July 16, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Finding Carter”



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 FINDING CARTER:  At 16, Carter Stevens (Kathryn Prescott) believed herself to be having a better-than-average adolescence, mostly due to a close bond with her easygoing mother Lori (Milena Govich).  But her world was turned inside-out when she learned that Lori actually kidnapped her when she was 3 years old, for reasons that are still unclear.  Now Carter’s been returned to what seems like her anything-but-real family:  controlling (and adulterous) police detective mother Elizabeth (Cynthia Watrous), author father David (Alexis Denisof) who’s secretly planning to exploit his daughter in a book, resentful twin sister Taylor (Anna Jacoby-Heron), and lonely younger brother Grant (Zac Pullam).  Carter herself, bitter and rebellious, acts out with the wrong friends and the wrong behavior, and her family isn’t having a great time, either.

Episode 2:  The war of wits between Carter and Elizabeth continued in this week’s hour, written by Heather Thomason and directed by Rob Hardy.  Carter had no sooner finished apologizing for last week’s stunts of drug-taking and pranking her mother with what seemed to be a contact from her kidnapper, when she fixed on local drug dealer Crash (Caleb Ruminer)–conveniently being arrested by Elizabeth–as the object of her affection most calculated to make her mother’s head explode.  Not to be outdone, Elizabeth tried a stratagem to bring Carter back with ex-boyfriend Max (Alex Saxon), a slacker and no great influence in his own right, but at least a harmless guy with his heart in the right place.

A virtue of Finding Carter is that neither of these plans worked out the way its authoress had planned, but not in an overly melodramatic way.  Carter, who would have acknowledged that Crash was too bad a boy for her when he taught Grant how to roll joints, if only her mother hadn’t underlined how forbidden he was quite so heavily, went one step too far with him, and found herself briefly in a stolen car, but without any major consequences.  Elizabeth, for her part, brought Carter and Max closer, but only as friends–and along the way, Elizabeth smashed a(nother) hole in her other daughter’s heart, not even noticing that Taylor had developed a crush on the boy.  (Elizabeth is lucky that Taylor doesn’t have the supernatural powers Stephen King would have given her.)  As Elizabeth noted in the course of the episode, she and Carter are very much alike (it didn’t even have to be said that she and Taylor are much less so), and for all their mutual hostility, on some level each of them gets some satisfaction out of having a worthy adversary.

Other aspects of the hour were less successful.  The show is trying to have its cake and eat it with David, making him an insincere nice guy while reminding us that he’s not really so bad, because if he doesn’t exploit Carter for his new book, he’ll owe hundreds of thousands for an advance he’s already spent.  The Hardy Boys-ish subplot in which Carter’s new pals Gabe, Ofe and Bird tried to track down Lori felt half-hearted, and seemed to be there just to keep Lori’s plotline going.

The major strength of Finding Carter is in the complexity of its leading women.  Prescott and Jacoby-Heron are vivid young actresses–Prescott has the magnetism to justify the fact that, to paraphrase Max, every young guy on the show is filling in his application to be with her–and Watrous, who has the toughest part on the show, pulls off the feat of being mostly unsympathetic yet with her own understandable reasons.  Their spiky interaction is what makes the show engrossing.  Only time will tell if the series can continue to balance its heightened account of high school life with a crime-drama backstory, but 3 hours in, it’s off to a capable start.


PILOT + 1:  A Teen Series That Doesn’t Pander


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."