“Tower Prep” opens with a boy being bullied, which may hit close to home for some of the show’s target audience. But the object of the bully’s wrath is quickly saved by all-American, preppy Ian, who says he’s an outcast but doesn’t really look the part. Soon he’s suspended from school and getting a lecture from his parents. And then he wakes up at Tower Prep, completely confused about where he is and how he got there. He also meets three jerky roommates.
To depict his confusion, the pilot spends a lot of time – entirely too much, really – showing Ian wandering around campus and in the woods, mouth agape and eyes staring up. OK, we get it, you’re confused. Then he stumbles into the middle of a sport that involves lacrosse sticks and players on roller blades. It’s “Starlight Express” for the jock crowd!
Created by Paul Dini ("Batman Beyond") and executive produced by Glen Morgan ("The X-Files"), “Tower Prep” wastes a lot of time with aimless Ian but the program eventually kicks into gear when Ian finds three friends who are also confused and trying to escape from the school, whose location remains a mystery even as the first episode ends.
The four kids each reveal a secret ability – Suki (Dyana Liu) can replicate others’ voices, CJ (Elise Gatien) can “read people like a book” a la the lead character on “Lie to Me,” class clown Gabe (Ryan Pinkston, "Punk'd") has the gift of gabbing his way out of any situation and Ian anticipates events a split-second before they happen. These skills come in handy when the would-be escapees fight “gnomes,” their nickname for glow-eyed robots that attack them in the woods.
The first episode of “Tower Prep” ends on an intriguing note and the show offers reason for young viewers to come back for more, which is exactly what a pilot episode should do.