Cocked: Pilot Review

Cocked Amazon

There’s something oddly fresh about Cocked, Amazon’s attempt to modernize Dallas as a darkly comic, hour-long show about a splintered family fighting over the “family business.” Although it doesn’t really tread any new ground (or really do much of anything to stand out as something fresh or unique), Cocked is confident, assured, and consistently amusing – though I really do wonder how this show would be able to keep things interesting enough for a full season, much less a full series.

Sure, the idea of family drama in and of itself seems to be enough to carry the series; however, the comedic bent of the show often sends the show down slightly absurd roads, paths that could wear thin trying to fill the space of 45-50 minutes through a long series of episodes. Part of the problem comes from the fact that the conflicts within the family are so cleanly delivered in the pilot, there isn’t a whole lot of room to expand beyond the family: Richard (Sam Trammell) is the prodigal son come home, Grady (Jason Lee) is the gun’ totin, coke blowin’ son who stuck around, and Tabby (Dreama Walker) is the half-sister who will do anything to prove her worth in a masculine industry.

As the cipher for wacky drama, Grady provides a nice balance to the much straighter performances of Trammell and Walker, whose potential roles in the family business make for some of the more interesting plot dynamics of the pilot, which slowly zeroes in on their competition to take over the business from Wade (Brian Dennehy), whose slowly failing health has led his brother (who owns 20% of their business, as well as his own successful gun business) to try and buy it out from underneath them. The story is simple and familiar; the only plots around it in the pilot to complicate things involve a shady assassin and Grady trying to get clean urine for his probation test, hardly the most interesting places to stir up drama.

When the show is focused squarely on the interpersonal relationships of the family members in the Paxson business, it establishes itself as a witty, humorous drama with a penchant for vulgarity; and while that’s fine, it’s not anything that can’t be found on a dozen other TV shows, and hardly something that generates audience excitement for more episodes. The promise of the pilot lies in the performances of its main characters; on a plot level, there isn’t much Cocked can do but rely on its unique setting (which, in its parallels to many other shows of its ilk, isn’t all that original, either) to try and generate interest.

Again, Cocked doesn’t quite go far enough to establish itself as must-see-TV; the gun industry provides an amusing background for things like satirical advertisements and silly plot mechanics (“Let’s sell guns to the gays!” is the family’s radical campaign to revitalize the company), and Cocked doesn’t use it for political grandstanding or deeply existential thoughts on masculinity (which I view as a good thing; though had the show taken one side or the other, it could’ve made for a more engaging pilot). Mostly, it makes for cool images of Jason Lee shooting stuff in slow motion – which is all fine and dandy for awhile, but hardly something an hour-long series can carry itself on.

What worries me are the show’s attempts to build external conflict; or more accurately, the complete lack of it in the pilot. Rayburn, the big rival, turns out to be just another business from the same rich (and EXTREMELY white) family, and the more dramatic twist (which involves the aforementioned assassin) ends the episode with what feels like a forced cliffhanger, drawing out an as-of-yet-unestablished conflict that proved more interesting than anything that came in the hour before it (though in itself, is kind of a silly idea, if it’s considered for more than two seconds that these people are fighting over a failing business).

It makes for a hodgepodge third act, which goes for mysterious, emotional, and cathartic, all at the same time, and none of it exactly finds its landing, even as Dreama Walker smiles and Sam Trammell makes that one face longtime True Blood fans will immediately recognize. As entertaining and energetic as Cocked is at times, and how well its central characters are established, it feels limited – and considering it’s telling a story we’ve seen many, many times before, begs the question of what it has to offer that’s different, other than the setting and the guarantee of All-American gunfire in each lengthy episode.

[Photo via Amazon]

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