TV Review: Audiences Unlikely to Hear NBC’s ‘The Listener’
CHICAGO – Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik) is a 25-year-old paramedic who can hear other people’s thoughts. The telepath is the lead character on NBC’s frustrating new “The Listener,” a show that the network is clearly burning off this summer and that I don’t need psychic powers to predict won’t be on the schedule for too long.
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
This CTV-developed show has a decent premise and talented supporting cast, but it’s such two-dimensional, generic material that it ends up feeling more like a syndicated action series that you would see on a Saturday afternoon. There’s nothing horrendously wrong with “The Listener” but it pales in comparison to recent dramatic occupants of the same night and network - “ER” and “Southland”.
Photo credit: Steve Wilkie
Unlike fellow TV telepath Sookie Stackhouse of “True Blood,” Toby has kept his ability secret from everyone but his long-time mentor, Dr. Ray Mercer (the great but underused Colm Feore, recently seen on “24”). Every week, Toby goes on rounds with his partner “Oz” Bey (Ennis Esmer) and tries to unravel the truth about his own mysterious past.
In the premiere, Toby and Oz save a girl from a car wreck and when asked about if she was alone, Toby sees visions of a child and knows that she’s lying. He also sensed the car wreck before it happened, breaking the usual pattern of his having to reach out to people to hear their thoughts. Toby’s abilities are changing.
Two sexy supporting characters - a detective named Charlie Marks (Lisa Marcos) and an ex-girlfriend who also happens to be an E.R. doctor named Olivia Fawcett (Mylene Dinh-Robic) - flesh out the ensemble.
The big problem with “The Listener” is that unlike “True Blood,” creator Michael Amo takes his concept way too seriously. If you’re going to have your lead say “It’s not a movie, it doesn’t happen that way” before the opening credits even run then you better back it up with believable material after that. A show about a telepathic paramedic only has a chance to work if it recognizes its B-movie set-up but “The Listener” plays like a very special episode of “ER”.
To be fair, the premiere “The Listener” is never boring. It flies by but only because so much plot and melodrama is crammed into one episode. It’s a well-made hour of television without any particularly bad performances, although the overly earnest Olejnik is a little dull to carry his own show.
Photo credit: Steve Wilkie
Ultimately, the downfall of “The Listener” is what makes or breaks nearly all television shows - the writing. Television drama has advanced past the point of shallow dialogue like you’ll hear in “The Listener”. Honestly, the show reminded me of B-grade programming I used to watch as a kid and with the advancements in television writing that’s not a compliment. One of the more unusual writing choices is to have Toby’s telepathy play like completely realized memories, as if every time he tries to read someone’s mind they are remembering exactly what he needs to know.
I’m also dead tired of shows using kids in jeopardy to pull at heartstrings and with its mystery-of-the-week and flashbacks to Toby’s past, “The Listener” double dips in the overused device. It’s easy, manipulative writing and audiences should see through it by now.
This fall, NBC will give up five hours a week of “The Jay Leno Show”. Like most critics, I’m opposed to the idea of losing that much scripted programming when so much has already been lost to the reality TV craze already. However, if “The Listener” is all the peacock has to offer, maybe Jay isn’t that bad an alternative.