The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

The Event: “Pilot”

Posted by therebelprince on September 25, 2010

(contains infinite spoilers for the episode)

The ever-intelligent Rob, of Rob Will Review… confirmed what I was suspecting: it really is too early to give this show much discussion. We don’t know a single thing more than when the pilot started, so I’m just going to share a couple of thoughts that occured to me as I watched.

  • President Blair Underwood needs to fire his Secret Service dudes. Who doesn’t start driving away the moment someone tries to FLY A PLANE AT THE PRESIDENT?
  • Scott Patterson is now old enough to play someone’s father. And not just a whizkid plot contrivance… i mean, child prodigy.
  • Zeljko Ivanek and Bill Smitrovich are going to have a lot of fun outdoing each other in the “is he evil or just misunderstood?” stakes this year, I can tell.

But in all seriousness: in the aftermath of Lost, we had dozens of long-form wannabes, from the ponderous Invasion to the ultimately-pointless FlashForward. Not one of them understood what made Lost a success. 1) It felt genuinely different from anything else on television; 2) like the first chapter of many great books, it started out with one question (“where are we?”) before introducing its epic scope; and 3) its characters were, for the most part, characters.

Instead, the mimics all worked from the same template. Your lead character is a cipher. If he is male, he has a family from whom he is nearly/already estranged, and probably one great weakness (alcohol, a dead partner, etc). If she is female, she devotes herself to the job and hides behind her cold exterior. There’s a few quirky analysts, a young and blandly-attractive couple-in-love, and every single person could be evil. On top of this, mysterious male figures – played by actors who really deserve to be on better shows – appear from time to time to mutter vague rumblings to our lead about how “this all connects”, and “you will know the truth in time”. In short, they all operated on the assumption that human beings want to watch longform television even if it isn’t inherently interesting.

But of course, that isn’t true. Viewers can see hot young couples on any teen drama. Cops with tough private lives permeate CBS’ entire lineup of the last five years. If your hook is as simple as asking why the lead is moping all the time, and who the mysterious men are, no one cares.

Now sure, The Event falls into some of these traps. Laura Innes’ secret cabal may end up prone to speaking in sentences like “you know what you have to do” and “the stakes are higher than you could realise”, just to keep us in the dark. And at first I sighed at having to sit through another boring young couple in love. (Alan Ball says he won’t write a series about teenagers because they’re unintelligent, and only exist to confuse lust with love. I agree)

But, here’s the thing. The Event manned up and took us somewhere else. Jason Ritter’s character starts out a boring proto-lead, sure. By the end of the episode, he’s got serious issues to deal with: his mother-in-law is presumably dead, his father-in-law a terrorist, and his fiancee – and his own identity – have somehow been erased. All of a sudden, I genuinely want to know what’s gonna happen.

The writers have promised that this will be long-form storytelling with a realistic question-answer ratio. Its a tough situation at present where writers have to make these pledges. I couldn’t get into Fringe partly because it seemed as if JJ Abrams was deliberately making a series that would be “a mythology show without mythology episodes”, and by saying that, he indicated that he wanted to make a show that would be popular, not for any reasons of merit. But here we have one fascinating pilot, and the promise that this won’t be a whole season of ridiculous teasing, like the aforementioned Invasion, which had the gall to ignore its own title and try and make a mystery out of whether there was an invasion or not. (I curse its name). In this case, I believe that the story came first, and the decision to make viewers happy came second. Which can only be a good thing.

Not that I don’t see potential problems. The timejump device in the pilot was horrendous. The basic idea, cutting from Sean on the plane to his island holiday, was viable, but throwing in so many timeskips in the first 10 minutes was disorienting at best. (I laughed out loud when we skipped back in time to Laura Innes.) And including the President in your main cast from episode one opens up all sorts of dangers: weighing down a fast-paced action series with political storylines (particularly when they have to move slowly to avoid too much plot revelation) damaged 24 quite often. I’m happy to be proved wrong, so I really hope that this “one good man surrounded by a cadre of ambiguously-evil suits” plot is more than it seems.

And at the core is one simple question: what is the event? (Lame title for a show, by the way, what with sounding like one of the endless plot contrivances from Alias‘ later season). Is it something we’re leading up to? Or something that has happened? Was that plane-absorbing cloud the result of a secret military weapon? Some scientific experimentation? Time travel? Aliens? I have no idea, and that’s kind of cool.

In his desire to market Fringe to a mainstream audience, JJ Abrams forgot that the reason people came to Lost in the first place was because ABC explicitly told us it wasn’t sci-fi. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan myself, but I remain astounded that people will flock to True Blood and Buffy, and perfectly reasonable friends of mine wet themselves over the prospect of AMC’s upcoming zombiefest, but the idea of anything remotely grounded in science turns their blood to ice. That’s a question for another time, but worth thinking as we ponder where poor pilot Scott Patterson has ended up.

Quite clearly, this show is going to be one of the greatest delights, or one of the greatest failures of the season. It has a great puzzle set-up, and disparate characters who hopefully will be positioned across the board so as to create a genuine mystery. Good luck to it.


One Response to “The Event: “Pilot””

  1. […] should’ve aired these first two episodes as a double. This episode is infinitely better than the premiere, and gives us a lot of plot leads. Plus, it would’ve felt a lot less like NBC was covering up […]

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