK'.
Tru Calling is about a young woman, Tru Davies (Eliza Dushku), who takes up a medical internship at a morgue. On her first day, she discovers that dead people can 'ask' for her help, at which point her day rewinds to the moment she last woke up, only with all her memories of that day intact (ala Groundhog Day). She then attempts to use whatever information she has about the soon to be deceased to try and prevent them from dying. This usually involves her lying her way to get close to them, finding out things about them, and predicting what's going to cause their deaths. Tru is assisted by her boss, Davis (Zach Galifianakis), and her brother Harrison (Shawn Reaves). She also has a rich lawyer drug addict older sister, Meredith, and a devoted best friend , Lindsay. Later on in the show, the cast is joined by the enigmatic Jack Harper (Jason Priestly) who apparently has some dark secrets.
It should be readily apparent that the premise lends itself to formulaic episodes, and the writers unfortunately succumb to temptation. During the day, certain tangential events happen that you just know Tru will fix while also trying to prevent the death - these are usually related to friends and family. There's usually a red herring and Tru initially gets it wrong before she has an epiphany and rushes to save the day. The biggest complaint I have is how patently absurd some of the plots are, with ridiculous murder schemes and poorly sketched characters who have unbelievable motivations. There are always little gags as well - like Tru stopping someone from eating a bad sandwich, or catching some item that fell during the first day - but these are telegraphed well in advance and are only mildly amusing. There are ongoing story arcs, and these are the most interesting elements - the mystery surrounding Tru's mother who was murdered when Tru was a child, her father's shady dealings, her figuring out the rules behind what she can do. Tru also has the obligatory superhero problem of not being able to tell her secret to those close to her, including a frustrated boyfriend.
The Wikipedia entry for the show implies that there was more to the 'mythology' they were creating that they never got to explore because of its premature demise. Admittedly, it does improve during the second season by making things a bit less rote, but they could have tried breaking the formula a little earlier. You'd think that with such an amazing power there'd be at least a little introspection and musing on the meaning of it all, a little experimentation to see what can be done. But no, the plot of the day is always the focus, and Tru's too much of a goody goody to muck around, being incredibly earnest and righteous. The most entertaining characters are Tru's geeky boss Davis and her undisciplined brother Harrison; the show is always better when they're around. The self assured and mysterious Jack Harper character is the real scene stealer towards the end of the show, and truth be told I'd much rather have watched a show about him - at least he has some edginess and depth to him.
Production wise, Tru Calling is fairly generic. There's nothing about the direction or photography or design that sets it apart from its ilk. The cast are solid. Dushku is easy to get behind initially but isn't all that compelling in the long run - she's always either running around looking worried or is depressed about how her life is being mucked up. Her boyfriend, best friend, and older sister are also solid but unremarkable. This may partly be because of the writing though, because the more interestingly written characters are tied to the best performances - Zach Galifianakis, Shawn Reaves, and Jason Priestly as Davis, Harrison, and Jack respectively. The guest stars are usually forgettable, although Alec Newman (Muad'dib from the Dune mini!) makes a memorable appearance during one of the show's best and most interesting episodes.
All in all, a decent if predictable series that may have become better over time, but not by much. The formulaic nature doesn't lend itself to DVD, where watching many episodes at a stretch makes the formula stand out that much more. It's fairly entertaining but is probably not worth watching unless one is a fan of the genre.