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Big Sky is a huge disappointment from one of TVs best creators

Since quitting his job as a lawyer to work full time in television David E. Kelley has had the kind of career where dreams come true. He has been a major creative force behind eradefining hits such as L.A. Law The Practice and Ally McBeal. He has enough awards to fill a very large commemorative issue and he has written material that has helped more than 30 actors on his shows win an Emmys.

He has penned stars like Calista Flockhart who ended up on the cover of Time magazine albeit not in the most flattering way and has been the writers favorite for preexisting stars like Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. Hes also been married to Michelle Pfeiffer since 1993. Although he majored in quirky legal dramas like Boston Legal he has written across genres for the small and big screen including horror Lake Placid and even sports comedies mystery Alaska.

Kelly is at a point in his life and work where he can do more or less what he wants. His choice of project often makes perfect sense even if his choices within those projects dont. Its not hard for example to understand why hed want to reteam with Kidman and HBO for The Undoing even though the miniseries feels like a relic from its practice days. In other situations trying to figure out his reasons for doing a particular show can be more exciting than the show itself. Case in point his exciting new movie on ABC Big Sky.

Kelly is among the most popular powerful and influential announcers in broadcast television history but his shows have appeared exclusively on cable satellite and broadcast networks since CBS canceled his Robin Williams comedy The Crazy Ones in 2014. At the end at a 2016 press conference To promote his legal chain on Amazon Goliath a reporter asked if Kelly imagined himself returning to one of the traditional networks he first made big.

His straight answer was I dont think so. When you have a firstclass talent that wants to work with you in places that offer fewer creative constraints its hard to go back in. But in recent years Kelly has softened that stance. He developed the Lincoln Layer series that CBS eventually didnt pick up and tonight returns home to Boston Legal with Big Sky starring Kylie Bunbury Catherine Winnick and Ryan Phillippe as private investigators researching a series of kidnappings in and around Helena Montana.

We open our conversation with Jenny from upset Wink to learn that best friend Cass Bunbury has slept with Jennys estranged husband Cody Philip with whom Cass runs his detective agency. The two women argue and later get into a violent altercation at the bar but the tension between them must be put aside when two teenage sisters Natalie Allen Lind Daniel and Jade Pettigons Grace who are friends of Jennys son disappear on the road to town.

Soon our heroes become entangled in a human trafficking plot involving a sociopathic longdistance truck driver Ronald Brian Geraghty who lives with his mother Valerie Mahaffey as Helen an unofficial government soldier John Carroll Lynch Rick and a local sex worker Jerry performed by nonduo actor Jesse James Keitel as well as many many shots of female kidnapping victims grumbling in fear of what will happen to them.

Throughout the two episodes available to critics I kept wondering what Kelly saw in the CJ Box books hes adjusting that made him want to do this show and return to ABC. There are echoes of other serials he made – Helena is treated as a relatively small and remote community like Rome from Picket Fences * and Mr. Mercedes had his own serial offender – but not in ways that match his strengths. Cass and Jenny have issues with each other and with Cody but they are mostly the kind that are welltuned straightforward and a good guy.

Bunbury and Winnick continue to show massive onscreen presence in previous series like Pitch and Vikings respectively but you can sense Kellys interest away from them and toward Ronald his mom and Rick as such an avatar. An oddity that he loved to play with during his previous stint as a radio creator. Content restrictions have since loosened too so he can get Helen to say things to Ronald like Go back to your room and masturbate while I get us some lunch.

Baffling Decision Like a number of network shows this fall Kelly is avoiding Covid19 But he does so by setting the show in a postquarantine world where no one has to wear masks or social distancing yet characters sometimes point out the pandemics impact on life in America. It is better to avoid the topic altogether than this tepid and distracted approach. Perhaps this is the reason for his return to ABC? His recent projects have been full of humor especially Big Little Lies but overall felt more real and honest and I tried to deal with them more

About Yashwa Malik

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