TV Review: Audiences Unlikely to Hear NBC’s ‘The Listener’

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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.

HollywoodChicago.com Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
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”.

The Listener
The Listener
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.

The Listener
The Listener
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.

‘The Listener,’ which airs on NBC, stars Craig Olejnik, Colm Feore, Ennis Esmer, Lisa Marcos, and Mylene Dinh-Robic. The premiere airs on June 4th, 2009 at 8PM CST.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Kay's picture

You know what, I don’t

You know what, I don’t think you are being very fair to The Listener. But considering this is a hollywoodchicago site (ie: american) you probably don’t really know Canadian television’s history - ie: how really horrible it is.

Canada has been trying to make better tv shows, and we’ve actually started achieving some that get noticed by American networks and, as a Canadian, that makes me very proud. Canada used to be just a place for Americans to film their movies for cheap, but now we’re starting to get nice shows. (Corner Gas, Flashpoint… just to name a few)

No, the Listener is not ER standard… but it’s a brand-new show from a Country that’s just learning to write their own stuff, well. If you give it a chance it actually picks up as the season goes on. I know the first episode I thought ‘oh cute… should I watch more?’ And around the 10th episode things start to get a little more interesting, we learn about the Characters more and I think the writing is getting better.

Is it perfect? No. But it’s 100% Canadian, and waaaay better than anything we could have produced 6 or 7 years ago, and in my opinion worth watching.

I could just be biased after the yeaaars of horrible Canadian television tho.
When I think of ‘bad canadian television’ this comes to mind:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0271308/

Anonymous's picture

thelistener

I THOUGHT IT WAS A DECENT SHOW. SO MUCH OF THE SCHLOCK THAT GETS ON TV LATELY…I FOR ONE INTEND TO SEE THE NEXT 4 0R 5 EPISODES-GO CANUCKS!

Anonymous's picture

It is a Great show!

Sure, the first few episodes may not have been the best thing ever, but that doesn’t mean the whole series is bad. I personally love the writing, and think it helps the viewer connect better with the characters. Also, just because Toby may have some childhood issues to work out, that doesn’t mean the show depends over uses that detail. It’s not as though Toby wines about his past or anything, and, for all we know Toby’s past might mean something in future episodes we haven’t seen yet, as opposed to just being random, heart-wrenching, flashbacks. Who knows. Also, the suspects are NOT usually thinking exactly what Toby needs to know (e.g. “Iris”, “Inside the Man”, and “Missing”). The Listener should have the chance to be something it’s fans look forward to seeing. I know I already do.

Anonymous's picture

Read my mind .... CANCEL PLEASE!

It initially looked like it would be a good show from the promos. But from the opening scene, EVERY character and EVERY back plot was cliché. The main character, Toby, the straight laced goody too shoes. His partner and best friend the comic relief, goofy and annoying. The ex-girlfriend who can’t make up her mind. And OMG the most cliché of all the beautiful female detective, who he now keeps running into with every case he helps with (are there no other cops in this town? I see them in the station, but she is the only one working cases.) A DD model who is a workaholic and goes it “alone” running the streets in a red tank top (as in the very first episode) and keeps giving Toby a hard time for trying to help out. Let’s see how many ways can I say cliché again: overused, old story, stale …

The “coming close” to the truth were Toby’s BF figures out his secret and doesn’t know it. I watched the first three shows hoping it would get better. It didn’t.

I want to say that it was written like a teenage kid wrote it, but with the (again, I can’t say it enough,) cliché characters and plot lines the writers must be over 100 yrs old because they’ve been writing the same stuff since the beginning of Hollywood.

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