HANNAH WARE, STUART TOWNSEND
9 p.m. Sundays
on WLS-Channel 7
Updated: November 30, 2013 7:55PM
I feel cheated by “Betrayal,” one of the biggest busts of the fall TV season.
The ABC drama, set and filmed in Chicago, centers on an affair between Sara (Hannah Ware), a photographer, and Jack (Stuart Townsend), a lawyer who married into a clouted-up Chicago family, the Karstens. While Jack and Sara have their fun in the bedroom, the courtroom is where Jack and Sara’s husband square off. The two attorneys are on opposite sides of a high-profile murder case involving the Karsten clan.
Billed as part thriller, part romance, “Betrayal” has turned out to be a total waste of time.
The drama debuted to underwhelming ratings Sept. 29. Since then the situation, like the show, has only gotten worse. One Sunday episode slipped to 2.9 million viewers and, more importantly, an anemic 0.8 rating in the key 18- to 49-year-old demographic.
That’s dangerously close to the unlucky 0.7 demo rating logged by “Lucky 7” right before ABC axed the freshman drama, making it the first casualty of the 2013-14 season. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, “Lucky 7” and “Betrayal” are both executive produced by former “ER” showrunner David Zabel, who’s probably not the most popular kid in the ABC cafeteria these days.
On paper, “Betrayal” seemed to make perfect sense for the female-friendly Alphabet net, especially on Sundays, as a titillating nightcap after soapy “Revenge.” That show’s continuing free fall hasn’t done “Betrayal” any favors, but the latter’s problems go far beyond a lack of lead-in support.
Here are six of “Betrayal’s” biggest sins:
1. Affairs shouldn’t be boring
What with “Scandal” and the recently renewed summer series “Mistresses,” ABC might as well stand for Adultery Broadcasting Company. All this infidelity means that if a show is built around extramarital activities, it had better be an affair to remember. Not so with “Betrayal.” From Jack and Sara’s Meet Cute at the top of Tribune Tower to their snorefest of a flirting session in Union Station — even their first time in bed together when she, I kid you not, recited a children’s bedtime story to him — lacks excitement and takes Way. Too. Long. This liaison isn’t dangerous. It’s tedious.
2. Too little show, too much tell
Sara loves to yap to her magazine editor about Jack’s magical effect on her. But both characters are so underdeveloped it’s hard to know what holes in their lives need filling, let alone who can fill them. We’re supposed to just believe they’re a couple of star-crossed soulmates, even though the show has put very little effort into bolstering this theory with any convincing evidence. (We’re also supposed to believe a local magazine has the kind of staff, resources and office space that make Vogue look like a high school newspaper.)
3. Who killed Lou? Who cares?
In the pilot, Uncle Lou, a member of the powerful Karsten kinfolk, goes swimming with the fishes in the Chicago River. Solving his murder is a key part of this serialized drama, touted as a 13-episode “limited series” that presumably will take all 13 episodes — if it lasts that long — to answer this question. We’re only five episodes in and I often forget Lou is dead. Suffice to say Lou is no Rosie Larsen.
4. All style, no substance
“Betrayal” is based on a Holland TV series, “Overspel.” I’ve only seen a trailer for the European version, but it looked more compelling than its American cousin. The Dutch show had a realism to it that raised the stakes. “Betrayal” feels like a daytime soap that’s stayed up past its bedtime.
5. Casting fumbles
Hannah Ware was the weak link as Kelsey Grammer’s troubled daughter in Starz’s “Boss.” The only thing saving her from that title in “Betrayal” is Henry Thomas, better known as Elliott in “E.T.” Thomas’ turn as the intellectually impaired T.J. Karsten is pure Lennie-wants-to-pet-the-rabbits. It borders on humorous when played against his blustery father, Thatcher Karsten (James Cromwell, who probably wishes he was back in the asylum on “American Horror Story”). But back to Ware. The British model-actress doesn’t have the chops to carry a show. She certainly didn’t use the time between “Boss” and “Betrayal” to work on her Chicago accent. You’d think someone could have reminded her we ride the “El,” not the “Al.”
6. Say what?
“I grew up on the water imagining I’d end up a wreck diver searching for lost gold at the bottom of Lake Michigan,” Jack says wistfully during his first meeting with Sara.
“So you never found your treasure?” she asks.
“Still looking, I guess,” he says.
Another gem from the Stilted Dialogue Department: “You make me want to connect,” Jack says. “When I see you, I get this feeling … this spark that …”
“You’ve never felt before?” Sara responds. (Read: They’re so compatible they finish each other’s sentences!)
The writers must have realized they needed help, because they recently started cribbing lines from other scribes:
“My dad always used to say falling for Chicago is like falling for a girl with a broken nose. You might find other girls who are lovelier, but never one so real,” said Thatcher Karsten, who might turn out to be Nelson Algren’s long-lost son.
At least that would be interesting.