Finally, we conclude Fox Sci Fi Month with a look at Tru Calling. Of all the shows I have examined, this may very well be the one that people have forgotten the most. It was a show that was only developed because of Eliza Dushku’s interest in starring in it. That was not enough to sustain the show, and the it was canceled five episodes (yes, really) into its second season. Reruns still run on the Sci Fi Channel, but true cult status still eludes it.
Now, does it deserve this treatment? After all, the premise was an intriguing one (sort of a combination of Groundhog’s Day and…well…Groundhog’s Day) and Eliza Dushku is a good enough actress to make it work. But the show never evolves beyond this premise. Over and over, we do not see Tru (that is the lead character’s name) evolving to fit her role as a metaphysical anomaly.
Alright, now for the actual plot synopsis. Tru Davies (Dushku) is a recent graduate who wants to get into medical school. She starts work at a morgue, but finds that some of the more recent people who died under accidental or mysterious circumstances start asking Tru for her help. She then finds herself repeating the same days, trying to save their lives as well as fixing her own problems as well as those of her brother Harrison and her sister Meredith. Later, other people learn of her power and try and exploit it to their own ends. Later, a foil is introduced, who tries to maintain balance in the universe by preventing Tru from completing her task.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? A TV series that would explore not only the metaphysical (I wonder how many parallel universes Tru Davies created) but the philosophical. Can Tru Davies truly change people’s destinies? What of her own? Is she Descartes’ evil genius, changing the universe to conform to her own whims? Is this about female empowerment?
One could have a multitude of discussions about the show…if it were a better show. While it is not afraid to ask those questions, it seems to be very afraid of answering them directly. Tru herself seems to be a weaker character in a show that would demand a strong one. Apparently, Dushku had the same complaint and wanted to play Tru more like her character Faith (from Buffy) but the network killed that idea. Shame, because this series absolutely requires such a character to make it work. At the very least, would it have been too much to ask Tru to still be amazed about her ability?
Now, I have said a lot of nasty things about the show, but there is a lot to like. After all, not too many shows would ask the above questions at all. The editing in the show is top notch (more than a few sequences were borrowed for use in Dollhouse) and the acting is really good. The fault with Tru lies in the way her character was written, not in the way Dushku played her. Besides, the show ultimately represents a step forward for episodic TV. Sure, it didn’t work, but the creators took a premise that had not really been tried before. It aired during a time in which America was more likely to watch people marry (and divorce) on “reality” TV shows. In more than one way, Tru Calling was downright brave.
Should the show have continued? At the way it was going, artistically, no it should not have. It is far too easy to see where it all was going and why it was failing. It stayed with its (very intriguing) premise and never went beyond it. That, plus the fact that few people were watching the show…well, it was easy to see why Fox canceled the show. And I, for once, may very well agree with them. Of course, that does not mean Tru Calling is a complete loss. It was an experiment that did not damage anyone’s career. It is easy to see why people enjoy it. But it was a show that had shown audiences all that it had to offer by the time it was taken off the air.
Highlights: Well, Cobie Summers (who would go on to star as Robin in How I Met Your Mother) shows up in one episode as the villain. The transitional editing is also crisp and the watching the mentor relationship between Tru and Davis develop is quite good. Still, there are not really many stand out episodes that try to take the premise to new levels, with the possible exception of “The Longest Day.”