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Creative 'Leap': Showtime flips the calendar on characters in new drama

Friday, July 27, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

With the premiere of "Leap Years," premium cable network Showtime airs its most creative drama series yet.

"Soul Food" and "Queer as Folk" have their fans, and I was a booster of "Beggars and Choosers," but the time-hopping in "Leap Years" makes it the most original of them all.

 
 
TV REVIEW

'LEAP YEARS'

When: 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.

Starring: Bruno Campos, Garret Dillahunt, Nina Garbiras, David Julian Hirsh, Michelle Hurd

   
 

Each episode, featuring the same five characters, is set in three different years: 1993, 2001 and 2008. What may at first seem like a gimmick actually allows the show's writers to create some of the more intricate relationships and detailed characters on television.

The story begins at a party in 1993, soon after the lead characters have graduated from college. Gregory (Garret Dillahunt) dreams of becoming a filmmaker, with self-proclaimed diva-actress Athena (Michelle Hurd, formerly of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit") eager to land a leading role.

At this same party, best friends Joe (Bruno Campos, NBC's "Jesse") and Josh (David Julian Hirsh) meet Beth (Nina Garbiras), a pretty public school teacher. Both men are smitten.

These early scenes try too hard to titillate -- Sex! Drugs! Nudity! -- but they effectively lay the groundwork for what's to come.

Giving away how the characters and their relationships change from 1993 to 2001 to 2008 would strip the pilot episode of its sometimes surprising, sometimes predictable twists. As depicted in the premiere, the changes in their lives set up a framework for future episodes to embellish.

"Leap Years" is all about the characters and their journeys. It's not the outcome that matters, but the steps that lead to it. In Sunday's show, references are made to events in the years between 2001 and 2008 and left unexplained (what did Athena do at the White House that ruined her career?), but chances are attentive fans will get clued in later in the series' run.

Created by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman ("Queer as Folk," "Sisters"), "Leap Years" is executive produced by show runner Charles Rosin ("Beverly Hills, 90210"), who wrote the pilot. The dialogue in "Leap Years" doesn't rise to the level of the best of prime-time, but it's not far off. Character development matters most.

Many TV dramas unfold chapter-by-chapter, but "Leap Years" feels even more novelistic as it travels through the years following the characters as they grow, mature, fall in love, break up, etc.

Gregory meets with confusion and never achieves the career he set out for himself (giving the false impression that film critics are often failed filmmakers). Bottom line-oriented, self-serving Joe tries to run as far from the poverty of his childhood as possible. Immature Josh has a hard time giving up recreational drug use and hookers. Athena is always a drama queen. Beth becomes a frustrated doormat turned acclaimed writer.

The looks of the actors change minimally over time -- mostly hair styles, hair colors and the occasional strategic use of padding -- and their performances don't vary wildly, which seems true-to-life. Hurd especially gets to have fun playing flamboyant Athena.

Whether or not "Leap Years" maintains the quality of the first few episodes will depend in some part on the producers' ability to keep the show's continuity in check. It appears the events that happen in each time period of the pilot are ground zero. In future episodes the stories in each time period build upon what has come before. That helps mitigate some time-tripping confusion.

"Leap Years" isn't a quantum leap in TV dramas, but it is worthy of praise for its innovative approach to storytelling.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com emailaddress Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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