Easy Money

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Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 5 (CW)

There's nothing illegal about all those payday loan shops that have sprung up in recent years, but there's something that's not quite kosher about them.

For a staggering rate -- but not legally usurious -- you can get an advance on your paycheck. And of course, the people who tend to do that the most are those who can least afford to pay the high fees and who are most likely to default.

"Easy Money," a quirky, appealing drama from Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, plays out in this gray area on the frontier of legitimate enterprise. From the outside, Prestige Pay Day Loans ("Credit a wreck? We've got your check"), located in a strip mall in some southwest city, is nothing that catches the eye. Inside, the restive members of the Buffkin family have their own struggles.

Each family member has a job. Mom Bobbette (Laurie Metcalf) makes loans, Dad Roy (Nick Searcy) supervises, and Morgan (Jeff Hephner) handles collections and problem-solving. Cooper (Jay R. Ferguson), with skills learned from surfing for porn, is in charge of the computers. Brandy (Katie Lowes) takes care of the office.

Business has been good, but cracks are appearing in the foundation. Morgan, the brightest of the siblings, is turned off by the whole operation. Cooper feels unappreciated, and Brandy's husband is preoccupied with get-rich-quick schemes. Meanwhile, not all Prestige customers are of the satisfied variety. Some are downright angry.

Although the premiere could be more energetic, there's enough going on to coax you to revisit the Buffkins. Hephner shows genuine star potential with his portrayal of brooding Morgan, the moral center of the show. His performance is reason enough to keep watching, though others also stand out. For example, Metcalf finds layers and layers within Bobbette, who will be increasingly challenged to hold the family together.

An engaging series like this one should pay off for the CW and Media Rights Capital, but there are obstacles. Sunday night has been a black hole for the CW -- and before that WB Network. After a while, the networks conceded defeat and put in cheap filler. Now "Easy Money" will have to build a new audience from scratch, and there's no telling whether young viewers who crave CW hits on other nights will flock to a scripted show that emphasizes substance over style.

Production: Media Rights Capital
Executive producers: Diane Frolov, Andrew Schneider, Jimmy Mulville; Co-executive producers: Brandon Hill; Producers: Alyson Evans, Bobby Gaylor.
Co-producer: Stephen Hootstein.
Director: Alik Sakharov.
Teleplay: Diane Frolov, Andrew Schneider.
Based on a treatment by: Tony Sarchet.
Director of photography: Joseph Gallagher.
Production designer: Mark Duran.
Editor: Sidney Wolinsky.
Set decorator: Edward McLoughlin.
Casting: Zane/Pillsbury.
Cast: Jeff Hephner, Jay R. Ferguson, Laurie Metcalf, Katie Lowes, Nick Searcy, Judge Reinhold, Gary Farmer, Marsha Thomason, Michelle Griego, Kimberly Estrada


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