Review: 'The Nine'

"The Nine" pins you to your seat with its first episode. Crisp writing that shows more than it tells, taut direction and several really good performances make it easily one of the best pilots to come along this season.

What makes me so excited about the show, though, is that there are any number of places it can go after that first hour ends. That sky's-the-limit potential on top of the great start is what puts "The Nine" among the elite of this year's freshman class.

The series have a pretty simple premise: It follows nine people held hostage for 52 hours following a badly botched bank robbery. But by revealing very little up front about what went on during that time, the show has two strong narrative hooks: Delving into how the standoff progressed and following the survivors as they try to put their lives back together.

Writers K.J. and Hank Steinberg give us a series of disconnected vignettes at the start of the show: A cop (Tim Daly) with a gambling problem who has a thing for one of the tellers (Lourdes Benedicto) and so deposits his paycheck in person. The bank manager (Chi McBride), who's trying to get his employees out for a long weekend and deal with his teenage daughter (Dana Davis). A middle-aged guy (John Billingsley) who wonders what his life has come to.

We see just enough about them before the robbery that we care about how to make it out. When a SWAT team finally does storm the bank -- in a scene masterfully controlled by director Alex Graves -- we see the final moments, but new questions arise. Why is one of the hostages (Jessica Collins) telling police not to hurt one of the robbers (Owain Yeoman)? How and why did someone get shot? Why didn't the negotiators try the cop's plan, which he thinks would have ended things a day sooner?

We also know that some relationships are forged inside the bank, while others deteriorate. Again, we don't know why, but we can divine a few hints based on who connects with whom once things end.

As the series progresses, there's potential -- that word again -- for some fascinating character study in the way these people react to being part of the everyday world again. Early on, Billingsley's character, sad-sack Egan Foote, appears to have changed the most, with a "second chance at life," as he puts it. But his wife doesn't quite get that, and he still has a cubicle-drone job, so how he might express that is anyone's guess.

One can imagine unpleasant memories being dragged up as the case makes its way through the justice system, or people remembering details of the standoff differently, and whose version of events is most reliable. Outside relationships could also be affected.

There are several of disconnected-people-thrown-together shows on the air at the moment ("The Nine" will follow the most successful one, "Lost," on ABC's schedule). By the sheer randomness of its galvanizing event, though, it paradoxically feels more organic than most other shows of its kind. And I can't wait for episode two.

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