Fox's Frankenstein-inspired police procedural with a sci-fi twist, Second Chance, shouldn't have been written off so quickly...
Second Chance, the Fox channel’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein had, it would be fair to say, a somewhat turbulent production. With the number of episodes reduced from thirteen to eleven before the show even premiered and two late-in-the-day changes from original title The Frankenstein Code, it seemed as if Fox had early reservations about the direction and potential of the project. And the general reaction to Second Chance’s initial few episodes seemingly justified the scepticism. After the first two outings brought in poor numbers, the series was unceremoniously shunted to the infamous ‘Friday Night Death Slot’. The critics weren’t much kinder either, with the overarching feeling being the show lacked in originality, wasn’t particularly exciting and should have been better thought out both in concept and execution.
But despite under-par reviews and unimpressive ratings, there are a number of elements contained in Second Chance that shine through; a few ideas that really work well, engage viewers (the few there are) and display a promise suggesting that with a few tweaks and alterations, this monster could really have come to life. A second season has been ruled out by Fox, and here's why that's a shame.
As Second Chance begins, Jimmy Pritchard is a seventy-five year old man, living in disgrace after losing his job as Sheriff due to being found guilty of malpractice, or as he’d put it, “getting the job done”. Pensioner Jimmy has a penchant for booze and hookers and suffers a strained relationship with his straight-laced FBI agent son, Duval, who resents him due to his prioritisation of work over family and his maverick way of keeping law and order. When Jimmy finds intruders in his son’s home, he’s callously murdered, with the death being framed as suicide. Luckily, the old-timer has a rare genetic precursor and his body is recovered by the reclusive, billionaire genius Otto Goodwin to be the subject of his quest to reanimate a human being into an ‘ideal version’ of their younger self, complete with superhuman capabilities.
That’s more or less where the Frankenstein influence ends and it’s easy to see why the original ‘The Frankenstein Code’ moniker didn’t stick, as Second Chance very quickly reveals itself to be, essentially, a police procedural drama. Once the dust settles on Pritchard’s resurrection, the bulk of the series chronicles the now thirty-five year old solving crimes with his son as they struggle to repair their relationship along the way. The other primary source of plot concerns Otto and his twin Mary, the duo responsible for bringing Jimmy back from the dead. As Mary struggles with terminal cancer, the pair strives to understand the morality behind their breakthrough and begin to develop their own relationships with the ex-Sheriff, both working and personal.
Even its most staunch supporters would struggle to deny that Second Chance has several fundamental flaws, perhaps the most significant of which being the show’s ‘short term’ planning approach. The first episode, for example, is enjoyable enough with intriguing mysteries to keep its audience interested until the end and a magnetising protagonist, however all of the episode’s questions and plot points are neatly tied up and resolved by the end credits, leaving absolutely nothing to hook viewers into returning next week. This approach is highly frustrating, particularly as the ‘who were the intruders that murdered Jimmy?’ mystery could have easily been a season-long arc that motivated the lead character throughout the story, rather than being a cut and dry case contained to episode one.
This trend continues throughout the series’ run with Second Chance adopting a ‘crime of the week’ format and the few long-term story arcs that are introduced are largely restricted to family disputes and domestic tension. There is a welcome exception to this rule however, with the final trio of episodes coming together to deliver a quite stunning finale brimming with suspense and action and it just goes to show that when multi-episode narratives are utilised, Second Chance could really take off.
Other problems with the show include the formulaic and predictable nature of many stories, with Jimmy usually saving the day at the last second despite his son asking him to stop interfering in his cases. The writing itself doesn’t fare much better, with the show’s initial batch of scripts offering very little wit or emotive clout, often feeling very ‘by the numbers’ and without wanting to name names, some of the acting is not what you’d expect from a mainstream production.
As we said however, there are redeeming features present, not least of which is the fantastically grounded performance by lead actor Rob Kazinsky. Aside from memorable turns in Pacific Rim and True Blood, British viewers may best remember Rob for his time in Eastenders playing Sean Slater but the Sussex-born actor has been less prominent in the last two years. As such, it’s good to see the promising talent take on a meaty role such as this, and Kazinsky delivers a very affecting performance as Jimmy Pritchard. Never losing sight of the fact his character is actually a pensioner, the acting is layered with maturity and wisdom and his American accent is flawless. Part detective action-hero, part failed family-man and part seriously confused about not being dead, Kazinsky is an ideal leading man and it’s no exaggeration to say that there are times when his charisma carries the show.
