Amidst a television field dominated by tacky reality shows, NBC's scripted drama The Philanthropist debuted on June 24 to surprisingly good numbers, winning its time slot.
Based on real-life billionaire Bob Sager, James Purefoy plays Teddy Rist, a handsome rapscallion of a CEO who finds that wine, women, and riches aren't enough for him anymore. In an effort to add more meaning to his life, he turns his resources and talents to helping people in need in far-flung parts of the world.
The exotic settings, not to mention Purefoy's James Bondish quality, keep the show from becoming a didactic bore. And while Rist and those around him frequently allude to his "bacchanalian ways," at least in the premiere, he is never shown acting them out.
The Philanthropist also deals with one of the greatest obstacles to helping poor countries: their own corrupt governments. Rist finds that a never-ending line of officials to bribe means he has to take a hands-on approach to his do-gooding. Simply writing checks is not enough to get vaccines to the people who need them.
At the same time, the show deftly examines the heart of charity, drawing a line between those who give to help others and those who give to get accolades. "This is about you,' one aid worker tells Rist, "playing the role of the charming rich businessman who travels the globe getting his hands just dirty enough to go back home and tell his American friends how meaningful his life is compared to theirs.'
So far, the biggest downside to the show is how its creators have been pushing it as an "Obama drama," telling the press that whereas Jack Bauer represents "the anger and frustration of the Bush years" Teddy Rist represents "a sense of hope and the thrill of possibilities in the Obama era." Someone might want to tell them that churches were working to get clean water, food, and medicine-not to mention everlasting hope-to people who need them long before the current president took office.