The season that’s already given us “Battlestar Galactica,” “Veronica Mars” and “Lost” is giving us one more great new series.
“The Inside” launches 9 p.m. Wednesday on Fox!
Watch, for at least six reasons.
1) Tim Minear is running this show!
When we posted our “New Shows To Watch List” in May 2004, “The Inside” was a total non-starter. The record demonstrates we were more excited about “Dr. Vegas” and “Jack & Bobby.”
Here’s how we described “The Inside” on May 20, shortly after Fox announced it:
A distaff “21 Jump Street” about a 22-year-old federal agent who impersonates a high-school girl as part of an undercover operation. It’s from writer-producers Todd & Glenn Kessler (“Robbery Homicide Division”). It stars Rachel Nichols (“Dumb and Dumberer”), Peter Facinelli (“Fastlane”) and model Willa Holland.
At the end of September, however, something great happened. “The original pilot didn’t wow execs,” reported Daily Variety. Tim Minear, the trade paper explained, would become the series’ new showrunner and create a new pilot.
Who is Tim Minear? Just a TV god, is all! Minear wrote and directed the best episodes of “Angel” series creator Joss Whedon didn’t write and direct. Remember the one that introduced The Groosalugg? The one that saw Team Angel move into Wolfram & Hart’s Los Angeles offices? So fabulous were installents like these that Whedon made Minear his co-showrunner on “Firefly.” So good was Minear’s work on “Firefly” that Fox hired Minear as showrunner on “Wonderfalls,” last season’s best new show.
2) Minear’s “Inside” is a different “Inside” than the one we've heard about.
It was reported in the trade press that Minear was “hired to write a new pilot script while keeping the premise.” The trade press lies, says Minear. “I agreed to do it if they let me dump the premise. ‘The Inside’ is totally retooled. It’s less ‘21 Jump Street’ and more ‘Silence of the Lambs’.”
Gone is the high school and any ongoing undercover operation.
The show is now about Rebecca Locke, a young special agent who joins the FBI’s Violent Crimes Unit (VCU) in Los Angeles. Having graduated from the FBI academy two years ago, she’s already made a name for herself at Homeland Security, where she demonstrated a knack for cracking Queda codes.
The man in charge of L.A.’s VCU, celebrated supervisory special agent Virgil “Web” Webster, recruited Rebecca, and she may be his biggest find yet. Quickly and unassumingly does she demonstrate that she’s better at what she does than the older, more experienced and highly skilled agents Webster recruited before her.
We also learn that a very dark chapter was written into Rebecca’s life long before she began training with the FBI.
“High school angle - DEAD! This is not an undercover show,” emphasizes Minear. “When they asked me to do this I felt there were problems in the DNA.”
Rebecca’s new VCU teammates include irritable ex-marine Danny Coulter, big-brained psychologist Melody Sims, and young family-man Paul Fatorre, who comes to fear that VCU boss Webster could eventually devolve Rebecca into something as dark and hardened as Webster himself.
The old “Inside” concept, Minear says, was “really good for an episode of a show, not a whole series. A procedural needs to be specific but broad at the same time. ‘CSI’: it's specific, they do the science. It's broad: it can be applied to any kind of crime/story.
“You can have an ‘X-Files’ episode about repeating a day, but you don't want to see Mulder doing that every week. Hence the overburdened concept of ‘Tru Calling,’ for instance. Rebecca will go undercover when I need or want her to. Other than that, it's about the triangle of Web, Rebecca and Paul -- Web and Paul both in existential battle for Rebecca's soul.”
“It's ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ by way of ‘L.A. Confidential.’ Paul sees himself as the one thing standing between Rebecca and Web's corrupting influence. It is a battle for her soul. If in fact she has one.”
Though Rebecca is after a serial killer in Minear’s pilot, the series concept doesn’t necessitate a “serial killer of the week.”
“Violent crime, serial killers, rapists, some terrorism,
adbudctions/kidnappings, arsonists, bombers,” is how Minear describes Rebecca’s workload. “We go to the sick, twisted and depraved place, but not always serial killers.”
Will there be a “big bad” to haunt “The Inside’s” first season? Or perhaps the entire series?
Minear doesn’t say no. “Was Rebecca's abductor ever caught?” Minear asks rhetorically. “Um, good question. Is Web Jack Crawford [the Scott Glenn mentor character in ‘Silence of the Lambs’] or Hannibal Lector? Another good question.”
So if it’s a totally different show now, why not retire the old title too? Word leaked once upon a time that the series might change its name to “Southland” [media slang for “Greater Los Angeles”], but Minear is doubtful that one will stick.
