While it's easy to find problems with the pilot to The Philanthropist, the work of actor James Purefoy and the beautiful world music soundtrack make it all work surprisingly well. Between the painful idea of following an affluent business men kneeling down to give a hand to third world countries and the construct of telling the story at a bar (to allow for narration,) it really shouldn't be this good, but Purefoy (Marc Antony from Rome) acts the hell out of it to make it all go down smoothly. And that's how the pilot pretty much goes: Something overly sentimental or contrived happens and Purefoy puts on the charm to make it seem less so.
There's a lot of television veteran talent behind the series starting with Tom Fontana (Homicide, Oz) at the helm with old pal Barry Levinson (The Natural, Bugsy,) Peter Horton (Grey's Anatomy, The Shield) and a cast featuring Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order) and Neve Campbell (Scream). The biggest thrill, though, is seeing Marc Antony of Rome get driven around by Omar from The Wire (Michael K. Williams) -- nothing better than a beloved HBO series team-up.
Aside from Purefoy, though, the highlight here is the music backing it. They managed to get the great Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias (The Kite Runner, The Constant Gardner, Volver) to contribute the theme song, and get his compatriot (and fellow contributor to The Kite Runner) José Villalobos to compose all the great incidental music to the pilot.
The rest of the soundtrack is pretty "resplendent" as well, with music from Africans like Baaba Maal, Issa Bagayogo and Ayub Ogada (who Iglesias also knows from working together on The Constant Garnder, their two collaborations are present in the pilot). My favorite inclusion is probably Tiken Jah Fakoly's cover of Sting's "Englishman in New York" ("African à Paris"). The presence of Sting, if only in cover form, is relevant in that he (and wife Trudie Styler) introduced Boston philanthropist Bobby Sager (who Teddy is based on) to producer Charlie Corwin, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hopefully, with that connection in tow, they keep up the music, as with Purefoy's Teddy, it's an important character in the series, and seeing how he's going to be in a different locale every week, there's potential for a diverse collection of world music to choose from.
Playlist: The Philanthropist - Episode 1.01
1. "Internationale" - Baaba Maal (iTunes)
2. "Guero Canelo" - Calexico
3. "Interlude-Libation, The Water Ritual" - Bela Fleck
4. "Kothbiro" - Ayub Ogada (from Constant Gardner)
5. "Dicholo" - Ayub Ogada, Gavyn Wright & London Session Orchestra (from Constant Gardner)
6. "Africain à Paris" - Tiken Jah Fakoly (cover of Sting's "Englishman in New York")
7. "Draman" - Wasis Diop (iTunes)
8. "Bul Ma Miin" - Orchestra Baobab
9. "Down Under" - Colin Hay
10. "Kalan Nege" - Issa Bagayogo
11. "Bye Bye Baby" - The Donkeys