'Imposters': TV Review

Courtesy of Ed Araquel/Bravo
Inbar Lavi of 'Imposters'
Low stakes and low drama, but one very good performance.

It's yet another TV celebration of con artists, but at least Bravo's dramedy is boosted by star Inbar Lavi.

Things the world needs now: Love, sweet love. A quality low-fat bacon. A new, transparent TV ratings system. More commercials with talking animals. Sanity.

Things the world does not need now: Uggs worn as winter footwear. So many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side. Specialized KFC Colonels. More TV shows about charming grifters and con men.

It's not the fault of Bravo's Imposters that it comes quick on the heels of TNT's Good Behavior, Hulu's Shut Eye and Amazon's Sneaky Pete, nor is it my expectation that the average Bravo TV viewer is as immersed in the ongoing Paper Moon-ing of the small screen as your average TV critic.

Also, Imposters isn't the worst of this current rash of shows about conning linguists, each more clever and morally unrestrained than the last. It's just that with low stakes, an uncertain tone, a few too many milquetoast leads and generally bland production values, the peak that Bravo's entry rises to is "cute and innocuous," which is neither condemnation nor compliment.

Still, I'm right on the edge of recommending Imposters, because I think Israeli actress Inbar Lavi is giving a breakthrough performance that will open doors for greater stardom, if only people in TV power check her out.

Lavi plays Ava, the doe-eyed Belgian wife of footwear heir Ezra (Rob Heaps). Ezra and Ava had a whirlwind courtship and a fairy tale Jewish wedding, and they seem entangled in early nuptial bliss. The complication: Ava is actually Maddie, a con artist on the brink of taking Ezra for all he's worth and disappearing without a trace.

Maddie is soon on to her next mark, leaving Ezra a miserable wreck, until he discovers that he's not Maddie's only victim, leading to an unlikely series of road trips in the direction of revenge.

Created by Adam Brooks and Paul Adelstein, Imposters almost immediately establishes two parallel narratives plagued by two parallel problems (three, if you include that all the characters just seem to be on opposite sides of Vancouver from each other):

First, I wasn't sure who to root for, nor was I sure who the show wanted us to root for — and that's not the same thing as not finding anybody likable, because nobody's especially distasteful. I just think a show like this has to make viewers clamor for some result. Are we hoping Ezra and his team of jilted exes, including Parker Young, catches up with Maddie? Are we hoping they catch up with Maddie because we think there's a chance for love to rebloom or because we want them to get revenge? What level of revenge would be proportionate or satisfying? Dunno. Or are we supposed to be rooting for Maddie in her new potential conquest, figuring that she's smarter than these dopey dupes and therefore deserves all their money?

Second, and this is tied to the first, what are the stakes for any of the characters if they don't meet their intended objectives, and therefore what would cause me to care? In three episodes made available to critics, the lack of urgency in both storylines is conspicuous and draining. Ezra and the other exes are taking the slowest, least direct path toward Maddie, and while their decision to ineffectively take up grifting themselves is marginally amusing, it's something you do if you're bored, not as a means to an end. And even if Maddie's partners in crime have worries about her taking a romantic interest in a man who isn't her mark, the attempt at a cautionary tale warning her back on track doesn't stick and nobody effectively offers a timetable for how quickly or slowly the con is supposed to go.

It's only at the end of the third episode that a new character, played by a familiar Oscar nominee, is introduced in a violent manner that suggests the much-needed arrival of stakes. (Imposters visually cites one of my all-time favorites in this genre, Jonathan Demme's Something Wild, and I guess my hope is that the character who appears at the end of the third episode is going to be this show's version of Ray Liotta.)

Any investment or involvement that I felt for any of the characters or any of the above questions (or for any future episodes of Imposters) comes from Lavi, who exhibits a graceful versatility that calls to mind a less ambitious version of Tatiana Maslany's Orphan Black breakout. Lavi is hampered by writing that leaves Maddie intentionally a bit of a cipher and doesn't make her post-Ava character sufficiently flamboyant, but if the entire show hinges on viewers believing that Maddie is a compelling enough spider to lure people into her web, Lavi makes the premise convincing. She conveys allure, cleverness and style, with the show's costumers treating the actress like a modern Audrey Hepburn.

Lavi is a star and whether it's intentional or not (and it could be intentional), she absorbs most of the light in the room. Heaps, battling one of the more conspicuously wonky American accents in recent TV, has a character who is presented as a mopey worm and only begins to gain a spine at the moment at which he's immediately upstaged by Young, whose ability to play low-IQ lugs with both humor and unexpected sincerity remains a pleasure to watch. It's a casting flaw that these guys are supposed to be studies in contrast, showing that Maddie's a predator without a type, but they're roughly interchangeable. By not looking like a cheekbone model, Aaron Douglas gets to be reasonably memorable, but neither sympathetic nor hissable, as Maddie's next possible conquest. Stephen Bishop, Brian Benben and Katherine LaNasa also are present and in need of more characterization.

The lack of stakes means a lack of drama, and Imposters really could be a romantic comedy, except that it's only occasionally funny and the romances are all lies on one side and delusions on the other. There are occasional laughs and bits and pieces of the concept that I like — in some other context, the "inept con artist" part of the plot could be something inspired, or at least different from the current TV paradigm — but really the best reason to watch Imposters will be for Lavi and possibly just to get excited for what she'll do next.

Cast: Inbar Lavi, Robert Heaps, Parker Young, Stephen Bishop, Brien Benben, Katherine LaNasa
Creators: Adam Brooks and Paul Adelstein
Premieres: Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (Bravo)