October 6, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Betrayal”


BETRAYAL:  Sunday 10PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on BETRAYAL:  Sara Hanley (Hannah Ware), a Chicago photographer married to ambitious prosecutor Drew (Chris Johnson), has just launched a torrid affair with Jack McAllister (Stuart Townsend), himself the husband of Elaine (Wendy Moniz).  Meanwhile, Drew’s landed the biggest case of his career, a murder that may have been committed by TJ Karsten (Henry Thomas), the brain-damaged son of rich and ruthless real estate mogul Thatcher (James Cromwell), and can you guess who Thatcher’s family lawyer and son-in-law is?   No peeking.

Episode 2:  There’s some irony in the red-lettered “Adult Content” warning plastered in the promos for Betrayal and the ALL-CAPS abandon-morality-all-ye-who-enter-here notice before the second episode, first because the show’s sexual content is mild even by basic cable standards (a few shots of Hannah Ware’s bare back and an off-camera suggestion of fellatio), and second because the storytelling here is so basic and obvious that it could have been written for nine-year-olds.  The script by US series developer (based on a Dutch format) David Zabel and fellow Executive Producer Lisa Zwerling, directed by Michael Morris, moves squarely from one plot point to the next without any ambiguity or surprises.

We don’t learn much in the episode that the pilot didn’t already tell us.  Sara and Jack are pining for one another, even though each now knows who the other person is, and contrivances bring them together (this literally happens: Sara shows up at Drew’s office with a new shirt he didn’t ask for after he tells her he’d spilled espresso on it, and Jack happens to be sitting there), although for now she’s fighting the impulse to jump his bones again.  In the murder story, the main suspense is whether TJ will be intellectually capable of lying to the police about the fact that he was with the victim the night of the crime (he is, more or less), and whether the victim’s wife will open up to Drew (apparently yes, after he tells her her husband was informing on Thatcher to the feds).  That leads to TJ’s arrest in the closing minutes of the episode.

In the era of Shonda Rhimes and The Good Wife, this kind of single-story, one-dimensional soap feels slow and old-fashioned, and it could only work if we really felt uncontrollable heat between Sara and Jack.  Unfortunately, although Hannah Ware and Stuart Townsend are attractive performers and good actors (even if their American accents sometimes slip), one can just as easily imagine them brushing themselves off and moving on with their lives as soon as their initial encounter was over, so the only thing telling us they can’t stay away from each other is the florid writing.  (“I can’t stop thinking about you,” Jack texts her, like he goes to high school on a CW show.)  The mystery is a complete bore, aside from the pleasure of watching James Cromwell chomp on scenery like it’s a first-rate hamburger and fries.

The sexiest thing about Betrayal is its goodlooking Chicago location shooting.  David Zabel just got through an awful week, with his other new series Lucky 7 canceled after only 2 episodes, and it’s not likely to get much better:  Betrayal had a dreadful start in the ratings with a 1.5, and although ABC might muddle through with it until the end of the year (it was due to be replaced by The Resurrected in early 2014 anyway), there was nothing in this episode to either draw new viewers in or convince the ones it has to stay faithful.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Cable Is Full Of Better Sunday Night Shows

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."