“Probably not ‘Southland,’ though it was my idea and I like it,” he says. “Seemed James Ellroy-ish to me. Start the show with the sound of a car radio spinning on the dial and ‘today in the Southland...’ kinda thing. But we’re still looking for a title. Something probably procedural-sounding.”
3) Get a gander at Minear’s writing staff!
Those inside “The Inside” now include:
* Jane Espenson! The best and funniest “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” writer not named Joss Whedon! She wrote the one about Xander getting the funny syphilis, the one about Buffy getting the funny telepathy, the one about Xander getting Xeroxed, the one with the Aprilbot, the one that introduced the Buffybot, the one in which Buffy fought the mummy hand, the one in which Giles terrified the Chinese potential with flashcards. Jane Espenson rules.
* David Fury! The author of more produced teleplays set in the Buffiverse than any other writer save Joss Whedon, Fury joined the writing staff at “Lost” for its first season, and promptly wrote most of its best episodes, including the five-star affair in which viewers learned of John Locke’s (now vanquished) disability. David Fury rules.
* Ben Edlund! Edlund created “The Tick”! Edlund wrote for “Firefly.” Edlund wrote the first pee-pee demon episode of “Angel.” Ben Edlund rules.
* Richard Hatem! Screenwriter of “The Mothman Prophecies,” Hatem created ABC’s woefully short-lived supernatural drama “Miracles,” one of the best series of 2003. He also personally scripted its gripping and thought-provoking four-star pilot. Hatem’s brainchild caused legions to scrawl the words “God is nowhere” on paper napkins. Richard Hatem rules.
* Craig Silverstein! Silverstein wrote a whole bunch of “Dead Zone” episodes during its first two seasons. Minear says Silverstein knows what he’s doing.
4) Look at the cast!
* The only holdover from the old “Inside” is its lead actress, the alarmingly cute 25-year-old 5’10” former Guess? model Rachel Nichols. She was going to play faux high-school student Elizabeth Worth in the old “Inside”; now she’s FBI superprofiler Rebecca Locke.
* The big news for “Firefly” fans is “The Inside” reunites Minear with Adam Baldwin, who played violence-prone mercenary Jayne Cobb in the short-lived spaceship series (and in Joss Whedon’s upcoming bigscreen spinoff, “Serenity”). “The Inside” has Baldwin playing Rebecca’s impatient and amusingly rude colleage Danny Love.
* Peter Coyote, last seen playing supervising government operative Dennis Ryland in “The 4400,” plays Rebecca’s dark mentor, Virgil Webster. The more episodes you watch (I’ve seen four now), the more interesting this guy gets. He may be evil. Or psychotic. Or both. Keep your eye on Virgil Webster. He’s one of the key reasons you’re not going to mistake this show for “Law & Order.”
* Katie Finneran, still memorable for her work as Jaye Tyler 's blonde lesbian lawyer sister on "Wonderfalls," plays chain-smoking redhead analyst Melody Sim, Rebecca’s only female teammate.
* Jay Harrington, last seen recurring on the WB’s “Summerland,” plays Paul Ryan, the FBI man trying prevent Webster from driving Rebecca to the dark side.
5) The scripts? They rock. Very hard.
They give us exactly what fans expect from Minear: compelling characters, monstrous twists, rocket pacing and resonant dark humor. Rebecca, especially, is a great central figure, gifted, haunted and driven but also heroic and hugely likeable. The victims are sad. You’ll crave grave punishment for their detestable tormentors. And you will thrill to realize Rebecca has the means to destroy them.
6) There’s “Inside” stuff Herc’s forbidden to discuss.
In an early Minear pilot script, a serial killer leads the FBI to a fictional and abandoned Los Angeles hotel named the Hyperion. Sad to say, the hotel, known to fans of the Buffiverse as the former worldwide headquarters of Angel Investigations, didn’t quite survive to the final shooting script. “But look for a very specific ‘Angel’ reference,” promises Minear.
If you think that particular promise is cool, Minear has privately spoken also of tentative plans you’ll find 1,000 times cooler. Minear, fearful of jinxing, forbids us to say more, but I’m not exaggerating about the “1,000 times” part. Makes me giddy.
What’s that? You didn’t notice the “Angel” reference in the first episode? Respect the spoiler! Tame the invisotext! Who does the security guy work for? Does his patch say … “Wolfram Security”?? (In a later episode, there's a very obvious homage to the best-ever episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - even though Minear never worked on "Buffy." And "Chinatown" fans will appreciate that Webster's VCU is headquarted in the Hollis Mulwray Federal Building.
Fox has ordered 13 hours of Minear’s “The Inside.” They start airing in a few hours.
9 p.m. Wednesday. Fox.