Monday, September 20, 2021

REVIEW: 'The Big Leap' - Gabby and More Dancers Hope Reality TV Can Provide Them a Second Chance in 'I Want You Back'

FOX's The Big Leap - Episode 1.01 "I Want You Back"

A group of diverse, down-on-their-luck people attempt to change their lives by participating in a potentially life-ruining reality dance show, featuring a modern reimagining of "Swan Lake."

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of FOX's The Big Leap.

"I Want You Back" was written by Liz Heldens and directed by Jason Winer

Nowadays, it seems like a pilot for the broadcast networks just has to be charming in order to buy it a couple episodes to figure itself out. That's generally more true for broadcast network comedies. However, drama pilots that attempt something new frequently fly by the same rule. That's the overwhelming feeling with this drama. It has plenty of charm in this premiere. It's not entirely satisfying with its dramatic storytelling. It runs the risk of telegraphing every single twist because of its meta concept. The series depicts the behind-the-scenes filming of a reality television show that ironically has the same title as the drama the audience is watching. It's all complicated. As such, it has to be grounded with the human stories. But that also amounts to the producers commenting on what will make dramatic stories that can be manipulated instead of the audience making that commitment and determination ourselves. Again, that's a complicated construct. It's all in service of Nick not feeling bad about anything that he forces into happen in front of the camera. The only problem for him is getting people to sign the necessary releases so that the show can use their image. He is already sketching out the broad strokes of this reality show. Its core premise is taking amateur dancers and throwing them into a production of "Swan Lake." It's bringing art and ballet to the masses by championing the underdog story. Of course, the series itself also follows the same trajectory. The very first action depicts Gabby and Justin as star dancers and choreographers of their high school team with bright futures ahead of them. And then, life gets in the way. They aren't able to pursue their dreams in dance until this second chance comes along. Gabby even misses the first sign that this opportunity awaits her. And yet, dance is what brings this friendship alive. Without it, Gabby and Justin weren't even in each other's lives. They find their way back to each other. It's rewarding for them personally. They immediately fall back into a trusting friendship. But the show is also manipulating the situation to set up Gabby for another story that strikes with imagination. But again, that's in service of Nick's agenda with this program. He is told by the network executives that the onscreen talent needs to have some star power. It's not good enough that the human stories can carry the weight of the material. People have to already have an investment with some kind of personality. And so, a football player in the midst of a public scandal is seen as the solution. It's a moment of redemption. A way to avoid permanent cancellation in today's hyper-fast and quick to judge society. Of course, Reggie still has plenty of anger issues that must be worked out. But Gabby also breaks through with him. These stories lift everyone up because they celebrate joy. That makes it even more cynical when Nick is hoping to uncover all the dark and depressing stories in their lives. He is looking to exploit them for the benefit of this show. It's easy for him to do so on some occasions as well. A situation naturally presents itself when Mike and Paula have easy chemistry despite the secret that she was part of the management team that fired him and essentially ruined his life and marriage. That baggage wears him down completely. This show can potentially bring him back to life. He needs that salvation. That joy can still be expressed. Gabby receives that grace. She has long resigned herself to the fact that she will never be the star dancer in a production. She doesn't fit the typical body type. And yet, it's magical and breathtaking when Reggie lifts her up in the audition. It's a perfect display of beauty and athleticism. That's what the show is hoping to achieve. In that moment, Nick sees a love story. The audience can blatantly see it as well. We even have the benefit of witnessing the practices that led up to this moment. Gabby was defeated until Reggie finally shows up. Their spark is infectious in those final moments. It will be exploited. The audience will be asked to go along with those manufactured twists and turns for drama. Some of them will be more real and earned than others. That's the potential shortcoming of this series. It wants to spell out its twists and ambitions. And yet, just enough is happening to suggest that it can dig deeper with these personalities as well. Until then, it's clear to see and enjoy the tropes implemented by reality television trying to be manipulated for dramatic effect in a different structure.