There are plenty of reasons to suspect NBC's "The Philanthropist" will be awful: It's airing in the summer dumping ground; it was part of NBC's terrible 2007-08 development season; and executive producer Tom Fontana ("Homicide: Life on the Street") wrote the pilot teleplay, got fired and then got rehired.
Against all odds, this week's premiere turns out to be a competent, highly watchable hour of television, the most promising broadcast network premiere since "Southland."
Starring: James Purefoy.
Billionaire playboy Teddy Rist (James Purefoy, "Rome") tells his story to a comely bartender in flashback, recounting his adventures attempting to deliver vaccines to an African village after he saved a young boy from a nearby village from drowning during a hurricane. Rist also tells viewers at home about this through the use of narration, probably a little too much.
Through the hour, Fontana's teleplay slowly reveals Rist's background, including a family tragedy and his relationship with his business partner, Philip Maidstone (Jesse L. Martin, "Law & Order"), and Maidstone's wife, Olivia (Neve Campbell, "Party of Five"), who runs the company's charitable foundation.
To its credit, "The Philanthropist" quickly acknowledges the patronizing notion of a wealthy, white savior swooping in to save the poor, helpless Africans. But the question left hanging over the show is what the series will be on a weekly basis.
Will Rist become a righteous do-gooder or will "The Philanthropist" show more nuance and complexity? To live up to its promise, "The Philanthropist" needs to do more of the latter.