Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Surface breaches fall TV line-up; Outlook not hopeful

It’s no secret that this year, network TV schedules are being pummeled with a bevy of new science fiction shows. Riding off the swell of LOST’s success, it seems all the big guns are trying to galvanize the sci-fi fans out there with their own takes on the genre. CBS has Threshold, which premiered last Friday night, much to my dismay, instead of this upcoming Friday as I had thought –so I’m already behind the ball on that one, having missed the two hour pilot. To be honest I know very little about that one, but I know it involves aliens and that good old TNG vet, Brent Spiner is in it, which makes me a bit fond of it already. I’m hoping I won’t be too far behind when I pick it up this week. ABC has Invasion, which they have cleverly slotted right after LOST, and I’m curious to see what its all about. Oddly enough, of all the shows out there that sound most like a ripoff of LOST, Invasion is it –and it seems strange ABC would do that to itself. The show is about a small isolated town in Florida that experiences strange occurances after a Hurricane hits.

Last night, after much hype and many promos, NBC aired their premiere of Surface. Contrary to my friends who had poo-poo’d the show after merely seeing the posters on buses, and twenty second promos, I was ready to give it a chance.
Of course, it didn’t take me long, (I think it was about eight minutes in fact) for me to give a call to a fellow geek and admit to him that I was beginning to fall in line with his predicitons for the show.

Where do I begin? Let’s see. Overview. Overall, Surface, was not good. In fact ridiculous is the word that really keeps popping up in my head as I recall certain pieces of dialoge and ill concieved FX. The opening of the show was typical for the genre. A bunch of kids, screwing around on a boat, one of them “water boarding” (this millenium’s version of water skiing). The kids decide to play a joke on their friend and leave him stranded in the water with his board for a bit. The kid, Miles, who is bobbing about notices something “fishy” in the water, and has some sort of encounter with a “sea monster”. It was here when I first took notice of their approach with their special FX. There is a brief shot where they show something (like a cross between a mermaid and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) take a duck dive off a bouy. You couldn’t really tell what the hell it was ---which is fine, because I understand the fact that they don’t want to show the creature in their first episode. But instead of just showing a quick flash and then the movement in the water and on the bouy, they showed a fuzzy grey blob. Fuzzy gray blobs aren’t particularly scary ---and I took issue with the fact that later on in the episode when two other characters are diving near an oil rig, they show an ENORMOUS fuzzy gray blob representative of the huge monster that approaches the divers. It seems that the more mystery the show creators wanted to create –the fuzzier everything went, soft focus in the cameras, sloppy cuts. What should have been made to look like dives into the ocean, looked more like dives into giant seas of lint.

Surface introduces you to a myraid of characters in a very short time. There are the punk kids in North Carolina (where Miles has a close encounter of the blurry kind), and then there’s Dr. Cirko, a hammy Would-Be Eurotrash scientist with a swishy walk and dire predictions. We meet Laura Daughtery, the ostensible lead of the show, who portrays a young oceanographer and mother with a passion for her work. There’s Rich, a good ole boy from the South and a professional oil rig diver, who is celebrating his birthday with his little brother and colleague. Bored or confused yet? I know I was… Besides these “main characters” there are also little snippets with characters whom we know or care nothing about, like generic military personnel and fisherman in Belize.

Surface doesn’t seem to make any bones about the fact that its plot revolves around sea monsters. It doesn’t try to shroud their existence with odd occurences in the ocean, building to a slow reveal later on in the season. No, within the the first fifteen minutes of the show, it is clear the characters are dealing with some sort of bizarre life form that lives in the ocean. Though the episode actually has a reference or two to the Lochness Monster and actually uses the phrase “sea monster” it seems completely unaware of the campy and silly sort of tone that this subject matter inevitably brings to the show. For a series that seems to be taking itself entirely seriously, there are few moments of levity or self-awareness in the episode. But beyond the show’s trouble in setting its tone, the most alarming element about it was its characters ---or lack there of. The young teen Miles (played by Carter Jenkins), who was probably my favorite character on the show, was probably the most relatable of all the characters –and even saying that is a bit of a stretch –but the writers did make a bit of an effort to establish his home and school life, though just why he becomes so interested with marine life is unclear. Rich Connellly, played by Jay R. Ferguson, is not given much to do in this episode, as half of his time is spent either under water or in a decompression tank ---but for a guy who is supposed to be one of the main characters of the show, I’d like to see a little more out of him then some rebel yells, and beer tricks. And as for Laura Daughtery, played by Lake Bell (who seems like a perfectly lovely person), I really wasn’t buying it. I didn’t buy her performance as either a mother OR a scientist. She seemed to young and too earthy, and lacked a convinction of passion for her work, that I guess she was supposed to be portraying, but didn’t really come through. There didn’t seem to be any foundations laid for any real dynamic between the characters thus far, except for maybe some antagonism between Laura and Dr. Cirko –but that all felt very cartoonish.

The other thing is, based on the trailer at the end of the episode where they show what will happen on the “upcoming weeks” of Surface, it seems like they’re giving up the ghost far too soon. They reveal government conspiracy, a new and unusual life form that continues to crop up everywhere, but where does it all lead to? This is the sort of show that makes me wonder ----did the creators really think about where they might go with this if the show actually lasted more than a few episodes? I had a hard time seeing any sort of potential for longevity with this show.

I’m not writing it off completely of course. I have it in my TiVo Season Passes for now. I’ll give it a couple more weeks to see where it goes. My hopes aren’t too high for it though. I’m hoping Invasion and Threshold will be better.

Well, here’s to hoping….

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