3 February 2005 | baker-9
Great Subject matter - soapy execution
"Paradise" is a pilot for a proposed series on Showtime that didn't get picked up. Certainly the subject matter of the televangelist world has a host of excellent possibilities, particularly for a pay cable channel that can take bigger risks than a commercial TV network.
Unfortunately, "Paradise" comes off as nothing more than a "Dallas" clone with a different setting. And like most pilot episodes, this one spends a lot of time with the necessary job of introducing characters and setting up situations. But the story lines are pretty stale and unimaginative for the most part.
The story centers on Bobby Paradise (David Strathairn), a former astronaut who had a near-death experience after a spaceship landing in the ocean, resulting in a religious conversion (we suppose). When the show opens, he's a major star in the televangelist circuit, raking in millions of dollars and presiding over huge stadium-size crowds at his revival meetings.
But Bobby is also going through a psychological crisis that is hinted at in the beginning, and there's the potential for trouble when he aligns himself with a hedonistic media baron for the sake of reaching more people on TV and radio.
His immediate family participate in his business, led by his wife (Barbara Hershey). His daughter is a bit of a tramp and hooks up with a professional boxer; his older son is the one who tries hard but never pleases Dad; the daughter-in-law wants more of a role but is brushed aside. And then there's the black sheep son who just got out of jail for manslaughter in a bar fight, and is still rejected by Dad.
So you can see that the stage is set for the kind of soapy family dynamics that any viewer of "Dallas" or "Dynasty" will recognize.
And that's too bad, because the subject of televangelism is a great one, with endless possibilities for a hard look at religion, commerce, media manipulation, and political ambition - particularly given the current residents of the White House. This pilot touches on some of this, but you can bet the more interesting dramatic (and perhaps satirical) aspects of this subject would have been brushed aside for more commonplace dramatics.
Even so, there's some fine acting talent on display. Strathairn is a great choice for the role of Bobby: this kind of morally gray character gives him am opportunity to show off his talent for suggesting multiple facets of Bobby at once. The role also lets him play a dynamic, dominating character rather than the more quiet roles people usually associate with him.
Hershey is good in a role that is pretty vague, but would have probably deepened had the show continued. Elaine Stritch adds some necessary vigor and vinegar as her mother, who enjoys all the perks of Bobby's empire, but isn't exactly the pious type.
However, the actors playing the children are a mediocre bunch, including James LeGros who has been good elsewhere.
"Paradise" is truly a squandered opportunity, and based on this pilot, it's just as well that the show didn't go any further.