Monday, July 24, 2006

Like they made a show for me and nobody came: Eureka

First, if you're a fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly and/or Serenity, check out this review of an early script, which sounds like it would have been horrible.

Now.

I've watched the pilot for Eureka (the new SciFi channel original series) twice now, and I don't know what to make of it. It's the channel's follow-up to the oft-masterful Battlestar Galactica in the scripted drama department, and on its face, the premise seems tailor-made for me. If I have a secret shame, it's that I like genre drama (technically, every show is a genre show, but in industry lingo, it refers specifically to SF, fantasy and horror productions). If I have a second secret shame, it's that I like small town shows.

So here you have a genre drama about a quirky small town.

VanDerWonderful, right?

Not so much.

Eureka is a show that feels like it's got a lot of good ideas and no clear notion of how to pull them together. It's greatest problem is that (in the pilot at least) too many of the characters feel like an assemblage of quirks rather than real people who have those quirks grow out of them organically (it's the difference between, say, T.J. on Gilmore Girls and Kirk on Gilmore Girls -- one is annoying and the other feels like a part of the show's world). Granted, some of the characters don't feel this way (I like the staff in the sheriff's office, for instance), but too many of the genius scientists just feel like random assemblages of personality traits, as though the writers had opened a book I had as a child called Building Great Characters (featuring a list of every personality trait you could think of) and taken stabs at them at random.

Here come the usual caveats about reviewing a show from its pilot. In short, you can't do it, especially a show that seems as if it will rely on growing its characters over time as Eureka seems it will do. In addition, the ensemble cast here is huge, and at least one of its members won't be joining the show full-time (Greg Germann), so one has to assume that a lot of these characters will take on added dimensions over time. And one also has to think that, freed of its need to explain the central conceit of the show, Eureka will be able to find plots that aren't so cloddingly heavy with exposition. What's more, the two-hour pilot was a bit oddly paced, and that may be affecting my opinions.

Those caveats aside, though, I'm not sure if the good is enough to keep me watching this show. Some of the characters (as I mentioned) are pretty good, and the lead is an appealing enough "straight man in a crazy world" archetype. I'm not sure how I feel about the bad teenage daughter with a heart of gold (been there, done that), but they certainly could have hired an actress who enunciated a bit better. It is fun to see Matt Frewer again, but too many of the other characters blend in to each other.

What's more, the show has a serious gender disparity. The female characters kick ass (the woman who works in the sheriff's office) or provide handy exposition (the DoD contact), but they don't tend to be super geniuses like the scientists who are the focus of the show. I'm sure this can easily be corrected, but it's a tiresome trend.

Finally, we have the dialogue. Some of it is amusing enough (the mention of Felon Spice is the joke that comes to mind), but most of it feels forced. The characters all speak in the same forced, folksy/quirky patois, and it never quite rises to the level of, say, Northern Exposure, which laced its dialogue with allusions and references beyond its own hermetic universe.

There's a lot of potential in this show, though, so I'll watch a few more episodes to see if the problems I had with the show were ironed out over time. I really like the premise, and I love the sets and locations they've found to shoot on. There's a lot to hope for here, but I don't know if it's realistic to believe the creative team could turn it around.

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