The Listener -- TV Review

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It took a half an hour of watching NBC's "The Listener" to figure out why it's so unsettling: It's from Canada.

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with being a Canadian production. The problem is that Toronto is used as a location substitute for everywhere because it doesn't look like anywhere, which means that setting a drama series there -- even one as fanciful as "Listener" -- saddles the story with an unshakable tone of alienation. Distributed overseas via Fox International Channels, "Listener" is a serviceable supernatural drama with legitimate narrative potential that's undercut by its visually bland presentation and geographically nonspecific execution.

Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik) is a twentysomething EMT who hardly ever seems to be called into duty. He's also telepathic and a generally nice guy, so he uses his loads of unscheduled time to help police solve cases and read people's thoughts to discover the truth. "Listener" is smart enough not to offer an explanation for Toby's gift, at least not in the pilot; it's just the way he is, and he's forced to define his world through it.

The series opener sets up what will likely be a regular pattern for each episode, cutting between the villain of the week and hints at a larger story arc. In this case, Toby saves a woman from a car wreck and proceeds to track down her missing son. It's a modest premise hampered by the fact that dramas like this are pretty much going to unfold by the numbers, so there's no real suspense in wondering whether Toby will stop the bad guy.

No, the interesting moments are when Toby begins to rediscover his past, suffering seemingly involuntary flashbacks of a mother who told him he had a new name shortly after he stood next to her and watched a house explode. There's clearly something much weirder going on with Toby's nature than even he knows, and it's this story line that holds the series' real promise.

Still, "Listener" never rises above the middle of the pack. It's the kind of stock procedural that can only be described with such words as "solid" and "workable," and it can't really be liked or disliked. It's anywhere and nowhere.

Airdate: 9 p.m. Thursday, June 4 (NBC)
Cast: Craig Olejnik, Ennis Esmer, Lisa Marcos, Mylene Dinh-Robic, Colm Feore, Anthony Lemke, Arnold Pinnock
Production: Shaftesbury Films, CTV
Executive producers: Russ Cochrane, Michael Amo, Scott Garvie, Clement Virgo, Peter Mohan
Creator: Michael Amo
Writer: Michael Amo
Co-producers: Shane Kinnear, Shelley Gillen
Producers: Julie Lacey, Avrum Jacobson, Adam Haight, Manny Danelon
Director: Clement Virgo
Director of photography: David Moxness
Production designer: Sandra Kybartas
Casting: Deirdre Bowen