Two seasons, one Eliza Dushku and a pre-Hangover Zach Galifinakis – how could a show with all this fail? Sam Rutledge writes about the two-season wonder that was Tru Calling.
I have a controversial opinion for you: the shortlived Fox network drama Tru Calling was actually good.
“Wait, what show?” I hear you ask. Fair question. It really only got one season – plus six episodes that aired out of order because in 2003 TV was the wild west and anything was allowed to happen – then it got cancelled. As someone just getting into her TV-watching prime, I was thoroughly gutted and I only coped with the loss by writing a lot about how gutted I was in my Livejournal.
In case you’re unfamiliar; Tru Calling followed Tru Davies, a hopeful medical student who takes a job at a morgue when her internship falls through. She manages to pick up the Creepy Graveyard Shift because of course she does, and it’s under those circumstances she learns of her special spooky gift – people who die “before their time” can ask her for help. Tru’s day rewinds and starts over, and she gets to redo the whole thing to try and save them from their fate. Cool trick!
If you watched this show in 2003 there’s no way you’d believe that the biggest star was going to be the weird morgue guy, but in terms of bankroll Zach Galifinakis has to be top tier. Yes, that Zach Galifinakis. He was Tru’s closest confidant and always knew a lot more than he was letting on; a wee bit different from his later more famous roles.
The show in general has a mildly insane cast to think about now, though I don’t know if I’d credit it with launching their careers, exactly? This is more the kind of show you come back to when you want to see someone’s filmography because their current show isn’t enough to satisfy you so you pick this because it’s not that much of a time commitment but then suddenly it’s 24 hours later and you’re not sure what you’re watching but you can’t stop. Or just me? OK, fine, you do you, I do me.
Eliza Dushku of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bring It On and Dollhouse fame played the titular Tru with the familiar earnestness, sass and empathy she’s always been great at, and I bet Fox was hoping that since her star was burning bright at the time she was going to swamp them with viewers. Unfortunately they were incorrect.
But I don’t really know why.
Like listen, it was a kooky, kinda cheesy show. Dead people dramatically turned their heads and whispered help me like I do when I misplace my debit card at the pub, but I’ve seen much dumber shows with worse actors go for way more seasons. Plus, it had a banger of a theme song:
Rounding out the recurring cast were national treasure Lizzy Caplan, AJ Cook, Liz Vassey and also Matt Bomer! All of these people signed onto this show! It cannot have been that bad! Christina Hendricks was a guest star! Cobie Smulders was a guest star! Jeffery Dean Morgan was a guest star! What more did anyone want.
I guess in fairness, the first episode is a bit of a clanger. It’s a weird world to set up, and if you’ve come to it new, it’s a hard ask to accept Zach Galifinakis in a semi-serious role. But there’s nothing really obviously wrong with it.
Plus, after the first few establishing episodes and a few genuinely interesting twists, we met Tru’s opposite. He was the dude who was out to make sure the dead people who asked for help died again on a rewind. Like a yang to her yin type of thing. Played by teen heartthrob and also adult heartthrob Jason Priestley, Jack wasn’t pure evil or just out to get his kicks, he was a legitimately great addition to the base mechanism of the show. His presence deepened the mythology to ask the question: is Tru’s intervening in these people’s lives actually the right thing to do?
Also, it was Jason Priestley. I feel like it’s not hard to see where the writers were going with that particular casting choice.
Spoiler alert: they were going to kiss! They were going to kiss and I’m going to be mad I was robbed of that for the rest of my life. I don’t understand it. Why wouldn’t you spend millions of dollars bankrolling however many episodes it took for that particular storyline to culminate? I wanted to see those sexual ramifications, Fox! Why would you deny me the heterosexual nightmares I wish for!
I’m actually going to lay even more controversy on you here and baselessly say that I don’t think Tru Calling was a victim of poor storytelling so much as a victim of circumstance. It wasn’t the only procedural-type show that started in 2003 (CSI, NCIS, those big acronyms!), it wasn’t the only show about dead people (Dead Like Me!), and it wasn’t the only female-led show on primetime (The Simple Life! Just kidding, Joan of Arcadia also premiered that year).
This was a time before streaming when “fall TV” was the big American thing, and I think it just ended up getting pushed out. If we’d had Lightbox in 2003 I reckon it would have gotten way more traction, and to this day perhaps I would be way less bitter?
My only beef when rewatching this show (on DVD, because I keep the crypt in my days off) was that for most of the first episode I was misremembering Tru’s brother Harrison as her love interest. I know that makes it sound like my fault, but you have to understand they don’t behave the way regular siblings have ever behaved in real life. They held hands a lot and spent way too much time on each other’s beds.
Matt Bomer, incredibly handsome and playing a very wholesome crime scene photographer, was Tru’s actual love interest, but I don’t remember one defining thing about him other than that. This is possibly because of all the times Tru could have been spending getting to know him better, she was off somewhere having weird little whispers and brunches with Harrison. Having to recalibrate those relationships in my head was very hard and I will maintain that some serious miscasting happened there.
Weird sibling relationships aside, though, show creator Jon Harmon Feldman had a good thing in this show and whenever those weird Firefly nerds get in their feelings about bringing their spaceship fools back I’m always there to loudly proclaim BUT WHAT ABOUT TRU CALLING?