July 22, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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If it’s a procedural, this must be CBS.  HAIL MARY was one of the pilots that had initial buzz around town, and it boasted a casting coup with Minnie Driver in the lead (her first network show after doing The Riches for FX), but it’s not hard to see why the show didn’t go anywhere.  The crime dramas the network went with instead (Person of Interest, Unforgettable and The 2-2 for midseason) may all be problematic, but they have more promise than Hail Mary manages.

The concept of the show, written by Jeff Wadlow (he’d done one other busted pilot the year before) is simple:  Sandra Bullock’s character from The Blind Side as a private eye.  It’s not quite that literal:  Mary Beth Baker (Driver) is a school guidance counselor in Atlanta when we first meet her, still nursing her grief more than a year after her teen son was murdered with heroin found on the body.  Like Bullock in Blind Side, Mary Beth is all honey-toned charm, and adorably incompetent with computers, but underneath she’s relentless and hard as nails.  (Religion isn’t specifically referenced in the pilot, but Mary Beth says cute things like “Rice Cakes” and “Shut the Front Door!” instead of cursing.)  She’s positive her son wasn’t involved with drugs and that his troublemaker best friend K.Z. (Brandon T. Jackson from Tropic Thunder) is responsible, but she has no proof, and the cops and the detective she hired (Stephen Tobolowsky) are sick of her.  Of course she starts her own investigation, which results in her losing her job, which leads–ta dah!–to her becoming a full-time detective on her own.  And along the way, not only does she realize K.Z. isn’t the killer, he actually becomes her crimesolving partner.
Minnie Driver certainly has the charisma, looks and talent to be a TV star, but not in Hail Mary.  The sweet-but-tough-Southern-belle-detective slot is already filled by Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer, which is a much better show.  The plotting of this origin-story pilot is awful, filled with unlikely coincidence and little detective work, and Mary Beth’s instant 180 degree turn on K.Z., from a solid year of believing him to be her son’s murderer to making him pancakes, is completely unconvincing.  (If Driver is playing Sandra Bullock, Jackson is doing Eddie Murphy circa 48 Hrs, a type that feels awfully dated.)  No one else in the supporting cast gets to do much, not even the usually fun Tobolowsky.  
Only Driver knows why she chose Hail Mary this pilot season, when there must have been other projects courting her.  The character and storyline are mediocre, and Brad Silberling’s place in the director’s chair hardly seems like enough of a draw–although he’s a feature director with movies like Moonlight Mile and City of Angels to his credit, things have been tougher lately with Land of the Lost and the Lemony Snicket movie both flopping.  (Apart from some decent location footage, there’s not much of interest in his direction here.)  Driver can console herself with the knowledge that busted pilots flutter in the air for a moment, then more or less disappear; if she wants to do TV, she’ll have more and better chances.
The Sked’s Verdict:  The Network Was Right
Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."