There’s also an argument to be made that whilst Second Chance’s melding together of Frankenstein, cop show and family woes doesn’t quite work together as a cohesive narrative, the series does succeed when considered primarily as a detective-based crime drama with a slight, undead, twist. The featured cases may not have the delicate intricacy of Sherlock or inspire amateur sofa-sleuthing as feverishly as the CSI franchise but each episode’s felony hooks viewers in, keeping bums on seats until the bad guys are behind bars and Pritchard is safely back in his regeneration tank.
The developing relationship between the ex-corpse and his son Duval manages to bring at least a modicum of freshness to the table, and the way Second Chance handles Duval coming to terms with the revival of his father is more or less spot-on. If Pritchard’s son had accepted the news too easily the show would’ve looked foolish and naive, but drag the storyline on for too long and Duval’s reluctance to believe something the audience already knows to be true would have become infuriating. It’s a delicate balance but Second Chance doesn’t over or under-sell the unique scenario the characters find themselves in and ensures the exchanges feel believable without overcooking the conflict.
Unfortunately, however, this doesn’t fix the plot-hole of why Duval doesn’t recognise his 35 year-old father. Otto does offer a flimsy 'it’s the best version of him' explanation, hinting that Jimmy would have looked different when he was originally in his thirties but it’s a feeble attempt to paper over the fact that most sons would recognise their dad as a younger adult.
As alluded to previously, the series’ rigid formula and predictability does become an issue but any potential drop in interest is offset by scripts that improve dramatically as the show progresses, after a shaky few initial offerings. Gwendolyn M. Parker’s work on fourth outing Admissions, for instance, showcases Jimmy and Duval at their horn-locking best and the crime at the centre of the story is genuinely surprising in places. There’s even a hilarious scene involving Jimmy Pritchard’s family and an Ouija board. Despite being a season highlight however, Admissions does suffer from the same issues Second Chance is guilty of as a whole, namely the inductive leaps our detective protagonists sometimes resort to in order to wrap up their case inside the forty minutes running time. The occasionally too obvious and definitely too frequent plot devices provided by the Lookinglass company also irk as the series goes on.
Thankfully Lookinglass don’t just provide a variety of ‘get out of jail’ cards for the show’s writers, they’re also responsible from bringing the magnificent Arthur to life. Arthur is a seemingly omnipotent A.I. created by Otto Goodwin with a charmingly loveable personality, similar to A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’s Marvin but without the physical form and crippling depression. He also is a perfect example of Second Chance’s excellent design work, especially when it comes to the more futuristic technology on display. It really helps sell the show’s more fantastical concepts and builds a believable setting.
And it isn’t only the cinematography that triumphs, the direction and music also impress. The work behind the camera is always solid, noticeably altering to suit Second Chance’s two distinct areas of drama. The crime segments are nice and choppy, lingering on important visual clues for added impact but deliberately obscuring other elements to ramp up the tension, however the Lookinglass scenes take a more serene and streamlined approach. The series’ soundtrack also offers moments of inspiration with John Paesano’s subtle score often punctuated by modern pop tracks such as Gram Rabbit’s piano-led They’re Watching which appears over scenes of a brutal axe murder. The juxtaposition is funnier than it should be.
Realistically, if you’re the type of person to only watch a select few television shows a year, Second Chance isn’t going to be (and probably shouldn’t be) one of them. But for those who gobble up series like a surprise tub of Ben and Jerry’s you forgot was in the freezer, this spin on the Frankenstein story is a decent police procedural with a science fiction twist that isn’t quite as hopeless as the reviews and ratings would have you believe. Indeed, it could be said that Second Chance is a victim of the golden age of television we’re currently experiencing. With fantastic shows appearing continuously on mainstream and cable channels as well as streaming sites and on-demand services, projects like Second Chance receive a negative reception not because they are lacking in quality but because they don’t hold up to the abundance of excellent programming currently available at the touch of a button. Second Chance may not be a great show, but it’s certainly a good one and its lone season deserves to find the viewership that is undoubtedly out there for it somewhere.
Second Chance is currently airing on Universal Channel in the UK.
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