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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

O, Show of Little "Faith" — Fox’s TRU CALLING

By Chris Ryall

Thursday 28 August 2003, by Webmaster

Remember when PARTY OF FIVE announced the spin-off TIME OF YOUR LIFE, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt? J-Love was looking like the breakout star of PARTY, the sexier co-star to the bland Neve Campbell? The buzz among, well, guys, was that this would be a chance to see the only reason they watched the show in tight outfits away from all that family angst. Well, what happened? The producers put our little Love in baggy sweaters and overcast weather, and the dreary show was soon cancelled.

Here we are a few years later and Eliza Dushka’s fresh off her semi-regular appearances on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER where she built quite the fanbase of the next generation of teenage guys. Now that BUFFY’s gone, Eliza is getting her own show, only this time, it’s not a spin-off. But we’ll see if this show plays to Eliza’s strengths better than TIME OF OUR LIFE did.

The show opens on a twelve-year-old girl and her family sitting at the mass for her murdered mother. The little girl’s two front teeth and brpwn hair tell you that she’ll grow up to be college graduate Tru Davies (Eliza Dushku), visits her mom’s casket and then tells her older sister that "mom forgave me," for not being able to be there when she was murdered (by a man they never found). She says that she wishes she could be there to help people.

Cut to her graduation from college, which she rushes to and almost misses, and then the post-ceremony celebration which she cuts short to be coherent for her internship that starts the next day. Before she heads to the hospital, we see that she’s sleeping with her college professor. Tru finds out that the hospital has suddenly lost its funding but she wants some kind of money and credibility before she starts medical school in the fall. The hospital gives her another lead — forensic attendant at the city morgue. There, she is to retrieve bodies, chart it, collects "standards" (hair and such) and prep the bodies for autopsy. Every body they take in is considered an "unnatural death," meaning most are murder victims. So Tru follows in the footsteps of Billy Blazejowski and takes the job.

Tru’s family...is a mess. Her brother is an inveterate gambler (he calls her for financial help but she turns him down. The next day, he’s badly beaten but still has time while heading into surgery to give her a guilt trip for not helping him when she had the chance.) Her sister is a coke head who she only meets up with once a year, on the anniversary of their mother’s death.

It’s Tru’s first solo night in the morgue. She starts hearing whispers in her head. She tracks down the cause, a recently murdered girl who opens her eyes and says "Help me."

Tru wakes up in her bed. It’s the previous day. It takes Tru a little time to figure out that she’s reliving the same day, which means she just might have time to save the murdered girl if she can get there in time. It’s one of those premises for a show that hooks you the first time but makes you realize that her race to prevent the Corpse of the Week could get old pretty quickly if the premise stays as is.

I can see the pitch meeting — "it’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets THE SIXTH SENSE."

Tru tracks down the murdered girl before the crime and proceeds to scare the crap out of her. For some odd reason, the girl reacts badly to hearing some stranger say "You’re going to die today." She tries a different tactic—she takes the cell phone number off the girl’s phone and looks up the caller, an ex-boyfriend. He’s similarly put off by this girl, but not so much that he won’t give her the name of another ex, who’s maybe the killer. It’s his turn to get freaked out by this girl, but since he’s the killer (and a married family man, to boot), this only sends him even faster down the path of murder. Meanwhile, her brother is racking up the gambling losses that got him put into the hospital, so she heads out and tries to prevent his ass-kicking. She’s reliving a pretty busy day. Still, she has time to head off to see her sister again to try to talk her out of doing coke, and heads back to try again to save the girl (the girl is still freaked out by her, so she’s again unsuccessful). She’s running out of time.

She’s back to see her brother again. "Have a little faith in your sister," she says as she slips him a ten of clubs to help save him from losing. Because getting caught by serious gamblers with a card up his sleeve is much better than losing their marker. So far, she’s not so good at this saving thing.

Tru gets help from her Oracle-like friend (A BIRDS OF PREY reference!), a video game designer who has such a crush on her he built her likeness into a game. He gives her addresses for these various people, which has her RUN, TRU, RUN all over town.

Things with the potentially murdered girl don’t go quite so well, but even when things go awry, that’s nothing a Faith-like roundhouse kick can’t fix.

She even saves her brother’s ass and then, somehow, he and the cokehead sister show for dinner, so all is fixed up nice and neat (as far as she thinks—meanwhile, the sister, all smiles to her face, snorts a bit o’ the powder in the bathroom). Until her phone rings, that is.

See, the bullet wound in the neck of the murdered girl...it didn’t have an exit wound. No one thought at the time that this might mean "suicide" until the end of the show, but the video game designer calls, having just puzzled this out. Which sends her running across town yet again. Luckily the show has (repeatedly) made the point that she was a college track star, so she can handle these wind-sprints across the city.

The clock strikes ten. All is right with the world. And Tru is headed back to the morgue. A body of a young, single woman is wheeled in. Is it...?

I’m not telling.

The pilot was directed by filmmaker Phillip Noyce (THE QUIET AMERICAN), so it looks great and features some nice editing and quick-cutting transitions. Will the premise hold up? Who knows? It’s worth a look to see where it goes next, anyway, vampire-slaying or no.

Fox’s TRU CALLING airs this Fall on Thursday nights at 8:00 PM.