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Quick Hits: Pilot Season — The Event

September 21st, 2010

It’s Pilot season in America. There certainly seems to be more shows that at least have the potential to be intriguing. There’s the can’t miss in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the LOST clone in NBC’s The Event, the waiting-to-see-if-it-can-deliver in AMC’s The Walking Dead and a host of other intriguing new shows.  I may not drop thoughts on all of them, but I will try to give my initial thoughts on some of those that catch my eye.  First up is the first off the DVR, NBC’s The Event.

NBC apparently does not make their production stills available for download. Boo on them. The art in this post will suffer a bit.

The Event mimicked LOST in many ways, to the point that it even was blatantly marketed as a potential successor.  That will grasp the eyes of LOST fanatics with suddenly an extra hour of time each week, particularly when the show is granted at least some street cred with positive buzz.  But that buzz and intentional comparison also carries with it the heavy burden of expectation.  If you don’t deliver, you’re going to know it pretty quickly — as was the case for The Nine and FlashForward, the last two shows that filed miserably in assuming the throne of TV’s top network blockbuster.

As a LOST junkie, I somewhat knew what I wanted to see in this pilot.  First and foremost, you need a solid score.  Series creator Nick Wauters turned that task over to Scott Starrett, a virtual unknown to mainstream productions whose IMDB credits reflect a show called Drop Dead Diva and a movie called Slutty Summer.  If you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly overwhelmed with confidence.  While Starrett fails to deliver on an epic scale in the way that Michael Giacchino did for LOST or Bear McCreary did for Battlestar Galactica, he does manage to build the appropriate adrenaline during the more action packed scenes.  The scoring during the more dramatic or dialogue is somewhat empty and overall it’s a bit lacking in imagination.  I was not terribly impressed on this level.

Click through for more thoughts.

The next thing I look for is production value.  Again, the gold standard for this on the small screen is the LOST pilot.  Sure, Mad Men‘s wardrobe and prop departments can match anyone’s, but the only TV production I can recall that matches LOST‘s epic scale would be Playtone and HBO’s Band of Brothers and The Pacific (duly noting that Boardwalk Empire seems poised to join that quartet).  Here, The Event actually really delivers.  Yeah, it’s shot to feel a little more CSI: Miami than LOST, but it is very clean, well edited and flashes some solid location and set work.  In particular, the effects for the Alaska Marine One shot and the airliner shots were very well executed, as was the framing on Sean’s (Jason Ritter) dive into the ocean off St. Lucia or wherever they were on a cruise.  Again, it’s not quite the grade A camera and production work that was featured on the big four above, but it certainly is top notch work and shows real promise.  More importantly, the producers do seem to mind detail, maybe not in the literary way that Darleton did with LOST, but well enough that you won’t be peeved by mindless errors.

The main cast has real promise, particularly if Clifton Collins Jr. is accurately listed as a regular on IMDB. I didn't see him in the pilot.

The next most important element is a solid cast, and here The Event appears ready to deliver.  On television, big name stars don’t bode well for the long term viability of a multi-character series.  Sure, in any great series, the cast will get expensive, but hiring a “name” actor or two will just bleed a production budget.  The way to win is to a) get veteran character actors who are either unknown or in need of a career lift and b) catch lighting in a bottle with an unknown or two.  On the veteran front, the producers dug deep and landed three perfect prime actors.  First is Blair Underwood (as President Elias Martinez), who will always be remembered for his role on L.A. Law, though he’s had limited success in other roles, as well.  As the mysterious Sophia Maguire is former ER star Laura Innes, who promises to have the potential impact that was seen by a sophisticated, carry the screen type of actress like Mary McDonnell in Battlestar Galactica.  Third is the more anonymous, background character actor.  In this series, Zeljko Ivanek (probably best known as defense attorney Ray Fiske in Damages) fills that role as Presidential insider Blake Sterling.  The three offer enough gravitas without completely sucking up salary budget.  On the newcomer front, it’s hard to say if the producers hit a home run or not.  The “star” of the series seems to be Ritter.  I’ve seen him in one other production (The Education of Charlie Banks) that I thought he was quite good in.  That said, one doesn’t really know if he’s here more for nepotism or acting talent.  He does quite well in the plane scenes in this episode, though his interpersonal, background scenes are a bit awkward.  All in all, the casting seems to be quite solid with room to grow in secondary characters and fill-in stars, like the always awesome Clifton Collins, Jr. (who I didn’t catch in this episode, but is billed as a star) and the love interest for Ritter’s Sean (Sarah Roemer as Leila Buchanon).

