ABC's Lucky 7, based on an international version of the same story, is not a flashy or hook-driven show. Yes, there is a hook (that a group of blue collar workers win the lottery), but the show is a character-driven ensemble that turns a lens on some ordinary people-- people who could be you, me, or any one of our friends or neighbors-- and explores their intricacies and personalities both before and after wealth. Lucky 7 doesn't rely on tricks or special effects to draw in its audience; there are no literal explosions or supernatural events or superhuman feats featured here. Yet, it is such a compelling character-driven drama that it is impossible not to be swept up in the story from minute one, focused entirely on the people who pop off the screen in a way that seems to silence everything else around you-- from your phone to social media. Lucky 7 sucks you in with its grounded reality and makes you fall in love with every minute of it.
Lucky 7 does something in the opening minutes of its pilot that has become something of a staple for new ABC dramas, in that it starts in the future with a high-octane action to demand the audience sit up and take notice of it. It's hard to capture attention these days, with so many competing projects, but I admit, even if it's effective, I wish shows like Lucky 7 didn't have to resort to such false levels. Because the truth is, Lucky 7 is not an action drama, nor should you want it to be one. It should stand on its own merits rather than snag viewers who only push through the rest of the pilot hoping to get back to the adrenaline of the first few minutes. Instead, it is the tone and pacing of everything that follows that first few minutes that makes Lucky 7 truly unique and interesting (especially for this day and age in television), but by giving that crescendo first rather than building to it organically and yes, linearly, it makes it feel like the show didn't have as much faith in this generation of viewers.
What has become typical story format formula aside, Lucky 7 diversifies itself nicely from the dramatic offerings by being a positive and slightly aspirational story. The aforementioned blue collar workers are all people who start the pilot with some serious problems: one (Matt Long) is living with in-laws with a baby on the way; one (Anastasia Phillips) is a single mom who can't even afford to give her kid pizza day money for school; one (Lorraine Bruce) is in a loveless marriage and an overall rut; and all are on the verge of losing their jobs. They are all hard-working (even if somewhat opportunistic) people who need a break, and surprisingly they get the best one possible when one of their "office pool" lottery tickets comes up a winner.
(Interestingly "7" is the last number drawn in the lottery, so the title doesn't just refer to the seven employees affected by this sudden win.)
The characters assembled here are not without their own flaws. One in particular (Stephen Louis Grush) is a petty criminal who drags others down with him, while another (Luis Antonio Ramos) is just a bit too far on the other side, doing what is expected of him or what he "should" do, playing thing so safe at the expense of risking a little for a potentially big reward. But each and every one of them is extremely likeable due to the cast that embodies the roles. You may not recognize many of the actors, and whether or not that was intentional casting so they could feel like "Joe and Jane Everyman and Woman," I don't know, but it certainly lends credibility to their conflicts and situations. It would have been distracting to watch someone who had just spent a few years on another series step into one of these roles as a person struggling just to make ends meet so badly his or her self-esteem is totally shot.
Within the pilot there are already absolute examples of which of these actors you may not know now but will thanks to Lucky 7. Some just shine more than others, stealing the spotlight and proving they are stars, even within an ensemble. Bruce is certainly one of them. She has a solid arc of being a woman who is beaten down in the beginning of the pilot to someone who comes alive with possibilities by the end of it. The light in her eyes and the way she radiates as her character has a way to dig herself out of her hole is probably the most aspirational story to watch, even if she'll probably be prone to repeating some of her bad choices.
Ramos, too, expresses more with his eyes than some of his cast members do at all-- whether he's optimistic about possibilities or realizing he's about to let down the love of his life. It is obvious Ramos is having unique fun with this role, and he effortlessly infuses those feelings into the role, turning what could have been a stereotypical, grumpy or angry guy into someone I want to spend much, much more time with.
Long does a decent job at expressing the conflict his character feels over wanting to "be a man" and "provide," but his storyline in the pilot puts him mostly in scenes with the insanely soulful Isaiah Whitlock Jr. and the more raw but still dynamic Grush, leaving Long to trail behind, a bit lost. His character is being pushed and pulled by wants, needs, temptation, and loyalty in the pilot, so "lost" kind of works on him-- for now. His character is facing down some serious guilt and betrayal by the end of the pilot, and if he can't work through it, the story around him will suffer in future episodes because of it.
Many times when people hear the words "the characters drive the story, not the other way around," a discomfort sets in that things will be slow-moving and that not a lot will happen in the plot at all. Lucky 7 proves that not only does that not have to be the case, but that when characters and their motivations and drives are clear, everything actually seems to tumble after them much faster and larger themes and issues can be explored. Lucky 7 delivers that in spades in the pilot alone. It may not be traditionally sexily packaged, but Lucky 7 is one of the most alluring new dramas of fall.
Lucky 7 premieres on ABC on September 24 2013 at 10 p.m.
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