Neve Campbell, Michael Kenneth Williams, Lindy Booth, Krista Allen
The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ere’s a show that was something genuinely different for American primetime network television. Different isn’t always good, but in this case it was, and as such, it’s a shame the series didn’t manage to snag decent enough ratings to keep it on the air. What happened? After viewing all eight episodes, I’ve got a few ideas. It premiered in the summer, which, unless you’re a cable network, never seems to be a safe time to unveil a new show. There doesn’t appear to be much interest in network shows in the summer, unless it’s of the “Big Brother” or “America’s Got Talent” variety. One wonders if the subject matter, which shines a light on areas of the world that are considerably less fortunate than the U.S., was a possible factor. When people turn on the tube at night, they typically want to shut their brains off for a few hours. This show wasn’t really about doing that, although it did offer up its humanitarian lessons in quite the entertaining package.
It certainly had plenty of talent onboard behind the camera; Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson, and Peter Horton are just some of the names attached to the show. What really hurt this series, I believe, is its title, “The Philanthropist.” While apt, given the adventures of its lead character, it’s just not a title that would make me want to tune in. Come to think of it, I’m not sure “The Philanthropist” would be a good title for anything – be it a book, a movie, or a band, assuming you’d add an “s” to the end.
“The Philanthropist” tells the stories of Teddy Rist (James Purefoy), a billionaire who, while on a trip to Nigeria, finds himself in the position of saving a young boy in the midst of a hurricane. Having recently divorced his wife (Krista Allen) after the couple dealt with the death of their son, his eyes are now open, and he realizes that a great deal of good needs to be done in the world, and he’s in a position to do some good deeds. Teddy fights sex trafficking in Paris, forced labor in Burma, and food shortages in Haiti. It doesn’t necessarily sound like a fun series, and yet it is, because Teddy enjoys the company of fine booze and sexy women, although not necessarily in that order. He never carries a gun, yet often finds himself on the other end of one. His “missions” always seem to involve him becoming personally involved in the situation due to the presence of one or two people who desperately need his help, and these smaller stories are set against the backdrop of the bigger, more important pictures. In many ways, the show feels a bit like a series of mini-James Bond adventures, only without the license to kill.
Yes, the show delves into action-adventure and frequent improbability, but those very elements are what keep it from getting too preachy. Anytime it begins to get up on the soapbox, something will come along and knock the soapbox – with Teddy on it – over. Purefoy is an absolute delight, and it’s hard to imagine the series working anywhere near as efficiently without him. Assuming your heart is in the right place, he’s the kind of man we all wish we could be if only we had Teddy’s money and power. There are other characters on the show, such as Teddy’s business partner Philip Maidstone (Jesse L. Martin), but most of them are there for little more than support. The show’s really about this one remarkable person, and his mission to do entirely selfless acts that benefit his fellow man.
The only aspect that doesn’t really work is the clumsy, (mostly) unnecessary wraparound framing structure that accompanies each new episode. Most of the tales are unveiled to the viewer as Teddy tells someone the story of “what happened in Burma,” and so forth. Beyond the obvious cumbersome quality this brings to the storytelling, there’s also the niggling feeling that he’s perhaps embellishing his tales for the sake of a good story, which, although not inherent to the character, seems like the kind of thing he might just do to prove a point. It’s the one thing that didn’t work for me, as I’d like to believe that everything I witnessed actually happened to the fictitious character of Teddy Rist.
Special Features: This is unsurprisingly a bare bones offering. It’s a shame, too, as the one thing this set really needed is some sort of featurette on Bobby Sager, the real-life philanthropist on whom the show is supposedly based. Every episode concludes with a mention of his name, and it would’ve been nice to know more about the man behind the myth.