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Tru Calling: season one (2003-4)
Creator: Jon Harmon Feldman

review by Christopher Geary

In Buffy, she was the rogue slayer, a dark challenge to that show's 'chosen' heroine. Here, Eliza Dushku plays Tru Davies, morgue attendant and wannabe medical intern, blessed or cursed with the responsibility of saving the lives of ordinary people who are 'destined' to die in less than 24 hours. Bodies delivered to the morgue 'wake up' briefly asking Tru for help and, at that moment, her day begins anew but she remembers everything that happened the first time around as if it were 'yesterday'. Tru's involuntary time travelling means that her 'rewound' days are constantly frustrating, much like the looped day endured by Bill Murray's weatherman in witty black comedy Groundhog Day (1993). However, Tru Calling is really a quasi-occult themed 'detective' serial thriller largely concerned with preventing lethal accidents or crimes, retrospectively. This show is pitched into the cross-genre gap between the lightweight adventures of Early Edition (1996-2000) - in which the protagonist received tomorrow's newspaper today and chose to make good use of the information it provided, and the more generic time-machine action heroics of Seven Days - which, admittedly, was already imitative of Timecop. Of course, Tru Calling might be also viewed as being vaguely inspired by The Sixth Sense (1999), and Nightwatch (1997). It's doubly ironic to note how much time-paradox TV shows have come to represent the ultimate in 'recycled' entertainment.

Following her role as Goth chick Annabel in the flawed supernatural mystery Soul Survivors, and her astute casting as resourceful leading lady of admirable backwoods horror-thriller Wrong Turn, the delectable Ms Dushku reportedly turned down the offer of a Buffy spinoff series about vampire slayer Faith (although some guest appearances in season four of Angel, managed to find a suitable 'conclusion' for her reformed 'bad girl' character), and opted to star in Tru Calling as, basically, a non-combatant. Dushku gamely sets about Tru's frequently bizarre job of thwarting malicious fate, handling recurring dialogues through informed variations, while replaying each miraculous day's particulars to advantage others (as it's not only the 'dead' victims who might benefit from Tru's knowledge of what will be), and struggling with knotty ethical problems (whom can she trust with her secret?) and moral dilemmas (if she rewrites the dramatic 'history' of - from her perspective - 'yesterday', could she be playing god with human lives?). What's surprising is that Tru Calling does emerge from this obvious mishmash of subgenre influences as a laudable and complex attempt to produce yet another, often quite entertaining, variant on the familiar science fantasy trope of time travel.

The show's supporting characters are the usual mixed bunch of relatives, friends, and potential enemies. Shawn Reaves is intermittently amusing as Tru's streetwise slacker brother Harrison, Jessica Collins plays Tru's older sister Meredith (bossy, ambitious but drug-addict executive), A.J. Cook is Tru's best friend Lindsay, Zach Galifianakis is engaging as Tru's eccentrically nerdy boss Davis, down at the morgue, and Matthew Bomer provides the heroine's love interest as the likeable but rather dim crime-scene photographer Luc. As the wholly mysterious Jack Harper (a staff replacement at the city morgue), Jason Priestley livens up the later episodes of season one. Overall, this show is well made and benefits from classy production values (such as unobtrusive set and lighting designs) and the first rate technical merits of camerawork and editing (especially significant in the rapid 'flashback' montages that signal Tru's day is about to restart).

The Pilot episode establishes the basics quite neatly: Tru's estrangement from her father ever since, as a 12-year-old, she witnessed her mother's murder. Tru's sometimes-difficult relationships with her two siblings in the wake of that family tragedy, and Tru's positive reaction to this extraordinary power that gives her foreknowledge of events via her two-mornings-per-day schedule. It's not just a job; it's her calling... Fourth episode, Past Tense, is the first to break the single-victim formula when Tru has to save the lives of five young men from a reunion party, and discover who killed them all. As usual with stories such as this, the key to solving the murder mystery is not who, what, where, or when, but how and why.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Tru Calling would have to steal plot ideas from genre movies and so, given the show's concerns with life after death, it's no surprise that the producers would accept a script clearly derived from the 'resuscitation drama' of Flatliners (1990). Thankfully, the episode in question, Haunted, does offers a clever twist on the standard near-death experience of that film. Morning After (clearly inspired by the Jane Fonda movie of the same title) finds Tru investigating the murder of her ex-boyfriend, and fretting (yes, unduly, of course!) that she might have killed him during in the memory-blotting haze of a drunken fight. It's rare for episodic US television to produce a gripping emotively human tale with a downbeat ending lacking mawkish sentimentality, but Closure, about a wounded soldier being reunited with his lost love is both moving and tragic without any hint of sappiness. It's a standout tale, which skilfully avoids the numerous pitfalls of the happy endings that the setup of this show normally demands.

Murder In The Morgue, in which the live-saving act becomes more personal than usual for Tru, is another fine episode, and results in her brother Harrison finally believing that his sister is reliving days. Episode 11, The Longest Day mimics Groundhog Day with multiple rewinds of the same day but adds several notable highly inventive plot twists (chaos theory applied to time travel), and this is the story which teaches our heroine the hard lesson that some tragedies just cannot be avoided. Daddy's Girl has Tru discover more about the death of her mother and, adding some much needed suspense to proceedings, we find out that her father is hiding family secrets from his children that Tru, Harry, and Mere do not even suspect. The Getaway sees Tru called upon to save the life of the pesky female newspaper reporter (introduced in beauty contest episode Drop Dead Gorgeous) who's been making a nuisance of herself while asking pointed questions about Tru's recent appearances at many crime scenes.

Two Pair (about murder/suicide at a high-stakes poker game) and Death Becomes Her (an actress with a secret life visits the morgue to help prepare herself for a film role as a mortuary attendant) tell us more about the quietly disturbing character of Tru's colleague Jack, and he delivers several intriguing metaphysical arguments that affect the social behaviour of Harrison and could threaten to expose Tru to far greater dangers than she already faces. In episode D.O.A. we learn more about Jack's past, and realise that he's not who or what he appears. Season finale, Two Weddings And A Funeral complicates the show further with last minute revelations about Tru's father, and requires a deeper commitment from Tru to her 'superhero' calling than before.

Six episodes of season two were filmed but Fox TV foolishly cancelled the show mid-season. The NTSC Region 1 DVD boxset has all 20 episodes (total 880 minutes runtime) from the first season, presented in widescreen (aspect ratio 1.78:1) with Dolby surround 5.1 audio plus English, Spanish and French subtitles. Disc extras include three worthwhile featurettes: Finding The Calling (a making-of the Pilot episode), The Tru Path (season one overview), and Evil Comes Calling (about the late-season twist of Jack's character becoming Tru's nemesis). There's also some deleted scenes and commentary tracks on selected episodes, plus a music video of the show's theme song Somebody Help Me performed by Full Blown Rose.

The Region 2 DVD boxset of season one is due for retail release on 9th May 2005.
Tru Calling season 1

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Eliza Dushku as Tru Davies





TRU CALLING
Season 1 episodes:

Pilot

Putting Out Fires

Brother's Keeper

Past Tense

Haunted

Star-crossed

Morning After

Closure

Murder In
The Morgue

Reunion

The Longest Day

Valentine

Drop Dead
Gorgeous

Daddy's Girl

The Getaway

Two Pair

Death Becomes Her

Rear Window

D.O.A.

Two Weddings
And A Funeral


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