The big hook comes from Sophia and the real hit is her closing line, just after this still.

The next element of a good pilot is the plot line hook.  You’re not going to make a masterpiece in an hour and scripts will have their hiccups in their first hour of play.  But you reallyneed that hook that makes me want to come back for more and which doesn’t strain disbelief to the point of annoyance.  Some of the dialogue in the episode is stale, but the script is well structured with a “replay” style of film making that is somewhat reminiscent of The Nine in its perspective reruns.  It works better here than it did for ABC on The Nine.  There are some familiar elements of the storyline.  For example, the Alaskan prison for some reason made me think of X-Men and Wolverine’s tundra laboratory.  The plane’s gateway jump was somewhat reminiscent of the Kris Kristofferson movie Millennium, a somewhat underrated sci fi movie that led the way for some later movies.  And the idea of being disappeared from records mid travel was most recently accomplished in Flightplan.  Yet each of these familiar themes is weaved into a plotline that is sufficiently unique as to leave me wanting more.  In particular, the show struck a nice balance between action and character development and drama.  And while it didn’t have it’s “Where are we moment” (uttered by Charlie Pace in the LOST pilot) to encapsulate the feeling of the audience, it had a poor man’s version Sophia Maguire owning up to the President that she hadn’t let him in on everything.

Some quick quick hits.

  • If this show is going to make it, it will be on Innes back as Sophia.  Of the major characters introduced so far, she’s really the only one to drive any significant intrigue or empathy.  President Martinez is more Wayne Palmer than David Palmer (24 reference) and Sean Walker is more Boone than Desmond (LOST reference).  They might develop well and fill in their characters, but there’s nothing really special that drives a spark for either at this point.
  • In fact, of all the minority TV presidents we’ve had, does anyone really buy President Martinez?  I don’t mean to be crass and to say you have to be a certain “type” to win a TV election, but in the xenophobic political climate of this country, are we really to believe that the Red States would elect a Cuban president who is a first generation American and is married to a woman who mixes the looks of Gloria from Modern Family with the accent of, well, Gloria from Modern Family.  The political idealism is nothing new and fits in the role of TV president, but the man is, quite simply, not terribly electable.  Maybe after Preston Bush breaks the higher office barrier for Latinos in the executive branch, but even then it won’t be with a first lady who speaks English as a second language.  At least not until we come to our senses and let certain states (cough… Arizona), or at least those that think the way SB1070 was written, secede.
  • The cruise – Buchanon family raid – plane plot thread was actually not stale at all.  There were several areas where it seemed to be generic, but each element was actually pretty well done and unexpected.  Even those elements that you can read before they get there (the awkward proposal thing, the drunkard new boat friends, etc.) are tangential in nature and almost serve as head fakes.  The actual action — particularly on the plane — catches you completely by surprise.  Well done.
  • The poster at the airport in the opening moments was nice.  It said “It all happens in Miami”, or something of that sort.  It was a nice touch and set the stage.
  • I was ready to complain about all the wake and noise in the dramatic plane climax before the wormhole opened.  Yes, planes leave huge wakes behind them (which wake somehow didn’t leave the FBI guy’s SUV tumbling in jetwash, for some reason), but they most certainly don’t disrupt and cause wind ahead of the plane.  We learned that the disruptions were from, presumably, the wormhole opening.  Saved themselves a diatribe from me with that development.

The Event's first family.

  • I get the sense that the wedding ring is going to have some importance.  It was left in the room safe by Sean and will likely end up still being in there.  I’m less confident Sean will find his new shipmate friends (which friends were almost certainly planted there as part of the kidnapping plot).  In any respect, we’ve got some time to see where they go with that.
  • Most importantly, where (or when) are Sophia and her people from?  Or by “They’re not Americans” did Blake Sterling just mean that they’re Canadian?

Ultimately, The Event definitely passed the test to get picked up on my DVR.  It remains to be seen how it plays out for the whole season.  Have they spit out too much of their plot points?  How do you propose to reconcile bumping two or three main characters to another dimension?  Are we faced with a timeline terminus at the Coral Gables event?  And what of the prior occurrence of an event?

I guess we’ll just have to see.  I’m not sure this one will make it into Quick Hits format, but you never know.  Overall grade: B+ with room to grow.

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